Friday, October 30, 2009

Adichie on The Danger of a Single Story

I saw this link on Facebook some time back, then again on Mayra Lazara Dole's blog. It's a video featuring Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, on "the danger of a single story"--nineteen minutes long, but *fantastic*. She's funny, honest, and spot on in her insights.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spotlighting Lauren Bjorkman's MY INVENTED LIFE

So fun to be spotlighting fellow Deb, Lauren Bjorkman today! Lauren is the author of MY INVENTED LIFE, about sisters Roz and Eva.

Here's a bit about MY INVENTED LIFE: Roz and Eva are sisters, close friends, and fierce rivals. Roz fantasizes about snagging the lead in the school play and sexy skate god Bryan as her boyfriend. Sadly a few obstacles stand between her and her dreams. For one, Eva is the more talented actress. And Bryan happens to be Eva’s boyfriend. But is Eva having a secret love affair with a girl? Enquiring minds need to know.

Roz prides herself on random acts of insanity. In one such act, she invents a girlfriend of her own to encourage Eva to open up. The plan backfires, and Roz finds herself neck deep in her invented life. When Roz meets a mercurial boy with a big problem, she begins to understand the complex feelings beneath the labels. And she gets a second chance to earn Eva’s trust.

My Invented Life is set in a small California high school during rehearsals for a Shakespeare comedy.

And here's a bit about Lauren: Lauren Bjorkman grew up on a sailboat, sharing the forecastle with her sister and the sail bags. Against all odds, they are still friends. She enjoys making things up, chocolate in large quantities, and anything that makes her laugh. She lives in Taos, New Mexico with her husband, two sons, and a cat that plays fetch.

Now, the Thorough Three with Lauren Bjorkman . . .

NM: What is the age of your protagonist/s?

LB: 16/17

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

LB: Don't worry about hair-lumps. You are the only one who can see them.

NM: Complete the following sentences:
Everyone should definitely, for sure ___________.
You should NEVER, EVER ___________. But, if you absolutely must, make sure to __________.

LB: Everyone should definitely, for sure do something that scares them, at least once.

You should NEVER, EVER cut your own hair. But if you absolutely must, make sure to dye it green to cover up the mistakes.

Ack! I cut my own hair. But yes, the first few times were very scary. Hey--I covered both your shoulds and nevers! LOL.

For more info about Lauren and her work, go here. To get your copy of MY INVENTED LIFE, go here. Thanks, Lauren!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Just checking in to say that I am in the thick of writing and revising. But the New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE) conference was awesome. They passed a fantastic resolution on the No Child Left Behind act--you should all read it and forward to any teachers and/or educators you know. It's here, just scroll down to the pdf link.

In less than two weeks, I'm off to North Carolina for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference. Very excited to meet those school librarians. It was school librarians who introduced me to the amazing novels of S.E. Hinton, Natalie Babbitt, Judy Blume, and the African tale of Tiki Tiki Tembo (which resonated with me on a most profound level--still can't really make sense of why except that it was a "fairy tale" I could relate to).

And in December, I will be signing at Books of Wonder in New York City. If you're in town, please come by and say hello! I'll bring candy, or something yummy--I promise.

Have a great week!


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Spotlighting Pam Bachorz's CANDOR

I got to meet Pam this past spring when she came up to NY for a conference, and she was sweet enough to hang out with me while I waited for my bus. Pam's debut is CANDOR.

About CANDOR: Oscar Banks has everything under control. In a town where his father brainwashes everyone, he’s found a way to secretly fight the subliminal Messages. He’s got them all fooled: Oscar’s the top student and the best-behaved teen in town. Nobody knows he’s made his own Messages to deprogram his brain. But then Nia Silva moves to Candor, and Oscar falls in love. He must choose whether to let Nia be lost to brainwashing—or to sacrifice himself.

