I heard about this via Finding Wonderland this afternoon and, because I'm practically looking for excuses to design fake book covers (I could do that all day long, no joke), I (semi) followed the instructions and ended up with the below. This is originally the concept of 100 Scope Notes and if you'd like to create your own YA debut cover simply follow these instructions:


* 1 – Go to “Fake Name Generator” or click http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/

The name that appears is your author name.

* 2 – Go to “Random Word Generator” or click http://www.websitestyle.com/parser/randomword.shtml

The word listed under “Random Verb” is your title.

* 3 – Go to “FlickrCC” or click http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/index.php

Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

* 4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

* 5 – Post it to your site along with this text.

Conspire by Aidan L. Kent

As you can see, I bent the rules a little as by the time I'd realized I was supposed to have a person in the photo I was too far into the design to turn back. Anyway, the kitties look pretty creepy to me. Not sure if they're part of a conspiracy or just window dressing but I admit I'm curious. This looks like one eerie book!
I've been thinking a lot about bias, intolerance and hate lately. I've been thinking about:

* the racism and sexism Sonia Sotomayor has faced in being a U.S. Supreme Court nominee — the ludicrous idea that, unlike Sotomayor, white men carry no cultural or gender bias (read The Republic of T's blog on the Vulcan Standard for more on that) and are therefore uniquely able to be objective.

* the completely vile racism and sexism levelled at President Obama's eleven-year-old daughter Malia by posters on the Free Republic blog.

* Bloomsbury's attempt to white-wash the cover of Justine Larbalestier's YA book Liar
about a black female protagonist.

* the results of a U.S. research project on how gender and race affect customer service perception.

These are all items I've read about during the past week or so and are ugly evidence of the deep toxic attitudes our culture holds about who is competent, who is worthy.

The Oklahoman apparently saw nothing the matter with running a cartoon captioned “Fiesta Time at the confirmation hearing” which featured Sotomayor strung up like like a piñata and with a rope around her neck suggesting lynching, a group of elephants lined up in the foreground to beat her with sticks. Recently posters on the Free Republic blog deemed eleven-year-old Malia Obama "a typical street whore" and "ghetto street trash" for wearing a peace-symbol shirt. And U.S. publisher Bloomsbury decided to stick the face of a white girl on a book about a black one with the teen novel Liar.

With controversy brewing about the decision author Justine Larbalestier decided to blog about her opposition to the cover and also stated that:

"I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all."
Sadly, the publishing business and consumer bias against books with black characters on the cover seems to be in line with a societal bias in favour of white (specifically white male) doctors, bookstore clerks and golf store employees.

According to a paper that will be published later this year in the Academy of Management Journal a study examining customer service ratings for a health maintenance organization, golf courses and a mock bookstore found that “customers anonymously reported lower satisfaction with service from women and minority employees performing at the same level and offering the same service as white male employees.”

The researchers showed “female and minority (mostly Asian) physicians were consistently rated lower than white male doctors providing the same services. In fact, the more the female and minority doctors tried to provide better service, such as being available to patients, returning patients' emails and taking time to talk, the worse they scored.”

The bookstore and golf course research demonstrated a similar bias in favour of white males. Golfers gave lower ratings to “courses that employed high percentages of women and minorities, even when productivity and quality of the facilities were the same.” In the bookstore the scripts and behaviour of actors playing bookstore employees never varied yet people “gave the female and black male bookstore employees significantly lower ratings than the white male employees.”

I believe that with the current controversy over Justine Larbalestier's book, Bloomsbury will soon change their minds and ditch the white cover they'd planned for Liar. I think this controversy will also help deter publishers from white-washing books in the future. That may not automatically make them sell better but I have to believe that change is cumulative, and that the more we consciously challenge our own ingrained attitudes, and the more judges who don't fit the white male mold sit on the Supreme Court, and the more black characters we see on book covers, that the less likely someone will be to call an eleven year old African-American girl 'trash' or think a talented doctor is somehow less than because of the colour of his or her skin or an extra X chromosome.
If you look on the Toronto Star webpage right now one of the headlines reads: “Rain, rain here all day.” Indeed, it's been raining non-stop since I got up. So far July has pretty much been a washout—and oddly chilly too. Yesterday afternoon, which was drier but plenty overcast with a cool breeze, I was out walking around town and got the weirdest flashback sensation. For a split second I could've sworn I was in Ireland. Ireland in summertime.

