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Archive for March, 2011

There’s no words, really, to cover what’s happened in Japan.  I could try — words like horrific, heart-rending, and tragic come to mind — but they’re just words, black dots on a computer screen, typed from the comfort of a warm, safe office.  I look at the pictures in the news and then at those words and they are too clean and sterile to even think about using.  I can’t imagine what’s like to see those scenes close up, or worse yet, to have been a child and lived them.

Over at Write Hope, a group of kidlit authors have banded together to try to change those words into something more promising.  They are running an auction with wonderful prizes — books, manuscript critiques, consults with agents — and all proceeds will be donated to Save the Children/Japan. I’m donating a Book Club in a Bag — up to 10 copies of Evenfall, cookies, a reusable cloth bag, and the chance to Skype with me. (If you are within an hour of where I live, I’ll come to your book club in person.) Items are up for only 72 hours, so keep checking back. (Edited: My donation is number eight today.)  Please help me spread the news — and help change those words into a more positive future for the tens of thousands of children who were affected.

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I know, I know, I’ve been slacking.  I started out with such good intentions, but somehow my three posts a week have dwindled to an anorexic one or two.  I promise to be better in April.  It will be SPRING!  and WARM! and everyone will be HAPPY! (Those of us who live in New England are such optimistic fools.)

Anyhow, I have been busy.  I have finally established my Facebook Author page (or rather, my sister did it for me) and I would take it as the greatest favor if you would hie yourself over there and like it.  Or me.  Or whatever one is supposed to do on The Facebook. (Random  elderly relative story — a favorite aunt is in a nursing home, and periodically she would call us up and say “I played The WOO today,” and cackle like a maniac.  It sounded vaguely dirty and I always covered the children’s ears if we were on speakerphone.  Well, it turns out The WOO was Wii, the other bane of my existence because it is the joy of my six-year-old’s life.  So, around here we tend to stick a capital THE in front of any newfangled technology.)

Also, I am being interviewed by the charming and lovely Debra Driza, no mean writer herself, and among other things we are commiserating over our BAD DOG stories.  Because I didn’t want to horrify her too much, I left out the one where my 110 pound unneutered show dog took a, um, special liking to my 100 pound friend.  He would back her into a corner, then very gently reach out one paw to wrap around her shoulders….

Come back Thursday for a better behaved blog post.

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Can I just, for a  moment, reiterate how awesome my home town library is?  My advance PR team came along  (that would be my parents) and what greeted us in the lobby but a poster with Evenfall and my face on it? (It was a little bit horrifying, to be honest, but the librarian behind the desk did manage to recognize me, so the photo isn’t too off the mark.) I wanted to poke around a while, but my mother, who knows me too well, clearly was concerned I’d pick up a book and be late to my own signing, so she marched me downstairs, where librarians Michelle and Tricia had set out refreshments and even remembered a pen. (Yes, I forgot to bring a pen.  I was distracted.)

A fabulous crowd turned out, including my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. T — her smile is EXACTLY the same all these years later — and my fourth grade teacher.  Seriously, how beyond cool is that? (And see, Mrs. F — despite the fact that I still can’t do advanced math to save my life, I turned out okay. Mostly.) And then a bunch of people from my elementary school surprised me too, and we went out after and I ate too many French Fries and it was just like being in school again only without the math bits.  Which is to say, completely awesome.

Exactly the same. Only taller.

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Libraries.  I love them.  You go in, sign a piece of paper, and they let you take home books.  For free.  As many as you can carry. (And I can carry a lot.) How insane is that?

Not just books, either.  CDs, DVDs, even art.  Museum passes. Again, all for free. Show me your library, and I can tell you a lot about the priorities of your town (which is why the recent cutbacks to my city’s library are so upsetting, but that’s a whole other blog post).  Everywhere I’ve lived, one of the first things I’ve done is run to my new library to sign up for my card.  Sometimes, my kids and I will stop to check out  a library we haven’t visited, just for fun (do we know how to live, or what??). And if we’re vacationing anywhere for more than a week, it’s a good bet that somehow, we’ll manage to work in a library visit.

But no matter how wonderful your library is, it can’t compare with the one I grew up with. As a kid, it was one of my favorite places to be.  Back then, even though the building was a blinding white wedding cake confection, the children’s room was rather small and dark, with aisles of books you could wander.  You could take the book that made your heart thump into the back, curl up, and stay there until closing.   There was a long wooden desk, and the librarian would stamp the card in the back of the book with a resounding thwap before she let you take it home.  On rainy days, or if you were home sick, you could call up the story line and listen to a prerecorded tale for free.  There was a millpond out in back, and at night in the summer you could go with your grandparents and listen to big band music and spin around and around until you were dizzy.  If you were lucky, your grandfather would buy you a glo stick and you could use it to light up your room well after you were supposed to be asleep.

They did a renovation sometime in the 1980s, I think, and made the children’s room over into a light and airy space.  They painted the whole building cream, instead of the original white, and added a comfortable reading room for magazines, and put in skylights and study spaces and a big open staircase.  It’s beautiful and inviting, but I still remember the creaky old building my eight-year-old self fell in love with, all those years ago.  And when I read there tomorrow, in my heart that’s where I’ll be.

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I’ve been struggling with what to say about the disasters that seem to be pressing in on every side these days.  Sitting in my quiet kitchen, a snoring dog at my feet, they seem very far away.  And then I pick up my children from school and my heart constricts at the pain another mother may be feeling right now on the other side of the world.

