Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Just came back from a "relaxing" stay in the mountains. I put relaxing in quotes because there's something about being in the middle of the woods, surrounded by Republicans with guns, that makes me just a teeny bit uneasy. Made for a sleepless few nights for this gal, I'll tell you that.

I am more than a little glad to be back home in NYC with the rhythms of the Bronx, and the smells of frying fish and tostones around me. Next "relaxing stay" is going to have to be on a mega-star resort, if we can manage it--preferably in the Caribbean.

This New Year's Eve, or Old Year's Night, I will have a lovely dinner with my life partner, then come home well before midnight and bring in the first day of the year with our children, safely and soundly sleeping in their beds.

Whatever you end up doing this evening, I wish much love, light, truth, and peace to you and yours -- happy New Year, all!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

SHINE Makes The Smithsonian List

Wow: SHINE, COCONUT MOON is on the Smithsonian Notable Books for Children 2009 list! I'm very honoured, and slightly dazed. Most unexpected for this little writer. The only other book I recognized was MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, which I am ashamed to say that I have not read yet (but is on my TBR pile).

What wonderful news to wake up to on a stark Saturday morning (with an impending snow storm on the horizon)!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Links: Authors Gone Wild; We Are Not Rock Stars

I love this:
"Writers become writers because they are comfortable alone. Out of that silence emerges a kind of music that doesn't need screaming fans."
That's from this interesting NPR article about the lost gilded age of publishing where 7-figure author advances and 22-city book tours have gone the way of the dinosaur.

And this thread on Amazon is getting a lot of attention because the author keeps commenting on a review of one of her books. Some are calling the entire comment thread a "train wreck," and I have to admit I was riveted, but at one point I actually felt bad for the author ("Nightflyr One," a.k.a. Candace Sams). It was truly an everyone-versus-her scenario and you gotta hand it to her...she is NOT backing down. Note that there are *33* pages of comments. What do you think? Should the author just shut up already? Or is she showing courage by fighting against so many voices telling her to shut up and go away?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Mysterious Publishing Biz

If you're interested in learning more about the ins-and-outs of publishing, read this illuminating, candid, and no holds barred article by M.J. Rose. Here are a couple of excerpts:
"Self esteem is at the bottom of the way we let ourselves be treated by those who earn their money from us. 'I often wonder if we writers spend so many years learning to live with rejection, that we accept shoddy treatment as our due, just grateful to have any attention...'"
"'Often, [writers are] absolutely right to be feeling that a publisher could be doing a better job of it, paying closer attention, offering more meaningful consultation. That said, I've had many of those same conversations end with the client BEGGING me not to repeat any of it to the editor. God forbid the squeaky wheel might get replaced instead of oiled.'

That fear is part of why we crawl away convincing ourselves we should be grateful instead of acting on our anger. If we get anything -- one ad in a major newspaper, a four city tour, three weeks of decent coop in the chain -- we consider ourselves blessed. We've heard of too many cases where books are dropped or just die from lack of a publisher interest despite a big advance.

So like abused children, we're thankful for every small favor."
Wow, right?

In the article, author Amy Bloom is quoted as saying, "One can be appreciative without being subservient. Objectively this is a business, and publishers are not our parents [or] our friends. We sell them our goods and they pay for them. We all need to concentrate on doing business in a positive and supportive way. In a way that does not cause pain."

This "appreciative without being subservient" theme has often been used in reference to PoC addressing systemic racism, as well. Again, we're looking at power dynamics. All abuses of power share a similar pattern and infrastructure, so re-creating a balance has to happen on both ends of the power spectrum.

One of the most interesting parts of the essay for me was toward the end, when the author reveals how hard it was for her to find authors, agents, and editors who were willing to go on record about the issues:
"I have never written an article and had so few authors and publishing people willing to go on the record or be interviewed. Over 50 agents, editors and authors, all refused.

We are in the business of communicating and so this silence is alarming. Widespread hesitancy to speak about [the] issue is almost as interesting as the issue itself."
Yet again, we have similarities to racism, sexism, domestic abuse, etc.--all situations where there is abuse of power. PoC are often afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, as are abused women and children, employees who are sexually harassed, rape victims, and so on.

The article ends with a whole list of things "they" don't tell you. Keeping the process a mystery from the author disempowers the author in the same way that women who have no knowledge of the family/couple's finances disempowers her; in the same way that PoC who have no information about systems, laws, rules, and regulations that directly affect their lives disempowers them.

