Wednesday, January 19, 2011


My publisher, Dan Vado, who never wears ties, at the SLG booth
          The day before I set off for a 2-day stint at ALA Midwinter I said to my husband, "Okay, I don't want you to think you're not welcome or that I don't want you there, but I think you would be really, REALLY bored.  This won't be like Comic-Con where there's something for everyone.  This will be LIBRARY in the butt and up the ass, LIBRARY wall-to-wall, no escape from LIBRARY," or something to that effect.
          He quickly decided to fore-go the trip.  I was relieved, because I knew I would want to stay until the bitter end both days, and would be unsympathetic to cries of, "I'm bored, I wanna go home!"
          I drove all the way to San Diego and back by myself both days like a big grownup boy.  I did not get lost, I did not cry.  I listened to the new Duran Duran album in my truck, then Courtney Love & Hole, then a Eugene Mirman comedy CD.

          At the convention I helped Dan, my publisher, work the SLG Publishing booth.  He explained that this was a "trade show," so we weren't really going to be selling anything, it was all about promoting new books, and giveaways to get Librarians excited about stuff.  (Nobody digs free shit like Librarians)  
           Speaking of free stuff, I am obviously a LIBRARY SUPERHERO because I returned home with 190 free books for the school library.
          It was a pretty small booth, but looked very nice, and we were right next to the Disney/Hyperion booth.  Because we're BFFs.  Anyway, at the SLG booth we ended up giving away 250 copies of "The Royal Historian of Oz" #1, and I signed most of them for lots of really nice, gracious people.  I used a green Sharpie a friend gave me, because that's appropriate in an Emerald City kind of way.

          I ran into a bunch of people I knew, such as two Librarians from my school district, some friends of friends who are big Oz fans, a bunch of people who work in the same public library where I had my first job as a Library Tech, and even a girl who saw a presentation I gave in Chapman University's Leatherby Library a few years ago.
          As well as signing my own comic book I was trying to be helpful by giving out SLG catalogs and hyping the other cool books they publish.  I made little tags for some of the books to catch the discerning eyes of Librarians.  Things like:

"Reviewed in BOOKLIST and Publisher's Weekly!" for Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan

"Listed in YALSA's Top Ten Great Graphic Novels For Teens!" for Pinocchio Vampire Slayer by Higgins and Jensen

"By Printz Award-winner Gene Yang!" (for some graphic novel I can't remember the name of now, but it's done by Gene and some other dude)  Gene won the Printz for American Born Chinese, which really is a great book, and deceptively simple until you get to the end and see how it all ties together so cleverly. 
This one is not published by SLG, but I GUESS that's okay...

"GIRL POWER! (Strong Female Protagonist)"  for Shadoweyes by Ross Campbell

"First graphic novel sold in Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!" for Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf

          Gentle reader, wasn't that nice of me?  To help promote these other fine works of graphic novel goodness?  I think so.


*     John Shableski hung out at the SLG booth a lot.  He's the sales manager in charge of selling graphic novels to the book market for Diamond Previews, which is a really big deal if you know anything about comics, because they're THE distributor for the comics industry.  He was wearing a baseball cap that said, "LIBRARY" across the front of it, so I was nerdily jealous of that.  It came from the nice guys at "Unshelved," and although they didn't have any on hand, they said they'd send me one.  They did give me a little "Intellectual Freedom Fighter" ribbon to put on my convention badge.

*     I was signing comics for some people, and I noticed the guy who was next in line looked kind of familiar.  When he was asking me some very nice questions about Royal Historian and I was signing his copy, I noticed his name tag said "T. Jefferson Parker."  I was like, "Dude!  You're T. Jefferson Parker!  My mom and I went to one of your book signings, like, 15 years ago!"  In case you don't know, he's a very successful mystery writer.  Turns out he's really nice, too!

