Saturday, December 31, 2011

So long 2011...

I am sitting down to finish off my WIP, but had to take a minute to bid farewell to 2011.  Though a lot less eventful than 2009 or 2010, it has brought its share of doubts and joys and mixed blessings.

I've seen my son weather the last gasps of middle school to blossom into an amazing young man in high school. I've always loved hanging out with him, no matter what age, but so many of us approaching middle age get those pangs of missing the babies we once had.  For me, that lasts about a blink and then I am wide-eyed and staring at this witty, wonderful, cultural explorer who has been shipwrecked in a wasteland and refuses to let that stunt his growth in any way.  I love you, Ghost Son.

I've watched my daughter grow into a young lady, excel at academics, process intense grief when her beloved pet died in her arms, and wrestle with the demons of puberty mixed with a processing disorder that has rocked her little world out of focus. We have managed some great feats in the past, and I know we can get through adolescence together.  It won't be easy, but we know that in the midst of all the chaos, our beautiful girl is still in there.  I love you, Ghost Daughter.

I've been surprised by unexpected turbulence in a rock solid man as middle-age hit him smack in the face.  I'll just say that a mid-life crisis can happen to anyone, no matter how steady or logical, and if you keep your head, you can get through it.  He is still and always will be the only one for me.  I love you, Ghost Hunk.  All day long.

As for this Ghost Girl, I'm still discovering who I am as a writer, still fighting to pull it all together.  This novel has taken me longer than anticipated to write, but I'm hoping it will be worth the wait.  So here's to a shiny book deal and phenomenal things all around for the whole Ghost Clan in 2012!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Justice? What happened to "Hang 'Em High?"

Warning:  Rant to follow.  This post has nothing to do with writing, though it is more fantastical than fiction.  No names will be mentioned, but the facts are accurate.

In the old days of the wild west, horse thieves could be hanged for their crime.  Apparently in the 21st century, they get a cruise as well as huge profits on their stolen booty.  There is a reason that horse people have a bad name and this woman is the poster child...though she should be on a wanted poster.  Is there no justice anymore?

A dear friend of mine has two beautiful girls. The oldest is my own daughter's best friend.  With their daddy on active duty and their best friend moving away, as well as other stressors, these girls have had enough to deal with without their ponies being someone they knew and trusted.

A woman who should have served as a role model and an instructor betrayed them all and stole their 2 ponies, selling one across state lines and the other to a family who is also a victim in all of this.  What do the police do?  Almost nothing.  "It just isn't a priority."  It has been almost 2 years since the theft occurred and roughly 18 months since the truth of it came out.  Still this woman is walking around free and trading horses and offering lessons.

As a professional member of USEF and PHSA, she should be held to a high moral standard.  I have recently discovered that they don't care about moral or professional standards as long as their membership dues are paid.  So this criminal can continue to profit from her elicit activities because the police don't have the time to deal with it and the professional organizations don't care about the unethical and even criminal behavior of their members.

Of course civil court could get involved, which means even more financial and emotional hardship for a family who has done nothing wrong.  I am stymied.  Let is not forget that two little girls are the victims here.  Two horse-crazy, loving, and innocent girls who until now had not learned that adults cannot be trusted.

No one has been murdered.  This is true.  This woman is not running the biggest meth operation in three counties.  But does that make her any less guilty of a crime against two little girls?  Given the money involved and the interstate transfer of stolen goods, she is guilty of a felony.  We have positive proof, even recorded confessions, but no one will do anything.

Perhaps it is a good thing that I no longer have a horse.  That I no longer rub elbows with such sleazy horse traders as this. I have lamented my loss for the last ten years and ached to be among horses again, but not if it means dealing with conniving, lying, thieving delinquents like this woman.

As for the response by law enforcement, God forbid my house gets broken into.  It may not rate high enough on the attention scale for the police to respond.

Meanwhile, two little girls have seen how it works.  Get screwed by one adult and then take it up the butt again by the adults who are supposed to help you.  

I have only one word for the women involved in this crime and the so-called authorities who are supposed to protect us from them:  DISGUSTED

Monday, December 05, 2011

Creative Urges

We are all familiar with the basic biological urges:  hunger, thirst, sex drive, etc.  As a writer, I wonder how many people feel that same sort of inescapable drive towards creative endeavors.  We all need to eat, but some people have an overwhelming need to satisfy not just the need for sustenance to keep the body functioning, but the need to satisfy the spiritual desire for a savory experience.  It is not enough to simply put food in their mouths.  Eating must be an event.  They are not complete without a sensual taste experience.

I think creativity can act just like that sort of hunger.  It was my son who got me thinking about this.  He is one of those kids who has many talents and will eventually be paralyzed by the number of choices he has until he finally breaks through and chooses one talent to pursue.  All of his talents are traditionally creative.  Music, art, writing.  I see that same sort of restlessness that I had at his age.  The difference is, he is embracing the journey and reveling in the exploration, while I worried about making the wrong choice and being mediocre at everything rather than really talented at one thing.  I so admire him for that.

But I continue to field these deep-seated urges to create.  I wish I could sing well.  I have these emotions and ideas that I just want to embrace through song...but I'm not very good at singing.  I ache to paint, to immerse myself in color and shape it into something that reveals some great truth...but I'm not that great at painting or drawing.  I long to satisfy my eye for composition and the hidden magic behind the ordinary flotsam we see all around us...but so far, I'm an amateur at photography.

In all of this is a gut-level, inescapable urge to feel something so deeply that it takes a part of you with it when you finally release it into the wild.  But it takes confidence to be able to reach that pinnacle.  It takes talent.  It takes great risk.  Perhaps its like the adrenalin junkies who base jump or skydive.  That urge cannot be satisfied unless you risk it all and lay it all out there, good or bad. I had to sound so cliché, but it is liberating.

Comedians are often good at that.  Imagine how terrifying that must be, because humor is a very personal and spiritual phenomenon.  You lay out truths (sometimes half-truths) and ask us to laugh at ourselves and at you.  I imagine it must be addictive.  And cathartic.

Maybe that's it.  All these creative pursuits allow us to free something that has been held captive for far too long.  Simple words cannot go far enough or even approach the truth of it.  It takes more than words set together in a straight line. It takes a medium that dares us to dig down to the roots of it all. To mess it all up, fill it with emotion, and spread it all around.

I know, I know...this post is rambling a bit.  But I guess that is just where my urge has taken me.  It's not a perfectly constructed plate of food—apologies to Tom and Padma—nor a flawlessly executed work of art. It's easy to forget that even the most talented creative types have a process. I hope that someday I can hone my writing into that creative expression that fills my soul and truly satisfies.  Even if it only satisfies me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Digital Revolution—Not an End, but a Means

At the SCBWI Southern Breeze WIK conference this weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending four truly relevant workshops.  One presentation, in particular, altered the course of a significant grudge I have held against e-readers and tablets.  I'm no luddite, but some things are just sacred.   Rubin Pfeffer, former Senior VP of children's publishing at  S&S and currently an agent at East/West Literary Agency, gave the specter of E-Publishing a whole new look and eased some of my anxiety that I may have missed my chance to publish the way I had always dreamed—as a real, paper and binding book.

He started by taking us through the development of media through history, from radio to film to television to the internet, and pointed out that while technology has changed, none of these vehicles for creativity has gone into extinction.  To the contrary, such revolutions have brought about innovations that have not only created enormous opportunity but expanded the media in ways that reach an even broader audience.  With e-books, enhanced e-books, and apps, the possibilities are staggering.