Now, of course, there are some nice summer days in Ireland but in my experience they are in the minority—occuring rarely enough to be remarked upon. When the sun does comes out to play it's glorious and Dublin instantly looks ten times prettier. But there are days and days of gray, various shades of wet, and temperatures that make the concept of wearing a T-shirt feel like a fantasy.
Ck, Dublin mountains, 1991

Anyway, so there I was yesterday, strolling around my Canadian town, suddenly awash in ancient Dublin feelings. Each place has a different feel to it and times have a specific feel to them too. In particular, as I walked, I was caught up in a Dublin in the early to mid-nineties vibe. And it felt so incredibly close, you know? Though it was long ago and oh so far away (like Karen Carpenter sings in Superstar) it felt like about ten minutes ago. The fact that it was 2009 and that I was miles away came as a shock.

There are some people, times and places you miss all your life, even if you're glad you've moved on. I'll always treasure the years I spent in Dublin and I'm guessing that even when I'm seventy-eight an overcast sky and some certain immeasurable quality about the air will yank my mind back there and make those times feel like just yesterday.
By now you've probably heard elsewhere that the YALSA Board changed the proposal to eliminate the Best Books for Young Adults list to a discussion item. In-coming YALSA President Linda Braun posted the following on the YALSA blog last Wednesday: “Using feedback from the Board and members, the Executive Committee will work to develop a new strategy for BBYA that will be ready for consideration for Board at Midwinter 2010.”

Deep breath of relief for now and we'll see what happens in 2010!

Maclean's: Toronto StinksMeanwhile, it's summer, but not a very warm one for the Greater Toronto Area. Those of you outside of Ontario may not be aware that Toronto is in the midst of a strike by municipal workers. This means many Toronto services have been cancelled including city-run daycares and camps, parks and recreation programs (no pools!), and garbage pick-up. The current issue of Maclean's magazine sports a cover declaring “Toronto stinks.”

Having been downtown several times recently, though, I can report that areas tourists frequent don't look anywhere near as nasty as you'd imagine. It's the residents who are getting hit the worst as they're forced to lug trash to transfer stations (try to envision completing this task without a car!) and put up with the rancid smell that accompanies these dumps if they're unlucky enough to live in the vicinity of one.

Living outside the city, I'm fortunate enough not to have to deal with any of this and we've been doing our best to enjoy the weather (such as it is) and the lake, in particular. I can't imagine not living near a major body of water, and hope I never have to, because this is what I'd be missing:

Lake Ontario vista

Lake Ontario vista

Lake Ontario vista

Lake Ontario vista

Lake Ontario vista

Geese hanging out by Lake Ontario

Boats, Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario vista

Lake Ontario vista

Before I sign off I also wanted to mention that I hope all the Paul McCartney fans out there were able to catch him on David Letterman last week but if not you can watch the interview here. Extremely cool to see him in the Ed Sullivan Theater 45 years after his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Even if you did see the interview and watched McCartney sing Get Back and his new single Sing the Changes on top of the Ed Sullivan Theater, you may not be aware that he performed a special mini concert up there which you can view on the Late Show website.

Helter Skelter, baby! Paul still knows how to rock out.
Burn Burn, Our Lady PeaceHey, fellow Canadians! If, like me, you're a big Our Lady Peace fan and are excited about the release of the new album Burn Burn (which hits shelves next week) you might want to head over to inMusic.ca right now. Yup, you can preview the entire album over there right this minute. If you ask me today, my favourite track is Dreamland, but one of the fun things about getting to know an album is how your relationship to the various songs grows and changes.

I'm looking forward to listening to Burn Burn repeatedly and figuring out what the answer to that question is in two weeks time and two months time.

Sometime yesterday YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association) released a statement saying that The School Library Journal had erred in reporting that a proposed Reader’s Choice list would replace the current BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) list.

However, there are two separate proposals under consideration:

1) the shelving of the BBYA list in 2011. (More details on the possible phasing out of BBYA here.)
2) the creation of a Reader's Choice list. (More details on that list are available here.)

According to Michele Gorman of the YALSA Board of Directors these proposals “will be discussed, debated and voted on by the YALSA Board this conference - and none have had a final decision.”

Sadly, this does confirm that the Best Books for Young Adults list is in jeopardy. Whatever the YALSA Board of Directors decide about the creation of a Reader's Choice list, I sincerely hope they realize the value of the BBYA and vote to maintain it when they meet to discuss the issue on Monday.

I truly hope this doesn't happen but the American Library Assocation is considering replacing their annual YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list with a Reader's Choice one.

According to their own literature, basically YALSA and Non-YALSA members would be able to nominate titles and the final list would be composed of the top 5 vote getters (only YALSA members will be eligible to vote) in each category (e.g. sci fi, fantasy, historical, romance, humor, mystery, horror, biographies, etc.).

