I was doing pretty well on my resolution to blog once a week until about mid-November. What happened? Well, first I had revisions that I needed to get done, and that took a lot of my writing energy. Then there was this little life growing inside of me that took my energy in general. My daughter, Matilda, was born on January 31st and I couldn’t be more in love.
I’m a very lucky mom. My husband has been home on paternity leave and my own mother has come to stay with us to help keep our day-to-day life running. When my son went back to daycare, I suddenly found myself with time and an urge to get back to writing. With my new babe asleep by my side, I emailed my agent a very rough draft of a work in progress. I planned how I would do research and writing exercises to prep for a full scale revision this summer. Suddenly, the stories of Stephenie Meyer “typing one-handed with a baby in her lap” did not seem like mythology. Writing with a baby was possible!
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve interviewed several of my favorite bloggers on their blogging history, practice, and philosophy. You can read the interviews with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Melissa Walker, and Jennifer Hubbard. I also spoke with Joyce Valenza over the phone. There were a few common themes to all of their responses.
1. It can take a while to find your voice. Both Melissa Walker and Joyce Valenza admitted to floundering for a while. For me this was extremely reassuring, and I hope others were reassured as well.
For my grad class we are supposed to be “living the blogging life,” which means following, reading, and blogging ourselves (that’s right, you are currently reading my homework). As part of our blogging, we are supposed to be determining our purpose and audience. This has been something I’ve struggled with since I started.
The summer after college, while waiting to deploy for the Peace Corps, I lived at home and got a job driving a bright blue-green bus around to low-income neighborhoods in New Hampshire. My partner and I would read stories, do a related activity, and then lend out books to the children. It was a great summer job and led me down the path to where I now find myself: cultivating literacy in teenager as a high school librarian.
But this post isn’t about literacy, it’s about what I did with my first paycheck: I bought a guitar.
For a graduate class I am taking, we need to describe our vision of the ideal future of writing. Here’s mine:
“Writing will survive, but it will survive in a debased form. It will lose its richness. We will no longer read and write words. We will merely process them, the way our computers do.” Nicholas Carr, writing in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica Blog. The culprit: technology.
As for me, while I see the potential pitfalls of technology, the changes I am seeing are all positive. In fact, I believe that advances in technology will make more people writers and will allow those writers to share their work with an ever-increasing audience. Students will enjoy writing, and will do it on their own time because it allows them to connect within and without their community. Most importantly, students will be empowered by writing.
Writing has always provided a way for us to connect to others. Technology is allowing that reach to go farther and to more people. Sometimes people say that a drawback of online communities is that people will write things they never would “in real life”. This can also be a positive. Recently I told an English teacher, Tim Gillis, about the Parent-Teacher-Student journals described in Engaging Parents Beyond the Back to School Night. He decided to add a parental component and asked students to interview their parents about whether or not they had ever read Moby Dick, the class text. Some parents talked about how they had never read it, but remembered other books they read. Some liked what they had read in high school, others didn’t. Graham’s father took over the computer and wrote a very poignant response. You can see all the responses at his blog, Moby Tweet. Continue reading →
Whenever the topic of book banning comes up, someone invariably makes the argument that banning books is silly because books can’t make us do anything. Reading Harry Potter goes the argument will not turn a child into a wizard. True, but you’ve got to know that thousands of children wanted to be wizards after reading those books.
Of course books are a safe place to work through emotions and experiences without having to go through them ourselves. But arguing that books don’t change us seems like an argument against books rather than for them.
So, in that spirit, here are some things that I did (and do) because I was influenced by books I read as a child:
I started addressing my journal to Kitty after reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank Later, after I lost a friend, I began addressing my journal to him, which is where, in turn, I got the idea of having Dara address her journal to Rachel as a child in Secrets.
I make little “x”s on my bug bites. I think I read this in one of the Soup books by Robert Newton Peck, though it might have been another book I read around that time.
I joined the Peace Corps after reading Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One. I really wanted to go to South Africa, where the book was set, but I was stationed in Cote d’Ivoire instead. It didn’t work out quite as planned, but that’s a story for another day.
Those are the just the first ones that come to mind. I would love to know how others were influenced by the books they read as kids. Please share in the comments.