I know, I know.  At first I felt that technology cheapened our enterprise, that it somehow denigrated the sanctity of the book.  I still feel a little twinge of that pain, but I truly believe that the book as we know it will not die, not completely.  The way we publish in general, however, will definitely change.  Contracts, marketing, development.  The business model simply must change.

As I listened to Mr. Pfeffer describe how the new technology is evolving and what implications it has for our creativity, I started thinking of all the new possibilities and mourned the fading biblio-empire a little bit less.  Change is difficult...and inevitable.  We will all go through some growing pains, but I hope they will be truly growing pains.  That we will stretch ourselves a  little more and seize the opportunity to connect with our audience in ways that will enrich their relationship with literature and maybe even whet their appetite for more.

It will not be long before the number of e-books sold outpaces the traditional paper book, but that does not mean an end to good books.  Technology is simply a means by which we can share our stories with even more readers.  If their eyes are glued to a glowing screen and their fingers agile at finessing a touch pad, let is meet them where they are, where we can engage them in a variety of ways.

I can imagine the terror that those first screen actors felt when silent movies gave way to the talkies.  Some embraced the revolution and honed a new side of their craft, while others slinked away into obscurity.  Think of how much richer the experience is, how those who embraced it discovered a new voice.  I will always cherish my romantic ideal and dream of holding that beautiful hard-bound book in my hands, but I will also relish the knowledge that my story is in the hands of the young people for whom I wrote it, in whatever way it reaches them.

I would rather have my kids' eyes locked on a screen that leads them through a path of beautifully sculpted words and into challenging revelations than one that dulls their mind and entrances them with the likes of a giggling sponge or lowers them into the mire of some alternate universe that claims to be "reality tv."

Thursday, October 06, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Today, the internet is flooded with tributes to Steve Jobs, who passed away last night.  When I heard the news I wanted to cry as if I had lost a close friend.  There are several reasons why the news hit me this way, but I'll name three:

  • Steve Jobs was a pioneer who defined the world I lived in precisely at the time of my "awakening."  I was among the first students who learned about computers on an Apple back in the late 1970's, when the Apple had just opened the door to personal computing for everyday people.  In college, the little Mac brought the world of computing into my dorm room and eventually made my old electric typewriter, dropped and busted by a "friend" during senior finals, obsolete.  I was exactly the audience who grew with the company, who saw a true pioneer, a genius, define the way people interacted with computers.  He personalized them with an uncanny intuition for how people think.  Not just smart people...all people.  "Visionary" almost seems too hackneyed to describe his gifts.

  • I would not be the writer/teacher I am today.  While some people may still prefer to grab a pen and a legal pad and write out their manuscripts in long-hand, I simply could not function without my MacBook Pro.  A pen or pencil could never keep up with my mind when it comes to writing down my stories and ideas.  The computer keyboard at least lets me stumble through the mistakes or type stream-of-consciousness in a way that lets me put it all together with ease later.  My Mac is far more forgiving than a legal pad...and far more durable as well as versatile. Because of my "insanely good" Mac, I have an online community that keeps me sane and never lets me give up. I have a tool that has supported and inspired my creativity both in my writing and in my teaching.  

  • My faith in people, in the world, in the wonder that is life would be missing something without Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Wall-E, UP, and all the wonderful Pixar films that owe so much to Steve Jobs.  All due respect and a standing ovation to the writers, but the realization of their vision, what so many of us writers dream of, comes largely from the tools that Steve Jobs offered. For my kids and myself, the simplest emotions still have immeasurable magic. 

As I awakened to my own potential gifts and set my feet on a road with no one particular destination, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, it has all been there over the years to give me direction. Technology that was more than useful, more than personal.  It was art. And as I discovered the beauties of parenthood and pondered the simplest questions only to realize they are the hardest to answer, Pixar showed me a lifetime of wisdom in less than 90 minutes.  Like so many others of my generation and younger, I can't help but wonder, will it ever be the same?

Thank you, Steve Jobs, and Godspeed...

Friday, September 23, 2011

All My WIP Children

As authors, we often refer to our books as our children.  At conception, those little babes fill us with joy and anticipation.  We imagine their future in every detail and nurture the concept until it is fully formed and ready for the real labor.  Oy!  You think 15 or 20 or 30 hours of labor is tough, try two years!

As each WIP grows, it takes on a personality of its own.  You love them all, but you can't help but compare them sometimes and realize that each one needs a very different kind of discipline.

One WIP has you running non-stop right from the start and you're always excited to see what he's going to do next.  He takes risks and isn't afraid to get a little dirty or scuffed up.  Blunders are just another nugget of gold waiting to be mined.  And he does not like to wait...for anything.  He's that child of wonder who is always discovering some glorious secret that he can't keep.  He inspires you and sucks the life out of you at the same time, but you always know that eventually he will "wow" the world if he gets the chance.

Your next WIP is not so gregarious.  This shy little bud needs more coaxing.  She is brilliant, but hyper critical of herself and afraid to put a foot wrong.  She becomes fixated on some ridiculous detail and can't move on until it is just right.  Yep.  This is your perfectionist.  Completely obsessed with the details. And though you try to hide it, she knows you expect more out of her than the others. Before you know it, those unspoken expectations have spun out of control and cranked up the pressure until performance anxiety almost cripples her.  The best thing to do is take a spa day (or two or three) and have a make-over.  She'll need a heart-to-heart reminder that she is just as awesome as your other WIPs. She's just different.

And somewhere there is that sweet, quiet, parent-pleaser who is just waiting for her chance to shine.  This was your first.  She had to be the test subject, the kid who got to endure all your early parental mistakes and experimental discipline.  There were no hand-me-downs, but her hand-made clothes were a bit cheap and unfinished. You hadn't quite learned how to cut the patterns and sew yet. Amazingly, she still has her dream intact.  She just waits patiently to see if she'll get another chance to go to the ball or the parade or whatever it will turn out to be.  No judgement.  No grudges. Just hope.

It's the shy one who is giving me fits now.  I'm hoping that she is a gifted child in the end, and that these are just her perfectionist growing pains.  That I'll be able to unlock her inhibitions and give her a little more faith in herself so she can really take off.  After the first spa day, she is starting to loosen up a bit.  She is still a little afraid of the big finale, but I think I can get her there.  Soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-11-2001

As we sat around the breakfast table this morning, the entire Ghost Family remembered that day ten years ago.  Ghost Son was 4 and Ghost Daughter was 6 months old. I was surprised not by what they did or didn't remember, but by what they understood.  Both of them startled me with their keen perspectives.  Ghost Son shared the details he could remember and talked about how his Civics class discussed things on Friday. He is becoming such an adult who every day gives me boundless hope.

Ghost Daughter talked about how wrong it is to assume that all Muslims are like those people. She was appalled to think that anyone would make such a generalization.  She went on to talk about the impact of those events not only on the people connected to them, but on those who would be collateral damage simply because of the color of their skin or the way they dress or the beliefs they profess.  She understood so much more than I had ever imagined.  More than a lot of 10-year-olds might.

For the Project 365 blog today, I chose not a photograph but a drawing.  The indelible impression of that day on a 4-year-old's world.