About Pam Bachorz: Pam Bachorz grew up in a small town in the Adirondack foothills, where she participated in every possible performance group and assiduously avoided any threat of athletic activity. Pam attended college in Boston and finally decided she was finished after earning four degrees. Her mother is not happy that Pam’s degrees are stored under her bed.

Pam lives just outside Washington, DC with her husband and their son. She likes to read books not aimed at her age group, go to museums and theater performances, and watch far too much television. She even goes jogging. Reluctantly.

As far as she knows, Pam has never been brainwashed. Or maybe that’s just what she’s supposed to say.

*Hee* Here are Pam's answers to the Thorough Three:

NM: What is the age of your protagonist/s?

PB: 17

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

PB: Stop taking life so seriously, and do what you love.

NM: Complete the following sentences:
Everyone should definitely, for sure _________________.
You should NEVER, EVER ____________. But if you absolutelyl must, make sure to ___________.

PB: Everyone should definitely, for sure question authority.

You should NEVER, EVER take something at face value. But if you absolutely must, make sure to have an escape plan...

Thanks, Pam! To learn more about Pam and her work, go here. To order a copy of CANDOR, go here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

English Teachers

I'll be in Rhode Island this weekend, giving a workshop at the NEATE (New England Association of Teachers of English) conference. I'm really excited about this one because English teachers have totally saved my life in the past. Twice, to be precise.

The first time was in grade ten. I was fifteen and my youngest brother was three. Guess who got to look after him most of the time while mommy and daddy worked? Lucky for me (everyone, really), I adored the little pudge. So, on top of zits, plummeting self-esteem, popularity angst, and a boyfriend that I would nowadays refer to as "quasi-potentially abusive", I had a child to take care of. Enter Ms. Cute Blonde English Teacher.

Ms. CBET took a keen interest in me and my writing. She introduced me to books that truly opened doors and windows, she read my work aloud in class (while I sunk down in my seat), and she exuded warmth and kindness. I looked forward to her class all week and as soon as I walked through the doors, she lit up with that smile. I think I got all my vitamin D from her.

Then, in grade twelve. Seventeen now, and things had gone steadily downhill. I was now looking after a five-year-old who came to depend on me like a second mother. The quasi-potentially abusive boyfriend had just gotten out of juvie and was becoming more of what he'd been going in (thank goodness for friends who smack you around and say, "he's a LOOOOOSER! Dump him. NOW."). And, to top it all off, I'd just dealt with a groping teen counselor (groped a friend, not me) and a teacher who'd yelled in my face that I was making up my nationality. Enter Ms. Less Blonde, But Slightly Butchy former-English-teacher-turned-guidance-counselor.

Ms. LBBSB was like a personal guardian angel. I credit her with turning me around and putting me on  a better path when things could have gone any which way. She read my (dismal) poetry, put it all together for me and said that it was what would become my first book (she was wrong about that, but isn't that sweet?). She took photographs of me in the school yard and said they'd be my author photos (wrong about that, too, but again--how sweet is that?). And she gave me the number for an excellent, ethical teen counselor (for aforementioned friend who was groped).

Then, after I finished my MFA (this is not part of the official two "why English teachers are awesome" stories--just a bonus), another cute, blonde English teacher enthusiastically championed my application to teach at a New York City college. I wouldn't have gotten the job if it weren't for her inexhaustible support.

I think teachers often don't realize how much of a difference they can make in the lives of teens and MFA graduates looking for jobs. In my ideal world, teachers and moms would be paid the kinds of salaries pop stars and athletes make, and only the best of the best would be given the honour to work with young minds and hearts.

I can't wait to meet these English teachers on Saturday and pay it forward, even if it's just a teeny little bit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Had a wonderful birthday. Thank you so much for all the love and good wishes!

For brunch, the hubs hired a chef, y'all. I've NEVER had someone I don't know come into my home and cook for me. Not only did she cook for me, the hubs, and the girls, she cooked for my two brothers, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew who were all down from Toronto to help me celebrate. It was a veritable vegan feast (of course, for dinner we went to the all-dairy-all-the-time Indian restaurant to balance out the veganicity). No pics of brunch, sadly. I think I was too stunned when I walked out and saw a young Irish gal wearing a chef's hat in my kitchen.

