Thursday, August 27, 2015

Moving Day

When you move to a new place, everything feels strange.

It takes a while to get your bearings. To find your way. Each time you walk out the front door, you have to think: How do I get where I want to go? 

A map helps. Where is the post office? The hair salon? The nearest grocery store? But a map can only take you so far. You may have to... gulp... introduce yourself to the next door neighbors. Ask strangers how the carpool line works at your kid's school. Who sells the best pizza. What night do we roll out the garbage bins. 

You knew all that in your old town. Ten years there and you had it all figured out. The short cuts to take during rush hour. The gas station where gas was 3 cents cheaper. The best park to hang out on Sunday afternoon with the kids. You were on auto-pilot in that place and it was nice.

Ah well. You know you'll figure it out in this new town too. As someone who's moved before, you know that leaving one world behind to settle in another, can be scary. But you can do it.

Anyway, it's not like you have a choice. Moves happen. You purposely seek a new place out. Or it seeks you out. Whether you see it coming or not, one day you may find yourself standing in your living room surrounded by moving boxes.

Just yesterday the carpet was covered with toys.

You were forever stepping on legos. Scooping up wooden blocks. Peering under the couch for microscopic polly pocket fashion accessories.

Your life was a baby crying in the middle of the night. Formula bottles and jars of mushy carrots. Diaper changes and pullups and potty accidents. Cartoons and sippy cups of chocolate milk. Endless chatter and tantrums and WHY WHY WHY.

Confession: sometimes you locked yourself in the bathroom to escape the whining and the noodle-y-os and the spit-up and the chewed up binkies. You dreamed of the day when you could stroll out of the house without a two ton diaper bag and a baby carrier.

But then you'd rally. Open the bathroom door and the day would go on. Scooby Doo and bath-times and story-times turned into homework and field trip forms and piano lessons. Carpools to soccer practices morphed into carpools to middle school dances.

Sleepovers. Birthday parties. Blaring music and screeching kids in the backseat of the mini van. Summer camp. College trips--

Until suddenly everything stopped.

The house wasn't for sale. But you realized you've moved. Everything is different in this place. You can't get your bearings. There is no map.

You wander around the quiet and stunningly clean rooms, not sure where you want to go, hoping you will find your way.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Interview with Marcia Thornton Jones on the story behind her amazing new novel WOODFORD BRAVE

I'm so excited to have long-time best-selling author Marcia Thornton Jones visiting today On the Verge. I've known Marcia for years-- since my Lexington, KY teaching gifted/talented students days, (Marcia used to be my boss in the G/T department!), and I am always happy to share her publishing news.

Side note for those who don't know Marcia: She's written over 130 books and developed several beloved series for younger and middle grade readers, including The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids with co-author Debbie Dadey, Ghostville Elementary and Barkley's School for Dogs. She's also written popular standalones Ratfink and Champ.

But this year she's turned to something different, historical fiction. Woodford Brave is set during WWII and features a boy named Cory Woodford who is determined to live up to his family legacy of bravery. But right and wrong and the meaning of bravery become much more complicated when Cory discovers a secret about his neighbor…and about his family.


Jody: I have to tell you: I started reading Woodford Brave last night and was completely drawn in. It's funny. A little spooky. And has a voice that I know will appeal to middle grade readers. Historical fiction, though, is not your usual genre...

Marcia: That's true. This book is a departure from the contemporary, light-hearted, chapter books for which I’m mostly known. Don’t get me wrong, Woodford Brave is packed with kid-adventure elements including super heroes, go-kart races, a spy hunt, and ghosts. But it also includes themes of bravery, prejudice, and friendship. Not only that, it's a novel full of personal meaning.

Jody: You didn't grow up during WWII--

Marcia: No. But I did grow up during Viet Nam. That war was not popular by the time my brother Randy turned 18 and was eligible for the draft. I remember my family anxiously waiting to learn Randy’s draft number. My brother didn’t get drafted. A neighbor, however, was not so lucky.

