Sunday, May 30, 2010


I admire writers who can be funny.  Bloggers, especially--a funny blog is the best.  But writing humor is difficult stuff.  My sense of humor is understated.  I'm the kind of person who makes quiet, wry comments to the person next to me in the back row.  I'm the kind of teacher who is rarely ever completely serious but also rarely ever completely joking.  Only the quick ones catch on which is which.

I value funny.  At almost every job I've worked, I've had a co-worker who regularly made it a point to tell me jokes or share funny comics with me or otherwise make me laugh.  But it's so easy for humor to fall flat on the page.  I can't always predict what humor I'll enjoy.  I've definitely enjoyed Douglas Adams several times over (even this sort of bizarre Apple IIe computer game that I recall playing somewhat a lot as a teenager), and David Sedaris is absolutely golden, especially because after listening to him on This American Life and such, I can never read one of his books without hearing him actually narrating the stories in my head.

Recently I read Douglas Coupland's novel, The Gum Thief, at the gym.  I'm not sure I'd say that the purpose of the book is to be humorous.  I mean, to be honest, please do not ask me any time soon what the purpose of this book is.  I loved it, and I have no idea what I think about it yet.  But anyway, this was a book that caused me to allow spontaneous explosions of surprised laughter to escape me while I was running in ellipticals with my ipod stuffed in my ears.  Who knows how loud I laughed? 

What are your favorite funny writers?  They don't have to be writing to be favorites are often the ones who just are funny. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

a teacher moment...

I love books.  I love reading them, I love talking about them with others.  The best feeling in the world comes from reading a book, coming to the end, and knowing--instantly--someone I'm certain will love it.  Knowing which student the book might interest, drawing them slowly into another story.  Knowing, maybe, which student the book could snare...trapping them into a lifetime of being a reader.

Books are powerful.  Books are dangerous.  Books are easy to lose.

This is my classroom on the first day of the school year.  Those are two of the six bookcases I have, all overflowing with amazing books.  Books that I want my students to devour.  Books my students seem to destroy.

The first few years my personal library books each had a card tucked inside them--a small, white index card with the title and the author written on it.  And a green-inked stamp of a group of elephants.  Their butts, really.  The Elephant Butt Cards, we called them, and we filed them in the Elephant Butt Card Box.  Students wrote their names on the back of the cards, and things were pretty orderly back then.  Until it got crazy.  Elephant Butt Cards raining all over the floor, none of them in the right book.  Names not crossed off the cards.  No pencil in the bin.  It's amazing how complicated a very simple system can be when in the hands of seventh graders. 

Now I have my checked out books in a spreadsheet on my computer, but I still make mistakes.  Books walk out the door, only to be left in the hall or on top of the lockers, or behind the vending machine.  You know, places it can kind of break your heart to imagine a book ending up. 

And this week is that time again, the time I try to track them all down and get them back.  I look at them, my books that were so shiny when they left my hands.  They are battered, torn--their slipcovers missing, perhaps.  But they have been read, and so many of them make their way back to my room eventually, after enjoying or enduring all kinds of adventures in the somewhat disorganized lives of middle schoolers.

I have a copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass that was missing for about six years.  I remember the girl who checked it out.  She lost it at the exact point in the quarter as to make it nearly impossible for her to complete her book report.  Then one day, years later, it randomly showed up in my mailbox.

But it's worth it.  Even though I know I may never see a book again when I lend it out, it's worth it to offer them this chance to experience another author, a different kind of book, a personalized recommendation...all I really want is to find every one of them the perfect book.  Just a little thing.

This year one of my classes signed up for accounts.  I loved seeing their reviews and even just the lists of books that they were reading.  I read them my reviews as a part of my booktalk process, and a few of them got free ARCs from the Early Reviewers program and then read and reviewed the books.  It's great to hear their thoughts about YA fiction, for one.

Anyway, I was looking over my own librarything and saw so many truly amazing MG and YA I read and shared with my students this school year, including some terrific books by my friends Hannah and Suz!

(and thanks to Super Student Krissa, for your awesome contributions to my classroom library--and my own reading list!)

