At the Festival, signing books with the help of a special visitor:
Susan Beckhorn Williams and Paul Zelinsky.
Bruce Coville & Jane Yolen starred (as agent & editor, respectively) in a skit written for the occasion by Sibby Falk and performed at the post-Festival dinner for authors & volunteers.
December: Rochester Area Children's Writers & Illustrators Christmas party. Graciously hosted by Vicki Schulz in her family's lovely home, this year's entertainment was a talent show. The talents on offer were varied and delightful--from Deena Vivian's recitation of all 44 presidents to Bill Thomas playing the mountain dulcimer to Marsha Hayles arm-wrestling, I learned things about the members that I hadn't known before! M.T. Anderson was a special guest, and his talent was awe-inspiring: He can play Rossini's William Tell Overture by hitting himself in the face.
Now if that don't make you wanna read his books, I don't know what will. ;-)
For the next year or so, I'll be doing almost no school visits and relatively little travel, for two reasons. One, I'll be in The Cave, working on a project.
And two, this is my world now...
Wishing everyone a safe and joyous holiday season!
I especially loved their “all inclusive” aspect; in their Sunday program they always include a flyer claiming to welcome everyone—paraphrasing here, but not making this up—“fat or skinny, black or white, gay or straight, drunk or sober, liberal or conservative,” etc.
Note that last part: “Liberal or conservative.” Yes, I’m conservative. Yes, I’m a Republican. No, I am not what many people believe a “typical conservative Republican is.” As anyone who knows me personally will tell you, I can be astonishing liberal in many respects. I'm a writer, for pete's sake. How uptight can I be?
So, for a moment I had a church, and a Sunday ritual: Church service with my daughter in the morning, then Barnes & Noble for an afternoon of coffee and writing. What better way to start off a week? We didn't attend regularly because of our work schedules, but we went when we could. We'd already discussed the possibility of joining the congregation. Again, with our schedules, it’d be difficult to regularly attend classes, but maybe the pastor could meet with us personally…? We tossed the idea back and forth, not quite able to make a firm commitment.
Then I happened to come across the pastor’s Facebook page. The same genial pastor who gave the greatest, NON-boring sermons, who displayed such a charming sense of humor, who shook our hands on Sundays, and always made us feel welcome.
The dude is a raging conservophobe--if that’s even a real word.
Post after post about rotten Republicans. Rotten conservatives. How we are “horrible people, period.” Political rant after political rant. My jaw hit the keyboard.
What’s interesting is that some of his posts I actually AGREED with. Many I found relevant and thought-provoking, never mind that the Average--what was the word? Oh yeah: "Horrible"--Republican undoubtedly would shit the proverbial brick. However, I also learned that the government shut-down a few weeks back was caused by Republicans SOLELY because they hate having an African-American president. The idea that people actually believe this crap boggles my mind. Oh, and I especially “loved” the cartoon of the GOP elephant saying to Santa: “Let me tell you want I don’t want OTHERS to have for Christmas.”
On and on and on.
People on my friends list who post this dreck on Facebook (and anti-liberal rants as well, which I find equally tiresome--though there is far, far less of that) have long been kicked off my newsfeed, along with tortured pets and people, plus the usual 1,000 selfies/recipes/shared cartoons/slaughtered animals i.e. you-suck-if-you-eat-meat/minute-by-minut
It's easy to say "don't take it personally." But I'm taking it personally. How can I not? It's everywhere I turn as it is. Free game. Conservatives, possibly the last group of people who can be bashed with impunity.
I totally “get” that this is the pastor’s personal Facebook page and that he, like everyone else, has the right to voice his opinion. In my opinion, however, he, as a pastor, represents his church. Don’t pass out that flyer week after week, claiming everyone is welcome regardless of political affiliation, then jump onto Facebook and insult every one of us. You, sir, are a flaming HYPOCRITE. Right now I’m more frosted than Frosty the Snowman—and, once again, without a church home.
But that’s okay. I’m beginning to understand that not everyone “fits” into a church. It doesn’t make me less of a Christian not to sit in a pew every Sunday morning. I’m comfortable with my spirituality, confident in my faith. Maybe one day I will find a place…but, I can safely say, it won’t be in time for Christmas.
AMAZON description: One hour into her first day of tenth grade, Martha Kowalski knows she’s really in trouble. The school bully, Chardonnay, has already threatened her life—and at home, things are even worse. Martha’s mom, fresh out of rehab, is shacking up with a total jerk in a run-down two-family in the ghetto.
More than anything she’s ever wanted, Martha wants to play the cello. But even music becomes a danger—because nothing is what it seems in this place. With her mother’s willpower dissolving, Martha watches helplessly as her own dreams slip farther away.
But in an exhilarating twist that would stun even Cinderella, everything changes. A wealthy lawyer invites her into his family’s home, and Martha is given a chance to start over. The warm, caring Brinkmans treat Martha like one of the family, and even though it feels so right, she knows they can’t be as perfect as they seem. And she knows this fairy tale can’t last forever...