At first glance the idea may appear attractive because it allows many more of YALSA's members to participate in the process. But as middle-school librarians Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan point out in a Booklist article on the subject, a similar popular choice type list to the one the ALA have in mind already exists in the form of a Teens' Top Ten. The main difference with the newly proposed list is that it would be a librarians popular choice. Currently, BBYA committee members read over 300 books a year but we can't reasonably expect this same scope of reading from regular librarians who would be eligible to vote under the new system, which means quieter and less publicized books would be even less likely to be recognized by YALSA than they are right now. As YA author Alex Flynn explains on her blog, "Many libraries don't even order new books until several months after they come out, or they wait for the BBYA list to be released."

Reading about the positive impact that making the BBYA list with Breathing Underwater had on Alex Flynn's career, my heart sank at this: "A book like Breathing Underwater would never have been chosen for BBYA if it had been up to popular vote, particularly if there were only five slots."

And again at this: "And what of titles which may have less popular appeal due to concentrating on members of minority groups?...I can only imagine how a book like Williams' Garcia's, an African-American title which opened with a brutal rape and had a hideous cover, would have fared in a popular vote."

Replacing YALSA's current BBYA list with a Reader's Choice one would be a definite vote in favour of popularity over quality. If that's where YALSA want to go, I suppose they're headed in the right direction with this idea but it all feels very wrong to me. I understand if the current BBYA procedure needs some kind of overhaul but readers are already well aware of the hit books on the market. The Reader's Choice list won't offer anything new — instead it will shine yet another spotlight on top selling books that don't need another champion while lesser known but just as worthy novels go undiscovered. Is that really what you want, YALSA?

There's a brand new interview with me up at Stop, Drop, and Read! Many thanks for having me over for a blog visit, Diana! I'll be making another appearance at Stop, Drop, and Read! for Diana's blogoversary in August but not as myself. As who? you may wonder, but I'm not letting the cat out of the bag just yet. You can check back there to catch that and many other cool blogoversary posts next month.

I should also mention that right here (on the blog & website) there are 7 days left for the One Lonely Degree contest. So if you'd like to enter email me at ckkellymartin at hotmail dot com before July 14th.

In other news, I'm sorry to report that a natural disaster befell the Magic Garden on day five. Nope, I didn't poke or prod it (I swear). The Magic Garden was extremely delicate and I suspect either the coffee table it was mounted upon got nudged ever so slightly or the current from the vent felt more like a hurricane to the fragile Magic Garden. I still recommend the Magic Garden experience but be sure to tiptoe around your Garden and avoid breathing in its direction!

To my delight someone emailed me and informed me there are also Magic Snow men, Magic Trees and Magic Sheep. Behold the Magic Sheep video somebody posted on YouTube:

So don't let anyone tell you there's no such thing as magic!
We were in Stratford last weekend to catch a fantastic production of The Importance of Being Earnest, the kind of production that makes you wonder if there's anything in the world quite as delightful as an Oscar Wilde comedy. Well, of course there are those delectable Vancouver cupcakes so I might just have to call it a tie. But anyway, while in town for the day we stopped into Quark Soup on Ontario Street, a shop that sells all kinds of weird and wonderful goodies like Sea-Monkeys and Insta-Snow.

A bizarre looking Magic Garden kit caught our eye. The box promised that once watered with the enclosed MAGIC solutions the paper garden would begin to blossom within three hours. In just ten it would be fully grown.

Really? How the hell does that happen?

I'm no wiser now, having purchased the Magic Garden, and the box (which lists the product as being made in Taiwan) doesn't give any ingredients away. So I guess I just have to believe in the power of magic. Below you can examine my photographic evidence, taken on Canada Day when we had a day to spare to study the progress of our Magic Garden, in between watching snippetsfrom Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys marathons.

Magic Garden—the promise of whimsy and wonder for $6.99.
Magic Garden

The Magic ingredients, including paper cut-out trees, flowers, mountain and the packets of Magic solution. The instruction sheet mentioned a blue mountain, while ours was clearly green, but we soldiered on.

Assembled, the Magic Garden awaits the Magic solution which will transform it from a barren wasteland to a thing of beauty.

About an hour after the application of Magic Solution, the flowers and trees already showing some evidence of growth.

Approximately three hours into the process, pink blossoms sprouting on trees.

Woohoo, see that snow on the top of the mountain at the halfway point in the transformation!

A few hours left to go, trees puffy with pink and the flowers shaping up nicely too.

Hour ten, Magic Garden in full bloom as promised and complete with snow-covered mountain.

Magic Garden in full bloom

What next? The instructions suggest adding a small amount of water underneath the mountain after two days. Apparently this will result in snow of a more natural colour. The guy at the store told us the garden will remain intact for quite awhile if not poked and prodded. Magic, I suppose, doesn't like to be poked and prodded so I will endeavour to give the Magic Garden the space and respect it deserves.

I hope all my fellow Canadians out there had just as magical a Canada Day!
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