That's why I write for young people.  They are amazing...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A Letter to my WIP

Dear WIP,

We've been together for a while, now, and I've come to know you pretty well. You are bold and interesting and not afraid to take some risks.  I always liked that about you.  Sure, you say some stupid things now and then, but who doesn't?  Lately, though, you have been so hard to talk to, afraid to open up.  You're holding back, showing me only the tiniest bits of your world where you once wore your heart on you sleeve and felt free to gush.  Is it something I said?  Have I offended you?  Did I give you bad advice? Are you having mad hormonal surges or something?  

I can only wonder if this new wrinkle in our relationship is because you are growing up.  Believe me, I've been there. One day you are doing your own thing, oblivious to the existence, let alone the opinions, of anyone else.  Then "Bam!" You realize that you're not alone.  That others are watching you.  Maybe you start watching them.  Before you know it, you are constantly comparing yourself to others or worried about being left behind or making the wrong choices.  All of a sudden you are aware of what's out there and it scares you.  That's growing up.  I won't lie; it ain't always pretty.  And it definitely isn't easy.  You will be judged, rejected, deconstructed, and made over.  But that's life. That's how we become our best selves.

Or maybe it's me.  Maybe I've made all the wrong choices for you. Maybe somehow I've lost touch with the real you.  Have I stifled your voice or failed to listen closely?  Maybe I've been the one who's afraid.  So scared to get it wrong and send you out there unprepared that I become overprotective.  After all, you are my responsibility. But maybe it's time to let you have your head a little more.  Drop the reins and let you run.  It's hard.  You'll never know how hard. I just wonder, have I given you enough direction to keep you from dashing head-on into catastrophe?  I guess it's time to find out.

So here it goes.  I'm letting go and letting you lead the way now.  I'm right behind you.  Just remember, don't be afraid to show yourself as you really are. Make no apologies.  Just put yourself out there.  

One last thing.  When it's all said and done, I, and a highly qualified team of specialists, can always give you a kick-ass make-over, so be bold, be sassy, and run like hell!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bloggedy, Blog, Blog—Awesome!

As I was mulling over a handful of blog post ideas this morning, a very cool bit of info popped up in my inbox.  I was just given a blog award by an awesome writer buddy!

The Liebster Blog Award is for blogs that have under 200 followers. This award is a great way to share some blogging love, get people’s names out there, and help bloggers build up their followers. There are some rules that come with the Liebster Blog Award:

1. Thank the person who gave you this award and link back to them.
Thank you, Angelina Hanson!!
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog. (see below for list & links)
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And best of all - have blogging fun!

You guys rock!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Identity Crisis #1

Warning:  The following post may ramble a bit. 

It's that uncomfortable place where anxiety, momentum, and perfectionism smack into a rapidly deflating self-confidence.  In this case, I am sharing this particular moment of truth with my main character and I'm not sure who will come out if this ahead...or even alive.  Plodding through this latest WIP, Maggie's back story keeps getting richer, but what lies ahead for her and for me remains lost in a fog bank.  I keep writing her character in my head, embracing each little epiphany and checking it off for revision later.

But what about now?  I'm working on the last rise towards the climax and I seem to be stuck on a ledge, terrified to climb up but absolutely petrified to look down.  Where do I go from here?  I'm fighting the urge to go back to the beginning and start revising.  Maybe starting again will give me more momentum to get over this hump and realize her character and the plot more fully.  But the other part of me is saying, "NO!  Stay on the path and get to the end and plant your flag so you know where to go when you make your second journey through this tale." Which voice do I listen to?  Do I let go and repel down the side of the mountain and start again or keep climbing hand over hand until I reach the top?

Behind all of this is my own insecurity and doubt.  Every writer goes through this.  I know that.  The tape in my head keeps saying, "You should have been there by now," and I have a hard time seeing the growth and the miles I have come already.  I keep hoping that I'm stuck in a time warp and it really hasn't taken this long to get this close but still not there.  No such luck.  I am where I am and I'm kicking myself for not performing better.

Today, I stopped by the library to grab something new to read, something to distract me a little so my other neurons can fire less self-consciously.  Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why ended up in my bag, though I can't believe I haven't read it already.  I remember Jay's posts on the Blue Boards way back when he was feeling what I feel right now.  He was ready to give up on writing and being published.  Okay, "ready" may not be the best word for this feeling.  I'll never really be ready to give up and neither was he.  But he was feeling defeated and unsure, just as I am now.

Then magic happened.  He got a book contract.  Soon came the accolades for his work and the speaking engagements and now a movie.  He had been on that ledge, wondering if he could ever climb that last stretch, and somehow he found the strength to keep going and flew to the top.  I'm sure he will tell you that it was and still is hard work, as it is for all writers, even after you "arrive." Writing is not for the faint of heart or the fatally insecure.

So where/who am I now?  I'm with Maggie, I guess.  Not fully formed.  Impatient.  Expecting perfection from myself.  Afraid of failure...and success.  Worried that the magic may have passed me by or judged me lacking in some infinite way.  It's funny.  I guess in some ways I feel like...well...a teenager.

Maybe it's time to pick myself up and draw on that hormone-induced mania that makes adolescence so much fun.  Use it.  Listen to that 17-year-old voice in my head and let it lead me, and Maggie, to the next stop.  Onward and upward, right?

...but I'm drawing the line at re-living acne and incomprehensible mood swings, okay?

Friday, July 29, 2011

#WIPMADNESS Final July Check-in

How did everybody do?

Today, I will break the 46k mark, which is a little short of what I wanted, but it is progress.  This last week has been rocky...meetings that barred me from the WIP and potential upheaval that was eventually abated. But if nothing else, I got even more clarity in the development of the story.

What have I learned this month?

I've learned that I need to move around, to get up and stretch and think and direct my brain in different directions more often than I do.  I've learned how much I miss writing at home.  I've also learned that tension and romance can be hard to do without a major cheese factor killing your momentum.  The "go big or stay home" mentality doesn't work quite the same way in that case.

Goals for August?

1.  Finish the WIP!  (HA!...I can try!).
2.  Take at least one weekend and lock myself away to write.  (That might actually happen)
3.  If all else fails, just keep making forward progress.

Major goal — to have something workable for my agent to review.  Then...the revisions.

Thanks for hanging with the madness everyone!  Good luck in August and don't forget to check in with Angelina!

Friday, July 22, 2011

#WIPMADNESS July check-in #4

It's a real jumble this week.  Ghost Girl and Son have driven north to Wilmington, NC to meet Ghost Friends for a mother/son retreat at the beach.  That means a lot of crazy 14-year-old boy antics, sun and surf, and very little writing.  But I wouldn't trade this week for anything.  (I might postpone it for a book deal, though...just saying.)

One thing that nudged me along was a great critique from a writing buddy.  We exchanged 3 chapters a few weeks ago, and she sent me my notes yesterday.  (Big thanks to @bkslinda)  As can often happen in a first draft, part of the story was still in my head rather than on the page.  You know those clever little bits of information that you mean to lead somewhere, but somehow you didn't quite get the "somewhere" down on the page?  Yep, did that a little bit.

The good news is, revision is my bag.  I'm slow on the first draft, but fast and efficient on revisions.  By that time, my vision is more complete and the holes are more obvious when I go back over everything.

While my progress wasn't what I had hoped this week, it was what I expected (only about 600 words).  Maybe I'll still get in a few hundred while the boys are swimming...

How did everyone else do?

Friday, July 15, 2011

#WIPMADNESS July Check-in Number 3

It's Harry Potter day at last!  I'm not sure how much writing I will get done today, but I am outta here at 2:00 to meet Ghost Son for our standing HP date.  Aside from that distraction, it has been a pretty decent WIP week, especially since I broke the 44k mark and am officially building the climax.  I continue to have little epiphanies along the way (yay!) as well as those moments of doubt.

