Sunday, September 30, 2007
First of all, I have already run into problems with this for my eight-year-old daughter. Her teacher has been hammered with complaints from parents for giving their children access to Harry Potter books, and books that contain magic because they think they are evil. When she has a play date I have to ask if it's all right that we have these books and movies in our home. I have the same problem with censorship of music. Blaming books, music, movies for person's behavior is ludicrous.
The books I have pictured here are on the ALA's challenged list. And Tango Makes Three is about two same-sex penguins who raise a baby together. The thing is, homosexuality is real, it is not going anywhere. Just like sex and drugs aren't going anywhere, hence the other book I have pictured. The Gossip Girls books, I have never read any of them. I hear they are full of sex and drugs. Are teens not exposed to this in other forms? The point is these issues will remain to be there regardless of the books. And what isn't evil? Who makes that choice for me and my children? Personally, I would prefer to read one of these books with my children (when old enough) and ask one another questions. A smart child is an informed child, with all choices laid out before them, a parent by his or her side explaining each choice without the labels.
Okay, I think that covers it.
"Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too." ~Voltaire
It's a sad thing that we STILL have to fight against censorship in the United States. I don't get it. Honestly. We should be challenging our minds, not books.
So, I'll keep this short: Censorship sucks.
Take the time this week to go to your local library and pick up a book that SOMEBODY didn't want you to read. Go ahead. Get uncomfortable with a good book. That's what they're for!
The book is Toni Morrison’s BELOVED. In eleventh grade, our amazing American Lit teacher (Judy Williams) passed out permission slips. For a novel. The school had never tried anything like it before – it was, in their words, “an experiment.” If our parents signed the slip, we would read BELOVED. If they didn’t sign, we had to read Zora Neale Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, which is a great book in its own right, but really, when the idea of something so juicy that it requires a permission slip is the alternative, who wants to read the “safe” book? There were one or two unfortunate kids who had uber-conservative parents, and they spend the next month being shut out of one of the most singular experiences of my high school life.
Because that book set us on fire. Seriously. People were talking about BELOVED at lunch, calling to each other in the halls – “What chapter are you on?” The question didn’t need any preface or context. There was only one book they could have meant. It wasn’t just the English Geeks, either. Jocks and musicians and skaters and even the math/science crew were in on it. I remember coming into the classroom and finding people from the class before still sitting at their desks, debating and discussing. The teachers who had us after Lit knew that we would be late, and though they grumbled about it a little, we could tell they didn’t really care. Everyone was too thrilled that we were obsessed with a book, instead of a football game or a television show.
I still have my original copy of that book. It’s full of green felt-tip ink, underlined passages, exclamation points in the margins. When I flip through it, I instantly remember the stunned feeling that passed through all of us when we first read it. The writing shone like polished copper, the story moved us to tears and filled our guts with horror. Why would someone want to keep us from reading it? If there was art like this in the world, how could it be kept in the dark? We talked about that in class, a lot. How something so powerful could be so scary. It had changed the dynamic in our school – and maybe the “men in charge” liked the status quo, liked that society was obsessed with the football games and television shows. The idea horrified us. We wanted everyone to read BELOVED, to be as changed by it as we had been.
So. That’s my personal “most important banned books moment.”
As an aside, it bothers me immensely to see how many of the “most challenged authors” from 1990-2004 on the ALA’s website are those who write for children. It is not the job of concerned parents or worried society members to decide for everyone what children should or should not read. I will decide what my son can read, and when, thank you very much. And, for the record, I would not deny him the sadness of Katherine Paterson’s work, or the magic of J.K. Rowling. If anyone else tries to keep him from reading them, I can guarantee that I will be furious.
Okay. I’m off the soapbox now.
Monday, September 24, 2007
I had a perfect older sister: clean, cute, no cowlicks, and loved by all. I, on the other hand, went to school with two different pairs of shoes, hated brushing my teeth and taking a bath, and played football with the boys and broke almost every finger over the years. I was, in short, a disaster. And sometimes kind of lonely.
Then I was introduced to Ramona!!
Ramona and I each had our Beezus (Beatrice). We loved to show off when we had nothing to show, and we were queens of getting into trouble. Plus, I happened to run away about twice/week, as did Ramona. My parents took me to see Farenheit 451 at the community college. And the book people memorized books and told them to each other so they would never be lost, even though they'd been burned. I told my mom that night that I'd memorize Ramona the Pest -- all of them.