And to let you know that I was thinking of you, at least during dinner, below are a few of the pics I managed to snap. I didn't get any entree or appetizer shots because I ate all of my dishes before I remembered to pause. But these are the desserts (the pic above was my birthday cake, on the house--a black forest cake with caramel ice cream and crumbled black chocolate cookie), and my Mumbai Margarita (made with real mango juice and a dash of cayenne). Yummmm . . . So far, forty has been very sweet.

The aforementioned Mumbai Mango Margarita

 My brother ordered this delicious mango cheesecake

And this is Mango Passionfruit Falooda with Lemongrass. I know that looks like an egg yolk floating around in there, but it's the mango sorbet (can you tell we're all mango fans?). Yum . . .

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Deepavali and A Big Birthday

This Saturday is Deepavali, the Indian festival of lights. The spiritual significance of this holiday is that lamps are lit to symbolize the awakening of the inner light. Some say it's the triumph of good over evil. I say that's basically the same thing. If you're following your true inner light, you know what the deal is.

While we're all stuffing our faces contemplating our inner light this Saturday, I will also be celebrating a big birthday. Those of you who follow me on Twitter or are Facebook friends know which one it is, so I'm not going to announce it here for any and every random drive-by. But I am excited about it, and happy to spend time with family and loved ones, as well as eat everything I can get my hands on (north Indian food is all dairy and butter--with bread or rice, and north Indian sweets are all dairy and sugar. How can you go wrong with that?).

So, because I am celebrating this whole week, I will sign off the blogosphere until after the weekend. Happy Deepavali, everyone!


Monday, October 12, 2009


I've been reading about A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT for months on the internet, and finally received my copy last week. Just finished reading it. I will state up front that I have met Ms. Elliott, broken bread with her, and am biased in that I think she is a warm, wonderful person. But I had never read her work (other than on her blog), and had no idea whether I would connect with it. I was certainly intrigued by this woman who spoke her mind on the internet, was a fellow Canadian, and had the (excuse me) balls to go ahead and publish (and then promote the crud out of) her own book. I had so, so many thoughts as I read A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT and I will do my best to get them all out here.

My first thought was: WOW. What beautiful, strong writing. As I read, I knew, without a doubt, that I was in capable hands. Elliott was leading me through this journey, and she was clearly a pro. During the first third of the novel, through steady pacing and carefully revealed moments, I learned to care deeply about Genna, the protagonist. She had her heart wide open and she questioned things, challenged what was simply accepted by others in her life, and loved completely and fully, in a pure, unmarred way.

I thought, too, about my experience with agents and wondered if, had an agent taken Elliott and WISH on, would they have had her snip and cut that first third so that it was "tighter," went more quickly to the action-packed portion, or simply notched up the pace? It seems that in today's highly competitive market, authors are urged to slam the reader in the first thirty pages--to grab them by the jugular and not let go. My husband tells me there is a similar rule in film--that within the first fifteen minutes, something has to "happen" to rivet the viewer to their seat. Likewise, in writing, agents know that editors have mountains of manuscripts to read, and that if a manuscript doesn't grab them within the first ten, twenty, thirty pages, they may stop reading. So, those first thirty pages are critical in an author's professional life. This seems to be the conventional wisdom imparted in writing workshops, blogs, crit groups, etc.

But what about the novels that simmer? The ones that build slowly, laying a wide foundation? That's how pyramids are built--the wider the base, the higher the peak. What of those novels that take the time to lay a wide, sprawling base, so that they may carry the reader to the greatest heights of understanding, of learning, of insight? What of those novels in this competitive, crowded, slam-them-fast market?