Heist Society, by Ally Carter
The Schwa Was Here, by Neal Shusterman
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt
Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner
Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini
Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
World War Z by Max Brooks (not YA but 8th graders find it a good read)
The Lottery  by Beth Goobie
The God Box by Alex Sanchez
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
The Naughty List by Suzanne Young
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Saint Iggy by K.L.Going
A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
House of Night series by P.C. Cast
Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Break by Hannah Moskowitz
Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
Wake by Lisa McMann
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Luna by Julie Ann Peters

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Of course it's not you, Mom...

A writer may be observing you right now.

Ask writers what question people always ask them, and you're likely to hear queries such as, "Where do you get your ideas?" or "How do you come up with your stories?"  Readers who fall in love with fictional characters, who get lost in fantasy worlds, who enter a book so completely that they forget about time and reality--they have questions about the genesis of it all.  Where did this come from?

And naturally, the first place they want to find it is in the writer's real life.

My first novel's protagonist has a manipulative, enabling mother.  She's redeemed in the end, but would that fact matter to my own mom, if she were to read it?  Or would she read the mother character looking for herself, for the small details of reality I may have used as a writer for authenticity?  (And oh dear, what will she think of the dead mom in my current  novel?)

Does real life make its way into my fiction?

When I was maybe eleven years old, I got my swimsuit and hopped on my bike and pulled out of my driveway to head down to my friend's house.  Maybe I misjudged the speed of the car.  Maybe I didn't even look--who knows, I was eleven and probably making up stories in my head at the time.  But I looked up, deer in the headlights, and saw this car speeding toward me.  A kid on a country road, driving fast.

In my panic, I swerved back toward my own side of the road, wobbly on my bicycle, and headed for the near ditch.  Which was right where the car was heading, the driver panicked and the brakes locked up.  I remember the screech of tires. 

The car skidded to a stop--the front bumper gave me an abrasion on my shin about six inches long when it stopped just short of me, just short of crushing my leg against the frame of my bike.

My parents, who had just hugged me goodbye and were in the yard working on building the  house, heard the screeching tires and came running through the trees, just as I was reassuring the young driver that I was fine, and he was busy squealing off down the road again. 

I was angry at my parents because they wouldn't let me go swimming.

This instant of my life--which looks so different to me now, looking back at it, as a parent, as an adult, as a driver--has made its way in one form or another into several of my stories.  In one of my first completed short stories, it looks like this:

It was a strange moment when his rage swallowed his tears.  Some years later, he looked up at an oncoming car, misjudged its speed, and pedaled out in front of it.  The driver of the car panicked and slammed on his brakes, skidding across the pavement and stopping only after the front bumper grazed Gerry's shin.  The anger was like that--in the distance but deceptively fast--colliding with him accidentally, out of control.  He stood up, letting the desk top bang shut with a loud crack, and shouted, roared with red face and tight fists raised, "I hate you!!"  He ran from the room, his eyes dry fire ripping across the faces of the kids who looked at him with something like fear.

In KISS THE MORNING STAR (that's third novel's new title!), there is a missionary trip to Mexico with a dilapidated bus and a crazy pastor.  In real life, I did once take a missionary trip to Mexico on a dilapidated bus.  But the group of teens and parents and fellow college student translators was amazing and beautiful and not at all creepy (and Pastor S. was a saint and a hero on that trip, of course!).  My memories of that journey form a little bit of who I am, and those details are what I use to tie my fictional words into the thick fabric of life, adding the layers that I hope will make them into something that captures moments, captures readers. 

But I won't say there isn't sometimes a nagging voice--an editor in my head--will they understand that it's not REALLY real life?  It's the voice that makes it difficult to write sometimes, the voice of: what will my students think if they read this?  What will my children think?  And Mom? If I ever publish a book, I feel like we'll have to have an agreement that she can read all she wants, but all I want to hear is, "I love it, honey." 

My friend and brave beta reader Amy Danziger Ross recently started a Microfiction Monday on her blog, saying she thought it would be a great way for her to keep in the practice of being on the lookout for stories all the time.  But then comes the hard part--publishing them.  What stories are truly ours to tell?

(P.S. if you're here from twitter and looking for the naked grizzly bear story, you'll just have wait to read KtMS.  :P)

photo credit David Hoole Photography, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

this is my excited face...

