Were you one of those kids who dragged home books by the armload from your neighborhood bookmobile? Did you devour YA titles with cheesy-awesome covers like they were popcorn? Were you less impressed by the Coreys (Haim and Feldman) than you were by the Loises (Duncan and Lowry)?
Then prepare to have an awesome Wednesday: Lizzie Skurnick, of the brilliant Fine Lines blog series, has just launched Lizzie Skurnick Books, an Ig Publishing imprint that will be reissuing some of the best titles in vintage YA.
Skurnick plans to release around a dozen titles a year, dating from as early as the 1930s; the series kicked off last month with YA empress Lois Duncan’s Debutante Hill. And a bonus, for those of you who care about your literary street cred: the gorgeous covers, each featuring a vintage-style photograph, remove any misgiving about reading YA in public. No more hilariously gothic illustrations or blobby raised print, just great stories in beautiful editions. In between wading through stacks and responding to reader requests that their own favorites be recognized, Skurnick answered a few questions about the dream project:
What are your criteria for what’s reprinted, aside from general wonderfulness?
When I first started writing Fine Lines, I remember looking up all the books on Amazon and being shocked at how many were out of print. I guess that’s when I began keeping a running roster of everything I’d bring back if I had the chance. I don’t consult anyone, but I love it when readers send me suggestions, and I always go read those books, too.
What were your favorite YA books as a kid? What books made you want to be a writer?
Hmmm, let’s see. So many of them are my favorites, so in interviews, I’ve now made a rule that I just mention whatever comes to mind. I loved Robin McKinley’s Beauty, and I loved Jaws, and I really loved Black Like Me. I was also very fond of An Old-Fashioned Girl. I just reordered one of my favorite Lois Duncan books, Five Were Missing, later reissued as Ransom, and am unaccountably relieved to have it in my possession again.
In terms of being a writer—I think writing is like being a musician, or a mathematician, or a dancer—something about those disciplines is hardwired. I was writing metered verse when I was 7; my brother, who’s still a programmer, was downstairs coding in the basement; a physicist friend used to read math textbooks in the bathtub when he was 5. Designers always seem to be whipping up dresses in middle school. I wonder if the cooking gene is hardwired? If it is, I’m sad I don’t have that one.
But, like most writers, I read everything. And one of the great things about YA is that so many of the books are ABOUT bookworms. It’s actually hard to find YA in which the heroine isn’t reading something or seeing a play or keeping some kind of written record, a la Harriet. You know how they say people on TV never watch TV? Well, teens in books are ALWAYS reading. And not just because their parents won’t let them watch TV.
Do you have any loves among today’s YA books? If so, do they share any similarities with the vintage titles you’re promoting?
No—I try to give today’s teens their privacy. They deserve to read their literature in peace, without my co-opting it or throwing in my old-lady opinions. The strange but singular tropes of my childhood—Meatballs, Bustin’ Loose, Forever—I would have been really weirded out if my parents had gotten a kick out of those. Or known they existed, frankly. We’re not at all curmudgeonly enough about teens today, IMHO.
What has your experience been in reaching out to authors and publishers in an effort to get these books reissued?
My first author contact was mostly through Switchboard.com and Google. I would try to locate the author’s residence, and then just give them a call. It was amazing how many picked up the phone! Most of them have agents or revive former ones when we start to work together, which is great, and then we do the deals. For an author who’s passed away, we deal with the estate, which usually takes longer, and then sometimes I task an agent with finding an author I can’t locate. Right now, none of us can seem to find Joyce Cool. I’d love to reprint The Kidnapping of Courtney Van Allen and What’s-Her-Name, if someone can simply put the two of us together. Internet? Help?
How has audience response been? I imagine you’re swimming in fan mail and thrilled requests from readers.
Ever since Fine Lines brought us all together, I have been lucky enough to bear witness to the great enthusiasm and love readers have for these books. I get many requests—luckily, we’re often already doing them—and lots of suggestions, and a lot of thanks for bringing authors back into the forefront again. I love these all. I don’t know if my fan mail is quite SWIMMABLE, but I could fill a bucket respectably, which makes me happy. I’d do this in a vacuum, but it’s great to not have to.
What’s on your wish list for books you don’t yet have plans to reissue, but would love to some day?
AHHH! I cannot share them, lest I unintentionally alert some other publisher. (I don’t have a lot of competition, but I have SOME, and more seems to grow with every offer.) Suffice it to say, there’s a big stack of 100 books to my left, and they are AWESOME.
Are you looking to engage primarily with teen audiences, or nostalgic adult audiences (like me!)?
One of the great things about worthy books is that they go through interesting life cycles, and find a new group of readers in every era. My goal isn’t to decide which: it’s to make sure all this work gets its place in the canon, not in some warehouse in Delaware. But I’m totally on tenterhooks to see what new readers the books DO find. I know those of us who loved them once will love them again, but who are they going to pick up? Sun-shy retired engineers in Florida? Japanese teen misfits? Disgruntled Greenpeace activists? I published a book of poetry many years ago, and most of my fan mail came from lawyers at white-shoe firms. It was completely bizarre, but I love that someone was being billed at $400 an hour for my sestinas. Which is way more than I got paid for a sestina.
Are you primarily looking to appeal to a female audience?
Every time I say “women,” whether I’m talking about our readers or writers, I get irate mail from men saying they loved these books, too. Of course, it’s always the same three men, but if they want to spread the word, that would be great.
What was your favorite book as a teen?