Archive | October 2014

Sparkers at Children’s Book World

Last Saturday I had a Los Angeles launch for Sparkers at Children’s Book World, a fantastic children’s bookstore not far from UCLA. It was great fun! Though there was no spontaneous singing in Georgian, there were plenty of brownies. Even better, my college friend Andrew was able to come (and serve as official photographer!). I hadn’t seen him since graduation. For a while, we had the exact same major (Linguistics & Languages with French and Chinese), and we studied abroad in Grenoble together. Andrew spent the last two years teaching English in Korea and is now a graduate student in linguistics at Berkeley.

Speaking of linguists, many friends and colleagues from the department came to my party, which was very sweet of them. During the Q & A, my advisor asked me a phonology question. And I got to try out the special stamp one of the first-year grad students carved for me back in the spring when she was a prospie visiting UCLA!

Now for some photos (all taken by Andrew, unless otherwise specified):


Me in front of a wall of books!

photo 4

Booksellers, linguists, church folk, Swarthmore alumni (some of those sets are overlapping)                       (Photo by Laura F.)


Signing books (note the stamp close at hand, and the ink pads that look like rosin)



Me and church friends


Me and UCLA linguist friends

Me and Andrew

Me and Andrew (Photo by…oh dear. Laura F. or Ana M.)

I’m glad so many people came out to celebrate with me, and many thanks to Children’s Book World for hosting my California launch!

Come See Me Saturday!

If you live in or around Los Angeles, I’ll be having a California launch event for Sparkers at Children’s Book World this Saturday, October 25th, at 2:30pm! (Oh, my gosh, I think that was a biscuit conditional!) You’re invited. Yes, you. I will probably be baking brownies for it, and you never know, a Georgian chorus might spontaneously burst into song during the signing. Stranger things have happened. Learn more about the event here.

In the meantime, in the spirit of fall, have some pumpkins!


The 14-Year-Old Middle Grade Protagonist

I came across Dianne K. Salerni’s  post about the “awkwardness” of having a fourteen-year-old main character in a novel for young people, and it struck a chord because, well, my main character is fourteen years old. Why is a fourteen-year-old protagonist troublesome? It boils down to an issue of category: there is middle grade (MG), for children ages 8 to 12 (or 10 to 14, on the upper end), and there is young adult (YA), for children/teens ages 12 to 18 (or 14 to 18, on the upper end). Additionally, children tend to like to read about characters a bit older than them. A book with a fourteen-year-old main character occupies an ambiguous position between MG and YA. Thirteen-year-old characters belong squarely in MG and fifteen-year-old characters in YA (I’m simplifying, of course, because the nature of the story and the book’s tone matter too), but fourteen-year-old characters? Unclear. The reason category matters is because bookstores have to shelve books somewhere. Ms. Salerni cites Barnes & Noble in particular and explains that she aged her main character down to thirteen from fourteen to make her novel unambiguously MG.

So, in Sparkers, Marah is fourteen. And for a long time, I actually considered my book YA. It wasn’t until I went on submission to publishers that I discovered it was being positioned as MG. I completely agreed with the reasoning, but I had to shift my conception of my novel a little bit. I’m actually happy Sparkers was declared MG because it inspired me to venture back into the children’s section of the library. I’ve since read many wonderful MG books I might not have read had my own book not been placed in that category.

Marah is fourteen for the very simple reason that I was fourteen when I started writing her story. (When I was younger, all my main characters were the same age as me.) Ms. Salerni brings up the fact that fourteen-year-olds (in the U.S.) are typically freshmen in high school, and high school students generally can’t be the protagonists of MG novels. When I began Sparkers, I was fourteen and in 9th grade, but I was still in middle school because of the way my school district split up the grades into buildings. Moreover, I had just come back from a semester in Paris, where the division of years was the same: I had been in 3ème, the fourth and final year of collège (middle school). The Ashari school system was directly inspired by my experiences in France, so of course Marah, despite being fourteen, is not yet in what we would call high school.

Like Ms. Salerni, I was asked on multiple occasions to change Marah’s age. Early on, I was advised to raise her age to fifteen because she sounded older than the text said she was. A little later, it was suggested that I reduce her age to thirteen because her story was that of someone younger. At this point, I threw up my hands and just made Marah fourteen again, like she’d been from the beginning.

Much later, my editor told me that Barnes & Noble (them again!) was concerned that Marah’s age made her too old for the store’s MG section. She asked how I’d feel about aging Marah down to thirteen. She gave me the option of keeping her age where it was, though, and that’s what I decided to do.