*     A serious-looking young man in professional attire got all excited when he noticed my name badge, and said, "You're Tommy Kovac!" in exactly the same way I had said, "You're T. Jefferson Parker!" earlier.  It was very flattering, and he was super nice.  He's read all of my comics, and even most of my zines!  I gladly signed a "Royal Historian" for him.  I really hadn't expected to run across anybody THAT familiar with my stuff.

          Since it was just the two of us running the SLG booth, Dan and I had plenty of time to talk about stuff.  He's trying to appeal to the Library/Education market as much as possible, and had this great idea to create study/discussion guides for some of SLG's graphic novels. He was talking about wanting to come up with a template, and I said excitedly, “Well, Dan, I’ve already DONE that for you!”  
          I grabbed a copy of my Skelebunnies graphic novel collection, which he had UNDER the table, because apparently it's so vile and naughty he was afraid it would spook the Librarians.  (It probably would)  I showed him the very last page, which is a “Teacher’s Guide To Using Skelebunnies In the Classroom.”  He seemed surprised, and admitted that he had somehow missed seeing that when we published the book.
          As he read it, he noticed that even though it's obviously a parody, I play it off very seriously.  
          By the next morning he had already started one for “Elmer,” using my Skelebunnies parody as a real template.  And you know I love that.

          We went to dinner Saturday evening after the convention hall closed down, at a funky little Chinese restaurant & bar.  Dan almost choked to death on this horrible Korean steak with kim chee. Violently coughed up a ball of it, and had to EXTRACT it from his throat with his fingers, the fermented cabbage (kim chee) making it look like he was giving birth to a Lovecraftian tentacle god through his mouth. Hideous. He was humiliated and kept apologizing, and I couldn't stop laughing. I told him that was the greatest gift he could have given me, to embarrass himself so in my presence.
(this is exactly what the coughed-up Korean beef looked like)

          In the lobby outside the convention hall they have kiosks set up at intervals where you can quickly grab something simple like a Diet Coke, a cookie, a cup of self-serve coffee or whatever.  The keyword is "quickly."  They're super stripped-down versions of Starbucks and Mrs. Fields, staffed by distracted teenagers and exhausted non-English speakers.  Little more than wheelbarrows with fancy umbrellas.
          My point is that you can't expect quality or service.
          I had scoped out a Mrs. Fields kiosk just outside the convention hall door from the SLG booth, so once in a while I would trot out there, ask for a Diet Coke or a cookie, and be on my merry way back to the convention.
          One time I ended up behind a birdlike, slow-moving librarian with frizzy hair. She was hovering in front of the kiosk with her awkward bags and purse, making it hard to tell if she had completed her transaction, or was just confused, or what.  What I did know was that she was in the fucking WAY, and I wanted to just get my Diet Coke and zip back into the convention.  
          Finally "Frizzy" began fumbling in her purse with some wadded up dollar bills and paid the poor kiosk worker, but not until after she had thoroughly questioned the total.
          Then Frizzy moved over to keep a keen eagle eye on the kiosk worker making a hot chocolate for her.  I was tapping my foot, checking the time, wondering how many free books I was missing out on.
          "Excuse me," Frizzy whimpered.  "Excuse me, is that my hot chocolate you're making?  Because it doesn't look very chocolatey..."
          The kiosk worker glared at her.  I glared at her.
          "Did...  Did you only put ONE packet of chocolate in?  Because it looks very light.  I like mine to be very chocolatey.  Do you think you could put another packet in?"
          The kiosk worker explained calmly that they only use one packet per cup.  That's just what they do.
          "Oh, really?  Only one?" Frizzy continued to whine.  "Because it just doesn't look very chocolatey..."
          Not really knowing what to say, the tired kiosk worker just handed the cup over, slowly, in silence.  Frizzy slumped away, and I was glad she didn't get more than her one allotted chocolate packet.


