Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Every day I walked across the bridge

to the castle on the other side, the orange roofs, the towers, the church steeples. Sometimes I touched the blackened statues, angels, saints, the guy who was thrown off in chains--

he's the oldest statue on the bridge, his body gold from people touching it for luck. I don't believe in that kind off thing, but still, I admit, I touched him, stopping to look out at the river, imagining for a moment the man hurling toward the water, and all of the people over the years doing the same thing I'm doing,

strolling, rubbing statues, wanting to believe.

(The St Charles Bridge, Prague, one year ago today)
Around me tourists ignored the beggars, examined jewelry for sale while musicians played The Moldau or Mamma Mia, and I was thinking how weird it was to be moving in a crowd but feeling apart from them at the same time. Maybe it was all the different languages,

none of them mine, alone with my own loud thoughts. On a mission to explore the place on my own, wander through hidden gardens, eat street food, poke around churches.

No pictures, said the signs, but I sneaked one anyway. Some ancient church and inside, another church, and inside that one, a beam of wood that my guidebook said came from the house of Mary. Yes, that Mary. The mother of God. It looked like an ordinary piece of wood but for some reason I was teary-eyed.

And choked up again watching the people in wheelchairs bless themselves at the altar under the Baby Jesus of Prague, basically a china doll dressed in a poofy ornate gown and why would anyone think this would work, but still I take my turn and kneel. No one gives to the beggars on the bridge. They have a particular stance here, crouched, face down, their arms out, so no one has to meet their eyes.

Some of them have puppies. In a garden I find what I think is a good place to write, tucked behind bushes on a stone bench, but apparently, it's a popular wedding photo spot and two by two, the brides and grooms troop by, pose, set up their shots, the red roof backdrop, blue sky.

One of the photographers takes my phone, snaps a picture. We arrange this transaction without speaking. It's amazing, when you think about it, how we much we can understand each other when we want to.

Back across the bridge, the sun setting, the boats in the river, the statues, some of them 600 years old, a teenage boy drops a coin in front of a beggar, so quickly even the beggar seems surprised. A young couple dances past, the song lovelier than any I have ever heard.



Thursday, June 7, 2018

Both Summers Someone Drove Me To Work

the summer I was twenty, on the verge of turning twenty-one, and living, as some said, "in sin" with a boy-- an archaic and silly rumor because we were always only friends, but whatever, people are going to think what they're going to think--

and what I was thinking was great relief at being one thousand two hundred fifty miles away from home, playing the part of a grown up with my best friend, living in a cool apartment (okay, the apartment was filthy and infested with flying cockroaches and I had to sleep on a futon where I tried not to think about them landing on my face in the middle of the night)

and working two jobs,

an internship downtown at Memphis Magazine, fact-checking articles, talking on the phone with PR departments, fetching coffee for editors and writing a few of my own articles (one was about flying cockroaches. Shockingly, they did not publish it.)

and a waitressing job at Perkins Restaurant where I always had way too many tables and for some reason the trend was to tip the waitresses with religious pamphlets instead of money, and one of the most ridiculous pamphlets said: WHAT DO JANICE JOPLIN AND JIMI HENDRIX HAVE IN COMMON?

THEY'RE BOTH ROCK STARS AND THEY'RE BOTH DEAD!! JESUS IS THE ONLY TRUE ROCK.

But I digress. The point is that someone drove me to work.

The boy I was living with is the unsung hero of that summer, basically acting as my chauffeur because I had no car and he was a nice guy, dropping me off at my internship downtown promptly at nine and picking me up at noon and then driving me to Perkins at four and picking me up after midnight, and in between he drove around delivering pizza,

so maybe he enjoyed driving? I don't know, but I do know that I hated that ride to Perkins, how we'd listen to the same cassette tape every afternoon, Best of the Moody Blues, and we'd only make it to song number three "Ride My Seesaw" before I'd have to lurch out of the car, tightening my side ponytail, bracing myself for my collection of quarter tips and inane religious tracts that promised I'd burn in hell.

That summer was a kind of hell, now that I think about it.