What I want to know, though, is when did things change? At one point, women weren't really given access to publishing. Women published under male pseudonyms, or used initials to get their work published. Based on everything I've read from writers' accounts and author autobiographies, the relationship between author and publisher seemed far closer and more transparent then, than it is today. Yet, in today's world there are far more women published than ever before--particularly in children's books. And the distance between publisher and author is vast in comparison. So, too, is the distribution of power. Is that a result of the economy? The outdated structures publishing has put in place? Or is it a flaw within the publishing model, itself--a sort of myopia?

In any case, the article is fascinating, and definitely worth the read if you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the mysterious world of publishing.

Stay tuned as I explore some of these issues further in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Skype...and New South Asian YA!

So, I'm upping my tech know-how by going deeper into Skype. I *lurve* Skype. As with all things computerish and techie, I looked upon it with great disdain initially, until I took the plunge. And now I am a happy convert to the dark side (though to really be on the dark side, I will have to get an iPhone). I do not know why anyone would want to have a plain old phone conversation anymore when you can see the person you're talking to. You see them laugh, wrinkle their nose, roll their eyes. You can see what their new haircut looks like. It's EONS better. Though probably not so good on those zitty, bad hair days.

Anyhoo. I wanted to pop in and put up a quick mention of Marina Budhos' new book! I am always excited when a new South Asian title pops up, especially if it is children's/teen lit. I've been a fan of Marina's work since ASK ME NO QUESTIONS and this new book promises to be just as absorbing. I'm very much looking forward to reading TELL US WE'RE HOME. Here is a bit about it from the jacket copy:
Jaya, Maria, and Lola are just like the other eighth-grade girls in the wealthy suburb of Meadowbrook, New Jersey. They want to go to the spring dance, they love spending time with their best friends after school, sharing frappes and complaining about the other kids. But there's one big difference: all three are daughters of maids and nannies. And they go to school with the very same kids whose families their mothers work for. 

That difference grows even bigger--and more painful--when Jaya's mother is accused of theft and Jaya's small, fragile world collapses. When tensions about immigrants start to erupt, fracturing this perfect, serene suburb, all the girls are tested, as outsiders--and as friends. Each of them must learn to find a place for themselves in a town that barely notices they exist.

Marina Budhos gives us a heartbreaking and eye-opening story of friendship, belonging, and finding the way home.
Marina has agreed to an interview here once the book is out (and I've had a chance to read it!), so look out for that. I also heard from hither and thither that Uma Krishnaswami is coming out with a new book. So exciting! There were two of us this year with South Asian YA novels--Sheba Karim and myself--and there will be two next year (though Uma's might be an MG, but still!)! And it's not over yet. We might still be able to squeeze another one or two into 2010 before the year's over ;).

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I have been camera-challenged lately, so I've been relying on the kindness of other camera-wielding folks to get images of events I've been to. So, with the help of Deva Fagan, here is a group shot from last Sunday's book signing at Books of Wonder...

L-R: Me, Jon Skovron, Michelle Zink, Deva Fagan, Sarah Cross, Kate Messner, Shani Petroff, and Megan Crewe.

The signing was great, the audience had some probing, interesting questions during the Q&A period, and it was wonderful to hear bits from each book as the authors read from their work.

Next stop is Toronto! January 7th, 7pm at Yorkdale Chapters/Indigo; and January 9th, 2pm at Eaton Center Chapters/Indigo. I'll be signing with Megan Crewe, R.J. Anderson, Rhonda Stapleton, Sarah Ockler, and Lara Zielin. If you're in Toronto or the GTA, I hope to see you!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Signings Coming Up; Updates

Popping in quickly with a few updates:

This Sunday, December 6th (besides celebrating The Hubs's birthday), I will be signing books at Books of Wonder in NYC, from 1-3pm. Please stop by if you're in the area!

The weekend after that we are hosting a kickoff holiday party, where I will cook for many, many people and their kids. (!!)

The agent search looks like it is winding down, and I couldn't be happier about that. It is an exhausting (though exciting!) process, and I will be glad to have some time and energy back for doing what I do much better: writing.

After that, I shop for the kiddies, get ready for our family holiday celebrations . . . and then, I collapse.

After which . . . the Toronto readings are set. Two of them, both at Indigo/Chapters stores. Thursday, January 7th, at 7pm, Yorkdale Shopping Center; and Saturday, January 9th, 2pm at the Eaton Center. If you're in Toronto, please come by, get your book signed, and introduce yourself!