So thank you, Ms. Cleary, for Ramona Geraldine Quimby! She was one of my best friends growing up. After all those books about pretty girls and ribbons and bows, Ramona was the only real girl I knew in books back then.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Very young, I loved Winnie the Pooh and that quiet country world Milne created and peopled with squeaky little Piglet, gloomy Eyeore and kindly Pooh. Alas, today's kids, by the time they can handle the vocabulary are too sophisticated to enjoy the stories. Reading the gentle adventures of Christopher Robin and Co. was my protection against family stress and even now, reading it gives me a sense of peace. (But don't even mention the Disney version!)
I'm laughing because one of us put The Secret Garden high on her list and one gave The Little Princess top rating. Two books by old fashioned Frances Hodgson Burnett (born 1849) which are still delighting readers. The Secret Garden gets my vote. On re-reading I still love it. I once checked out its story line against today's principles and she gets A for her structure.
Actually I could go on for days with favorite books.When I ran out of children's fare, I read as far up my mother's bookshelves as I could reach which netted me all of J.M. Barrie, Lust for Life, Homer's Odyssey and The Late George Apley. Okay, Okay, I'll stop now!
I was too busy climbing trees, studying ant hills, pretending to be an Indian maiden and drawing to read. Reading was a passive activity and I was a girl of action. Besides, if I read too much I'd have to accept the possibility that the fantastic worlds of my imagining were just that: imaginary. I was a weird kid. But there were two books that effected me very strongly. The book above was an illustrated wonder, fueling my love of art and fantasy. The stories and haunting illustrations spoke of hidden worlds full of magic and played right into my own desire to escape the banal and plunge into a world of magic.
Another was the Secret Garden, one of the first books I actually sat down and read with relish. The notion of a hidden place, where a girl could lose, yet find her true self must have really rang true for me. As an only child I was a sort of sheltered kid, pretty much confused by how people were supposed to intereact. I really did want to escape to a place it didn't matter and my art seemed the fastest route. But these books steered me on my path and informed my art for years. I'm fairly certain they form the bedrock of my creativity, a touchstone for all I want my writing to be.
I just want to thank C for choosing these great topics and getting me to reflect on stuff I would probably not be thinking about at all!
And I still reread it every couple of years. And it’s still just as magical as the first time I read it when I was eight. And that’s why if I had to pick just one . . . that’s the one it would be.
No, I don’t know how I ended up writing horror, either.
Well my car died this week. Not officially. My mechanic who once called my seventeen year old Volvo 240 DL a teenager said it would cost more to repair the car to pass inspection than its Blue Book Value. Not a shocker.
I've prayed for the day the mechanic would finally aide me in my quest to unload the car that is older than my teenaged son.
So what does this have to do with writing? Well, my shared brain will tell you that this week, I was a real drain on the brain. I'd sunk into a lower than low, why DO I bother mode and needed to be threatened with lashings with stale bagels and South American Mob action to shake me out of it. But nothing worked. I continued to swim in the despair that I was destined for failure as a writer.
It was a long ride to the mechanic. I mean, wouldn't you drive an hour for a guy so honest he'd actually tell you your car was toast and not to ever buy a Volvo again—even though all he fixes are Volvos? The long drive freed up some stuck part of my brain which started me thinking about the issues I'm having with female main character of my WIP and to forget about the fact that I was a lousy writer. So by the time I arrived, I was so engrossed in the problem with my MC, I didn't care what kind of writer I was. I had to fix the problem.
Okay. Back to the car. I was overcome with joy to learn my car was on Death Row. But how did the car feel? It still had to drive me home, get me to work for two more months. It was Dead Car Running. Still pressed into service, but with a death sentence hanging over its head. But we made it home with no problem. The car purred and nobly drove the long ride home.
So, Dead Car Running taught me something. Even if you THINK you're toast, KNOW you're toast...press on anyway.
That morning I had sent out a query, so miserable I didn't really care what the outcome was.
When I came home from the mechanic, the car had already taught me to press on, be fearless, whether I believed in myself or not.
