Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic obsession

I've been somewhat obsessed with the Olympics--I didn't think I would be, but I've been watching it almost every night. I've been fascinated by some of the side stories, too: the lip syncing little girl at the Opening Ceremony who wasn't pretty enough (I think she's adorable!), the dancer who was paralyzed in an accident during rehearsals, the controversy over the Chinese gymnasts' ages, Michael Phelps's quest and the fingernail finishes, etc. etc. But one of the controversies that has most fascinated me is that of the Spanish basketball team's advertisement featuring the teams all posing doing the somewhat Universal "slanty eye" imitation that all Asian-Americans will cringe at and recognize from their childhoods. 

I first became aware of this from this gawker post, and consequent follow-up posts, and then also some coverage in the NY Times. What most fascinated me were the incredible amount of comments--the NY Times article's comment count is up to 1,098! The commenters are from all over the world, and obviously many of them from both "sides" were quite upset and angry. Many Spanish people were in an uproar about being called racist, and most of the comments I've read from Spain are by people insisting that the ad was simply a joke, a "wink" at the host country of the Olympics, done "in love" and how is it even possible that people interpret the ad as being racist?

My personal first reaction to the ad was to cringe in disbelief. Honestly, I don't think anyone who has ever had this gesture done to them has misinterpreted the intention of the perpetrator as intending anything but ridicule. But of course, it crossed my mind briefly--maybe all those kids were actually just "winking" at me, and expressing their affection for me! Ha.

But in this case, I personally don't feel that there was any real malicious intent on the participants, although it's hard for me to believe that the ad was done with love and respect to the Chinese people. However, I do object to the Spanish reactions in the comments--even if they did not intend the ad to offend, people were offended. I wish they would simply try to understand why some people reacted that way, and apologize. 

I do feel there was ignorance involved. And it made me realize that I love living in a politically correct culture. Many people condemn political correctedness, but it allows me to live in the world without feeling that people are constantly seeing me as an "other," and knowing that without overt racism, perhaps future generations will change their thinking from previous generations. Then again, I did go to UC Berkeley, the PC capital of the world, so I may have a skewed view of this.

The controversy also made me wonder if the people of China have ever encountered this gesture--it seems unlikely to me, because they are the majority. So it's likely that they wouldn't be offended by the ad at all.

Anyway, I'm over my obsession with this controversy now. I'll leave you with this hilarious segment from the Jon Stewart show concerning many of the controversies I've mentioned above.

Some thoughts on Book Design

I'm a little sad that I haven't been able to post much on this blog aside from my weekly Blue Rose Girls posts, but I will soon, I promise!

In the meantime, here's my BRG post:

I was thinking recently about how hard it must be to be a book designer. I admire what they do so much, their thought and creativity that goes into the design of each book. I think I'm especially in awe of how covers of novels come to be--with pictures books, they already have an artist and images to work with and inspire them, but for novels they have to conjure up a design from thin air, sometimes. But what I think must be the hardest thing to deal with is knowing that ultimately their design is not "their own"--that they have to answer to so many different opinions. The editor has to be happy, the author has to be happy (even thought most authors don't officially have consultation or approval of the cover, of course we want them to be happy!), and in most cases, an entire jacket committee consisting of marketing, sales, design, and various editorial sorts have to be happy. And it doesn't stop there--we want the book buyers to also love the cover, and of course you're also trying to make the cover appealing to both the adult buyers (booksellers, librarians, teachers) and the kids, too.

And sure, as an editor, I sometimes think about all of these people while editing a text, too, but I also know that ultimately, the book truly belongs to the author, and although I may ask them to change something, they have every right to say no. When I bring a book to editorial meeting and then on to our acquisitions committee, sometimes (often) different people have different opinions. One person might hate a part of the book that was someone else's favorite part. Some people might dislike a plot twist that others think make the book special. It goes on and on. And so I've come to realize that when it comes time for me to edit the manuscript and work with the author on making the book better, I have to decide in my own heart and mind what I feel the book needs, regardless of whose feedback it goes against. Because I know that in the end, if the author can make it work (and of course they can!), the readers will accept it.

Designers don't have that freedom. They have to answer to all the people I've mentioned above. That's their job. And I know that in the past I've struggled sometimes with trying to balance the designer's vision with that of the author's--it's a shame when they aren't aligned. Personally, I trust our designers and their vision, and love working with them on cover designs. In some cases, I have an idea of what I want the cover to look like, but oftentimes I'll wait and see what the designer comes up with first so as not to taint their creativity. Sometimes I just have a feeling I want to convey. "The cover should be joyful, full of color and light" or "it should be thoughtful and quiet, have a very literary feel" or "I want to make sure that the cover has crossover adult appeal" and so on. And the designer takes this all in and works their magic. And although it might take a few takes, the designer never lets me down.

There have been times where I'm discussing a novel with the designer and telling them, honestly, that I have no idea what I envision for the cover. One example is for the novel Firegirl by Tony Abbott, which is about what happens when a new girl joins a 7th-grade class. The new girl is a victim of severe burns on her face and body, and because of her appearance, some of the class fear her. The only image that came to mind when thinking about the cover, which I knew would not be appropriate, was to show a photograph of a girl being burned. And so I put it completely in the designer's hands. She came back with an idea I found absolutely perfect. This is one of my favorite covers for a book I've edited. What do you think?
Another thing difficult about book design is that everyone has an opinion about covers. It's inevitable. We judge a book by its cover, after all! And in the case of picture books (as many of my fellow BRGs know) and some novels, you're working with an illustrator or author who is an artist, and sometimes also a designer themselves, and then the designer has to adjust how they work even more, and weigh everything with their own expertise, and their own knowledge about what works and what doesn't in regards to the market and our own jacket committee. It's not an easy task. I feel lucky to work with such talented designers. They rock! Here's a sampling of some recent and upcoming novel covers our designers have done that I especially love:

In somewhat related news, I'll be speaking at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference in October and have been asked to talk about the process of how illustrators are chosen. I'll no doubt be polling our talented design team for some feedback and anecdotes, and I hope to be able to share more posts about book design in the future.

Here are a few blogs dealing with book design:

Mishaps and Adventures is the blog of an art director
Jacket Whys discusses children's and YA book covers
The Book Design Review discusses the cover design of adult books

What are some of your favorite book covers?

Monday, August 11, 2008

How a children's book character helped me play golf

The week before last I was on vacation in Virginia (near Charlottesville), and spent a good part of my time learning how to play golf. Golf had never seemed to me a sport I could actually learn, although I do enjoy watching Tiger Woods. It just seemed to complicated. My father is really into golf, but I've only been out on a golf course one time, when my mother and I went with him while he played--I mainly amused myself driving the golf cart while my mom washed the golf balls. But this time, I actually learned how to play. My friend G was my coach, and a quite good one at that. He always knew where my ball would go depending on which club I used. And although I'm a far way from getting good, by the end of the week I was averaging between 5 and 10 strokes depending on the hole, and I was actually driving from the tees.

But my big challenge was focusing on the ball rather than looking ahead to where I thought the ball should go. "Keep your head down!" G kept saying. When he said that, I thought, Gee, that sounds familiar. And it was because it reminded me of the second Sergio book, coming out next Spring, Sergio Saves the Game. In this book, Sergio learns how to play soccer, and his coach and teammates remind him to "Keep your head down! And your wings up! And your eye on the ball!" Well, except for the wings part, this mantra helped me with golf. I would tell myself, "Keep your head down, Sergio! Keep your eye on the ball!" And you know what? It actually worked. So, thank you Edel, and thank you Sergio.