I find the desire to avoid fourteen-year-old characters a bit strange. I understand that fourteen straddles the boundary between MG and YA, but, after all, readers’ ages form a continuous distribution, so shouldn’t characters’ ages? If at some age children like to read about twelve-year-olds and at another age they like to read about sixteen-year-olds, there must be an age at which they like to read about fourteen-year-olds, right? It would be beyond weird if there simply were no fourteen-year-old protagonists in literature for young people.

In the end, I think it’s the individual character and their story, not their age, that determines a book’s categories. There are adult novels with child narrators. Penelope Lumley, the main character in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, is fourteen or fifteen, but those books are definitely young MG. If memory serves, the main character in The Miseducation of Cameron Post is fourteen for much of the book, but that novel is undoubtedly YA. So instead of considering fourteen a difficult age (in terms of categorization), maybe we should consider it a versatile age.

The 25th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention


The day after my Twin Cities launch party for Sparkers, I attended the 25th Annual Minnesota State Sacred Harp Convention. The timing of my trip home couldn’t have been better. The convention was held at The Landing, an outdoor museum that recreates a 19th century settlement on the Minnesota River. It’s very picturesque. There are charming preserved houses and buildings, vegetable gardens, apple trees, and a river overlook. We sang in the Town Hall.


The Town Hall

I was called to lead during the second session of the morning. The arranging committee member introduced me, saying, “We welcome Eleanor Glewwe back from Los Angeles, CA. Ask her about her new novel, out on Tuesday!” With that, it was in to the center of the square with me. I led 501 O’Leary, for rather specific reasons. It was composed in the year of my birth by Ted Mercer, a singer from Chicago who was at the convention. It’s named for the O’Leary family, who live in the Los Angeles area. Finally, I like the tune and the text, especially the lines “How will my heart endure / The terrors of that day” (I mean, it’s about Judgment Day, but I think you can sing those words about any day you’re feeling trepidatious about). Later, a singer came up to me and said how fitting it was that I’d led O’Leary, since I’d come to the convention from Los Angeles and since Ted Mercer was in the room. She said she loved it when she could figure out why a leader had chosen a particular song. Also, Ted Mercer came up to me and asked if I’d sung with the O’Learys (I have).


The Minnesota River

The singing was fantastic, and there were a number of illustrious figures in attendance, including Judy Hauff of Chicago, who basically wrote all my favorite songs in the book (perhaps it’d be more correct to say all four of her songs are among my favorites), and Mike Hinton of Texas, the current president of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company. I also got to hang out with a number of young singers I don’t see very often. And the setting was just so idyllic: blue sky, autumn sunshine, painted wooden houses with porches…


Since the arranging committee had told people to ask me about my book, well, they did. And this is where things got interesting. During one of the morning breaks, across the refreshments table (and what refreshments they were! Sparkling apple cider and basil-infused lemonade!), a woman asked me if I was “that science fiction writer”. Later, someone asked me if I was the one who’d written that book about “a woman who is a robot” (or something like that). I knew at once who they were mistaking me for. What they imagined was very flattering and very wrong.

There is a Sacred Harp singer from Missouri named Ann Leckie who wrote a science fiction novel called Ancillary Justice (the sequel, Ancillary Sword, came out yesterday). I read it earlier this year on the enthusiastic recommendation of a good friend, and I thought it was amazing. But you don’t have to take my word for it: Ancillary Justice won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Hugo Award (among other honors). In other words, Ann Leckie is a big deal.

I was tickled that other singers thought I was Ann Leckie, particularly because I had actually been hoping that Ann Leckie would be at the Minnesota convention. Missouri isn’t that far from Minnesota, and in fact there were other Missouri singers there. Moreover, Ms. Leckie was going to be at the Heartland Fall Forum (a regional trade show) in Minneapolis on October 1st, so she conceivably could have combined convention and author appearance in one trip. I had imagined accosting her at dinner on the grounds, reaching across a picnic table laden with kale salads and baked pasta dishes to shake her hand and asking her for her autograph. Alas, it was not to be.


The church

The convention was wonderful all the same. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the first day, but I made it to the evening social in St. Paul, where there was more food, including a delicious bread pudding (in two versions, with and without raisins!). I overheard someone say they thought about bringing a kale salad but knew there would already be at least three, so they didn’t. More people asked me about my book. And I learned that there’s now a (small) Georgian choir in the Twin Cities!


Singers mingling–look closely for some nice beards

A last word about funny Sacred Harp texts: When singing 280 Westford, we came to this line that I always forget about until I sing it again. I have to struggle not to laugh every time. It’s this: “Blest Jesus, what delicious fare!” Whenever I get to those words, they sound to me like, “Jesus, yum!” (I know. You’re thinking of communion. That is not the context. At least, I don’t think so.) That line might be the most amusing one in the book, outside the temperance song, which is impossible to sing without laughing. But that’s a song for another day…