So many of the novels I read as a teen, as a young woman, and then later in life, were those quieter ones, the ones with the steady, sure pace, leading purposefully to a most satisfying, unexpected climax. Those are the ones that have stayed with me. They are the ones I turn to over and over again, leaf through and find something new in each time--the ones I continue to cherish. Please note that I am not detracting from the novels that grab the reader in the first few chapters. I've loved plenty of those, as well. I'm just saying that there has to be room to value both. The first third of WISH is the quieter, measured pace of creating a wide base. Though it doesn't pack the gut-wrenching wallop of the second half (and, wow, does that second half pack a punch), it is a gradual, lyrical reveal that is skillfully, artfully written. The reader gets to know Genna the way she wants to be known--the way all solid relationships are woven: through small steps that build trust.

As Justine Larbalesteir wrote in her review of WISH, it is a crying shame that not a single editor, publisher, or agent out there saw the brilliance in A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT. It amazed me that no one had the foresight or vision to see that, if nothing else, Elliott could easily have been marketed as a young Octavia Butler. There were definitely shades of KINDRED on my mind as I read, particularly the second third of the novel.

But their loss is Ms. Elliott's gain. She took her destiny into her own hands and put her words out into the world. And the world is responding. WISH is selling like hotcakes. It is finding its readers and creating its own magic. It is doing what true, powerful art does: it is living. It is breathing and opening doors and windows, and wriggling into the minds and hearts of readers -- readers who are often shut out of the mainstream publishing mansion. And it is finding wide, enthusiastic support among teachers, librarians, booksellers, bloggers, and other thinking folks who want something more, something deeper, than what mass marketing hype is selling.

Ms. Elliott's story of bringing WISH to print is an inspiration. Her feisty determination and refusal to back down in the face of tremendous odds are what have given A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT the large wingspan it has. I was so immersed in Genna and Judah's story that I keep forgetting I've finished it. Their world is still alive within me. Their voices, and their love, are still on my mind. I want to crawl back under the covers and slide seamlessly back into their story.

I keep wondering how many other books out there, like WISH, could make an important contribution to the world and our understanding of it, but are not being published because someone thinks there is no market for them. Or that they won't sell. Or that other prevailing myth*: that because they are about PoC, written by an author of colour, they fit a "niche" market and very few people are interested in reading them.

I can not wait for the sequel, JUDAH'S TALE. And thank whatever that Ms. Elliott didn't wait for someone to decide her work was worth publishing. In the next week or so, I will post an audio converview** with the author, asking her about her experience writing and publishing WISH.  Stay tuned for that.

But in the meantime, go buy WISH. Read it, and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. You can learn more about Zetta Elliott on her website or on her blog.

*Justine Larbalestier wrote about this when addressing the issue of her original LIAR cover: "The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing. Yet I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them...Until that happens more often we can’t know if it’s true that white people won’t buy books about people of colour. All we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell. The same is usually true of poorly publicised books with 'white covers.' Are the big publishing houses really only in the business of selling books to white people? That’s not a very sustainable model if true."  
Mitali Perkins has also written extensively on race in kids' books. Her article in the School Library Journal, Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids Books is definitely worth a read.

**a cross between an interview and a conversation

Friday, October 9, 2009

Spotlighting Megan Crewe's GIVE UP THE GHOST

Fellow Canadian (indeed, fellow Torontonian!) Megan Crewe is here for Debs' Spotlight today!! Megan's novel, GIVE UP THE GHOST has been generating quite a bit of buzz on the 'nets lately, and I am thrilled to have her stop in to answer the Thorough Three. But first, a little about Megan:

Like many fiction authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up.  A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two cats (and does on occasion say "eh"), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she has yet to make friends with a ghost, though she welcomes the opportunity.

Here is summary of GIVE UP THE GHOST:
Cass McKenna much prefers the company of ghosts over "breathers." Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody... and Cass loves dirt. She's on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass's whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim's life, she's surprised to realize he's not so bad--and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it's time to give the living another chance...