After that, we go into the "dead zone" of deep winter where we hibernate as much as possible, sow seeds for the spring, sleep, eat hot, steaming bowls of food and drink hot, steaming mugs of drink.

I will continue to pop in every now and then with updates and interesting links (unless something comes up that I absolutely *must* blog about), but the long posts are on hold until . . . THE DEAD ZONE.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Links: Twilight Essay; Awesome Editor Interview

A couple of links for your holiday reading:

1) If you want to read my thoughts on how Twilight, Bollywood, and Disney capitalize on the sexuality of young girls (and their mothers), check out this essay on Racialicious:
"But after seeing [Twilight], I have a whole new understanding of why this film has banked as much revenue as it has. And how closely it resembles Bollywood romance films. The success of Bollywood romance films and novels like Twilight are a huge reflection of their consumers’ needs and wants, as well as the accepted social context within which these stories thrive.
Now, this is nothing new — the budding sexuality and innocence of young girls has been exploited historically by media giants like the Disney corporation for years. Disney princesses have been swooning over their prince saviours and waiting for rescue for decades. These are stories little girls grow up reading and hearing at bedtime and many know by heart..."
2) Zetta has an amazing interview up with former children's book editor, Laura Atkins. If you are interested in publishing, multicultural children's books, and issues of race and representation, do check it out. Here is one of my favourite bits--how to go about actively seeking voices from writers of colour:
"·      seek out published authors for adults (fiction and non-fiction) who I thought could write for young readers;
·      contact editors of anthologies (especially those featuring diverse authors, or, for instance, Native American stories) and ask for suggestions of new talent;
·      post on listservs and bulletin boards for writing groups featuring authors of color – sometimes saying I was looking for something in particular (such as contemporary Native American or Filipino American stories – anywhere I saw a hole in the market)
·      contact journalists who wrote in relevant areas to see if they had considered writing for young people
·      talk to curators from museums representing diverse communities to have them tell me about artists or concepts that might work for children’s books.

These days, you could post on blogs saying you are actively seeking diverse new authors and illustrators and the word would certainly spread.  I get frustrated when I hear editors say they would love to publish more diverse authors if their stories would only come across their desks.  Getting through all the steps it takes to get published is a huge obstacle, so this really needs intentional efforts from editors..."
The rest of the interview is fantastic, as well.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Grateful, Unsettled, and Cherishing

As we ease on into the (US) Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful for many things, unsettled by others, and cherishing one or two--the true gems around which my life revolves.

Grateful: for a warm home, loving friends and family, an extraordinary year, new connections with like-minded souls, progress and forward movement in areas both personal, as well as professional.

Unsettled: Thanksgiving is not one of my favourite holidays. It is not as big a deal in Canada as it is here, in the US. And this big deal -- in the schools, in particular, is a real problem for me. I struggle to infuse what my girls learn at school, with a more balanced perspective (see this post for an example). As my girls come home with feather headdresses and songs about tepees and how the Indians and Pilgrims were friends, I wish desperately that they were old enough to read this -- one of my favourite articles about Thanksgiving from a Native American perspective. Instead, I do my best to distill the information and translate it into a five-year-old and eight-year-old vocabulary.

Cherishing: the health of my children and life partner, and the opportunity to wake up every morning and try again to help shape this world into something closer to what it can be.

I wish you all a safe, relaxing, hope-filled holiday weekend.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Interview, and Links

Here is a link to a recent interview I did on Why A? In it, I talk about my path to publishing, when I began writing, my advice to writers, and I also reveal something "unexpected" about myself (!!).

In addition, I wanted to mention this review by one of our favourite booksellers, The Happy Nappy Bookseller. It is a review of Paul Griffin's Orange Houses, and she makes some keen, insightful observations. I've posted a quick thought in the comments section, but wanted to note the difference between this book by a white, male author featuring characters of colour, and the review I did of Chris Crutcher's WHALE TALK. Big difference. These two reviews also relate to the issues Justine Larbalestier raised in her posts on white writers writing PoC. An important conversation that needs to continue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Are Writers of Colour Damaged?

Just read this post at Brooklyn Arden which references an article in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, then read Zetta's response. I'm adding my contribution to the discussion here, rather than on either of those posts, because it is rather long to be a comment . . .