But I am digressing again, because what I really wanted to write about is this summer and how it is exactly thirty years later and someone else is driving me to work each afternoon, but this time the person is my daughter, who is twenty, on the verge of turning twenty-one, and my job is in a lovely children's bookstore,

something out of You've Got Mail, but hopefully not like the one that Tom Hanks will put out of business because I really love working there, touching books and talking about books and chatting with customers and my co-workers, one of whom, at least for a few weeks, is my daughter,

home for part of the summer before heading off to Rome. We don't listen to the Moody Blues when we ride together into work and I don't have my hair in a side ponytail (not sure what that was about. A possible clue to the religious pamphlets?) My daughter wouldn't be caught dead with her hair in a side ponytail.

She is way cooler than I was at her age. Possibly not having to sleep on a futon and whack at flying cockroaches in the middle of the night will have that effect on a person,

or who knows all of the things that add up to who we are, what makes some of us condemn frazzled waitresses to eternal damnation and others drive them to work,

what makes time fly so fast that one moment you're twenty-going-on-twenty-one and the next

you're not.






Thursday, May 31, 2018

One True Way: An Interview with Shannon Hitchcock

I am so happy to have Shannon Hitchcock back On the Verge!

I'm a huge fan of her work. Her debut novel The Ballad of Jessie Pearl is a favorite-- a girl's coming of age in 1920's rural North Carolina after a family tragedy, and Shannon's take on school integration in Ruby Lee & Me is heart-breaking and thought-provoking. Her new novel, One True Way, skips forward in time to more recent history, 1977. It's a story of friendship and first romance-- between two girls-- set in a period when the country was nowhere near ready to accept, or even acknowledge, homosexuality.

The subject can be touchy for some people even today, but Shannon's a pro at creating three dimensional characters and believable, compelling plots, so I knew I would love the book. And I did!

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Jody: Shannon, something I've learned working at a bookstore is how important it is to be able to sum up a book in a sentence or two in order to grab a potential reader's attention. What's your ten-second pitch for One True Way?


Shannon: From the moment, Allie Drake meets Samantha Johnson at Daniel Boone Middle School, she knows there is something special between them. But Allie never knew a first crush could be so wonderful—or cause so many problems.

Jody: I love that. It perfectly encapsulates the book. Your other novels were inspired by events in your family history. Is that the case for One True Way as well?

Shannon: The idea sparked at a National Council of Teachers of English. I was attending a diversity panel and the librarian/moderator said what she really needed were more middle grade books that deal with homosexuality. She went on to say that’s the age same sex feelings emerge, but there were very few books available.

That resonated with me because many years ago a person I love came out to me. Because we’d both been raised in conservative churches, it was gut wrenching for both of us. I knew immediately I wanted to tell that story.

Jody: There's been a pretty big shift, I think, in the last decade, on how we as a society talk about and view homosexuality. I've noticed that there was a shift even between the years my own two kids (who are four years apart) were in school. When my older son was in college, several kids he knew came out and it was without much fanfare. Only a couple of years later, kids were coming out in my daughter's high school. Now, kids are coming out in middle school.

Your book feels essential for those kids who are thinking about their own sexuality-- coming out or on the verge of coming out, but also for their classmates, and let's face it, for adults who haven't caught up yet with the kids! Were you thinking about any of these issues when you were writing One True Way? Have you gotten any push-back from readers or gatekeepers (teachers, parents, etc.)?

Shannon: The problem with writing a novel with LGBT content is you’re never sure if a negative review is because your writing stinks or the reviewer does. I suspect lots of the push-back for One True Way will be silent censorship. Educators who simply won’t buy or use the book. I agree with you that adults haven’t caught up with kids on LGBT issues.

A recent article in the NY Times reinforced that for me:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/books/george-alex-gino-controversy-oregon.html6.

Jody: I haven't read George by Alex Gino yet, but I know exactly what you mean. A few years ago I teamed up with a librarian to present on silent censorship at an American Association of School Librarians conference. We called our presentation "Two Boys Kissing Is Always Missing" because my librarian friend realized that while she carried that novel by David Levithan in her school library, no child every officially checked it out.