Now, here are Megan's answers to the Thorough Three!

NM: How old is the protagonist in GUTG?

MC: Cass is 16.

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

MC: Don't be afraid to stand out--people will judge you less than you think.

NM: Complete the following sentences:

Everyone should definitely, for sure _____________.

You should NEVER, EVER ___________.  But if you absolutely must, make sure to ____________.

MC: Everyone should definitely, for sure spend at least a little of each day on the thing they love most.

You should NEVER, EVER sacrifice your dreams permanently. But if you absolutely must, make sure to have the option of changing your mind, somewhere down the line.

Thanks, Megan! GREAT advice.

GIVE UP THE GHOST is available on Amazon and Indiebound. For more information about Megan Crewe, visit her website.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I love reading rejection letters of people whose books went on to amazing success. It's just something I take great delight in. The other night, I read one of Ursula K. Leguin's:
"Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I'm sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith."
*Hee* There's a whole list of rejections received by now famous authors, here. I particularly love the fact that Madeleine L'engle was turned down *29* times for A WRINKLE IN TIME. Well, I don't love that she was turned down so many times--I love that she was immensely successful in spite of being turned down 29 times.

I did get one letter saying that my writing was "sub-par" (yes, that one stung), but mostly I remember getting oodles of those, "Neesha Meminger writes really well, but..." letters during my search for agents and editors. Seeing LeGuin's letter made me go digging through my own pile of "declines" during SHINE subs, and I found this one:
"As promised, I read SHINE, COCONUT MOON by Neesha Meminger at my earliest convenience. I appreciate how Samar is struggling with her identity and Indian descent--I just signed up a book about a girl struggling with similar issues in [Asian country] in [historical time frame]. But Samar's struggles don't seem to be in the service of a larger plot or narrative. The early part of the book is mostly focused on [particular characters] so there's no real sense of how this will be Samar's story. And then the grandparents seem to come out of nowhere. Throughout, I really didn't get any sense of direction..."
The letter goes on for another couple of paragraphs, but it was good to read again because it reminded me, yet again, how subjective this business is. When my (amazingly gifted and talented) editor acquired SHINE, she totally "got" it. She sent me about two pages of revision notes (this is not a lot of revising for those who aren't familiar--it is not uncommon to get 10-15 pages of single-spaced notes--which is what I was expecting), and we had only one round of revisions. None of the revision notes addressed any of the above concerns, by the way.

My story clearly didn't work for that particular editor. S/he just didn't like it. And that is absolutely okay. I wouldn't want to *have* to like something I didn't like, either. But reading these letters helps to put things into perspective as you continue submitting work and receiving feedback. This goes for anything in life, not just writing. More and more, I am convinced that believing in oneself and persistence are the two main ingredients that make up a successful [insert career choice or life passion here].

This is why it's SO important to hone that inner voice that tells you to stick to what you *know* is true. And to not make changes that don't align with your vision for your work. But to incorporate the ones that do.

It's a reminder for all of us to keep pressing on, and to believe in that little voice that just knows.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ripples To Waves

The other night, the hubs and I watched Sin Nombre. We'd heard great things about this film and were excited to see it. We were very disappointed. The film is about two young adults trying to escape their life circumstances. One is trying to cross into the US through Mexico, the other is trying to outrun a life of gang violence. I kept hoping throughout the film for some...hope. There was certainly some redemption, but it was not nearly enough.

I kept wondering what the story would have been if the camera had been put in the hands of Mexicans, or Hondurans. Would the characters have had the same arcs? Would the ending have been the same?

I think about one of my favorite films of all time, Favela Rising, and how different that film was from this one. It dealt with some of the same issues: poverty, the slums of South America, gang violence, trying to find a way out of despair. But the crew of that film put cameras in the hands of Brazilians. The kids and young men and women of the slum told their own story through their own eyes. And the picture was SO vastly different from what was depicted in Sin Nombre. Favela Rising was a story of empowerment, hope, of love for one's own people and community, of the beauty and unbreakable spirit of a people. It was about the power of music, art, and creativity to heal, to transform, and to help people transcend their circumstances. And, even though the film was "created" by two "regular," US dudes, they gave cameras to the people who lived in the community they wanted to tell a story about. These two regular, US dudes then took the proceeds from the movie and invested ALL of the money back into the community that opened itself up to their cameras.