Historical white supremacy does not excuse current publishing houses from actively seeking AND NURTURING work from writers of colour. I know Brooklyn Arden's post has this disclaimer, but it needs to be said again.

Editors have been known to acquire books that need ground-up revisions from writers in whom they see "promise." And, since white writers are published in far larger numbers than writers of colour, most of those "promising" writers tend to be white.

I find it hard to believe that "fully formed" writers of colour have been so irreparably damaged by historical white supremacy that our writing shows no promise, whatsoever. And that, unless you catch us in grade school or high school, we'll likely live with that damage for the rest of our years.

I find it harder, still, to believe that an editor who would take a manuscript through several rounds of ground-up revisions with a white author wouldn't find a promising writer of colour that s/he could make similar ground-up revisions with.

And I find it almost impossible to believe that writers suffering from the long-term impacts of historical male-supremacy, historical hetero-supremacy, and other kinds of historical oppression, haven't, likewise, been so irreparably damaged.

Some of the most poignant, powerful writing comes from those who've suffered unimaginable transgressions, from people whose lives have been torn and blasted in many ways, sometimes for generations. And editors take the heart-wrenching stories of these survivors--these *thrivers*--and help the writer shape these stories into works of beauty.

The pain and suffering of people of colour is *always* on the pages of our writing--whether we are writing romance, humour, fantasy, or contemporary realistic fiction. There is no escaping it because it is fused to our genetic make-up through history, culture, socio-economics. But finding editors and agents who stare at that pain with unflinching compassion, and a burning desire to be part of the solution . . . well, that is a rare find, indeed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Letter from An Afghan (American) Woman

I read this wonderfully enlightening note on a listserv I subscribe to and just *had* to get in touch with its author. I am reprinting it here, with permission from the writer, Zohra Saed.

Here is a bit about Zohra from her website:
Zohra Saed was born in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. She learned to walk in Tehran, Iran. Zohra spent her childhood first in Amman, Jordan and later in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before her father brought his family to Brooklyn. She is a poet, academic, and editor.

And here is her very thought-provoking post . . .
Okay, I have to bring this up because I've gotten into too many conversations with women "writing for" Afghan women and referring to us as Afghani. What is this odd little "i" at the end?

Let me clarify why I feel tense whenever I hear the term "Afghani" used by well-meaning friends (okay, maybe they don't want to be friends with me. Maybe they just want me as their sounding board to fact-check their story that is about an "Afghan-I-" woman. They will usually not know that I think these things inside my little round head).

When you use the term "Afghani" it means that you do not really know us, Afghans, very well and that perhaps a few newspaper clippings have intrigued you. Perhaps you heard a few stories, but really when it comes down to it -- you really wouldn't know a Pashai from a Kandahari from a Mazari. etc. But you'll just ride the elevator with me telling me all about your Afghani experiences. (Please, please--this doesn't mean Afghans know themselves any better or each other for that, but least we don't ride elevators telling one another how well we know what Afghans think or would do under so-and-so situation).

When you use the term "Afghani," it means that you do not know that our currency is the Afghani (well, I haven't used an Afghani since I chewed one up when I was a year old in Jalalabad, but you know, even if I grew up with dollars, I wouldn't refer to myself as the currency of the place I was born in).

I suppose us 'Ghans use the term Afghani as well, but we get dirty looks from each other just the same. Usually we use Afghani to describe things, not people. Like "Did you get some Afghani bread at the Afghani store with the Afghani carpets everywhere?" But we would never say, "Hi, I'm Afghani Zohra, how do you do?"

So, please, at least write more than newspaper headlines and understand our nuances.  This is not to boast that Afghans all know their nuances, we're so varied from one another, and so many years of war and scatterings have kept us from knowing ourselves. But at least we would never attach that gangly "I" at the end of Afghan because we are Afghan, not like-Afghan, which is what the "i" connotes.

I have made a big issue out of this, but I must share it with you, my sisters. Please . . . in the love of global sisterhood, at least name us properly. Give us some nuances, some texture.

Zohra, the brutish/brooding Afghan(American)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Spotlighting L.K. Madigan's FLASH BURNOUT

Today, I get to spotlight L.K. Madigan's FLASH BURNOUT! I haven't read this one, but L.K. is a super-cool Deb and I can't wait to get my hands on her debut novel.

About L.K. Madigan:
L.K. Madigan is a writer living in Portland, Oregon, who finds it odd to speak in the third person. Therefore:

Hi. I am married with one son, two big black dogs, hundreds of books, and a couple of beaters, I mean vintage cars.

