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. 



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Natalie Richards is in my head

okay, not literally, but it feels like that this week as I delve back into the revision I've been working on since last summer.  Natalie, for the record, is my critique partner, and how critique partners work, for those of you not blessed to have one, is they read your manuscript and offer suggestions for how you can improve it.

Natalie knows that I am a big baby when it comes to taking criticism, so before she sends me her notes, she calls me. You've totally got this, she says. Don't get nervous when you see the number of comments.

Um, how many comments are we talking? 

Pause. Maybe 400?

400?!

But most of them are tiny things. And the rest sort of boil down to three slightly bigger issues. But you're totally going to be able to whip it into shape. It will probably take you two, three weeks at the most...

And then she launches into the slightly bigger issues, which honestly sound a tad bigger than she is suggesting. For a few days I am afraid to peek, (also, in my defense, I was out of town. See: Adventures Getting Coffee in Connecticut) but Monday, I take a breath and scroll through.

I have a five stages of death and dying thing going on with my approach to revision. First stage, I deny I have to do anything. The book is good! Exactly how I wrote it! I'm sending it to my agent today!

Second stage. WHAT DOES NATALIE EVEN KNOW? SHE PROBABLY DIDN'T EVEN READ MY BOOK CAREFULLY! SHE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND MY BRILLIANCE! I AM NOT CHANGING A WORD!

Third stage: Okay, what if I just take care of the tiny things she was talking about first?

Fourth stage: This whole book sucks.

I call Natalie. I explain to her that I think my whole book sucks.

Stop being a baby, she tells me, and go back in there.

So I do. Which leads to where I am now with it. After a few days of timid fiddling, I am moving right along. This is the thing about a good critique partner: when they know what they are doing, their comments and suggestions are a guide.

Natalie asks me questions in her comments.

Why would the character do this here?
Wait, who is that person again? You haven't mentioned her in like, fifty pages.
Would the mom really say something like that? It doesn't sound like her.

She leaves smiley faces when she likes something. Adds an occasional LOL. Whenever I read one of these comments, I smile and lol myself.

Moving through the story with these notes scrolling along on the side, something weird begins to happen. I am not alone in my book. I am having a conversation. I argue with some of the points. I give up on others easily. How did I not SEE that? She's exactly right!

I call her and thank her profusely. Oh, shut up, she says, laughing. You do the exact same thing for me.










Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Riding in Cars for Coffee: (A pathetic comedy in four parts)

Part One

I am visiting my brother for the week,

and this morning as my niece and nephew head off to school and my brother heads off to work, I prepare to make coffee in his lovely newly renovated kitchen... and find, to my horror, that while my brother owns many small appliances, including a Crème brûlée maker and not one, but two juicers, he does not own a coffee maker.

On the plus side, there are approximately 543 Dunkin' Donuts in the area, and before my brother leaves for work, he throws me a set of car keys.

These do not look like any car keys I have ever seen. As in, they do not include keys.

Part Two

I go out into his massive three car garage and sit inside a massive red car with the keys on my lap,  knowing that I am supposed to push a button?

I push many buttons. Nothing happens. I consider going back into the house. But, no. I need coffee. I can figure this out!

I push more buttons. I wave the key-less key around. Nothing.

I call my husband. I send him multiple pictures of the steering wheel and dashboard. He offers advice. None of which works. But, one clue. I thought you said the car is a Range Rover, my husband texts me.

Yeah, so?

Well, the picture you sent me shows Ford Explorer written on the steering wheel. 

Part Three

My brother has two red cars!! The other red car is a Range Rover or Land Rover or some kind of Rover? It is tucked behind a wall on the other side of the garage!

I sit inside it. I push buttons. Nothing happens. I text my husband. I send him more pictures of the steering wheel and the dashboard. He offers helpful advice. None of which works. I text Natalie, my critique partner, mostly to joke to her that I am an idiot sitting inside a car with no idea how to start it. Also, I NEED MY COFFEE!!

Part Four

Natalie sends me a youtube video entitled "How to Use the Land Rover Ranger Rover Keyless Engine Start."

I watch the video three times.

And wah lah! The car starts!

Now, all I have to do is figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers.

The End.


(*note how many doofballs had to watch this video.)



Thursday, April 12, 2018

The World's Gone Mad but--

I am not thinking about it. Instead, I spend my days chatting with my critique partner about the notes she's given me on my manuscript --the muddied up character arc and the inevitable info-dump in the first few chapters,-- and working in the bookstore -- the story-times with toddlers, the unpacking of boxes of new book--

my mind mulling over pressing issues, like, what if I can't figure out this revision, and how do I keep my dog from letting herself outside and getting stuck in the muddy backyard while I'm at work, and what should I make for dinner tonight?

Meanwhile, there was a nerve gas attack in Syria and entire families died in a stairwell, men and women clinging to their babies, their eyes glazed over, their ashen faces, and how terrified it must've been for them in those final moments.

I can't make sense of it.

Last year I read the book A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45, because I am fascinated by how people grapple with the world during dark times. Lindgren, who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books, kept a diary detailing her experiences living in Sweden during World War II.


Most of the diary is day to day stuff like what she's making for dinner.

Which surprised me because when I think about people living back then, I imagine the war as being more present and all-encompassing.

Okay, Astrid Lindgren was lucky --and she knew it-- living in Sweden, a neutral country during the war, and therefore, mostly unscathed by the events. Sure, she read the newspapers and listened to the radio and was appalled, of course, by the atrocities, but for the most part, she was writing her Pippi Longstocking story and taking care of her kids and mulling over the food selection at the market, which wasn't bad, considering. She had a hard time making sense of it.

Yesterday I unpacked a box at the bookstore, a stack of new books, Indestructibles, they call them. A new invention to me. Books that your baby can crumple and chew. They're non-toxic! You can throw them in the dishwasher!

I marvel at these features, remembering my own babies chewing the corners of their books and there I was, clueless, allowing it, not worrying that the paper they were ingesting might be poisonous. Who knew this was even a pressing issue.


I wish I could ask Astrid Lindgren.

How is it that we live in a world that for some people ends with them clinging to their gasping terrified children in a stairwell, and for other people, the largest worry is the drooly bitten corners of a book?