Granted, SN was fiction and FR non-fiction. But as crafters of story, we are the ones who edit and revise, and decide what the ultimate plot or arc will be. We are the ones who decide what the story is, whose story it is, and what the characters learn, discover, or accomplish.

Here's a quick snippet from Jeff Zimbalist, one of the directors of FR from his Director's Statement:
"It seems most people’s image of global harmony or disharmony is predominantly shaped by the media. When I find myself surrounded by stories of the world falling apart, naturally I imagine the world as a place falling apart. The more access I have to stories of communities that work, the more I imagine a world in which people are also realizing change and breaking the odds stacked against them. I am attracted to these vital and inspiring stories because it is in them that I find myself the most activated and alive."
Whenever people talk about not knowing what to do in their lives to change the way things are, I think about these kinds of simple, ordinary things people do all the time--in whatever capacity they can. Something as seemingly-minor as putting a camera in the hands of someone whose story has never been heard--you don't have to be a Spielberg or a Tarantino. Or giving voice to someone whose voice is usually not considered important/valuable/newsworthy/marketable. These small things are what it takes to make real, lasting changes. These are the things that inspire, spark a chain reaction, and create ripples that turn into large waves.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fall Schedule (so far...)

This fall is jam-packed for me with birthdays, conferences, and a Debs holiday signing extravaganza (stay tuned for more details on that soon!).

~This month, October 24th and 25th, I'm on a panel at a conference in Warwick, Rhode Island--the NEATE (Northeast Association of Teachers and Educators).

~November 4-6th, I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina for the AASL--American Association of School Librarians.

~Then, on December 6th, I'll be signing copies of SHINE, COCONUT MOON at Books of Wonder in NYC.

ETA: Looks like I might be adding a December event in Toronto, as well! Stay tuned . . .

If you're in or near any of the above-mentioned cities/spots, and would like to schedule a reading or book-signing, please drop me a line! I'd love to meet you :).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Spotlighting Sydney Salter's JUNGLE CROSSING

Sydney Salter's second debut this year is the MG novel, JUNGLE CROSSING. I am delighted to help her celebrate its launch--congratulations, Sydney!!

About JUNGLE CROSSING: Thirteen-year-old Kat can think of dozens of good reasons not to go on a boring family vacation to hot, grungy Mexico. Number one: missing her friend Fiona's minicamp. If she's not there, she'll begin eighth grade as a social reject. And it looks like she's the odd girl out on vacation, too. When Kat's parents arrange for her and her younger sister, Barb, to go on a teen adventure tour, Barb makes more friends than she does. The only person who will talk to Kat is Nando, a young Mayan guide (who happens to be quite a cutie). Each day as they travel to different Mayan ruins, Nando tells Kat and Barb another installment in the original legend of Muluc, a girl who lived in the time of the Ancient Maya. The dangerous, dramatic world in which Muluc lives is as full of rivalry, betrayal, jealousy, and sacrifice as Kat's world at school. And as she makes new friends and discovers new treasures in Mexico, Kat begins to wonder: Is she willing to keep sacrificing her self in exchange for popularity?

And if you missed the earlier post about Sydney's YA debut, MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS, here's a bit about the author: Sydney Salter's fascination with Mayan culture started when she was six years old and climbed down a steep, dimly lit stone staircase to the elaborately carved tomb of King Pacal who had once ruled Palenque. Visiting Mayan ruins, walking through fragrant Mexican market places, watching women wash clothes in a river, and chasing lizards in the jungle ignited the spark in Sydney's imagination that led to writing Jungle Crossing. Sydney now lives in Utah with her husband, two daughters, two cats, and two dogs. She loves reading, writing, cooking, and traveling—especially to Mexico where she can explore ancient Mayan ruins and swim in underground rivers.