But I feared my inbox. Feared to burst my own fragile bubble of giddy glee at my risen spirits. Feared a rejection of another partial might plunge me back into a funk. With one eye closed I checked my inbox and there it was.
One beautiful sentences: Please send me the whole manuscript eletronically.
Dead Writer Running found a new lease on life. Of course there's every chance it'll get rejected. But my car knows it's toast and it still keeps going.
And so will I.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Maybe because I learned to read at three and I'm terrible at math, sports, and science. I mean, what else could I do? I filled up so many blue books on my exams in school and college that I always got an A even though I said almost nothing, just blathered on. I wrote the world's worst novel for my college thesis, because I majored in Child Study and it was easier to write a novel about kids than do a research project.
I write because I love to do it. During a long publishing drought, I considered giving up the whole thing, then decided...no, writing is what I do. My one published book came as an image in my mind ---- a boy staring at the house he can't go back to with an angel with a fiery sword barring the way. Didn't turn out like that at all, but that was the start. Some of my books get started with what feels like a great idea then they poop out. The one I'm trying to sell now came almost fully formed into my mind...sure wish that would happen more often!
Hence, I write.
It saves my friends and family from a lot of awkward conversations and keeps me from doing some Beautiful Mind newspaper clipping thing in my room, house, and office.
Then when I started and got my first article published in a local magazine, I was hooked. So I kept writing and will do so until I stop creating imaginary people or my imaginary people become a touch too real for comfort.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Well I am certainly not posting MY picture right after that foxy lady. Nooooo way. Instead you'll have to do with Will MacGregory. It's all his fault anyway. Why I write, that is. That's his picture, that I illustrated for my first book, the mothballed True Voice. I decided I needed to write something to go with the wonderful illustrated YA I was going to produce.
Then one day, while I sat on a porch in Mahopac, NY, this skinny bedraggled 14 year old kid walked out of the woods. Not actually, but he seemed real enough. And he continued to haunt me for the next three years until writing about him totally eclipsed illustrating his shenanigans. Until I realized probably no one wanted an illustrated YA anyway.
By this time I had not only fallen for Will and this entire world of my imagining, but I had fallen head over heels in love with words. Eventually, Will and I parted ways to make room for Xavier and Toby, the darker, creepier and older MCs from my YA novel Darkest, who still speak to me, even though I am midway through my third book, currently untitled.
So for all my friends, students and colleagues who fear I have gone off the deep end. Fear not. I do plan an illustrated MG for my fourth book.
But why do I write?
Because I can't stop. I need to know what happens next.
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling.
The characters go everywhere with me. Characters I've read about, characters I dream about, characters that scream at me and nag me until I let them speak through the tips of my fingers. The more they speak, the more they want to speak. I write to quite them enough to function. Yes, they are real to me even though they live inside my head.
For a writer, or for me anyway, writing is like any other bodily function. If I don't write I become bloated with words and uncomfortable. It is a need, a necessity. I don't write to be published (although that is the goal), I write because I have to.
Now where is that candy C was talking about?
Anne Lamott (and if you haven’t read her book, Bird by Bird, get thee to a bookstore,) said “ . . .writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps [the] crazy, ravenous dogs contained,” and boy, do I hear that.
And of course, no one tells you that it’s about as hard to quit writing as it is to stop eating M&M’s. Shoot, now I need to go find some candy . . .
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I am the one who started The Wordslingers two years ago. I must say it was one of the best things I have EVER done! I love this group of women and sometimes feel closer to them than almost anyone else. It can be a hard, lonely road as a writer. I usually do not disclose I am a writer when I first meet someone. Main reason being people either A. think you are boasting or B. ask you every five minutes if you have been published C. think it is not a HUGE accomplishment that you make it to the computer and create these amazing characters even when you have children tromping through the house screaming, three dogs barking, a husband demanding you clean out the fridge, a full-time job and a love for too many distractions.
I started writing in the third grade. My first great work:Never Walk through the Alley Again, which I passed around to fellow students. I had a creative writing teacher offer to help me publish a piece I wrote about an abused girl...I never followed through (I was 16). I picked it up again about five years ago. I have two finished books, one YA multi-cultural fantasy, one very edgy and raw. I am now trying to finish my third, Shadow People.
