Blog Review — Sarah Dessen

Lock and Key coverSarah Dessen’s blog falls mostly into the “stories come from somewhere” category of author blogs. That is, Dessen’s posts tend to be more focused on providing readers with insight into her day-to-day life than on discussing her writing, to the extent that references to her novels sometimes feel almost out of place in comment threads full of responses to stories about her family, dogs, and travels. She maintains a fairly regular habit of posting a Friday Five, offering five brief updates about her life and activities in the past week. These posts do usually include at least one update about Dessen’s work — perhaps an image of her latest cover or news about an upcoming appearance — but readers will also find pictures of Dessen’s dogs, stories about her daughter, and entertaining anecdotes, like this one about her role in a couple’s proposal story.

Those who visit Sarah Dessen’s blog will find hints of what it’s like to be a popular and prolific writer, but mostly they’ll find a person: quirky, genuine, and accessible. The value of this type of blog to students is perhaps less direct than that of author blogs more focused on the writing process. Readers don’t hear about pushing through writer’s block and rejection letters, and they don’t see a commitment to careful editing. They might, however, find someone to whom they can relate, who makes writing something that touches people feel like a realistic possibility.

Blog Review — Jane Yolen’s Journal

Two to four posts a month keep readers of Jane Yolen’s blog up to date on her reading, writing, travels, and other adventures. Personal stories make Yolen feel relatable and accessible, but the real treasure is her talk about her own experiences with writing, including her struggles with editing (and re-editing) stories in order to both satisfy her editor and keep the stories cohesive, and her ongoing receipt of rejection letters. Yolen also occasionally shares her poetry–in fact, a recent post describes her process of finding just the right words to express a thought on in-between spaces, helped in part by a chance to bounce ideas back and forth with a friend. Along with her blog, Yolen’s website offers resources developed/gathered for children, writers, teachers and storytellers, as well as information on her poetry, her travel schedule, and awards she’s won.

Yolen keeps her website content-rich and current, emphasising, again, her accessibility, as well as her commitment to connecting with her readers. Like her writing, which includes fantasy, science fiction, non-fiction, poetry, picture books and graphic novels, Yolen’s website promises broad appeal and plenty of content. Whether readers are long-time fans or newcomers looking for stories about dragons-dinosaurs-folklore-the end of the world, Yolen’s blog is a great place to find out about who the author is and what she writes.

Note: IE seems to have some trouble with her Works and Book Trailers pages–scroll down to the bottom of the page, or try Firefox instead.

Blog Review — Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry is a prolific writer for children and teens, perhaps best known for her Giver series. Her blog is a frequently updated, journal-style publication, located on the her website alongside videos, copies of past speeches, book news, and a handful of frequently asked questions (though she does her best to respond to those who e-mail her directly). Lowry’s writing is chatty and personable, but while portions of her website are explicitly aimed at the students and teachers most likely to be reading her books, the subject matter and tone of her blog seem more suited to adult readers. Most posts are short musings about personal experiences, from having her roof repaired after Hurricane Sandy to discovering via the audio version of her latest book, Son, that she has overused certain words. The tone is matter-of-fact, sometimes rueful, occasionally weary.

That said, if the goal is to gain a bit of insight into the mind and experiences of the author behind the stories, Lowry’s blog is a good choice. Less focused on ideas or on the writing process than some, Lowry’s posts tend to come across more like personal letters, updating friends on events, memories, and small curiosities that have been on her mind lately. The material does not seem to be polished for a particular audience, and readers may appreciate the trust that that implies.

Blog Review — Friends with Boys (Faith Erin Hicks)

Friends with Boys coverFaith Erin Hicks offers a blog in archive (the last post was published in February of 2012) focused on the development of her webcomic-turned-graphic-novel, Friends with Boys. Posts cover topics such as the places and experiences that inspired the story, advice about the writing/illustrating process, and the realities of life as a cartoonist (e.g. marketing, working with writers, pitching a graphic novel). Hicks's writing is personal and engaging, and her comment threads were active, with visitors interacting not only with the material and its author–Hicks responded to a number of the comments, and a couple of posts reference earlier comment-thread discussions–but even occasionally with one another. The blog feels genuinely interactive.

Though understandable (the project on which the blog is based was completed early in 2012), the lack of recent posts from Hicks is disappointing, increasingly so as I've discovered the quality of the existing content. Still, the current setup does have some distinct benefits. As a closed system, the entire blog can be read in an afternoon, and favourite posts can be easily found in the archive list. At the same time, readers experience Hicks's personable nature and willingness to engage with her readers — a tendency that shows up, too, in her much more up-to-date Twitter presence. While not an ongoing resource, then, Hicks's Friends with Boys blog is certainly one worth recommending to anyone interested in the “how” of webcomic/graphic novel creation.

