March 2nd, 2009

Telling stories through images

Back in 1991 Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence was a novels told entirely through four-color postcards and letters tucked into envelopes. It spent 100 weeks on the bestseller list. Love, Loss, and What I Wore is an autobiographical sketchbook, showing the clothes the author wore at certain points in her life.

Now comes Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry. It’s designed like an auction catalog. Newsweek says, “Plot developments are suggested by items' proximity to one another: Lot 1306, for example, a white-noise machine with "irreparable damage to top and sides, as if struck by a hammer," comes after Lot 1305, a note from Lenore informing Hal she might be pregnant. It's followed by Lot 1307, an Hermès watch and note from Hal reading "I did not handle that at all well." In a traditional novel, the writer would either have to spell out this dreary sequence or resort to some sort of coy evasion. Shapton's solution is not only more engaging, it is more eloquent in its ambiguity. "Important Artifacts" is the rare high-concept book that rises above gimmickry and succeeds, not just as a novel, but as a work of art.” [Full disclosure: that last phrase is going to look nice on the back of the reprint!]

Read more here.

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Maybe I just need a cooler name?

LiveScience reports, "In a new study, 186 four-year-olds were given regular carrots and, on other lunch days, they were given the same vegetables renamed X-ray Vision Carrots. On the latter days, they ate nearly twice as many.

""Cool names can make for cool foods," says lead author Brian Wansink of Cornell University. "Whether it be 'power peas' or 'dinosaur broccoli trees,' giving a food a fun name makes kids think it will be more fun to eat. And it seems to keep working - even the next day," Wansink said.

"Similar results have been found with adults. A restaurant study showed that when the Seafood Filet was changed to Succulent Italian Seafood Filet, sales increased 28 percent and taste rating increased by 12 percent."

So maybe I just need a cooler name! I remember when John Mellencamp was John Cougar. It must have been the same thinking. Then he became John Cougar Mellencamp. Then just John Mellencamp.

So maybe I should be April Amazing. Or April Scares Your Pants Off. [Hm, that sounds vaguely naughty.]

Your nominations for my new name welcome.

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Back in the classroom

As part of Read Across America, I spoke to a group of fifth graders at Teen's old elementary today. Some observations:

1. Just standing on my feet for 40 minutes makes my back hurt. How do teachers do it?

2. The fidgety kids are often the ones who ask the best questions.

3. Some of the kids seemed amazed to learn that I get paid to write. I should be amazed too.

4. Telling the kids that I get 10 percent of the cover price of a hardcover gave them a chance to use their math skills and seemed to satisfy them. It's an answer and it doesn't reveal my advance, which I never feel comfortable talking about to anyone, ever.

5. I told the kids that because of a middle school student in Texas who asked why I used the "b" word in Shock Point, I took it out in the paperback. Later I passed around a page covered with my editor's green pencil marks to show them that even published writers get edited. At the end of the class, one girl shyly pointed out that the "b" word appeared on the bottom. Other kids chimed in "Show me!" "Tell me what the b word is!" I smiled enigmatically and left. Oops!