One year ago I had two agencies interested in my work, one in each of my finished books. It's so funny how things happen that way. One moment you are cleaning the kitchen, and the next answering an agent's phone call telling you they love your manuscript. I ended up signing with the second agency in April. The picture is of me proudly holding my contract. The pitch letter for my first book is being sent out this month, cross fingers!
Whew, enough for now...apparently I have a bad case of verbal diarrhea today!
I’m the only Californian Slinger right now. I’m theoldest. And possibly the most appreciative of the help a writer gets from such a wonderful critique group.
Like most writers I have always written. Publishing, however, was elusive. In 1991 I had a book published by Delacorte. After that, the Great Drought. But I never stopped writing. And I was rewarded by finding this group of wonderful, creative, kind and supportive but also discerning writers. Nobody could get too down with the Slingers on your side.
I live in an old house near the ocean in Southern California. I have children, animals and a large garden which eats up a lot of my time. I admit to a love of parties, too. I am a librarian by trade and work in a largely Hispanic school in nearby San Pedro. It’s sad to seeall the good books on the library shelf that these kids either can’t or don’t want to read. Oh and I forgot to say I’m definitely the most technically challenged of the group. They push me and pull me in an incredibly patient way and thanks to their help, I’ve learned a lot. Looking forward to a shelf of Slinger books in the near future.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I’m Christine, usually known as “C,” mostly because I’m too lazy to type my entire name at the end of every email or post I write. I live in the heart of the Heartland, in the town where I grew up (minus an eight-year stint in Chicago, during which I learned that I am not, in fact, a big-city girl. Man, was I disappointed to find that out.) Also, I have a son! Hooray! He’s just twelve weeks old, and I adore being a mommy with every centimeter of my soul, even though it means most of my typing is done one-handed these days. Here’s a picture of the Piglet. It’s a few weeks old, but I love this pic:
He’s much cuter than I could ever be. I wonder if they’d put his photo on the back of my still-in-my-dreams-book-jacket, instead of my mug?
Speaking of books (oh, yeah, it’s a WRITING blog,) I write middle-grade-veering-towards-YA-fiction. Mostly horror, which is amusing, considering that I’m the world’s biggest ‘fraidy cat. Well, Heidi’s actually a bigger wuss, but I’m a darn close second. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to post here next week about signing with an agent, but *sssssshhhhhhhhhhhh* I have to keep it under wraps until it’s more official.
I piddled around with writing pretty much since I could hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until I penned my first full-length manuscript that I got hooked. It was a terrible, terrible book, but writing it saved my sanity while I withered away at a desk job. I eventually left the corporate world, became a nanny, joined the fabulous Wordslingers, and started writing every day during naptime. The kid’s naptime, not mine. Obviously. The Wordslingers have taught me to tighten my sagging middles, that no one wants to know what color the countertops are, and that keeping company with a fabulous group of writers can make you better at your craft.
Now, I’m a stay-at-home-mom/writer, looking for an agent’s contract (fingers crossed fingers crossed fingers crossed,) a book deal, and a way to make dinner, entertain a three-month-old and finish chapter 5 simultaneously. I’m also seeking a cure for my over-long sentences, but one thing at a time, right?
This was Heidi and I last October terrorizing Juan Valdez as well as everyone else in the Juan Valdez cafe on 57th Street in Manhattan. It was our first meeting (not with Juan Valdez—with each other). We are the only two Wordslingers to have ever "met". We found out quite a few interesting things about each other, one of which was that she is tall and I am short.
Anyway, I guess this was my way of avoiding introducing myself. I am the partially anonymous Lisa A. When and if I land an agent, I suppose I will come "out" and reveal my full name. I am a professor of graphic design and an artist. But you see, writing has sort of taken over my life. It all started about four years ago when I had what seemed like the brilliant idea to illustrate a children's book. Man, was I excited. I finished said book, even did the illustrations, some of which I will even post on here at some point. It was after I had worked on the writing for two years I realized no one was going to want my book if I couldn't write. I threw myself into learning the craft of writing, joined one critique group, then another (this one, bless them!). By the time I realized I had written a Young Adult novel and no one was going to buy an illustrated young adult novel, it was too late. I was irrevocably a writer. Now I keep my shameful secret from my students. Sorry kids, pictures just don't do it for me anymore. It's all about the words, now.