Still, the book was never where it was supposed to be on the shelf. Kids were slipping it out of the library to read. David Levithan himself spoke about that. He acknowledged that kids might be afraid to check the book out or buy it, but just that fact that it existed, that it was on a book shelf, made them feel less alone.

Which is what I think homophobic people are most afraid of when they hear about books like that, and like yours. There's an element of If we pretend homosexuality doesn't exist, then it won't, or something like that.

Shannon: This is true, sadly. In my experience, the prejudice many homosexuals face stems from religion, so if I really wanted my book to make a difference, I needed to examine the source of it. Three books were invaluable to me: Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of love Shook the United Methodist Church by Franklyn Schaefer, Crooked letter i: Coming Out in the South by Connie Griffin, and When Christians Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton. I also worked with my minister, the Reverend Vicki Walker.

Jody: I'm glad you brought religion up. It's a huge part of many kids' lives but it's rare to see characters in children's books going to church or talking about church. You do a great job depicting different kinds of churches in the story. There's Sam's church-- a fundamentalist church, and there's Allie's, a more progressive one.

Shannon: That was something I worked on and thought about a lot. The readers I am most trying to reach are the kids being raised in conservative churches. I want those kids to know not everyone interprets the Bible the same way, and that it’s important to be true to who they are.

Jody: Something we haven't talked about yet is the setting. This book takes place in the 1970's and reminded me of books I read in the 70's -- books by Paula Danziger and Ellen Conford, books about divorce, friendships, gentle romantic relationships, school interactions...

Did you read those kinds of books when you were growing up in the 1970's? Did you think about books like that when you were writing? What other kinds of research did you do before/when you were writing the novel?

Shannon: Yes, I read those kinds of books, but I didn’t really think about them in writing One True Way. I started by reading YA LGBT books and making note of what content was appropriate and inappropriate for a middle grade audience. I read Boy Meets Boy, Two Boys Kissing, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Annie On My Mind, and many others.

What those books taught me is the emotions are the same whether the relationship is between two boys, two girls, or a boy and a girl. The difference is in the way society reacts to it.

Jody: I've read those books too and they do what the very best books do-- drop the reader into another person's shoes and get them walking around for a bit in a different life. And now we can add One True Way to that list.

Before I let you go, Shannon, I'm excited to hear what you are working on now.

Shannon: I’ve been revising a novel called Callie In Color. I had decided it would never see the light of day, but then received feedback that Callie needed a subplot. I don’t know whether Callie will ever be published, but adding the subplot has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for it. That old adage about not revising in a vacuum turns out to be true.

Jody: I have no doubt that you will figure it out! Thank you, Shannon, for joining me today! Dear readers, if you'd like to learn more about Shannon and her books, see below.

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Shannon Hitchcock is the author of the critically acclaimed One True Way, Ruby Lee & Me and The Ballad of Jesse Pearl. Her picture book biography Overgrown Jack was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. Her writing has been published in Cricket, Highlights for Children, and Children's Writer magazines. She lives in Tampa, Florida.


You can find her online here:
www.ShannonHitchock.com
Facebook
Twitter
Cover to Cover Bookstore
Barnes & Noble
Amazon





Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

The air in the southwest is nowhere near as humid as it is in central Ohio (and as a person with normally out-of-control/mad woman in the forest curly-hair, I appreciate that).

The Grand Canyon is a must-see in real life. (Pictures do not even begin to capture the view). But here's one anyway:


I like the contrast of red rock against bright blue sky. Georgia O'Keeffe knew what she was doing, living out in New Mexico, painting red rock formations and bleached animal bones and skies so blue they make your eyes burn.


She also painted churches.


There are tons of old churches in the southwest and one of them, the Santuario de Chimayo, has a special room tucked away behind the altar where you are invited to scoop out sacred dirt.

Which I did. Into an empty pill bottle.


Because you never know when you are going to need some sacred dirt.

And speaking of old churches, they are not nearly as old as the Native American towns you will pass through. Pueblos carved in mountains. Multi-storied adobes. Mud-brick foundations dating back to the 1000s, some still occupied by nations you've never heard of, and you think as you wander through some of these places how ignorant you were,

thinking that old places like these exist only in other parts of the world. Europe, for example, where you've see the foundations of Roman walls and all of those ancient churches, the bones of saints behind glass or buried under the slate floors.