So, this week is Banned Books Week, which, according to the ALA’s website:
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
Each year I celebrate BBW in my library. My favorite thing to do is to put paper covers over the books and write why they were banned on them. Inevitably, writing “Sexual content” or “Violence” or “explicit homosexual and heterosexual situations, profanity, underage drinking and smoking, extreme moral shortcomings, child molesters, graphic pedophile situations and total lack of negative consequences throughout the book” makes teens pick them up. (That last one is for Augusten Burroughs Running with Scissors. Here’s the complete annotated list: Books Challenged and/or Banned – 2009-2010 (PDF))
My students often ask, “This was banned here?” and I explain that no, it was not banned in our school or library, but someone attempted to remove it from a school or library elsewhere. When they see books that they love and books that they are asked to read for school banned, it really makes them think.
Two things I probably don’t stress enough is that, although it is called Banned Books Week, in the United States it’s usually more about challenges. As the ALA site points out:
Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.
However, book bannings do still happen in other countries, as well as the imprisonment of authors whose views don’t match those of their governments. The PEN’s Freedom to Write offers great information about how you can fight the silencing of writers worldwide.
Others who follow Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog will have read with dismay about the man in Missouri who equated her book, Speak, about a girl who is raped, with pornography. I am sure I cannot say as well as Laurie’s fans the power and impact of this book. She collected the responses into a poem which you can see her reading here:
In addition to attacking Speak and classic Slaughterhouse Five (which he introduces as though his readers may not have heard of it), Scroggins sees fit to call filthy one of the more powerful books I read last year: Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer. Ockler’s debut novel tells the story of Anna, who was secretly having a relationship with her best friend Anna’s older brother, Matt. After Matt dies, she is stricken with grief, but can’t speak about the depth of her pain. It is poignant and powerful, a thoughtful examination of grief and friendship. In his description, Scroggins gets some of the events right, but when he claims the book “glorifies” some of the things that go on — well, clearly he needs to learn how to read for nuance and tone.
Please support Laurie and Sarah. Please share your experiences as Laurie has asked. Let’s make our voices stronger than those who would silence us.
Ellen Wittlinger has an article in this month’s Hornbook, “Too Gay or Not Gay Enough” about changes in the Lambda Literary Foundation Awards’ guidelines, which now require that submissions be from self-identified LGBT authors.
The discussion in response to this article over at Arthur A. Levine’s blog is fascinating. For me, the debate about insider versus outsider is perhaps the most interesting (and the most relevant to my own work).
I’ve written about why I write LGBTQ characters, which I think can be summed up as, “To not include them would be to not represent reality.” Secrets of Truth & Beauty included minority characters, but their race was a minor part of the story. Works in progress include a similar mix. When I am writing, I don’t think, “Okay, now it’s time for the Asian character.” That’s how a character appears to me. I do work to make sure that their race or sexuality informs who they are, and works within the story, just as I worked to make Dara’s weight an integral if not defining part of her character development.
I encourage others to go read the article, read Arthur Levine’s response, and then participate in the discussion. These are the kinds of topics and questions that need to be raised in the kidlit world.
By now, I think just about everyone has commented on the ending of Lost. So I’m a little late, as usual. Still, if you haven’t seen it yet, there are spoilerish things coming.
I loved the show Lost. I loved that it ended without answering all the questions or explicating itself. What I really loved about the ending was the way it mirrored the opening sequence: Jack in the bamboo, eye opening in the first episode, closing in the second. Vincent runs by in the opening, and snuggles in with Jack at the end. There’s the shoe caught in the bamboo. In a show about circles and mirrors and time folding in on itself, this ending makes perfect sense.
Another favorite series ending is that of Homicide: Life on the Street, one of my all time favorite shows. The closing dialog is the exact same as the opening. Another circle, this one exact! And once again it totally fits the show. The characters may try to grow and change, but they are existing in the world of crime, where each case can blend into one another relentlessly.
People often ask writers if they are plotters or pantsers. I hate the term pantsers. I imagine people running around pulling down each other’s pants. Alas, I am not a plotter, so what else can I call myself? I like to think of it as following the story where it goes. Usually, though, I have the end in site, whether it’s a final scene or a final line.
I knew where Secrets was going to end — at a place where it could be called a happy ending. Actually, Happy Ending was one of the working titles. I knew that I wanted the last line to be: “But I’ll stop here because, just like Owen, I want a happy ending.” Likewise, I have the final line for something I’m working on now. I think it helps to know where you are going so you know what moments need emphasis in order for that moment to resonate.
And yes, getting back to Lost, I do believe that J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof knew where they were going. I’m a big geek for this show, and I’ve gone back and watched the two-part pilot again, and you can see them dropping hints. And if I had to guess, I’d say they were plotters who also let themselves follow story lines off into tangents. Maybe they didn’t tie it all up with little bows, but that’s okay with me. Life (or death or purgatory) just doesn’t work that way — so why should fiction?