Ah yes, those moments of doubt.  With Harry Potter stalking me in the background and my rabid reading of the Hunger Games series, I find myself making far too many comparisons which is completely counter productive.  I keep thinking, why can't I write like that?  Or, I'm doing it wrong. My style is so different and that gestational stage of my WIP has me feeling bloated, unattractive, and downright cranky at times.

I keep telling myself that what I'm reading is a finished product that has gone through its share of fits and starts and revisions, not to mention the number of books Suzanne Collins wrote before this and all her television work.  What I'm writing is still in its prenatal state.  It's bound to be a little wrinkly and funky-looking. It might even smell bad at times.  I'm not sure that pep talk helps, though.  In the end, I feel like a teenage mom compared to all these wonderful writers I know and read.  Everyone is staring and pointing and judging, dismissing me as unworthy to bring life into the world because I don't even know what it means yet.  As uncomfortable as that analogy is, you know what I'm talking about.  Then I realize, no...that is not everyone...that is ME.  I'm judging and pressuring myself to be something else. I'm the one ready to dismiss myself as a kid who has no business bringing this life into the world because I couldn't possibly have what it takes...yet.  

I think I need a Moonstruck Cher to smack me in the face and say "Snap out of it!"  When I go back and read some of the earlier chapters of my WIP, I realize that there is a plan here, a voice, a style.  It's just not like the dystopian stuff I'm reading for fun, nor should it be.  After all, I'm not writing about teenagers fighting to the death in some crazy post-apocolyptic world.  I'm writing about ghosts and life in 1850 and a teenager kicking some pre-Civil War ass.  It ought to look different.  Right?

So what has been your biggest personal challenge with your writing this week?

Friday, July 08, 2011

#WIPMADNESS July Check-in Number 2

Where did the week go?  Well, I think I almost have the WIP plan marked out enough to write these last chapters with some direction.  The Ghost-in-Laws were in town from Saturday to Wednesday, so my writing week was a little slim this time around. Somehow I managed to get in about 2,000 words in the few days I had.  I will take that.

One fabulous revelation I had came through a number of influences.  First, I'm reading CATCHING FIRE, which has inspired a few motivational choices and made me think hard about teenage angst.  Second, I had a heart-to-heart with my son about why he continues to read a book.  What pulls him on page after page.  Of course it was one of those "depends" answers, but still informative.  Then I mulled over consequences.

I have to really map out the consequences of each character's choices if the climax is going to carry any umpf.  Thus I have begun to build the fire and hope that I can stoke those flames nice and hot. I keep reminding myself that there has to be a clear price for each choice a character makes and I think I'm starting to figure out what they are.  It's all about how high the stakes are, right?

So how high have the stakes been for you this week?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The YA Show Down

If you missed it, go now and listen to today's broadcast of Radio Times from WHYY. The debate over Meghan Cox Gurdon's assault on dark YA literature continues and I must give a standing "O" to Maureen Johnson and to Madeleine Kemper for their eloquent, informed, and well articulated response.

Let's just set aside the fact that there is a lot of wonderful YA lit out there this is funny and smart and full of hope.  As for round 1 of #YAshowdown, a few points stand out to me as I thumb through the highlights in my brain:

Let's start with an attitude.  Not only is Ms. Gurdon's tone condescending to the writing community, but to teenagers as well.  Teens get talked down to enough without literature taking the elitist stand that it knows best and will present a carefully prescribed view of their world no matter what the teenager is going through.  Her cloying remarks to Cheryl Rainfield were quite telling.  "I'm filled with pity...however, your book could be...extremely disturbing to children...who haven't encountered the phenomenon of cutting." I certainly hope what she went through disturbs people.  Cheryl wrote the book in hopes of letting kids know they aren't alone, that healing is possible, that their world is real rather than the sugar-coated bubble-gum culture Ms. Gurdon grew up in.  Don't condescend to kids.  Don't dismiss their experiences.  Don't belittle their response.

Let's talk about the "fun-house mirror" aspect of YA lit, as Ms. Gurdon referred to it. Adolescence is one big fun-house mirror where the world is trying to come into focus, but is drawn askew by so many influences.  Emotions are bigger, problems are scarier, no matter what the cold reality in relative terms gives you.  YA lit recognizes that and doesn't criticize young people or tell them that they are blowing things out of proportion.  It gives them a safe place to explore those emotions.

And the last caller who said, "The job of the writer is to teach the reader...."  As Paul Acampora tweeted, "NO. NO. NO. NO. The job or the writer is to tell the truth."  Good books do have a clear and consistent moral compass, but that does not mean that their primary purpose is to instruct, no matter what Alexander Pope thought. There are truths that ring hard and clear to teenagers even if adults are afraid of them.  We want to protect our kids from the truths of this world as long as possible (and believe me, I do). BUT, kids will go looking for those truths and I am glad there are YA writers out there who will offer it.  Those kids can see through the Newspeak and the propaganda.  Give them more credit and be a part of that journey rather than a bystander.  Read with them.  Talk to them.  

It should not need to be said, but "correlation" does not mean "cause and effect."  Don't assume that if a kid reads a book about cutting, she'll go out and cut herself.  Ask why she picked up that book in the first place.  Something drew her there.  Our world isn't perfect.  It isn't always funny.  It isn't always nice.  It doesn't even make sense half the time, especially to a teenager who is still trying to discover who she is and what kind of power she wields in the great big world.  Explore it with her.

Friday, July 01, 2011

#WIPMADNESS July Check-in and Introduction

I don't know what happened to my June #wipmadness check-in with Erin Bow on her fabulous blog, but somewhere I just lost track.  But July has arrived and I promise I will be better about posting the progress, or lack thereof, and offering a little inspiration wherever I can.

Today, I am sharing an insight.  One of those little bolts of lightning that zaps you at the core and makes you feel like an idiot before you realize what a treasure it is. And her it is:  my muse is a ghost.

As I have struggled through the middle of my WIP and stopped to re-plot and explore where the hell I intended to go in the first place, I have wondered where she was taking me. Sometimes I wondered was she was at all.  I knew she had a plan, but she was absolute mud at revealing it to me.  I tripped over the holes in my story and got stuck in the trench somewhere, but today my muse snatched hold of my hand and yanked me up and back onto the path.

What did it?  What slap in the face woke her up? The spooky side of my book.  Yes, as you know I am the Ghost Girl and I guess that's what my muse was trying to tell me.  Quick mucking around with all the psychology and character exploration and just jump in with a ghost again.

So, today's 1,061 words centered on a ghosty scene and it came pouring out in all its luscious creepiness.  Finally!  It felt good.  Like a big cool drink after a month in the desert.  So, that will be the order of July.  Plow ahead and let the Ghost Muse lead me.  I can muck it up with character development and all that jazz later!

What revelation is launching you into your July #wipmadness?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Embracing the Human Condition

Since June 4th, the blogosphere and twitterverse have been teeming with authors and teens in arms against Meghan Cox Gurdon's "review" of YA fiction in the WSJ.  Her piece is rife with manipulative little tidbits from concerned mothers who worry that fiction will encourage deviant or self-destructive behavior in their impressionable children.  Gurdon takes a paper-thin view and paints it with a broad brush.

