About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Boy on a Black Horse, by Nancy Springer

I'm editing books on horses, targeted for teen girls. Actually, I fought for the series, came up with the characters, the setting, and most of the plot outlines, found an artist, leveled the manuscripts, and I am now supervising the artist I selected while finishing the editing process and commissioning the cover design.

The problem is - well, problems are - I'm not a teenage girl, and I don't like horses.

I rode one once, for maybe half an hour. Then I was in a hospital for a few days. That was over three decades ago, and even with Facebook, I don't recognize most of the people I went to grade school with. They post these nice pictures, and I think, "who's that?" with almost every name and face.

The horse's name - the one that threw me: Brandy. Yes. I can remember that.

So I'm not a devotee of the genre, it may safely be said. I thought it might be good to check if we were doing it right, and last week I finally checked out a somewhat dated book by a fairly prolific author of girls' fantasy books, mainly with horses, and dove in.

It was great! Springer is one of those authors who, like Suzanne Collins, believes in grabbing the viscera in the opening lines. Nothing, for me, starts off like The Hunger Games. But Springer's The Boy on a Black Horse starts with that same, simmering power, the feeling of loss, and promise of danger.

The first time I ever saw him I was pretending to write in my daily journal in language arts class but actually drawing a horse--the head and neck had come out run-in-the-wind gorgeous, but I knew I would never get the rest of it as good--and when the door opened I looked up like everybody else, and there was a strange boy walking into my life. 

Every part of that opening works. There's suspense, questioning, romance, mystery, characterization... I can see where, over the next few paragraphs, Collins has done Springer one better, by showing the near ends of all the final threads immediately, and quickly turning dread into relief into panic. This doesn't progress like that, but instead quietly, calmly introduces Gray Calderone's motivations and history, about at the pace a real person might on meeting someone new, and coming to trust them.

Anyway, the purpose of reading this book was not to enjoy it, though I really did. It was to check on Copper Canyon, my series of short books for struggling older readers. (I say "my" - I'm not the author, and Deb did a great job, but for the purposes of writing a high interest-low reading level book, I have to take out every word or phrase and replace it with another. I call it "fossilization." Not the most promising verb, but a good metaphor for the process.) I am pleased as much by the comparison as by the research. Now I get to go back to the editing, and not worry whether the books will be enjoyable. (There's plenty else to worry about in publishing, anyway!)

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