Author Archives: Jan Gangsei

Boy book, girl book… or just a book?

So, the little one and I were perusing Halloween costumes last night. (I’d like to say that I’m one of those super crafty, Pinterest-moms who can fashion a fairy outfit from a roll of tulle, some glitter, and two-sided tape. But, no… I’d probably end up taping the kid to the dog, covering myself in glitter, and hot-glue gunning my fingers together. I much prefer to get my costumes the old-fashioned way — direct from Amazon Prime.)

Anyway, the little one excitedly tells me she wants to dress up in a Minecraft costume this year, and I think — yay! That should be easy, right? I mean, every kid under the age of ten is pretty much obsessed with the ubiquitous computer block game. I figure there have to be a ton of costume choices available.

And there were! Tons of choices! For boys…

Yes, no matter how hard we searched, little one and I couldn’t find a girl’s Minecraft costume. Anywhere. Lots of “Steves” and “Creepers.” But no girl characters. At all. Surprising — and kind of sad — considering half of the Minecraft players out there are most certainly girls. I can only guess that someone determined Minecraft=video/computer game=”boy” thing, so why bother with a girl costume?

This got me thinking about books (as things often do), and the gender assumptions we make about the kids who read them. I’ve often heard it said that boys are reluctant readers who need shorter, more action-packed stories to stay engaged. Girls, on the other hand, will allegedly read across genres and can make it through longer, more complex stories. (Ironically, this theory hasn’t held true in my own highly un-scientific sample of two — ie, the children who live in my house. My son has always been an avid reader who can become engrossed in a book for hours, while my daughter prefers drawing and watching videos to reading).

Which makes me wonder — are we doing our kids a disservice when we make such broad assumptions about what boys and girls will read/play with/dress up as for Halloween? If so, what can we do better? Is it a matter of just removing labels, like at Disney and Target? Is it ensuring that books are marketed to all children — not just by gender — as this nationwide campaign in the UK advocates? Or is it something deeper/different?

Tell me, what do you think? Should there be boy books? Girl books? Or just books? Share your thoughts in the comments below… right now, I’ve got a Minecraft costume to make. (And sorry, if you don’t hear back from me right away, it’s because my fingers are glued shut…)

Love for the Kidlit Community

Writing can be a lonely sort of business. It’s just you, a computer (or pen and paper, ink and quill, hammer and rock… ), and the vast array of imaginary people who have taken up residence in your head. No co-workers to meet around the water cooler to discuss last night’s episode of The Bachlorette. No one in the next cubicle to commiserate with over coffee. It’s just…

You. And the story you’re trying to tell.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the kidlit community. It can be easy to forget sometimes (when you’re struggling through revision #1,567,321… or another rejection… or a tough critique) that you are not alone. I really loved this recent Facebook post that perfectly illustrates this point by Newbery Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo:

I usually rewrite a book a total of eight or nine times. Sometimes more. When I’m done, I take all of those drafts…

Posted by The Official Kate DiCamillo Page on Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kate’s post was also a reminder of the other thing I love about the kidlit community–the incredible camaraderie and generosity found here. A simple Google search turns up countless sites where authors/agents/editors gladly share their expertise and advice. (I shudder to think how many rookie errors I would have made back in my querying days–besides requerying Mr. Awesome Agent with Awesome Book #2 immediately after he politely declined Awesome Book #1, oops… and sorry!–had it not been for the Blue Boards, SCBWI, Absolute Write, etc.) Not to mention, I’ve made some really amazing friends both on and offline, via this blog, on Twitter and through my agency. Incredible people who inspire and motivate me every day–even if we’re not working cubicle-to-cubicle. Even if we rarely see each other face to face.

Of course, there’s still nothing quite like meeting up with your peeps in real life–like a bunch of us did the other night outside DC (thanks to Mixed-Up Filer Amie Borst for organizing!). Much laughter was had, some delicious Italian food was consumed, stories were swapped… and I was reminded yet again: writing may be a solitary occupation, but none of us are really in it alone.

Author Headshot, from L to R: Wendy Shang, Natalie Dias Lorenzi, yours truly, Rose Cooper, Leah Henderson, Sue Douglass Fliess and Amie Borst.

Author Headshot, from L to R: Wendy Shang, Natalie Dias Lorenzi, yours truly, Rose Cooper, Leah Henderson, Sue Douglass Fliess and Amie Borst.

Jan Gangsei is the author of several Middle Grade series for Working Partners Ltd., publishing in the US, UK and Germany. Her YA debut, ZERO DAY, publishes with Disney-Hyperion on January 12, 2016.

Shhh… Writer at Work!

One of the best things about being a writer is getting to work at home, amirite? You know, we can work in our pajamas! No annoying commute! No office politics! Endless chocolate and coffee!

Okay, maybe not so much. Maybe it’s more like I’m working in pajamas because I’m on deadline and haven’t had a chance to touch that massive pile of laundry in my bedroom. And I’m obviously not commuting anywhere because I’m not dressed. And chocolate… well, thank heavens for leftover Halloween candy or I might starve. A Snickers bar is okay for breakfast, right? It’s got peanuts in it and I’m pretty sure those are healthy.

(Full disclaimer: I’m not really in my pajamas. I can’t function unless I shower and get dressed every morning. I am, however, pleading the fifth on the Snickers bar. And the laundry situation.)

That said, it’s true that working at home isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. And it’s not just because of that shiny thing called “the internet” that keeps distracting me. Or my laundry piles. Or the dishwasher that needs unloading. (I’m actually quite good at ignoring housework. It’s something of a specialty of mine.)

No, the thing that always derails me is this little distraction called… other people. Don’t get me wrong — I love my family. I love my friends. I love spending time with them.

I just don’t like it when they interrupt my work.

And even though I know they all mean well, it can be hard to get the point across that despite the fact I am home, sitting on my sofa with a laptop looking all relaxed and happy with chocolate in my teeth — I. Am. Working.

I mean, I know for a fact if I happened to be in a ditch operating a jackhammer, my kids wouldn’t come over to ask what was for dinner. Just like I’d never dream of walking into the operating room while my brother was performing surgery to see what we should get Mom for her birthday.

But hey — writer on sofa. Fair game.

Sometimes I dream about renting myself an office somewhere with an assistant to screen all my calls and fetch me stuff. But then, that thoroughly defeats my plan to work at home in my pajamas eating Snickers bars and ignoring the dishes.

Now, I know I’m not the only writer to suffer from other-people-distraction syndrome. At a retreat with some of my agency-mates last year this very topic came up, as well as some clever ways to deal with it — i.e. hanging a curtain in front of the desk to indicate Mom’s off limits (unless there’s blood, then well, go find Dad anyway); a figurine on the computer — if he’s facing out, okay to talk; in, keep it to yourself, unless, well, blood.

I myself haven’t come up with any good tricks — other than to inform my family when I’m working that I’m in my “cone of silence,” which I envision looking like an invisible version of one of these:

dog collar

(Actually, come to think of it, maybe I should put one of those on my head whenever I’m busy. At the very least, my family and friends would think I’d completely and finally lost it and would stay away long enough for me to get something done.)

So, how about you? Do you suffer from other-people-distraction syndrome? How do you deal with it? Tell me in the comments below! Right now, I’ve got to run… I’ve got a whole load of laundry to not do…