(See? Told you she was super-cool.)

Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who's a girl. One of them loves him, the other one needs him.

When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa's long-lost meth addicted mom.

In a tangle of life, death, and love, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of loyalty.

Here are L.K.'s answers to the Thorough Three . . .

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

LKM: Blake is 15, and turns 16 during the course of the book.

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?

LKM: Please, I beg you … don’t wear that one-armed purple dress with the uneven handkerchief hemline to your high school graduation.

NM: Complete the following sentences:

Everyone should definitely, for sure _____________.

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

LKM: Everyone should definitely, for sure travel outside the United States at least once.

You should NEVER, EVER respond to negative reviews. But if you absolutely must, make sure to be witty and dry.

*Very* good advice, that last one. For more info on L.K. and her work, visit her site. And to buy a copy of her book, go here!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Brave Dissenting Voices

This past weekend, at a poetry workshop for mentors and mentees of Girls Write Now, I was introduced to HBO's Brave New Voices series. As one of the mentors in the series says, the series proves that not all young people consume mass media culture without questioning it, challenging it, and raising their voices against it. Many (if not most) young people--young adults--are out there actively dissenting--actively and *critically* engaging in the world around them. Railing and shouting in the face of corporate and media giants that muzzle true creativity; the forces of imperialism and colonialism; and oppression and injustice of all kinds.

Check out the below clips of teens letting the fire rage through them; crackling, regenerating, and transforming . . . as it creates hope, and breathes new life.

Here's 15-year-old Alexis, of Team New York City, y'all:

And Aysha, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania:

And Jamaica, "A self-described 'mixed mutt' in ethnic background, Jamaica says, 'I'm Hawaiian, Chinese, German, Portuguese, English, Irish and French. I am almost a quarter Hawaiian and definitely identify mostly as a Hawaiian.'":

Watching these young people rage and express makes my heart swell with pride. It gives me the push I need to keep writing work that speaks to their experience, and reflects their realities. As we head toward Thanksgiving weekend, these videos remind me that Love is the motivating spark behind all true and great creative expression.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Winning One For the Team

I just had to post this, even if it meant posting twice in one day . . .

I did a review some time ago about the awesomeness of Zetta Elliott's A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT. If you read that review, you'll know that Elliott self-published WISH after facing a zillion closed doors from agents, editors, and publishers. Well, her novel went on to sell like crazy, and generated massive buzz on the internet--all due to the relentless dedication of the author.

Now, in this post, Zetta has announced that Amazon's Encore publishing program has picked up WISH!! I couldn't be more thrilled for her. She deserves it. She took the "road less traveled" and prevailed. And, her courage and commitment is an inspiration for marginalized voices everywhere. It is a testament to the fact that we have options. That, as Ms. Elliott states in her post, there is always a "third way."

Go, Zetta!!!

Take That, PW

I love Guerrilla Girls' post on the Best Books of 2009. They have an extensive list of books by women and people of Colour--all of which were ignored when Publisher's Weekly created their list of Best Books of 2009.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spotlighting Kristina Springer's THE ESPRESSOLOGIST

Today, I'm spotlighting Kristina Springer's THE ESPRESSOLOGIST. Here's a little about Kristina:
Kristina Springer has a Bachelor of Arts in English Education from Illinois State University and a Master of Arts in Writing from DePaul University. Her first novel, THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on October 27, 2009. Her second novel, MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS, also from FSG, will be published in the fall of 2010. She lives in a suburb of Chicago, IL with her husband Athens and their four small children Teegan, Maya, London, and Gavin.

About THE ESPRESSOLOGIST: What’s your drink of choice? Is it a small pumpkin spice latte? Then you’re lots of fun and a bit sassy. Or a medium americano? You prefer simplicity in life. Or perhaps it’s a small decaf soy sugar-free hazelnut caffe latte? Some might call you a yuppie. Seventeen-year-old barista Jane Turner has this theory that you can tell a lot about a person by their regular coffee drink. She scribbles it all down in a notebook and calls it Espressology. So it’s not a totally crazy idea when Jane starts hooking up some of her friends based on their coffee orders. Like her best friend, Em, a medium hot chocolate, and Cam, a toffee nut latte. But when her boss, Derek, gets wind of Jane’s Espressology, he makes it an in-store holiday promotion, promising customers their perfect matches for the price of their favorite coffee. Things are going better than Derek could ever have hoped, so why is Jane so freaked out? Does it have anything to do with Em dating Cam? She’s the one who set them up! She should be happy for them, right?