Jody: Jeez. What happened to him?

Marcia: One night he headed for the Canadian border. While some people called draft dodgers cowards, I couldn’t help but think of the courage it took to leave family, friends, and the only home he’d known. That’s when the seed for Woodford Brave’s theme was planted: courage and fear are two sides of the same coin.

Jody: And we see that now too, in wars fought today.

Marcia: Right. When conflicts erupted in the Middle East it occurred to me that while the languages of our country’s enemies may change, the central themes of conflict, bravery, and prejudice during times of war do not. I tested my ah-ha moment by reading about World War II. That’s when I found Cory’s story.

Cory and his world are made up, but as so often happens, a writer’s real life creeps into the writing. For example, the idea for the dogs that terrorize Cory and his friends came from two Irish Wolfhounds that terrorized my own walks to and from elementary school each and every day.

Jody: I'm curious about the research you had to do. What kind of resources did you look at to recreate Cory's 1940's world?

Marcia: Most information about life in that time was found through book and online research. My best source, however, was my mother who sat in her den and reminisced about being a young telephone operator when the war broke out. She told me how the switchboard lit up the day war was declared. How the telephone operators knew that something big had happened. They just had no idea how big. She told me about the boys who rushed to enlist and how everyday items like silk stockings became scarce due to rationing. My mother also told about meeting a sailor named Robert Thornton who was home on leave because his ship had been torpedoed.

Jody: Your father! Now there's a story, I bet.

Marcia: (laughing) Yes, but Woodford Brave is a work of fiction, although, woven throughout are threads of mom’s history, my personal experiences, and lessons I’ve learned about bravery, friendship, and prejudice.

Jody: Not to dismiss your other books, but writing this one seems to have a touched you in a way that maybe your previous books haven't?

Marcia: It does contain one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever written; a scene that involves a death. When I found myself crying over the scene I’d written, I knew I finally had it right!

Jody: Can you share a bit about your writing and revising process? I'm trying to imagine weaving all of your research and your mom's anecdotes into this story.

Marcia: I used multiple charts to keep track of characters, themes, and to keep the plot moving. I wrote many, many, many drafts. As I wrote and rewrote, I became very aware that the themes of friendship, bravery, and prejudice are as relevant today as they were in the 1960's and the 1940's. But most of all, Woodford Brave challenged me to honor my mother’s history…and my own.

Jody: Well, I can see that I'm going to have to break out the tissues as I dive back into it tonight.

Thank you, Marcia, so much, for telling me the story behind story of Woodford Brave.

Note to readers: Woodford Brave is available in bookstores everywhere August 25, 2015.

For more information about Marcia Thornton Jones, See here 

You can pre-order a copy of Woodford Brave on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from your local indie.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Back to School with a Monogrammed Towel Set

Kids are heading back to school.

The signs are everywhere. Three for a dollar notebooks. Sales on scissors and index cards and crayons. Somehow this still adds up to 80 or a hundred bucks. It's the calculators that used to push me over the edge. And the teacher requests for expensive lotion-infused tissues. I don't buy that kind of tissues for my own home.

[side note: someone told me that teachers request lotion-y tissues because said tissue is better at cleaning whiteboards than the cheapo tissue. I don't know if this is true but it made me feel less resentful about springing for the multiple boxes on the school supply list--but not less resentful that parents have to purchase this stuff in the first place. In my day, schools didn't expect parents to buy packages of loose leaf paper and scissors and glue. In my day bluh bluh bluh. Yeah. I know. I sound like a crochety old fogie.]

Anyway, what was I talking about?

Oh. Right. Back to school.

So, for the first time in sixteen years I don't have a kid going back to school.

I have a son who's been away at college and a daughter about to go. She and I are not shopping for erasers and binders and pricey Kleenex. We are shopping for shower caddys and sheets and microwaves.

Fun fact: thirty years ago I was heading off to college.