A large part of the outcry against her article has responded to Gurdon's argument that "books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures."  Yes, it's the old the book made me do it ruse.  Several authors spoke out about the lunacy of this assertion, none so eloquently as Sherman Alexie.  The primary point of his response is the cathartic, re-affirming value of dark YA literature that offers kids in dire situations a sense of salvation.  "They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them."

Grace Troxel echoes that sentiment in her blog and defends dark YA literature for its ability to "contextualize" the difficult issues that teens already face and often feel they are fighting alone.  She further argues that these novels create a dialogue where for years there has been none.  And it's that very lack of dialogue that is most dangerous to our children.  

Still others, like Becky Levine, stand up against the ridiculous suggestion that the industry is trying to "bulldoze coarseness and misery" into the lives of our teens while a swarm of tweeters exclaim "#yasaves" and continue to slap back Gurdon's elitist "gatekeeping censorship" disguised as the ever-popular and totally condescending concern for the greater good.  I won't get into the question of parental guidance here, but suffice it to say I am an involved parent.

For the most part, much of the conversation I have read so far has focused on the value of YA to change the lives of teenagers who have experienced the worst of this world or the ability YA literature has to contextualize situations and start a dialogue for disenfranchised or marginalized adolescents.  All of this is valid and important.  But there is an even more crucial idea under attack here:  The human condition.  Sherman Alexie touches on it:

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children. Or the seemingly privileged.

I think about my own son, a white, middle-class teenager who has faced some upheaval and disappointment along with the typical angst of adolescence, but nothing like addiction, rape, poverty, or mental illness.  Does that mean he should never read anything that deals with such harsh subjects? What do books like Speak or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or Scars have to offer my son?  The same thing that the Harry Potter books or the Percy Jackson series or any number of zombie books that he has read offers.  A look at the human condition.  We are flawed.  We have fears.  We make mistakes.  We get betrayed and hurt and life gets messy.  And some kids have been subjected to as many horrors as adults, perhaps even more.  But we pick ourselves up from whatever our circumstance and choose how to respond.  The majority of kids (a hopeful estimation) may never know such dire circumstances as those in some of the books they read, but for most kids (even the privileged), adolescence feels like a battleground where the choices they make have far more complex and far-reaching consequences and reinforcements don't always arrive on time. At least they can go through the paces and explore those questions through the pages of a book where the monsters are only ink and shadows and the kids are ultimately heroes.  

It is a hard lesson to learn that the world is not a warm lap and tender kisses and sunshine all around, but adolescence is for finding yourself as well as learning how to deal with the realities of this world. My son is not about to go cut himself or smoke crack because he read about it in a book, no matter how devastated he was by recent personal events.  But he may understand a classmate's behavior a little more. He may develop a stronger sense of relativity and compassion.  He may find a strength he never knew before.  He will have an even better sense of what it means to be human.  And he will choose what he becomes.  

While I would like to protect my children from all the ugliness in the world, I would do them far more harm if I pretended it didn't exist.  

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Thoughts on the Impact of eBooks

With the rise in sales of eBooks and the constantly evolving market for eReaders, the question has arisen whether the effect of technology will drive the printed book to extinction.  I've posted about this before (Clouds in my Coffee) and I can't say I have any better answers, but it did make me wonder what the effect of audio books has been over the years and whether that looked as ominous as eBooks when it all started.  Granted, they each hit slightly different market motivations, but what is the correlation?

My husband listens to a lot of audio books simply because it allows him to read more than he would otherwise.  He listens while he's mowing the lawn, taking a shower, driving, and other less convenient places for paper books.  He still buys paper books, especially those he wants to read again or keep as a resource.  But for fun, popular fiction, he often goes the audio book route.  Ultimately, I doubt he would ever really subscribe to the whole eBook deal simply because it would just be another way to read a paper book...involving hands and eyes.

So, why choose eBooks over paper?  For the most part, I think people choose it for the weight factor, as well as convenience.  Why lug around 60 pounds of literature when you can have your entire library at your finger tips for just  8.5 ounces?  I know that's one reason so many agents and editors glommed on to the Kindle way back when.  Are there other reasons?

Audio books certainly have their niche and they have provided literature for a wider audience who might not otherwise read paper books at all.  They have also generated additional revenues for the publishing business.  Will eBooks find that same kind of well-defined niche or will they supplant the printed word altogether?

I would love to know how many writers have an eReader, how many are thinking of getting one, and how many refuse to be traitors to tradition.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Please feel free to comment in detail.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Learning: The Quintessential Survival Skill

I've been considering picking up some additional graduate work and the following is my response to a request for a writing sample.  The topic was "the impact of three issues that challenge educators today."  This will be the last of my rants on educational topics for a while...I promise.

As I stepped through the door into my own classroom at Heritage High School eighteen years ago, I brought my passel of ideals and my passion for literature with me and laid them right out for everyone to see.  I had no doubt that these pieces of gold would inspire my students and generate a whirlwind of learning, no matter how disparate the learning styles or how severe the behavioral issues or anemic the student motivation. I had a mission. If only it were that simple.  While I had the immeasurable support of my administration and confidence in my vision, it soon became clear that there was a lot more to being a teacher than teaching, talent, and good intentions. In college, no one really prepares you for the politics of teaching.  By politics, I don’t mean the ideology of the superintendent or the social etiquette of the faculty lunch room.  I mean the white noise that both student and teacher must endure to get the job done.  
Working in a township school, I was prepared for some disparities in the socio-economic composition of the student body, but the most persistent motivational roadblock came not from the students themselves, but from their parents.  Politicians argue about the accountability of the school districts for the quality of their children’s education, but one of the most damaging cultural attitudes that teachers must face is a devaluing of education by the already disenfranchised.  In this particular community, many of the parents had never finished high school, let alone gone on to college.  They were farmers or factory workers who saw school as a necessary evil.  Other families may be broken, one-parent homes relying on school to babysit their children while the parent worked two or three jobs just to make ends meet and avoid welfare.  The frustration, exhaustion, and formative experiences of the parents translated to a mistrust of school as an institution and even an adversarial relationship with education itself, an attitude which was ultimately inherited by their children. They did not see education as an opportunity, but rather as just another yard stick with which to measure their deficiencies.  It is difficult to help these students (and their parents) see the value of learning for its own sake, but that is part of our mission.  
 As our economy struggles, the divide between the haves and the have-nots grows and so does this attitude that education is not for everyone.  Lack of equity in the distribution of resources has always been an issue.  Some school systems simply do not have the same access to funding or the most modern resources essential to educational growth.  And with the lightning pace of technological advances, many schools cannot keep up, which again pits the more affluent communities against the poorer communities and the politicians get to decide who gets funding based on academic performance rather than need.  Their altruistic but misguided answer is No Child Left Behind legislation that is intended to hold public schools accountable for sloppy standards, bad teaching, and poor programming.  However good its intentions, NCLB is in large part perpetuating some of the most pervasive problems as it widens the gap and confirms those old prejudices against education. It has created a “teach to the test” mentality in many school systems that are terrified of losing their funding or being labeled as “the bad school” and abandoned by anyone with the means to transfer their child to a “choice” school.  Administrators have begun to pressure, and in some cases bully, their faculty into using a canned pedagogy that may encourage a stronger performance on the test but that will surely hinder true learning, which is whole the point of education.  Jobs are threatened, innovation is stifled, and whole populations are ignored in the name of that sacred test score.  Sadly, NCLB is now a significant part of the problem instead of the solution.    
Solid, veteran teachers will continue to inspire their students and help them learn, but in some ways their efforts may be hobbled by politics.  First year teachers do not have the experience to help them discern where an appropriate line can be drawn between content and learning so they rely on their administration and their mentors. Moreover, the efficacy of the assessment is only as good as the instrument, and we have plenty of research that demonstrates the biases and limitations inherent in many standardized tests.  So where does this leave ESL students and students with learning disabilities and other special needs?  With the ever growing diagnoses of children with ADD, ADHD, and Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as other issues that affect learning, the current trend in response to NCLB is to make few accommodations while forcing them to participate in this flawed evaluation process. There is no specific measurement of their growth as a subset of the population.  Through my own teaching experience, I saw the number of students with these issues in my classroom grow year by year.  Some of these students had early intervention, but many went undiagnosed or unserved for years.  In addition, the influx of non-English speaking immigrants is disproportionate across regions, yet these students are introduced to our classrooms, often with little support depending upon the availability of funds and programs, and included in our standardized testing which will impact that carefully guarded average that represents “adequate yearly progress” and subsequent NCLB approval.  
Teaching has always been a challenging vocation and certainly not a profession for the weak-hearted.  Education, however, is the backbone of any society and no matter what the political climate or the changing demographics or the gap in generational attitudes, learning is the essential point.  A student cannot effectively acquire content knowledge unless he learns how to learn first.  At its very core, learning is a survival skill, one that needs to be nurtured and fed and practiced throughout life.  Good teachers lead their students onward through the white noise and help them develop the most crucial competency they will ever master—the ability to learn. 