I don't know about you, but I am seriously impressed that Kristina gets anything done with four kids, let alone writing and publishing novels!

Here are Kristina's answers to the Thorough Three . . .

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

KS: 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?

KS: Hang on, things get SO much better from here!

NM: Complete the following sentences:

Everyone should definitely, for sure ____________.
You should NEVER, EVER ______________. But if you absolutely must, make sure to ____________.

KS: Everyone should definitely, for sure do what makes them happy.

You should NEVER, EVER get the sugar-free syrups at Starbucks. But if you absolutely must, make sure to get the sugar-free vanilla--it's the only almost passable one.

Thanks, Kristina! For more info about Kristina and her work, go here. To buy a copy of THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, go here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quick AASL Recap

The AASL conference in Charlotte, North Carolina was, quite simply, a blast. I met with fellow authors, an agent or two, and tons of smart, dedicated, committed librarians. They stopped by the Author Pit Stop on Friday to chat, laugh, share, and get cool swag. And two dear, kind-hearted souls took pity on Shani Petroff and I (as we sat glued to our signing station) by bringing us cupcakes and champagne!

I am also *thrilled* to report that SHINE, COCONUT MOON sold out by day two of the conference. I was ecstatic by the interest, but a little sad for the librarians who stopped by hoping to buy a copy. I did sign bookmarks and postcards for them and, though it's not quite the same as a signed book, everyone went away happy.

The food in Charlotte was delicious, the people friendly, the nightlife bustling . . . but the company of fellow authors was what made the whole experience really sparkle. It is one I will definitely cherish.

Check back for pictures; coming soon!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spotlighting Jon Skovron's STRUTS & FRETS

I am super excited to spotlight Jon Skovron's STRUTS & FRETS this week. I met Jon when he came to New York in the summer, but before that we'd exchanged emails and discovered that we share similar views on some important issues. Jon's partner-in-crime also has her own very cool blog and everyone should totally go and check that out, too.

I am happy to call Jon a friend and thrilled that his novel is out making its way in the world. Here's a little bit about Jon and Struts & Frets, in his own words . . .

About Jon Skovron:
Jon Skovron is an insatiable music geek who can play eight instruments, but none of them well. He was born in Columbus, Ohio, has lived all over the US, and now resides with his wife and two sons in Washington, DC. His short stories and reviews have appeared in publications like Jim Baen's Universe and Internet Review of Science Fiction. Struts and Frets is his first novel.

More than anything, Sammy wants to play guitar in a famous indie rock band. The problem is that his front man is a jerk who can't sing, his bassist is a burn-out who can't remember the songs, and his drummer is just out to lunch. But Sammy needs this band because it's the only good thing he's got going. His father skipped out before he was born, his mother is an overworked therapist with a drinking problem, his grandfather is slowly losing his mind to Alzheimer's, and the girl of his dreams is dating his jerk lead singer.

Now that jerk lead singer has entered them in a Battle of the Bands contest to win free studio time and guaranteed radio play. Sammy has two weeks to get them to sound like a real band, or face public humiliation in front of the entire local indie music scene.

And here are Jon's answers to the Thorough Three . . .

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

JS: 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?

JS: Lighten up a little! Oh, and FYI, the teased Robert Smith hair really doesn't look good on you, no matter what you think.

NM: Complete the following sentences:
Everyone should definitely, for sure _____________.

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

JS: Everyone should definitely, for sure make mistakes. Loud, glorious, committed mistakes.

You should NEVER, EVER drink the green beer on St. Patrick's Day. But if you absolutely must, make sure to have a bucket handy.