I packed up a couple of suitcases and a trunk of winter clothes that I didn't end up digging into that much. Turned out that the Connecticut girl in Tennessee discovered little use for her winter coat and hat and mittens.

Before I moved into my dorm room, my mother and I went shopping. She bought me a small rug. A bedside lamp. A framed picture that I thought was artsy and sophisticated. A phone. (Which I used as much as my winter coat. It cost money to dial anywhere outside the college.)

My 18-year-old self was terrified and excited. Anxious and eager. Shy and confident.

The first week or two I was homesick. Not for home exactly. But for something--anything--familiar. I was a Northerner (people actually referred to me as a Yankee) at a Southern school. A poor girl surrounded by mostly wealthy kids. I was a fish out of water.

But I quickly morphed into a new fish, a new self. Maybe the self I was always meant to be. Going away turned out to be the best thing I ever did and set me off on a path I'd never have discovered if I hadn't had the courage--and privilege--to go.

I met my husband at that school. Twelve years later we had a baby girl.

Next week we'll pack up the car and take this darling girl to that same college. --I promise my husband and I did not pressure her!! -- She has tons more clothes than I ever did. She's smarter. Prettier. She's got a lovely set of monogrammed towels.

She is terrified and anxious and shy.

She is excited and eager and confident.

Me, on the other hand...


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Books on Vacation

All of my vacations are twined up with books. Plane rides with paperbacks splayed open on the seatback tray. Car trips with audio books.

Years later I can call up memories of the trips-- the sightseeing, the restaurants, the company-- scenes of the novels twirling around the edges. Rebecca at a motel pool. A Sarah Dessen novel on the flight home from Barcelona. A novel about the end of the world on a college search trip.

My honeymoon I picked up a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany in the airport bookstore. I read the book on the plane and at stray moments at the beach. I remember the crazy heat of the Mayan ruins, the lobster cruise with hokey pirates, the surreal thought over and over that I was married, that this guy strolling along beside me through the outdoor markets haggling over a Mexican blanket was now my husband... and Owen Meany with his strange high voice. A freak accident at a baseball game.

I read Grapes of Wrath on a beach in Destin. My toddler son played in the sand at my feet and I sipped coke under an umbrella, worried about my son getting a sunburn, worried about the Joads starving to death during the Dust Bowl.

A Cape Cod trip when the kids were in elementary school. A weathered house on a rocky windy beach. Fried clams and bike rides and my daughter getting her ears pierced in Provincetown. The whole time I was sneak-reading The Witching Hour. The breathless prose. The evil lurking around plantations. I was having a hard time putting the damn book down. I started entertaining the kids with the g-rated sections of the story and they begged me to read more, shushing each other to be quiet so I could find out what happened next.

A 20-hour car trip with my husband going back to my hometown for a visit, listening to Flowers in the Attic, claustrophobic in the car, trapped in an attic with incestuous siblings, stopping for pizza in the boonies of Pennsylvania, feeling anxious about poisoned powdered donuts.

Flight Behavior on my California book tour.

Beach Music on a boat ride, water splashing the pages.

A car trip with my mother, cracking up over Will Grayson Will Grayson.  

Fangirl on a trip to Florida, my husband blinking tears, our daughter in the backseat, not listening, and then listening, asking us to play the first chapters again so she could hear what she missed.

Station Eleven two days ago on a flight to San Francisco and back. What might have been our last vacation as a family. Grown son working at Facebook. Daughter three weeks away from going off to college. A twenty-fifth anniversary trip for my husband and me.

We walk up and down the steepest hills I've ever seen. Spy sea lions and Mark Zuckerberg. Eat enormous burritos. A street poet types out a poem for our daughter. We snap pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and search for elusive public restrooms.

Stuck on East Coast time, I wake earlier than everyone else. Drink my crappy hotel coffee in the dim light. Read my book. Fold over pages and read passages like this one:

"She was thinking about the way she'd always taken for granted that the world had certain people in it, either central to her days or unseen and infrequently thought of. How without these people the world is a subtly but unmistakably altered place."