Here are Sydney's answers to the Thorough Three:

NM: What is the age of your protagonist/s?

SS: Thirteen

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

SS: Choose your friends carefully (real friends like you just the way you are).

NM: Complete the following sentences:

Everyone should definitely, for sure _____________.

You should NEVER, EVER ___________.  But if you absolutely must, make sure to ____________.

SS: Everyone should definitely, for sure learn about foreign cultures.

You should NEVER, EVER eat at an American chain restaurant in a foreign country. But if you absolutely must, make sure to try something you've never eaten before at your next meal. Be adventurous.

Ha! I have to say that I heartily co-sign that last statement. Thanks, Sydney!

JUNGLE CROSSING is available at Amazon and Indiebound. For more information about Sydney and her work, visit her website.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Check out this article in The Sun about Tim Wise, a white southerner who has made it his life's mission to work toward a more racially just society.

Here's a bit about Tim from the article:
"As a white Southerner, Wise is somewhat unique among antiracism activists. African American scholar Michael Eric Dyson has proclaimed Wise “one of the most brilliant, articulate, and courageous critics of white privilege in the nation.” Over the last decade Wise has spoken at more than four hundred colleges and universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and Columbia. He’s also appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows and has helped train law-enforcement officers, corporate executives, government officials, and journalists to spot racial bias in their work. Wise is the author of four books, including Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections from an Angry White Male and White like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (both Soft Skull Press). Earlier this year City Lights published his latest, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial, which debunks the idea that we live in a “postracial society.”
Here's a snippet from the interview that follows:
Cook: What is your response to people who say race is a social construct, an illusion, and that they don’t “see” it?
Wise: It is a biological illusion, but it’s a social fact. There were no witches in Salem in 1692, but women died because people thought there were. There may not be separate races of humanity, but skin color has been given social meaning that affects people’s lives. It’s a sign of privilege for whites to say they are going to view people of color only as people. If I don’t see their race, I’m not going to see their lives as they really are. I’m seeing them as abstract “human beings,” not as people who’ve had certain experiences. I’m going to miss or misunderstand how their experiences have shaped them.
Wise has some pretty interesting perspectives; the whole article is worth a read.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Scary Penguins

Okay, so here's what sometimes happens:

A writer writes a book that takes many years. She writes a book like the one she would have wanted to read when she was a teenager. She wants a book that speaks to the real lives of children and teens. She knows there are holes out there on bookshelves and children and teens who are like she was are desperate for the Truth, desperate for someone to tell them what's really going on and maybe show them ways to look at it, ways to be in it, or to get out of it . . . but mostly show them that they are not alone or weird or alien.

She spends another few years finding an agent who connects with her work. They work together to find a perfect editor and publisher fit for both the book and the author. The book gets acquired by an editor and publisher who believe in the book and think it's an important addition to their list. Everyone celebrates. Much hard work goes into creating the cover, finding the perfect artist and designer, choosing the font, designing the pages, editing, editing again, proof-reading, copy-editing . . .

And just before you turn completely gray, the book makes it out into the world. There is more celebrating. You get great reviews, readers email you telling you how amazing it is to see a reflection of their realities within the pages of a book. That they know SOOO many others who will be relieved/grateful that a book like this exists. That we need more depictions out there of what REALLY EXISTS IN OUR WORLD for readers to see. That there are kids and teens out there who are desperate to know that they are natural, normal, beautiful, love-able, important, worthy, and deserving, JUST AS THEY ARE. And that they are not alone, even if their parents won't talk to them about anything, or if their parents aren't around, or if they simply have nowhere to turn to.