At this point I have four partials out for my latest (second) YA. I have retired that poor noble first book. It served its purpose. It taught me how to write and for that I treasure it. Maybe someday I'll dust it off and take a cold hard look at the poor discarded wretch and see if it has any merit. For now, I'll just keep plugging away on my latest WIP. And keep hoping the good fortunes of three of my esteemed critmates will rub off on me!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
There. That feels better.
Anyway, now that I've come clean with my weakest writing trait, I'll give you a little background. It all began in Carson Tahoe Hospital on March 14 in 1973. Fast Forward. And now I'm living in Pereira, Colombia, South America with my wonderful husband. All that stuff in between is filler, I guess. (Scared you there for a sec, huh? 34 years of filler would scare anybody.)
LIFE FILLER: The photo is my favorite travel photo of late, taken after the wind knocked me down trekking in Torres Del Paine and I got my first actual black eye. Very cool, though very unflattering, I know.
Anyway, I'm a writer, and thanks to the brain share of this group I have been saved from total publishing humiliation. They are my "Raiders of the Lost Arc" (See above). I'm finishing my last round of revisions for FREEZE FRAME -- my YA novel that will be coming out with Laura Geringer Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children, next fall. (Sold by my intrepid agent Stephen Barbara last November!) No worries. I will embark on a journey of shameless self promotion when the release date comes nearer including fantastic raffles, winning trips to exotic lands and such. Not really on the trips thing. But it would be nice.
Our intention is to share with you our experiences in the writing world, our ideas about writing, and, using Jean's phrase, a compendium of useful and maybe useless knowledge, when it comes to books, characters, and all the other things we love about the world of words!
And if you need trekking tips, ask me. (Don't let the photo fool you.)
Okay. Enough. Thanks for joining us.
One of us (our first member to land a book deal, who will hopefully hop on here any second now and PROMOTE her fabulous book Freeze Frame, due out in October 2008) suggested we start a blog, since we are all catching fire in various degrees (some are burning like the sun, while others of us, like me are just glowing ever so slightly).
Anyway, as the most longwinded member of this group (or any group I'm a member of for that matter) let me take on the mantel of Wordslinger's historian.
For me it began two and a half years ago when our founder (whom I will let identify herself once she realizes with a huge shock that this blog even exists) started a crit group. The two of us, who knew little more than squat about writing at the time, found kindred spirits in each other. We were both YA fantasy writers and we shared, a passion and drive for writing that seemed to burn the skin off the others around us. It didn't take us long to realize we needed a more turbo-charged environment to polish our skills, so with her as moderater we set off to create the Wordslingers, a group dedicated only to longer works of YA and MG fiction with a rather intense critiquing schedule. Four of us have been together since the earliest days. We added one new member who has been with us for over a year now.
What can I say other than where would I be without these five marvelous and dedicated writers?
I guess we are doing something right since we formed two years ago, this is what has happened:
March 2006: Member one lands agent
October 2006: Member one gets book deal!
Around the same time our moderator gets an agent. (hope my memory is accurate! the story is complicated and it's not mine to tell).
June 2007: member three gives birth! that would be Christine.
September 2007: While I'm nowhere close to having an agent, there has been a flurry of interest for my YA dark fantasy romance, Darkest.
Another member is retooling her query, since her book is GREAT and other sixth member is totally wowing us with her WIP a delicious and original MG fantasy, which we know will get snatched up in a flash when she finishes.
So how did we come up with the name Sharing the Brain? Well it started with a very silly inside joke I can't even remember, so I hope one of you will chime in. It became sort of our anthem, because our credo is to go to amazing lengths to help each other and support each other. We are amazingly close and have helped each other through tough times, prodded each other to keep writing and most important critiqued each other's work until our fingers bled. Hence we have all grown phenomenally as writers, evidenced by the way a spark has generated a flame.
I just want to say hi! to my other critique group Just Write also know as the Cudas given our bite an attack critiquing style, only formed a year ago, amazing things are happening there as well...but this is the Wordslinger's blog...anyway..HI Cudas!!!
Our own special brand of insanity brought us to this point, and now we want to see how far it can take us. Ladies? Blog away!
-Christine (a.k.a. "C")