          Later in the conference, a creaky gray-haired man staggered over to the SLG booth and asked what we published.  We tried to explain "comics" and "graphic novels" to him, but he seemed slightly bemused, and mostly uninterested.  (Let me also mention that Dan has been in business with SLG for 25 years now.) The geezer turned his nose up at us as he began to lurch in the other direction, and quipped over his shoulder, "Well...  Hope ya make it."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

GENRE : Dystopian fiction

          A Librarian friend and I have created (and presented a workshop on) a bunch of really great "Recommended if you like" lists, or "RIYL" for short.  We presented at the California School Library Association conference, and have continued to work on building our collection of genre lists.  We format them as double-sided bookmarks, with the genre heading and an illustration/picture on one side, and the list of titles on the reverse, and leave them out on the circ desk for students to browse through and keep.  What's really great is when you see kids keeping the bookmarks and checking off each title as they read their way through the list.  (Examples of some of our list titles: "Have You Mythed Out?" "Read the Movie," "RIYL Tim Burton," "Sugar and Spikes," and "Define Normal")

          When the English classes are studying 1984 they all start asking for books "like" 1984, which is a pretty specific sub-genre of science fiction, or rather speculative fiction.  It gets pretty sticky.  If you just do a general search in the library's database for science fiction, you get way too much, same with using "future" as a keyword.  I've started manually adding "dystopian fiction" in the cataloging records for any books that fit the bill, so it's quicker & easier to find them. 

          Here's an updated version of our Dystopian Fiction bibliography:


What does the future hold?

The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Adlington
Feed by M.T. Anderson
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, Ray
The Roar by Emma Clayton
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Dick
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by N. Farmer
The House of the Scorpion by N. Farmer
The Dirt Eaters by Dennis Foon
The Beach by Alex Garland
“Gone” series by Michael Grant
Among the Hidden by Margaret Haddix
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Epic by Conor Kostick
This Side of Paradise by Steven L. Layne
The Cure by Sonia Levitin
Fearless by Tim Lott
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Messenger by Lois Lowry
The Resistance by Gemma Malley
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Secret Under My Skin by J. McNaughton
Z for Zachariah by Robert O’Brien
1984 by George Orwell
Witch & Wizard by James Patterson
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Pearson
Last Book in the Universe by Philbrick
The Forest of Hands & Teeth by C. Ryan
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
“Virtual War” series by Gloria Skurzynski
Truesight by David Stahler
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
“Uglies” series by Scott Westerfeld
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Storm Thief by Chris Wooding
*All titles found in our Library*

          At first it was kind of fun, and I was finding plenty of books, but then I started noticing that there are numerous sub-genres of what I guess would fit under the umbrella term "speculative."  Things like post-apocalyptic, steampunk (all the rage now), etc.  And just because a novel is set in the future, does that automatically  make it utopian/dystopian?

          Even some English & Literature teachers have a hard time defining the parameters of general "science fiction."  I bossily intervened earlier this year when one of our English teachers claimed Jurassic Park was NOT science fiction because it's not set in the future.  She told a student he couldn't use it for a sci-fi book report, and since that teacher is a pal of mine, I emailed her several different comprehensive definitions of sci-fi from several different sources, to show that sci-fi isn't just future fiction.  Her reply was, "I think someone has waaay too much time on his hands over there in that library..."

          Which was funny, but unfair.  Isn't that the kind of thing we library people are SUPPOSED to care about?  Isn't that why we're here?  To be anal-retentive about literary details, definitions, and labelling?  (I have many thoughts & ideas on labelling.)  Anyway, she conceded the debate and let the kid use Jurassic Park, so...  I win.  Probably mostly because she doesn't really give a shit, as long as the kids are reading and comprehending.

          (And by the way, unfortunately I now feel compelled to work on a list of science fiction that deals specifically with genetic engineering, cloning, stem cells, etc. starting with Michael Crichton's books.)