One of my personal favorite scenes--Martha's first Ala-Teen meeting:
People are crammed like pigs feet in the basement of a church so incredibly medieval, it’s not even air-conditioned. Kids in one room, adults in another, and slogans, slogans, everywhere I look: Let Go and Let God. One Day at a Time. Live and Let Live... Bite me, I think.
Add to this the fact that I am a bit contrary by nature (you are shocked, I know, to know this about me), and you understand that sometimes the tangential road is a more productive one. What does this have to do with learning? I think the key word here is FREEDOM. My friend and colleague Donalyn Miller often uses the hashtag #letmypeopleread. In tnis age of scripted curriculum brought about by Common Core, teachers and kids are denied the chance to select reading material. If everyone needs to be on the same page at the same time in the same book are we not limiting the tangential thinking that might occur? I know some outside of education will see this as a good thing. But Jillian points out in her blog posting that sometimes these tangents prduce something worth pursuing.
As I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway this past week, my BH and I shared a discussion about zigzagging our way from Point A to Point B. I made a wrng turn somewhere, and we discovered a lovely off-the-beaten path place to have lunch and watch the skies clear over the ocean. Granted that not all zigzagging or wrong turns are productive. But taking a "mistake" and looking for the silver lining in it might just be the most immportant thing we can do. Sometimes, on the tangents, we will find a place where there is wonder.
- Current Location:California
- Current Mood: curious
First, Vermont Public Radio aired the book group meeting I had with the wonderful kids at the Burnham Memorial Library in Colchester, VT. It was part of a series called Dorothy's List. This is the state book award list which students read from and then vote for their favorite at the end of the year.
You can see photos and listen to the event here:
One of my favorites (shared with me by a parent):
Second, my local paper ran a story about me! It was so kind and thoughtfully written, though everyone goofed on me about the photo. :-) The intern they assigned the photo to got a little excited about having my computer cast a glow on me, which was sweet. But in the end, I couldn't help making the comparison...
:-) Anyway, it was a real treat to hear from local friends who'd read the article, especially those who didn't know a lot about me or my writing or my story.
You can read the article, called "A Writers Path to Understanding," here:
I'm not one to get paid a lot of attention to, and I'm not one to feel very comfortable when it happens, but these two events were so special and I am very, very grateful. Talking to kids about stories and writing and life has turned out to be the most rewarding and meaningful aspect of my writing life. To get the opportunity is a true honor.
Monday Morning Warm-Up:
A colleague of mine wrote a thought-provoking post about writing at the SNHU page: "What is Literary Writing, and Why it Matters in the Matrix," by Amy Irvine McHarg. You can read the full entry here:
I love this excerpt:
"It may sound like Star Trek stuff, but the fourth dimension is the place we want to access in poetry and prose. When we write deeply enough, there is an opening, that takes us below the horizontal plane, the surface of the ego, into the creative unconscious. It is here, where the rich textures and nuances happen, the place where writing becomes not just a craft but an act of grace."
Do you know what she's talking about? Have you been there? My challenge for you today is to explore your own interpretation of this fourth dimension Amy describes. Where is that place for you? For your story? Take a minute to close your eyes, slow your breathing, and open your mind to the core place of your story. Then open your mind's eye and look around. Feel. Breathe again. What do you discover?
Dessert Designer: Creations You Can Make and Eat!
by Dana Meachen Rau (Author)
Booktalk: Turn your kitchen into an art studio! Try some of these 51 fun creations–and eat the tasty results!
Snippet: Your kitchen is more than a place to make supper. It’s an art studio. When you combine dessert and your imagination, you can create amazing works of art that taste as good as they look! Turn cakes into roller coasters. Top cupcakes with crazy creatures. Make cookies hoot with awesomeness and candy flutter your taste buds. There’s no end to what you can do with desserts!
It’s Nonfiction Monday!
Copyright © 2013 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.
And then I thought: Dammit, I'm out here running in 35 degree weather too. Am I imaginary? No! I'm a real runner as well!
And this got me thinking about the way we use the word "real" to connote -- what? Physical existence? Identity? Membership in a group? People talk a lot about whether or not they're "real" writers if they haven't been published, or if they don't do it every day, or if they're not writing a specific thing (books = good, blog posts = your existence is doubtful). Fandoms are riven by arguments about whether you can be a "real" fan if you haven't read all the back issues, if you only got into it after the movie, even (noxiously) if you are female. When I saw that guy in the park, I doubted my worth as a runner because I don't have the physical ability to run in shorts at 35 degrees without getting frostbite -- meaning, really, I haven't put in the time to gain that muscle tone and metabolism. But my legs pumping in their tights, my heart pounding in my chest, my hand clutching my water bottle were all as present and powerful as that young man dashing by; and I resolved then and there that I will stop dissing myself about this in future and give myself credit -- that my effort, at the least, was real and deserved respect.
Of course, since I live in children's books, I also thought of this:
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
(I should add that I don't think what I'm saying holds entirely true for racial/ethnic/sexuality group identities, which have complexities and histories, and costs and benefits, far beyond mere participation in an activity or fandom. Nor is it true for anything that requires a specific accomplishment.... No matter how much I may love cheering at marathons, I can't say I'm a Real marathoner, because I haven't done one! But for activities and fandoms, this is my new standard for Real.)