Thanks, Jon! For more information about Jon and his work, visit his website. To get your copy of Struts & Frets, go here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Several YA authors, including myself, Zetta Elliott, Sara Ryan, and Kekla Magoon, share our thoughts on "mean girls" in YA literature (as well as popular media) in this post on Chasing Ray. Here are a few quotes:

"Mean girls versus good girls is black versus white. It’s anti-heroine versus heroine. It’s a game, and someone will win. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s my age, but I grow increasingly interested, as I read and write, in the shades of gray, and what they teach us." --Beth Kephart

"I think one of the limitations of some feminist movements and/or thinkers is the refusal to acknowledge that women aren’t monolithic; they don’t all share the same values or goals, and there’s no automatic instinct for female solidarity that kicks in whenever one of us is in trouble (women of color learned this very early on when dealing with white middle-class feminists; queer women know this about straight women, etc.)." --Zetta Elliott

"I KNOW that most tortured awesome girls will go off into their adult lives and recover, and grow wings and leave the stupid mean girls in a cloud of dust. Most girls won't won't upturn the social order of the lunchroom, so much as they'll outgrow it. It WILL make them stronger in some cases, but slowly, quietly." --Laurel Snyder

"These stories don't typically appeal to me, at least when they're glorifying the mean girls as heroines or role models. I connect with the stories that take the point of view of someone who falls on the outside of these sorts of cliques, and/or suffers on their margins. I do think the archetypal "mean girl" character reflects reality, but only a slice of it. So does the idea of popular girl cliques who step on others in the quest for...whatever it is they're truly after, be it popularity, the illusion of control over their lives, or the lives of others, or simply the heady assurance that they have something other people want. Where I see meanness, I see weakness, and those aren't characters I want to get close to, though they can serve a story in myriad ways." --Kekla Magoon

Go and check out the post; all of the answers are thought-provoking. What do you think about the "mean girls" phenomenon?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mystical Indians and Mythical Indians

So, I'm in between travel and wanted to post a few thoughts sparked by the last conference I went to (the NEATE one in Rhode Island). It was amazing to meet and interact with so many dedicated, caring English teachers. They were a lovely group, especially the ones in our workshop ;).

In my intro comments, I spoke a bit about how I came to write SHINE, COCONUT MOON and I wanted to share those here.

The book started out, initially, as a love letter to my eldest daughter. A while back she came home, chattering animatedly about Columbus Day. She described what she'd learned about the voyage across the Atlantic, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, and how Columbus discovered a strange new land, making friends with strange new people.

I held my tongue for the most part, and worked very hard to find age-appropriate ways to question and challenge some of the assumptions she was learning at school. I asked her how it's possible to discover something when there are already people there who obviously know about its existence. She nodded her head thoughtfully, pondering that one.

Everything was well and good until she said this:
"And we learned about the Indians. They lived a long time ago and they lived in teepees."

All of my composure and resolve to act as a mature parent was now in danger of crumbling. I told her that First Nations people and the indegenous people of North and South America are still alive and well, and living among us.

I could not convince her that this was true. Because somewhere in her mind, as a result of what she was being taught in school, she believed, without a doubt, that Native Americans were a myth.

I thought (okay, maybe obsessed) about this for some time afterward. I had to figure out a way to have my daughter question what she was learning without alienating herself, or making life difficult for herself in relating to her peers. I knew if that happened, I could lose her. She could easily turn her back to anything else I said down the line, because listening to me might result in painful alienation and isolation from her friends. And, as we all know, friends and social life are the MOST important things during those key, formative years.

I realized, too, that this same sort of mythification and mystification happens with "my kind" of Indians. I knew this on other levels before, but I'd never quite seen it in action before like this. I'd always known that India was romanticized in a lot of the literature I'd read. That India was portrayed as this far off, exotic land, waaaay across the ocean, with music that Madonna and the Beatles had decided to incorporate into their mega-gazillion dollar albums. This was not news to me.

What was different this time was the realization of how this affects kids in school. How, in Chimamanda Adichie's insightful words (see previous post), the "single story" shapes young minds--even in terms of their *own* identities. When, rather than looking to their own experience to define themselves, children reach, instead, for the "single story" that some teachers (many of whom are with these children more hours of the day than their own caregivers), teach from textbooks without examining its content or effects.

I don't know what the stats are on the exact percentage of kids who are bullied at school. But I would hazard a guess that a large percentage of that bullying is targeted towards children and teens who have some *identifiable* difference (race, class, not adhering to heteronormative confines, differently abled, etc). And while I love that many teachers and educators are on board with teaching children and teens about embracing and accepting difference, I am concerned that, at least in terms of race and multicultural education, that difference is still about "exotic others" living in far off lands.

For instance, teaching children about Guatemalan children feeding their animals in Guatemala doesn't necessarily help Guatemalan children here, dealing with their peers on a day to day basis. Likewise, my daughter learns at school about children in India and what their lives are like "over there". To her, there is absolutely NO connection between those children and her life. She looks at those children as exotic others because she doesn't identify with them. This is the same way she learned that Native Americans "lived long ago in teepees." Because the representations she saw were of Columbus's voyage, and that was all. She saw no other representations that year, or the next two after, of Native American children and/or people. She saw no images of Indigenous North American children of *today*, interacting with kids like herself and her friends.