          But back to dystopian fiction:

          I know everyone's batshit crazy for the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and it's obviously THE dystopian teen series at this time.  I'm sure it's great, but the concept just makes me think of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, which was originally published in Japan in 1999, almost a decade before The Hunger Games.  I haven't read Hunger Games yet, and I never will because I'm totally sick of hearing about it.  (Note: I did read Collins' Gregor the Overlander and totally loved it) 

          I'm sure what differentiates Hunger Games most from Battle Royale is that it's more palatable to teachers and librarians.

          Therefore, if I decide I want to read about teens having to battle to the death for survival in a harsh future, I will read the more controversial and possibly distasteful Battle Royale.  Because that's how I roll.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


          The first day of winter break one of our senior boys was killed in a car accident, along with his father.  It was around 5 am on Saturday, they were on their way to a speech and debate competition, and a drunk 18-year-old with only a learner's permit ran a red light and plowed into them.  Both father and son were pronounced dead at the scene, but of course the drunk who killed them was unharmed.
          The boy who died was a great kid who seemed genuinely nice and humble, and excelled at everything.  What happened was awful, and shouldn't happen to anyone, but he was so well-loved by the entire student body and faculty who knew him that it really sent shock waves through the whole school community.  I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like for his mother and sister, to lose both of them at once.  They were so stunned and unprepared for it that our principal and assistant principal had to help them plan and organize the funeral.  A Memorial Fund was also set up because the family (mother and sister) really need help now.  The father had recently cancelled his life insurance, and on top of that I heard he was the family's only source of income.
Oxford Academy Boosters Inc. - 
Douglas Uselton Memorial Fund
c/o Oxford Academy
5172 Orange Avenue
Cypress, CA 90630
          Our first day back to work we had an emergency staff meeting so our admin could debrief us on what happened and bring us up to speed, as far as fund-raisers and crisis response.  I found out about the tragedy the day after it happened from students on Facebook, but some of the teachers I spoke to were unaware until the emergency meeting was called.  We were introduced to a team of crisis counselors (about 6 or so) who have been here for the past two days.
           Since the counselors needed somewhere to meet quietly with kids, they're using the library and we've had to cancel two days of class visits, and keep it closed except for before and after school.
          It's been an awkward two days, with me trying to work around the counselors and grieving students.  The librarian hasn't been here, so they're using her office to meet with some kids, but that's also where I have my coffee pot and the refrigerator and microwave.  My breaks have been tricky.
          They are also meeting with kids at the back of the library, in two little reading nook areas we have set up on each side.  This morning I was trying to get some of the shelving done, which had majorly piled up since a ton of books were returned right after winter break.  But it felt weird creeping around in the stacks and trying not to eavesdrop on the students behind the shelves.  I could hear them talking quietly and crying.  It was making me nervous, and I kept fumbling the books I was shelving, dropping a few of them noisily.  I felt like an asshole, so I just said, "Fuck it," (to myself) and slinked back to my desk.  This is a very SMALL library, so it's hard to be inconspicuous and out of the way.
          I waited until the counselors were between sessions, and then quickly shelved the stuff closest to those reading nooks.
          To make things thoroughly miserable in here, the air conditioning is out of control and it's FREEZING.  Totally arctic.  It's a typical institutional set-up, so the air is usually blasting on cold days, and in the heat of summer it hardly works at all.  I don't usually feel the cold so much, because I move around a lot.  But right now I'm pretty much confined to my desk.  And I'd normally be playing my iPod in its little blue docking station at my desk, but I feel I probably shouldn't do that while there's grief counseling going on in here.  
          So...  I'm sitting here freezing in silence and trying to find stuff to do at my desk.
          I thought maybe I could use this time to explore the website for ALA Midwinter, which is this weekend, to figure out which things I want to make sure to see, but the school district's internet crapped out.  It's practically unusable right now.
          So here I sit, knowing that my ridiculously minor complaints pale in comparison to what that poor family is going through, wondering how it must feel to be so blind-sided by tragedy, and returning to my minor complaints because at least it's something else to think about.