And if you have all of those qualifications, and then some people tell you you aren't a Real __________, then they are the actual frauds; because part of love is generosity, the desire to see this good thing grow, and they don't have enough love in them to be a Real ________ themselves. Ignore them and go on.
By this measure, I am a Real runner, knitter, cook, yogi, writer, and editor. I do remain objectively not very good at the running, knitting, and yoga. But there is something about merely being Real that makes me feel better connected and more committed to my chosen activities--that I know I belong to them and they to me, that no one can take my Realness away from me. As Beyonce gave way to Bonnie Tyler and the sun set over the lake, the wind died down. My speed picked up. I felt again the exhilaration I discovered years ago, that I can run, that I am a runner, that this is a superpower I carry in my own two feet. And I ran out of the park, as Real as I wanted to be.
Nurturing, tending, growing, planting, feeding, caring: there are many gardening metaphors at work in teaching. That does not mean teachers are all the same sort of gardener. Some of us have small plots we plant near the house so we do not have to venture too far from home. Some of us plant huge acres of land. Some specialize in one crop; others plant a veritable banquet.
So we plant the seeds. But we are not done. The seeds must be nourished and the plant watched carefully as it sends out its first stems and shoots and leaves. Day after day we continue to work: some plants needs a little more encouragement than others. I had a houseplant (this was before Scout who considers anything green to be HIS garden) that loved to be moved from one end of the bookcase to another. College Girl still has a cactus that leans like the Tower of Pisa. It is in his (she has named it Carl Cactus) nature to lean. No matter how often we try to train Carl to grow upright, he resists. And perhaps it is this allusion that works when it comes to talking about the difference between being an examiner and a nurturer: we know that not all seeds will yield the same plants, that not all plants will grow to be the same height and width, etc. We know there will be variety, and that is something we actually value. So it is with kids. They all need care and nourishment, but not all of them will need the exact SAME care and nourishment. We do not expect them to be the same. But those outside of the classroom who call for performance as the means to measure teacher effectiveness do not see the variation (and do you not wonder what kind of blinders they must be wearing?). They expect kids to come in one door (and they see them as tabula rasa when they do) and exit the other door at the end of their time in school like little cutout widgets that have been pressed from the same mold, one indistinguishable from the other.
My BH took a photo of me and Donalyn and Karin and Katherine at a dinner in Boston. Donalyn and I are obviously engaged in a deep discussion (hands waving, mouths flapping, faces animated) while Karin and Katherine listened to BH and actually looked up to the camera. This snapshot encapsulates this post. Not all kids are in the same place at the same time. Nor should they be. We need to allow for the variation. Perhaps THAT is the essence of being a nurturer?
- Current Location:Newport
- Current Mood: contemplative
My first industry review for Half A Chance, and it's a STAR! Thank you, Kirkus. :) I danced around the kitchen when I saw it.
For fun and to celebrate, I played myself one of the videos that I listened to over and over while I worked on this book (and hadn't listened to since). It's strange to hear loons in December, but listening to this video brought back long summer days of writing.
- Current Mood: grateful
I would like to suggest to the author of the article that he might apply (or, more accurately, misapply) this textual analysis to any 3 works from the bestseller list for adults and come up with much the same sort of conclusions. For this is not textual analysis as the author suggests. Instead this is an exerccise that looks only at words without their full context. Most frequently occuring adjectives, etc. is interesting for certain. But what does it really mean in terms of analyzing text and, as the author of the article suggests, in terms of the audience for said works? What it means in this case is that the author has the chance to sneer at the books he purports to analyze. The analysis in this case is pretext for pointing out the "silliness" or "simplicity" of YA books. And it misses the point entirely because it focuses on PARTS and not the WHOLE.
This is the problem with levels and lexiles as well: we reduce a work to components, analyze syllables, stence length, syntax, semantics. We dissect and then pronounce the viability of the work. Thus, NIGHT is determined to be at an elementary school reading level. Levels and lexiles do not and cannot come close to "measuring" how the reading of NIGHT (or any other book for that matter) might affect the reader. Measuring is a curious thing. I learned to cook many things by watching my Mother and then by cooking with her supervision. There were no real recipes for soup and sauce and such. And I never make the same soup or suace or such twice. When baking, though, measurement is rather key. But even in baking, there is room for some variation from recipes.
I know this post is wandering. I am trying to work through why someone would use such an analysis to discuss the appeal of movies. It seems to me that this is a pointless exercise: it does not provide much insight. If he had read the books, perhaps he would not label THE HUNGER GAMES as having spare descriptions or HARRY POTTER as "Waiting for Voldemort" but might have noticed classic motifs and archetypes that are, perhaps, also part of the appeal of the books. A true content anaylsis would be more illuminating. A careful reading and discussion might have yielded more in terms of examining audience, complexity, etc. However, this glimpse into pieces does little to elevate the discourse about these (and other) books.
- Current Location:California
- Current Mood:fatigued