Monday, June 06, 2011

Fast Food Education?

Caution:  The following post may rant, rave, or otherwise inflict strong opinions upon the reader.

The week before I graduated from college, looking forward to working on my Master's degree and beginning a career as a teacher, I was treated to dinner out with my parents.  Though I embraced my calling  whole-heartedly, graduation still brought out the jitters and uncertainty of my impending "adult" life.  My parents apparently felt it their duty to add to the butterflies in my stomach by choosing that night to question my plans and denigrate what I thought of as a noble and intellectually fulfilling field of work.  They wanted me to be a lawyer or even a doctor, not a teacher.  Teaching would be an abominable waste of my talents.

As I sat there with my jaw hanging open and my stomach in knots, two things came to me.  First, I realized that my parents had no idea who I really was or what talents I possessed.  Second, I realized that these two people, with their college degrees and their white-collar jobs had already forgotten who had led them to that place of success and who had prepared the daughter sitting in front of them go out and blaze her own trail and quit sponging off them.  They may believe both their own success and my impending launch into independence was all of their own making, but anyone who knows my family dynamics would laugh out loud at either supposition.  By some miracle, I left their doubts and denigration in the dust and pursued my own dream anyway. After 20 years of teaching, raising my own children, and writing, I wouldn't change a thing.

Sadly, my parents' cynical and demeaning attitude towards teaching continues to infect our culture and ultimately tear down the once high standards and respect that used to be and should always be associated with teachers.  This morning, I saw this story on the Today Show:

Believe me, I know what it is to face such malice, and what makes it worse is this infuriating notion that because we teach "children" we are no longer human beings with the right to protect our own safety. I emphasize the word "children" because it's obvious that high school students like the one in the video are not those helpless, wide-eyed little creatures we like to think of when we say that word.  This guy was physically a man.  At 5'2 and 100 lbs, I certainly would have felt threatened.  In fact, our 6'1 male band director was assaulted by a student with a hammer and sent to the hospital one year.  Another was jumped by 3 male students after school and beaten severely...all because one of the boys was told to spit out his gum 3 times before he was sent to the hall for mouthing off.

What struck me most about Mrs. Hadsock's plight was this general attitude about teaching in the United States.  Have we become no more than babysitters?  Are we simply custodians or surrogate disciplinarians for parents who don't have the time or inclination to actually raise the children they spawn for whatever reason? (modifier purposely ambiguous there).  If a kid acts out to the point that he endangers someone else's safety, why does a teacher get both blamed for the kid's actions and punished for protecting herself and her students? A student does not get a "get out jail free" card just because he is chronological still considered a kid, nor do the parents.

Our government has passed laws that require us to educate our children to a certain age to protect those children from the kind of industrial age slave labor and mistreatment we can find in any Charles Dickens novel.  Why?  Because we should care that our children grow up healthy, happy, and educated and become responsible adults who continue to make our country financially, politically, and morally strong.  Otherwise, why not leave them in the sweat shops and blacking factories and corn fields?

I chose to teach because I love literature, learning, and writing.  But even more, there is a certain magic that happens when a kid discovers something new, both for the kid and for the teacher.  It's a physical sensation as much as it is an intellectual one.  That tingle that makes you feel strong and smart and capable of anything.  It's intoxicating and completely addictive.  What's more, I know how priceless the ability to learn is and what teachers sacrifice to share that with their students.

Teaching is not a cushy job that gives you lots of holidays and the summers off.  Most of us work practically non-stop.  A teacher never stops looking for inspiration, for those little connections that may spark magic in the classroom.  We think about ways to reach our students even in our sleep.  Never mind all the grading and paperwork and preparation we have to do. We come to our mission with awe for the sheer impact it can have on a single life.  But for a growing number of parents and kids, teachers are like those frozen burritos you can buy 4 for a dollar at the Quick-E-Mart:  cheap, convenient, and filling the most basic purpose.  There is no respect, no sense of honor, no reverence for the deliverer of the most crucial survival skill a kid can master—learning.

I know there are some lemon teachers out there, more and more every year precisely because of this attitude.  We give education majors more hoops to jump through instead of higher standards and greater inspiration.  We demand our teachers teach to a flawed test instead of teach our kids how to learn.  We lower our standards so we can raise our numbers.  It's no wonder this generation is filled with a false sense of entitlement and false self-esteem.  It's all based on nothing.  Their advancement, their diploma, their sense of self-worth.  Show up and get a medal.  Actual participation is optional.

To Mrs. Hadsock, I say thank you for caring, thank you for inspiring, thank you for demanding that you get the respect you deserve.  For those who consider teachers to be nothing more than convenience food, shame on you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fear and Loathing

I just read a writer-friend's post on The Abyss of Suckitude and she has nailed some things right on the head.  Maybe it's the artistic temperament, but I think we all go through some version of what she describes.  It got me thinking about this last year of writing...and not writing...and why I've been in such a funk.  I'm working on my third YA novel, now, and each one has been a different experience.

My first story was in many ways a catharsis for me.  It was a taking back of things in my childhood that had been so rudely stolen by the dysfunction of my family.  I know.  There is dysfunction in all families. But trust me when I say mine is pretty royally screwed up.  So, I took things from my MC and forced her to grow up and confront her own guilt and longing.  Catharsis.  (not necessarily "writing") I don't know if I'll ever publish it, but I will treasure it.

My second novel was a journey.  I learned where my writing could go and gained more confidence in it. I crafted and molded and dug deep.  I met characters who refuse to leave me even now, refuse to be quiet while I try to move on.  They are still waiting for their day in the sun.  I have to believe they will find it when they are truly ready.  Or at least, when the world is ready for them.

Novel #3 is a whole new experience.  In some ways, I'm afraid of it.  I have big plans for it...maybe too big.  That is part of the problem.  What if I choke?  What if in the end, I truly deeply suck?  There is only so long I can blame the upheaval that has been the last three years of my life for hindering my writing.  Now I need to take charge and make it happen.  What if I can't do it?  There are people I don't want to disappoint, including me.  What if I only think I can write? Am I kidding myself?  If that kind of doubt isn't enough, the next step is to pick apart my draft and search for every fault just so I can beat myself in the head with it.  How many good writers do that? I have almost managed to convince myself that all good writers to that.