Ignorant, because you didn't remember the civilizations here, in America. Ignorant, because you thought most of these people were gone. But here you are at one place where the people still live, their homes situated around buildings their ancestors made one thousand years ago.


You haven't read or looked at the news all week, but somehow it leaks in anyway. Another mass shooting in a school. More corruption in the administration. Something about yanni and laurel. Oh, and the president of the United States of America called immigrants animals.

The sky is so blue and the landscape is so red and you know the terrible things that have been done here to other human beings, that are still being done, this moment, and how very lucky you are to have passed through this world mostly unscathed,

to be on vacation.

Later,

when you are walking by what looks like a bookstore/barbershop in Durango, Colorado, and the bearded clerk asks you what book you are looking for and you start to walk away because the place looks super sketchy, with its two barber chairs and only one bookcase filled with dusty books,

but your husband walks closer and says, "Young Adult novels?" and the clerk says, "We have that for you right here," and then he opens the bookcase...

and there's a room glowing on the other side.

Go in.



You'll be glad you did.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Favorite Children's Books This Week

(in no particular order) 

Brand new by Mac Barnett: Square

It's hard to create something perfect but Square is determined to try! This is a fun read-aloud with a lovely message about friendship and creativity. 

(side note: Mac Barnett visited Cover to Cover, the bookstore where I work, and we all adored him. Somehow 100+ people packed themselves into our very small store and Mac read stories and held babies and was an all around awesome author guest.) 


Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. 

Twelve year-old Amal dreams of being a teacher, but when she accidentally insults a powerful man in her Pakistani village, she's sent away as punishment. Basically, she's given to the wealthy family to pay off the debt and expected to serve in their household forever. But Amal is resourceful and figures a way out. 

Riveting and inspiring story of a young girl finding her voice and fighting back against injustice. 




The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 

This book won the Newbery Honor a few years ago but came on my radar because the sequel is now out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 

Ten-year old Ada is neglected and abused by her cruel mother and hidden away in an apartment in 1940's London. When war is imminent and transports of kids are sent to the countryside, Ada sees her chance to escape. Taken in by a crochety older woman, Ada finds happiness--  making friends, learning to ride a horse, and experiencing real nurturing for the first time in her life. 

But will it last... or will she be sent home when the war is over? 

The sequel, The War I Finally Won, is up next on my TBR list.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

High school junior Jade knows she lucky. The honor roll student and artist has a scholarship to attend an elite private school in the suburbs of Portland. But it's not always easy navigating her different worlds.  

Watson does a masterful job exploring class, race, and sex in 2018 America. What does it feel like to be a black girl in a mostly white school? To be the smart girl in the neighborhood? To be an artist?

This book blew me away. A must-read. 














Sunday, May 6, 2018

Assisting the Re-Sisters

I am not entirely clear what this get-together actually is, but when I hear the name Re-Sisters, I am intrigued enough by the invite from a friend of a friend to quit my revision work for the day and venture out of my comfort zone to attend.

The group's already assembled when I arrive, late, and peek through the doorway, a group meeting in a private room in a bar. They're talking loudly, laughing, drinking wine and writing... postcards?

They look up and I have to laugh. I know half the people in the room.

They're teachers at my kids' schools, writers in my SCBWI writer group, regular customers at the bookstore where I work. I have a weird thought that here I've been interacting with these people all along and had no idea what their political opinions were, that they even knew each other, never mind that they've been meeting up regularly since the Women's March in DC. Actively resisting. Making phone calls for candidates, raising money for progressive causes, working on schedules to drive voters to the polls.

An agenda on the table shows that they'll be "decompressing and venting" for 20 minutes and then, a visit from Rick Neal, a Democratic candidate for Congress hoping to win the primary next Tuesday so he can run against incumbent Steve Stivers in November.

I am All In with this group already (not with the venting part. I am tired of venting) but with the ordering a glass of wine and grabbing a stack of postcards to fill out part. The gist of the postcard (which I copy out multiple times) is a reminder to vote on May 8 in the primary election because the Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted likes to remove people from the roll if they don't vote in every election. (Not cool,  Jon Husted!)