And then, someone, somewhere in a part of the country, decides that your book is immoral. That it could damage their kids and other people's kids. And, instead of making sure they keep the book away from their kids, they launch a campaign to keep the book away FROM ALL KIDS. They work hard to make sure the book is taken off library shelves, out of schools, and that authors who write those kinds of books are not allowed anywhere in the vicinity of the school or the library. They cancel school and library visits from these authors because they are "protecting the children."

At this point, you might be wondering why this post is entitled Scary Penguins. It is because of this story I read in the BBC News about a children's book, And Tango Makes Three, that has had the most ban requests. It is a book based on the true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who partnered together to hatch a baby penguin. The book has been banned because it is "anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group." (Aside: Excuse me, but anti-ethnic??? Could someone please tell me what ethnicity penguins usually are?)

This has nothing to do with protecting anyone. It is about fear. As Ellen Hopkins put it so beautifully in her manifesto, it is about fear of ideas. Fear of opening doors and asking questions and challenging status quos. Why not talk to your kids? Why not have a discussion? Why not use these books as starting points to actually interact with children and teens about important issues that they see all the time, all around them? Our kids know far more than we think they know. And if they're not talking to us about things, they're getting their information from other sources. Wouldn't you want to be part of that conversation?

Other books that have been banned in previous years are:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

There are more titles here.

Go buy a banned book today. And, even better, invite the author of a banned book to speak at your school or library.

ETA: More of my thoughts on book banning, as well as other Simon and Schuster authors such as Ellen Hopkins, are up here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spotlighting Jennifer Brown's HATE LIST

Okay, this book was intense. I have great respect for authors who take on issues this large and do such an awesome job conveying the complexities and nuanced perspectives of all characters involved. I love that author Jennifer Brown didn't make Nick into a total monster. The crime he committed was heinous, to be sure, but we live in a world where certain levels of violence are accepted; certain kinds of social and economic conditions make it easy for Nicks to be shaped and have their fears fed; and where there is a lack of interest from the media and mainstream in representing those who happen to fall outside of the margins.

For me, HATE LIST conjured up memories of Columbine, the Montreal Massacre, and the Victoria, BC "girl gang" murder of Reena Virk. It was a tough read in some ways, but it was also powerful. And, because it is written from the perspective of Nick's girlfriend, Valerie, there was enough distance from the events that they weren't overwhelming.

I read it in one sitting. Do go out and get this book. Brown doesn't moralize or preach; she simply crafts a compelling story with very believable, layered characters, and leaves you with much to ponder at the end.

Here's a bit about the author, Jennifer Brown:
As a two-time winner of The Erma Bombeck Global Humor award and weekly columnist for The Kansas City Star, as well as Saturday Featured Blogger for, Jennifer spends a lot of time dressing up her dog for laughs and thinking of new ways to works words such as "Puh-lease" and "Ch-yeah!" into sentences. Jennifer grew up in the Kansas City, Missouri area, where she still lives with her husband, three kids, and whole herd of uncooperative pets.

And here's a summary of HATE LIST in the author's own words:
Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria.  Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saves the life of a classmate, but is implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create.  A list of people and things they hated.  The list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year.  Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

Here are Jennifer's answers to the Thorough Three:

NM: What is the age of your protagonist/s?

JB: They're seniors, so they're all around 17.

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

JB: Trust me on this: In 20 years you won't even be able to remember the names of half these kids!

NM: Complete the following sentences:

Everyone should definitely, for sure _____________.

You should NEVER, EVER ___________.  But if you absolutely must, make sure to ____________.

JB: Everyone should definitely, for sure go to Walt Disney World, skip down Main Street U.S.A., and eat ice cream while watching a "Wishes" fireworks show and contemplating that dreams really do come true.

You should NEVER, EVER send hate mail to someone. But if you absolutely must, make sure to at least use your spell check.

Duly noted. Thanks, Jennifer!

Readers: go out and get a copy of HATE LIST. You can order it here from Amazon and here from Indiebound. For more info on Jennifer and her work, visit her site.