Well, revision is sent!  Mostly, I'm proud of it.  But of course, with writing, there's always the possibility that one is delusional, right?

So yay! My fingers are crossed, and I hope the reaction is not:

a) Nooooo!  I didn't want you to do THAT!


b) Wait.  Did you do anything?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

perfect timing?

One of my goals for the year has to do with how I react to getting feedback on my book.  In fact, the actual words I  used were, "I'd like to remain thoughtful, objective, gracious, and rational about anything that happens with this book."

It's a lot to ask of myself, really, and I was completely nervous about a month ago as I discussed revisions with Sarah.  Anything that happens.  I asked myself, "Can I remain objective and rational and even GRACIOUS if she tells me something that sounds impossible?"  I was so nervous about getting her notes that I didn't even know if I wanted to get notes at all.  Maybe we could just stop here?  I could be like, YAY my book is pretty and unique and someone believes in it, the end.  Every step forward has so many possibilities, about half of them stinking suspiciously like failure.

But of course I'm not going to let a little panic (I mean apprehension, obviously) get in the way of moving forward as a writer, right?  So I read through my manuscript again during the time I knew Sarah was reading it, trying to see it from her perspective, trying to imagine what she was seeing.

And then I got her notes in my inbox (incredibly detailed, amazing notes, btw!).  And then my computer died.  On the same day.  Perfect timing.

At first I thought this was a catastrophe.  I mean, I printed out her notes from my work computer and took them home overnight--I hoped at this  point that my computer might have a little update issue that might take twenty or thirty minutes to fix.  I read through the notes, getting more and more inspired and anxious to dig in.  But it turned out my hard drive had failed, and although I had everything backed up (on paper and electronically), I didn't have my computer for the next three weeks. 

Objective and rational and gracious.  Right.  I was freaking out.

Something about me--even though I had been perfectly patient about doing these revisions earlier, and in fact had been fantasizing about never doing them at all, once I had my notes and my ideas and had spent some time on the phone with Sarah...I was ready.  And when I'm ready to do something, let me tell you, it gets done.  I wanted to work straight through the next week, nailing each change.  But the little table where my laptop sits was empty and forlorn.  Instead I had a monster binder, stacks of paper, two colors of sticky notes, and a birthday journal, mostly neglected in favor of the keyboard, which translates my thoughts into words so much faster, so much more freely...

Thoughtful.  Objective.  Rational.  Gracious.

I took the cap off my pen.  I started making notes.  Two weeks later, my mom lent me her laptop so I could translate all my scribblings into the actual manuscript, and now today I'm reading through again.  And again.

Someday soon I'll send it back, my fingers crossed, my goal in mind.  Maybe it will come back with a new set of notes.  Maybe it will go on to the next stage.  This timing wasn't what I had hoped for, but revising slowly, gnawing my pen cap between my teeth like the days before I had a computer (yes, I do that)--maybe it was better for me after all.  Maybe it really was perfect timing.

Just a little update.  I hope to be done for real sometime this week.  And then...who knows?  My lappy is back with its shiny new hard drive, and I know that once I hit send I'm going to be back to focusing on that goal of mine.  And back to first drafting the next one!  :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

do the write thing

I'm pretty late to the game here, due to a sketchy loaner computer and some kind of nasty lung-plague that has had me laid up for days, now, but a Nashville writer friend of mine has been busy, busy, busy putting together an amazing auction to raise money for victims of the flooding in Nashville.

So if you haven't already been over to the site, stop by Do the Write Thing for Nashville and take a look at all the amazing stuff that these folks have wrangled up from the publishing world!  And don't just stop by once! 

EVERY DAY new items will be added to the auction, and let me tell you, there's some awesome stuff, for writers especially but also for anyone who loves a good book.

Signed books galore, story and excerpt critiques, scholarships to writing conferences, posters, coffee cups, phone calls with agents and's an extravaganza of goodies--and all for a great cause, with a tax deductible receipt with your easy PayPal contribution.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm waiting for this one...

a librarian-made book trailer for Rae Mariz's upcoming book, THE UNIDENTIFIED!  I'm so excited about this book and Mariz's career--I could watch this trailer all day!

longer post upcoming, in which I will probably agonize at length about how awful it is to receive agent edits on the same day my computer dies...