But somewhere deep down, there is this odd little person who thinks she can really write.  Who believes she has some fascinating stories to tell.  And behind that funny little person is a host of characters all waiting to be heard.  Waiting to be discovered.  Waiting to change someone's life, even if it just means they live in someone else's head (or heart) for a short time.

I've taken my share of rejection and handled it.  I don't blame my crappy childhood for my adult failures (mostly). If anything, I might have to give thanks for it.  The store of emotions and experiences I have to play with is vast and oh so interesting.  I've learned to kick myself harder than anyone else can just to stay ahead of things and that's not always bad.  What doesn't kill us makes us better writers, right?

And then I find those bits of gold that remind me why I write.  Those same gilded clubs I beat myself with are what make me a writer.  They are voices that won't be silenced.  The moments of crystalline brilliance that I cannot be afraid to own.  The little morsels of humanity that force us into a kind of intimacy with ourselves that only books can bring—both in the writing and in the reading.

So I'm going to kick my fear and self-loathing in the butt and write a stunning YA novel.  You know that saying:  Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.  ~Ambrose Redmoon

I think I have found just enough in my writing to make that judgement.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Will Technology De-value Our Books?

As I was thumbing through my usual blog quest and twitter scan today, dystopian visions of a Brave New World sort began to cloud my writerly fantasies of what the future will hold not only for me and my books, but for books in general.  Several cyber acquaintances are exploring the ramifications of the electronic world of publishing.  I'm not pronouncing the end of literary days or anything, but I do wonder.  No matter what lay ahead in technology, story telling and books will endure, but will they hold the same value? Or will it simply become our dose of soma, minus the euphoria?  Something to maintain the status quo, fill a void but only with white noise?

Nathan Bransford's post looks at the economic philosophies that drive market evolution and applies them to the publishing world, namely to the bargain ebook phenomenon.  While his post is hopeful, it does leave me wondering if books will be as valuable to our grandchildren as they are to us.  I won't rehash the whole doomsday prediction of the end of paper books, but as technology takes us in a new direction, will books become no more than a disposable blip on the kindle/ipad/computer screen?  I tend to agree with Nathan that quality will always find its way out and the everyman march to mediocre is a myth. (I pray!)

I admit—I'm a book junky.  I hoard them, spend money I don't have on them, stockpile more than I can possibly read, and lie there and inhale the sent of paper and ink and glue as if it were crack.  I pet their tattered bindings and talk to them when we're alone.  Kind of pathetic, I know.  But to me, books are not only my drug, they are my religion, my family, my consolation.

Okay, so ebooks are going to take over the world and relegate print matter to back room "read-easies" or the Antiques Road Show or the antiquities section of the Smithsonian along with the mummies and the salvaged remains of the Titannic.  Let's say that ebooks do balance the market out and maintain the integrity of good reading.  What happens to those oh-so-precious-and-valuable signed editions?

Someone has thought of that.  Autography will allow an author to sign her ebook for a fan and digitize that personal touch for posterity. (Pardon the ironic smile)  So...what will a signed electronic edition of J.K. Rowling's next book be worth in 50 years?  Will electronic signatures be pirated and distributed en masse with a single click?  What would an e-signature be worth, then?  How is it authenticated?  Or does that point simply become moot because that sense of iconic wonder, of religious fervor, of hero-worshipping awe has simply faded away into the everyday blip of silicon-induced complacency?

I wonder...

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gold Star to Nathan Bransford

Just a short post.  If you are a writer and you don't follow Nathan Bransford, you should.  Today he posted a particularly salient piece, given a few recent meltdowns in cyberspace, that reminds us that the artistic temperament and the speed-of-light conduit of information that is the internet often do not mix well.

Miscellaneous Madness

Butler made it to the finals and almost took the championship, tragedies both small and large changed my path more than once, and writing goals took on new meaning over those 31 raging spring days.
Thank you to the March Madness crew and all those who participated for keeping me motivated and inspired.  I didn't quite reach my goal, but I gained momentum that will surely kick some April butt.

The biggest event of the month continues to haunt us as Japan struggles with the devastation and potential radiation contamination wrought by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th.  I continue to get news from friends and acquaintances as I pray for healing and grace for everyone effected by this event.  If you wish to help, Charity Watchdog has compiled a list and some general information about organizations committed to helping Japan.

As for a small tragedy, my dear daughter unexpectedly lost her bunny last week.  Can you remember that first pet that was really yours, that you gave your whole heart to and spoiled with affection every day?  This was hers.  Aptly named "Angel," that little rabbit loved the attention and gave Ghost Daughter so much in return.  The most heart-wrenching part of it all is that Angel died basically in our girl's lap.  She was moving and content one minute and the next, dead.  Our poor girl brought this lifeless body to her daddy and asked, "Is she dead?"  After mourning and keening for a day, and a lovely funeral, Angel was laid to rest.  A heart attack is the most likely culprit.  The first weekend of April brought a 4-hour drive North to a breeder where we adopted Angel Jr. and started a new journey, Ghost Daughter, me, and the bunny.

And the writing goals?  Well I added more than 10k to my WIP, had a few plot/character epiphanies, and kicked up the pace, so the madness led to at least a more focused method.  It's odd, though, how life can show me such unexpected moments of despair and supreme grace that not only give me perspective on reality, but inspire me to want to capture it in a place where we so often go to escape—writing.  The more real it is, the deeper the catharsis.

Perhaps that is just too much philosophizing for a Tuesday...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Project 365

March flew by far too fast, but I will take some time to reflect and blog about the madness in a bit. (A good kind of crazy!) But today marks the 18th anniversary of the day Ghost Hunk and I said our vows and promised to love each other forever. A woman asked me how we managed 18 years. The simple answer is, make love an action and keep doing it every day.

To celebrate, and because blogger pal Just Mom inspired me, I'm going to take a photo a day for the next 365 days and post it on my photo blog. Why not here? I want to keep this place tidy for my writing ranting and reflection. But perhaps I just build another Blogger site for the project.  We'll see.

In the meantime, off I go to year #19!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

March Madness and Spring Break...(sort of)

Well in southwest Georgia, Spring has arrived.  I gripe a lot about living here, but this is one lovely perk...spring in February.  But March has somehow hopped right in here and I have a lot to get done.  So I will definitely be a mad hare as I dash through my WIP (ha ha) and get it ready for my awesome agent.  I wish I could guarantee that my WIP will be so awesome, but it's a first draft and a bolder project than the last.

To keep me on the right track, I'm following a fabulous group of writers who are blogging to inspire.  Join me as I check in all month:

Denise Jaden (Mondays)
Shana Silver (Tuesdays)
Angelina Hansen (Wednesdays)
Shari Green (Thursdays)
Craig Pirrall (Fridays)

*I've been told there will be prizes as well as inspiration!  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Drawing conclusions... and a contest!

Check out the interview with Ruth McNally Barshaw, author/illustrator of the ELLIE MCDOODLE series for young readers, over on the MIXED UP FILES OF MIDDLE-GRADE AUTHORS blog.

Sketches and doodles are a fun trend in MG books, and one that my kids can really relate to. Ghost Daughter comes home everyday with a notebook full of adventures and commentary. I can hardly keep the kid in paper!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tattoo Me...Please!

