Sweet Wittle Tabula Rasa

17 July 2001

Scifi.Com updates on Wednesdays, but I forgot to read it until today. Is this a good sign? No, it's not, and I'll tell you why I didn't remember to read it immediately: serials. I really like a lot of Ellen Datlow's story choices, but she runs too many serials, and the serials she runs are too long. I don't read serials until they whole story is available to me. Sometimes I don't read them at all. And if I get unused to checking out a website, it goes out of my rotation. I'm torn, too, because I want to be able to sell novellas. I just don't like serialization as a way of running them.

Timprov and I went to Borders yesterday afternoon for the Children's Book Market, and I found a bunch of potential markets for Mama's Pajamas. I did a bunch of book research for Fortress over a year ago and haven't really looked closely at a market guide since. It can be a bit ridiculous. The good news is, picture book markets seem to be much better about simultaneous submissions. Many of the major markets accept or encourage them. (For those of you who are not in publishing: "simultaneous submissions" means sending the same manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time. Most YA and grown-up markets frown upon this practice.)

The bad news is, it seems that most publishers of children's books have absolutely no respect for children. None. At least half of them regard children as little objects upon which to write their agenda. I expected a ton of Christian fundy presses. It's clear that there's an extra market for these books (church libraries, many of which only carry explicitly Christian stuff), and that some of these people are relentless. There are also lots of seemingly more relaxed Christian presses, Jewish presses (of the relaxed and non-relaxed variety), Muslim presses, skeptic-rationalist presses, mystical-environmentalist presses, healthy-body presses, psychological-adjustment presses, children of gay and lesbian presses, and God only knows what else, I forget.

I find it incredibly offensive when a publisher's mission statement says not a single word about the reader. The reader's parents, sure, but not the reader. I also find it offensive when they tell you what kind of child their books are supposed to develop (make most of the above into adjectives, and you've got it). How about the kind of child who is happy with the book he/she just read? No. Children have nothing to do with this. Picture books are not about kids. They're about parental ideals.

Why is it that some (not all, I know) of the people who are most enthusiastic about the notion that a fetus is a person are least enthusiastic about the notion that a child is a person? I don't want to get into a debate on when personhood begins. I just find it curious that it's evidently not a continuous function.

I expect the psychological adjustment crowd to go for this. There's more than a few Skinnerians in that bunch, explicitly or implicitly. But there are also people who would run screaming away from the slightest hint of B.F. Skinner but who still don't want to acknowledge any personality to a young child. That's frustrating. At best.

I've said it before, and I'll said it again: I think that some writers would benefit from the Stan and Jan Berenstein school of titling. The Berenstein Bears Go Camping. You've got characters and plot right there. Four Astronauts Die A Horrible Death On Mars After Learning The Meaning Of Life. Not so much mass market appeal, perhaps, but you know your characters, you know your plot. You don't have to founder around in pretentious shakiness about what it is you're actually writing. Astonauts. Death. Mars. Meaning of Life. Allright then. Go, and give me neither a treatise on Martian soils nor a ten page prose-poem about the color of dust there.

But there are lots of children's books whose titles work this way, and they're convenient, too. They're a signal that the message is all there is. Tibby Tries It was one of the books listed yesterday in "recently published by this press," and I could tell you what the book was, and I could tell you I would hate it. Because the message would be overt, and Tibby would Try It and learn that It's Not So Scary To Try New Things. Which is, by the way, not true. New Things are Scary. That's part of why they're interesting, but pretending they're Not So Scary is just fake and wrong. And writing a treatise on New Things without providing an interesting story? Also fake and wrong.

But as long as kids are little message receptors, we can tell them whatever we want, and it'll be okay, because they're each a little tabula rasa, and it'll be true for them, and they'll like whatever we tell them to like. Right?

Wrong, wrong, fake, and wrong.

It makes me want to write three or four more children's books just to combat this trend. I guess I'm not writing any novels this week....

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