P.S. You can also check out Hicks’s other artwork on her Deviant Art page!

Blog Review — Patrick Ness – Diary

The Knife of Never Letting Go coverFans of Patrick Ness’s deeply moving A Monster Calls or his Chaos Walking Trilogy might be surprised to find his blog a bit spare. Entries are rarely more than a couple of short paragraphs and focus almost exclusively on current book news–what Ness is working on, where he will be presenting, what awards his books have recently won. There is little insight into his personal life, and no opportunity for comments.

Taking a few minutes to explore the rest of Ness’s website, however, or visit some of the links provided in his blog posts, reveals plenty of engaging material. First the website: While individual posts offer no place for comments, the Visitors tab provides access to an ongoing thread of comments that readers have left for Ness. The level of interactivity is low (there isn’t really any conversation between posters, and Ness himself only replies to notes occasionally), the insight offered into how Ness’s novels have impacted others creates a sense of intimacy with other readers based on shared, meaningful experiences that is relatively rare in author blogs.

A Monster Calls coverThe links within Ness’s blog posts allow readers to explore directly the events, articles and organisations that he mentions in his brief updates. Invested readers will find links to broadcasts of interviews and new stories and organisations with which he or his books are involved (e.g. Diversity Role Models and World Book Night). Links to presentations and articles that he has published elsewhere (such as this keynote address on self-censorship) provide the sort of glimpses of his personal opinions that readers might be accustomed to finding within other author blogs.

In sum, while Ness’s blog tends to be a bit labour-intensive, it has lots to offer readers willing and able to take the time to explore.

Blog Review — Squeetus (Shannon Hale)

Princess Academy coverShannon Hale, author of novels such as The Princess Academy and the Books of Bayern series, is a regular blogger with an active online following. Posts generally fall into one of the big three categories: news about current writing projects, stories about her home life, and musings. Like many author/bloggers, Hale’s musings tend to follow a general theme. She is a vocal champion of readers’ social freedom to read what interests them and to draw their own meaning from it. Recent posts have focused on one of two topics: the misguided belief that boys will not/should not read “girl” books, and the need to accept the legitimacy of differing readings of a story. Hale’s concern seems to be not only that limitations imposed by others will hamper a reader’s opportunities to benefit from what is there to be found in terms of increased understanding and challenged assumptions, but that this close-mindedness about how others read suggests a general lack of charity toward one another as people.

Goose Girl coverHale has a knack for getting people talking about the things that interest her. A series of three posts on the heavy judgement that surrounds the Twilight series generated a total of 181 comments, and her “Boys read ‘girl’ books” photo contest received some 25 entries. While her writing style appears to be directed primarily at adult readers (perhaps responding to the largely adult female audience that comments on her posts), her opinions will both validate and challenge teens interested in meeting the mind behind the stories.

* Images taken from the author’s website.

Blog Review – Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick, author of White Crow, My Swordhand is Singing, and Floodland, has kept up his blog since July 2008, with the first entry including a gloomy Swedish poem about death with no translation available until two days later.  His posts include information about tours he has gone on with no updates while he is on the tours, glimpses into his writing process, teasers of upcoming books, information about projects he is currently working on, and pictures from trips he has gone on to research for any books he is currently writing.  Links along the side provide information about his most recent book and access to the official Marcus Sedgwick Facebook group, his twitter feed, and his website.

Unfortunately, Sedgwick’s blog is not updated frequently, with only ten posts in 2012.  His posts are quite short and usually allow his readers a glimpse into what he is currently working on by the abundance of photos and even videos. A recent post encourages readers to write for themselves and not let anyone push them into writing: a reminder that it was first (and still is) a hobby before it became more of a career.  The blog is written for mostly adults in mind; however, young adults can easily read and feel comfortable with his blog posts as well.  There is little evidence of community within the blog with only a few comments on his blog posts, if any, and only fifty active followers of the blog.  Based on his posts, Marcus Sedgwick is quite busy with his many projects, his latest being an interactive theatrical experience of his novel My Swordhand is Singing.

“You should write the book you want to write, and do it as well as you can, with as much truth and passion and energy as you can. And when you’ve done that, you can then hope that something in it will be something that someone else might want to read, but at least you’ve been true to one person – yourself. And with that start, you might just have something.” – Marcus Sedgwick