On the other hand, if my daughter should read about or see images of South Asians in the present, navigating their daily life's challenges--challenges she can relate to and identify with--she will see herself in those depictions. And should her friends and peers read about, or see such images, they will begin to see her as a person who lives, loves, walks, and breathes among them. Not an exotic, mystical "other".

This was a huge reason I chose to write SHINE. It's also the reason I devoured novels like The House On Mango Street, The Joy Luck Club, The Absolutey True Diary of A Part Time Indian, Born Confused, The Not So Star Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, and a host of others. Though I love fantasy (and am writing two fantasy novels right now) as well as historical novels, I wanted my daughter and her friends to learn about what life is like for people here and now, when there is an obvious, identifiable difference to negotiate. And I want them to think critically about how much of that difference is real, as well as how much of it is an illusion. But they can never learn to negotiate that difference if it is always posited as being somewhere far away, or long ago, outside of their immediate experience.

Sometimes books help us find paths we never knew existed. Or allow us to dream up and forge new paths. I know some of the books listed above helped me do that, and I strive to provide the same in all of the books I write, regardless of genre. And the emails I'm getting on a daily basis let me know it's working, even if it's one little window at a time.

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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Damned" Post: Part 2

In the comments of my last post, Laura Atkins, Children's Book Specialist and former editor for Lee & Low Books (and brilliant essayist), left a link to this article by Jacqueline Woodson, originally published in the Horn Book. I thought I'd read the first few paragraphs while breakfast was cooking, but I could not get up. I was riveted by the beauty of language and honesty of emotion in her words. Breakfast subsequently burned. For anyone who wants to write from an experience not their own, or anyone who is trying to express why they're skeptical of others writing about their experience--and what would make it better--this is a must read. Here is a small excerpt:

"At conferences, I am often asked to speak about my experiences
as a writer. I talk about the early days, about what propelled me
to write certain books. I talk about my friends, my goals as a
writer, my home life, even my pets. Invariably, there is the ques-
tion and answer period. Invariably, there is The Question. Al-
though it is phrased differently, it always comes. At every confer-
ence, at every adult speaking engagement, at my breakfast table
at the Coretta Scott King Awards, at my dinner table at the
Newbery/Caldecott, even at book signings. How do you feel about
people writing outside of their own experiences? How do you feel about
white people writing about people of color?

More than the question, it is the political context in which it is
asked that is annoying. As our country moves further to the right,
as affirmative action gets called into question, as race related bi-
ases against people of color soar, as the power structure in our
society remains, in many ways, unchanged, why, then, would a
person feel comfortable asking me this question?
When I asked my white writer friends how they answer this
question, I was less than surprised to find that none of them had
been asked. Why was it then that white people (because I have
never been asked this by someone who was recognizably a per-
son of color) felt a need to ask this of me? What was it, is it, people
are seeking in the asking? What is it about the power structure our
society was built and remains upon that leads a white person to
believe that this is a question that I, as a black woman, should, can,
and must be willing to address?"

Woodson then goes into her own experience of writing from another's perspective:

"I have just finished the final draft of a novel, If You Come Softly,
about the love affair between two fifteen year olds. In the novel,
the boy is black and the girl is white and Jewish. As I sat down to
write this novel, I asked myself over and over why I needed to
write it. Why did I need to go inside the life of a Jewish girl? More
than the need, what gave me the right? Whose story was this? And
the answers, of course, were right in front of me. This, like every
story I’ve written, from Last Summer with Maizon to I Hadn‘t Meant
to Tell You This to From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, is my story.
While I have never been Jewish, I have always been a girl. While
I have never lived on the Upper West Side, I have lived for a long
time in New York.  While I have never been a black male, I’ve al-
ways been black. But most of all, like the characters in my story, I
have felt a sense of powerlessness in my lifetime. And this is the
room into which I can walk and join them. This sense of being on
the outside of things, of feeling misunderstood and invisible, is the
experience I bring to the story. I do not attempt to know what it
is like to come from another country. Nor do I pretend to under-
stand the enormity of the impact of the Holocaust."
The whole essay is lovely, heartfelt, and on point. Go read it.