I drink my wine. I write my postcards. I chat with the women around me while they decompress and vent. Did you hear what [fill in the blank with the name of a corrupt Administration member] did today?!

Yeah, oh yeah. I heard.

And then Rick Neal strides into the room. He tells his story. How he's never run for office before because he's been busy being in the Peace Corps and fighting humanitarian crises overseas and standing up for marriage equality in Ohio and raising his two adopted little girls with his husband. How angry he was at the tone of the new administration, their attack on healthcare and their huge tax break for the wealthy that will widen the income inequality gap even more.

And how ticked off he is at our congressperson, Steve Stivers, who's not only standing by while Ohioans are hurting, but who is refusing even to meet with his constituents. I squirm a little in my seat because I voted for Mr. Stivers, one of the dumber things I've ever done in my life-- throwing away a precious vote on a guy who later called me a paid agitator.

Okay, he didn't say that to my face. (Because he doesn't meet with his constituents, unless they also happen to be big donors.) But he did say it in the Columbus Dispatch. 

I could vent more about this, but, noooooo, I am past the venting stage. I am in the Action stage. The stage where I drink wine and write postcards and attend meetings and make plans to campaign for the guy who --even if he can't take Steve Stivers down-- can at least give him a solid run for his money.

The guy, Rick Neal, has a plan to make healthcare affordable for all, ideas on how to combat the opioid crisis, (Ohio is currently ranked number three in opioid deaths out of all states), how to improve education, and how to make pancakes.

Just checking to see if you are still reading. Yes, Rick Neal can make pancakes.

I'm voting for him on May 8th so the Secretary of State Jon Husted won't remove my name from the voting roll. If you happen to live in Ohio, I highly recommend that you do so too.

But first, watch Rick Neal make pancakes.



And if you live in the Columbus area, come visit the next ReSisters meeting. We'll drink wine and write postcards and decompress together.



Monday, April 30, 2018

May sneaked up on me

today when I was walking the dog and noticed that many of the trees on my street have those yellow buds, the ones that usually last only a few days before unfurling into full-blown green leaves. Most years I miss noticing the yellow bud stage.

Writers are supposed to be more aware of what's going on around them. I am not that kind of writer. I am the kind that takes a walk with my dog and makes up stories in my head and the next thing I know I am rounding the corner toward home. Sometimes I stumble over a bumped up sidewalk square or get yanked off my feet when my dog darts unexpectedly after a squirrel. Life can be dangerous for the live-inside-your-head writer. 

Today I liked looking at the yellow buds for thirty seconds and then I thought of the line from Robert Frost's poem where he says "nature's first green is gold," and that got me trying to remember the rest of the lines of the poem, ("her hardest hue to hold, her early leaf's a flower, but only so an hour")

which, naturally, I heard in Ralph Macchio's voice, because he was the actor in the movie The Outsiders who read the poem out loud before he got third degrees burns trying to save the kids in the fire, which reminded me how I used to teach that book to my tenth grade students and then we would watch the movie in class and the boys would snicker when the poor kids roamed the street at the end, punching their fists into their hands and vowing that they would Do it for Johnny. 

Do it, meant "go beat the crap out of the rich kids," I guess. Not that that would make any difference. The poor kids would still be the poor kids and the rich kids would still have everything even if they did lose a fight in a playground one night, and that is the saddest line in the book, I think. Sadder, even than the part where Ralph Macchio dies from his burn injuries after reciting the Robert Frost poem about how nothing gold can stay.

I need to do a better job staying in the yellow bud stage. Do what the poet I heard yesterday at the library say about capturing the moment. Slow down, he said. 

Look hard.

Look slowly. 

This weekend my daughter is coming home for a few weeks before heading off on another adventure and I am busy dusting her room and making up her bed. Only a few moments ago, it seemed, she was packing up for her first year of college.

Today she is finishing her junior year. 

I turn the corner down on her bedspread. Fluff her pillow. Fill a vase beside her bed with yellow flowers.