Is it a mid-life crisis thing?  Or perhaps a need to rebel?  Or maybe just an urge to take control of some small part of my bod?  For whatever reason, I've been aching to get a tattoo.  The big question is, what do I want to etch into my ivory skin forever?  Of course a nice little celtic design would graft my love of Ireland to my shoulder for all eternity.  Maybe a spunky little fairy.  Of course horses are another passion, but I'm not sure I want just a horse-shaped stamped on my shoulder blade unless it's something really interesting.  What about something literary?  I considered a wonderful "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" or something like that, but I think an iconic image would be more up my alley for this purpose. Or maybe something ghosty.

Here's the gig:

  • I need a great idea.
  • It has to be small.  I don't want it to swarm across my back.  Just a small little accent on my shoulder blade.
  • It can be color or monochrome
  • I'm asking my blogging buddies for help...HELP!  

If you have a suggestion, post it in the comments along with a link to the image.  OR email me with your suggestion and paste the image right in the email.  I'm open to original work by any of my illustrator buddies as well.

Hit me with your best!  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obligatory Morals...

Apparently HARPER COLLINS has added some new language to their contracts:
New language in the termination provision of the Harper’s boilerplate gives them the right to cancel a contract if “Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or if Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.” The consequences? Harper can terminate your book deal. Not only that, you’ll have to repay your advance. Harper may also avail itself of “other legal remedies” against you.

There is quite a wave of response to this in the blogsphere, including the an initial posting from Richard Curtis (quoted above), a spicy offering from Ursula Leguin, and a fun romp from Jock Stewart.  Steve Laube offers a somewhat different take, citing the standard MO of Christian Book publishers.

While I ruminate...what do you all think?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Huck's Audience

With all the flurry over the recent attempt to sanitize THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN for young audiences, one important element of the question seems to have gotten lost. Who was the intended audience? For that matter, consider the newly released film version of Jonathan Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. It is being marketed as a fun "family" film, but Swift's work was carefully crafted political satire aimed at adults.

Now look closely at Twain's book. Consider when he wrote it, not only in terms of the historical time period but also in terms of the stage of Twain's own life.  Though he may have envisioned a boy's adventure book when he began writing it, his novel became something very different by the end.  The end of Reconstruction, the introduction of Jim Crow, and a flood of lynchings as well as personal tragedy led Twain to put the half-finished manuscript on the shelf for seven years before he finally picked it back up. And when he did, he came at the novel from a very different place. There is far more darkness in his tale than today's young people would understand. Does that mean they shouldn't read it? No.

However, it does mean that we should treat it as what it is.  This book has been a point of contention on school reading lists for decades primarily because of the language, yet teachers want to share this eloquent indictment of Southern Honor and Post-Reconstruction realities with students of all ages. Why? What abiding truth resonates with the young reader? I think the problem is that many teachers don't really answer that question, if they ask it all all, before they plunge in with a group of unsuspecting 8th-graders.  Does a popsicle-stick raft really demonstrate an important theme in the book?

I'm not saying we shouldn't include this in our school reading list or ban people from teaching it.  I'm just saying don't be careless with it because you think it was meant for kids to read and learn a lesson about racism and don't let a sanitized version of the text lure you into a complacence that fails to address the true issues in the book.  An adolescent main character does not always mean a book was written for kids.  Is THE LOVELY BONES a book for young readers?

You can look around and find a host of classics that have been turned into graphic novels or abbreviated versions for young readers and that is not a bad thing.  We teach books written for adults all the time.  But if you wish to teach a book like HUCK FINN, don't assume that because one offensive word has been extracted or painted a different color that it is somehow more relevant or more acceptable to a young audience.

Kids can learn a lot from HUCK FINN.  Don't boil it down to a single word and don't assume that it was written for kids.  Think about those abiding truths you want your students to glean and start there. After all, if we want them to learn how to think about the hard questions, we have to be good models and ask them ourselves.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

"Light Out, Huck, They Still Want to Sivilize You"

Yes, it's time for another round of literary sanitation in the name of political correctness.  If you haven't heard, an English professor at Auburn University is protecting us from ourselves in order to preserve a classic for generations to come.  How does he plan to do that?  He has replaced the word nigger with the word slave in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN.  All 243 times it appears.  His hope is to make the book more palatable and less taboo to parents, teachers, and young readers alike in order to preserve a classic.

While I understand his aim, I have mixed emotions about the ramifications of such a cleansing.  My guts tightened and my brain shuddered when I heard the news.  Who would dare?  But I'm sure many teachers have grown weary of explaining and testing the cultural climate before attempting to teach the text and have abandoned it altogether in the name of job security.  It's a delicate business and believe me, I understand. But there is something more to this issue beside censorship and the political conscience of a modern audience.  For me, it's as simple as integrity.

I taught HUCKELBERRY FINN in the 90's and my students truly "got" it.  Now, keep in mind, I didn't just fling the book at them and dive into it without any context.  That would be ludicrous.  But then teaching any classic without context is not only asinine, but borderline criminal.  In his New York Times article, Michiko Kakutani sums up a crucial point here:

Never mind that today nigger is used by many rappers, who have reclaimed the word from its ugly past. Never mind that attaching the epithet slave to the character Jim — who has run away in a bid for freedom — effectively labels him as property, as the very thing he is trying to escape.

I was teaching high school juniors at the time, and when I announced our next project, several sighed and said, "We already read that in 8th grade."  These were gifted students, mind you, and they had little tolerance for repetition let alone something that has been dubbed a "kid's adventure story."  Yes, that is how it was presented to them the first time around.[shudder] Of course I set them straight and then presented the historical and cultural context, complete with disclaimers about language.  Also consider that the demographics of this school were 49% caucasian, 48% African American, and 3% other (Indian, Iranian, etc.) Moreover, the socio-economic scale reached from the poorest to the wealthiest (children of pro football players and heart surgeons, etc.) who made their own cliques to often surprising ends.  When we had finished, several students remarked that they had read a completely different book. They had no idea that that is what the book was about.  They loved it and each one of them took in the truth that they found there.  

Prof. Gribben hopes to introduce more young people to Huck by sterilizing part of the very social comment that Twain was addressing.  Of course we have seen the term pass through different usages and through its evolution, we have cringed and cursed at the sound of it.  But what is really at the heart of good literature?  Truth.  No matter how ugly, uncomfortable, or embarrassing, if we seek it earnestly, we shall find it.  As teachers, isn't that a large part of our job, to help our students discover their understanding of the world and its naked truth?  

The primary problem is not the text.  The problem is that so many teachers get it wrong.  If you think that boiling down a social commentary like HUCKLEBERRY FINN to nothing more than a jaunt on the Mississippi, than you should not be teaching it to anyone.  The rich, beautiful, harsh story says so much about Twain's understanding of a country that had just come through a firestorm, not unscathed, not instantly wiser, and certainly not romantically mussed up, but truly, brutally scarred.  This isn't a book about friendship and acceptance.  This is a book about honor and truth and clarity.  Where is the honor and truth and clarity in eviscerating the text and subjugating the context? 

In the end, Huck doesn't necessarily see all slaves as equals, but he does see Jim as a man—an honorable, brave man—and a friend.  Mark Twain simply asked that we look at him, that we look at ourselves, that we see this country as it was, warts and all and consider the truth.  Don't look away now because it makes you uncomfortable.  You'll miss the most important parts.