Friday, January 31, 2014

Five facts about copyright that won’t bore you to tears.

imageMy father used to teach real estate and his students once gave him a sweatshirt that said, “Not a lawyer,” because he used the phrase so often in class.

I’m not a lawyer either, so I won’t bore you, darling reader, by pretending I have deep expert knowledge.  But I believe all writers MUST know how copyright affects them – whether they care or not.

Here’s the classic newbie question:  “I just finished writing my first children’s book, and I’m wondering about the Copyrighting process.  Is it really necessary to do it at all?”

DO you need to copyright your book? 

Good news!  If you’ve written a book in one of 162 Berne Convention countries worldwide, you’ve already “copyrighted” it – it’s automatic.  (If you’re not living in one of them, maybe you should move...)

Once you've written something, you own it. Nobody else can use it or take it away.  This copyright protection is almost universal.  Trouble is, if there's ever a problem, you've got to prove that you're the person who originated the content. There are various ways of doing this.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Big words, little words… what begins with WORDS?

“My father can read big words, too.

039480029X(from Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss)

Maybe it’s just me, but I think kids LOVE great big words, and I think we should make a point of including them in our stories whenever we can.

Not, of course, just for the heck of it, and certainly not to show off how smart we are.  But when it’s right for the character who’s speaking (or the narrator, or the author’s voice), a big word can sometimes be exactly the right word.

When my older daughter was maybe around 4, she was worried because our new car didn’t have a MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) ribbon on the antenna.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Three Strikes, You’re Out: The “Three Deadlies”

image What are the worst sins a children’s book writer can commit??? 

In some forms of Christianity, there are Seven Deadly Sins, for which one presumably can’t be forgiven.  If you take children’s books seriously, like “on the level of religion” seriously, then it stands to reason there will be Deadly Sins here, too.

I know I sound like a hopeless snob, but I believe there are three sins that you, as a self-published writer, must NEVER commit if you want me to take your book seriously.  These are errors that scream out, “I’m putting out my own book – on the cheap!”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Never fear…

… I’m still here!!! 

The thing about writing kids’ books, and blogging, and all that other fun stuff, is that unless you are exceptionally lucky and well-established, it doesn’t pay the rent.

So here’s what I’ve been doing in the meantime, towards that goal (money, money, money). 

Still writing – just a bit more serious stuff than I like to dabble in. ;-)

See ya soon!!!

Posted on Friday, January 24, 2014 | Categories: ,

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pink for girls, blue for boys… what would Roald Dahl do?

How do you feel when classic books, written and intended for ALL children, are remarketed today as “boys’” or “girls’” books – if not explicitly, then through subtle cues like colours and patterns on the cover?
I had the rare experience of going into an actual bookstore in a mall the other day, and because Naomi Rivka was with me, we ended up in the kids’ section.  (Okay, that’s a LIE – I end up in the kids’ section every time, whether I have kids with me or not!)
There, I spotted this brand-new, contemporary, SCREAMY PINK cover on Matilda, a classic, favourite Roald Dahl book:

A Google image search reveals several evolutions of this book’s cover over the years.  Here’s what our worn-out old copy looked like, back when it had an intact cover:

Here are a couple of other nice early gender-neutral covers:
But this new stripey version is far from the first pinkish iteration, as you can see here.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Same main character, new, girly-pink background.
I thought of this today because of a picture that’s been floating around on the Internet for a while now – an ad showing a little girl in the 1970s or early 80s, building with Lego.

The girl is wearing a neutral-coloured T-shirt (actually, there’s a bit of blue trim).  The Legos themselves are basic Lego colours:  blue, red, yellow, green, black.  Why?
Because Legos are a gender-neutral toy.
You can be a boy or a girl and still play with Lego – or at least, you could in 1981. 
In 2014, not so much:

0061711535Today, nobody seems quite so sure, as marketers rush to convince girls that all the best stuff comes wrapped up in a nauseatingly candy-coloured blend of pink and purple.  For more on the craziness and hype behind marketing to girls, particularly how it started, and the kind of money involved, there’s a great grown-up book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein.
Here’s what I think Roald Dahl himself would have had to say about this type of silliness and any effort to sell Matilda as a book for or about GIRLS, instead of just as a book for and about PEOPLE:

0142410381I had a fun discussion with my kids around the table about this yesterday – about why Matilda is pink, for instance, but The BFG, which also revolves around a female main character (Sophie), is not.  (One kid thought this was because the other main character is a large and male giant, but I pointed out that the Queen of England also appears in the book, which ought to trump any old giant.)
0142410314In any event, we all agreed that the cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, really ought to be brown (even though it isn’t).
And by the way – Roald Dahl?  Unbelievable writing role model.
Just in case you think book-writing comes easily to prolific and talented writers like Dahl, think again.  Here’s what he wrote in a letter to his own daughter, Lucy, about the process of creating his books:  “I must have rewritten Charlie [and the Chocolate Factory] five or six times all through and no one knows it…”
Here’s how the process went with Matilda:
…And now at last I have finished it, and I know jolly well that I am going to have to spend the next three months rewriting the second half. The first half is great, about a small girl who can move things with her eyes and about a terrible headmistress who lifts small children up by their hair and hangs them out of upstairs windows by one ear. But I've got now to think of a really decent second half. The present one will all be scrapped. Three months work gone out the window, but that's the way it is.
Think about that when you are weeping over cutting some precious paragraphs from a manuscript to comply with picky readers’ or editors’ (or – gasp! – kids’!) requests… three months work, out the window.
(I like this picture, by the way, because it proves that everybody used to smoke, not just evil stinky people!)
I bet I know what he’d do to anyone who tried to tell kids NOT to read it – which is essentially what a stripey pink cover announces to boys:  “Hey, guys, this is NOT for you!”

So what kept him going through all the difficulty?
My lucky thing is I laugh at exactly the same jokes that children laugh at and that’s one reason I’m able to do it.
Laughter.  Indeed.  The laughter of children, not boys, or girls… just kids.