How do we  manage to go on with our lives when so many lives are changed forever?  How do we recognize another level of pain without becoming callous?  I don’t know.  But this post spoke to me .  I hope it does to you, too.

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I’m not talking about my real house today (although I should — it is in desperate need of a spring cleaning).  No, these are house keeping details of the cyber variety, so bear with me.

I’ll be doing a few more book signings this spring.  Next week on March 23rd, I’ll be at the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, MA — my old hometown, and the most beautiful library I know. (At least that’s how it always appeared to my younger self.)  It is the library against which all others in my life have been measured, and I’d be thrilled to see you there.  (And can I just tell you how I wish I could time travel so I could go back and tell my younger self the news?)
And on April 9th, I’ll be at Well Read Books in Plaistow from 12 till 3.  It’s a fun, eclectic store — (although not as eclectic as this place). Stop by and say hello — I’ll be bringing my chocolate cookies and mini bookmarks with me.
Also: If I owe you a book, it will be in the mail as of Thursday.  If you haven’t received it in the next week or so, please let me know.
Finally, if you’ve read Evenfall but haven’t seen the secret backstory web pages, drop me a line (and maybe a picture of you with the book?  Pretty please?) and I’ll send you out the URL and secret password.

Finally finally, I have an author page on Facebook. (I know, I’m so progressive.)  If you are on there, swing by!

I’m off to sic Harley on the dust bunnies…

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I have books all over the house, with the possible exception of the guest bathroom.  Mostly, I try to keep the books I wouldn’t want my kids to read stacked next to my bed.  But sometimes I forget, and leave a book I’d prefer my daughter not to delve into out in the open, where it’s fair game.  I can always tell, though, when a book I’ve left somewhere has been moved — I’m freaky that way.  So when I got home from running some errands this weekend, and noticed my copy of Wake on the kitchen island  slightly askew, I knew immediately I hadn’t left it that way.  And I knew who had. And since she looked at me looking at the book and rolled her eyes, she knew I knew as well.

We had company all weekend, so I waited until this morning to ask what she thought of the book. Of course, she liked it. She’d only read a few pages before someone had walked in and she’d put the book down.  (Perhaps I should leave geometry textbooks out and pretend they’re off-limits, too.) She asked if she could read the whole thing, we discussed a bit about why I wasn’t comfortable with that, I asked if she had any questions, she said no, and we  agreed she could try it out next year, in fourth grade, and then she moved on to asking me about the book I’m reading now, a fabulous historical mystery/romance called The Second Duchess, which she’d also managed to skim. (Note to self: housecleaning is important for more than hygiene.)

I don’t think I’m kidding myself here. If she really wanted to read either of these books, I’m sure she’d figure out a way to make it happen.  At the moment, the exploits of a teen dream catcher and the doings of a Renaissance bride aren’t something she’s overly interested in, and while she’d be more than willing to delve into them if they were the only books around, she’s happily surrounded by stacks of her own reading material, so it’s not an issue.  Today.

But it did spark a couple of conversations.

Me:  “So, you noticed that the kids who were drinking were UNHAPPY, right? You got that?”

Her: Eye-roll.

Her: “So, why do authors make stuff up about real people?  They can do that? And what’s an arranged marriage?” Me:  “Yes.  It’s called historical fiction. And an arranged marriage is when your daddy and I pick out who you are going to marry.  When you are 35.”

All in all, I think it went well.

The Random Number Generator has spoken.

Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts last week.  Christine was the lucky winner — I’ll be sending you a signed copy of Wake in the mail.

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I’m over at Sia McKye’s Over Coffee blog today, talking about making sure my world stays larger than size of my monitor.  Stop by if you get a chance.  And remember, you have till Monday to comment and be entered to win a copy of Wake.

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This post talks about censorship, sex and drugs.  You’ve been warned.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what’s appropriate for kids to read.  Partly, it’s because I have a book of my own out, and I’ve seen Evenfall listed as YA (Young Adult) in a couple of places.  Every time I see that, or read about a high school kid wanting to read it, my Catholic school-raised innards give a very uncomfortable twist inside and suggest I  reach through the computer, snatch the book out of their hands, and hand them a nice copy of Little House in the Big Woods or Voyage of the Dawn Treader instead.

Part of it is because my daughter, at nine, is reading at a high school level, and we’re having lots of conversations along the lines of “Just because you can read something, doesn’t mean you should, and that particularly applies to my book, thank you very much.”

And part of it is that I’ve become more conscious lately of the books I’ve read that are coming under fire from parents who would like them removed from schools and classrooms.

If you haven’t read it, Evenfall has a love scene.  It’s short, but it’s definitely steamy.  It’s that scene I’m thinking about when someone I know says “I read your book!” and smiles at me in the carpool line at school.  It’s that scene I’m thinking about when I read that someone in high school has added Evenfall to their ‘to read’ pile.  And it’s that scene I’m definitely thinking about whenever my daughter makes moves to read past the first chapter.

But.  But. But. But. Growing up, my parents were strict.  Stricter than most of the parents I knew (hi Mom!  Stop reading now!) in every way but one – they never told me what I could or couldn’t read.  In third grade, my mom wrote me the note that gained me access to the entire school library.  (When I picked a book and Sister A asked me if it had any sex in it, I didn’t know what the word meant but I was smart enough to say no.)  By fifth grade I was exchanging books like Evergreen with my favorite nun, and The Thorn Birds followed shortly thereafter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading pretty much everything I can get my hands on. Books with drug scenes.  With sex scenes.  With magic and profanity and time travel and murder and baseball.

Yet here I am, all these years after I picked up those books, a writer and mother and mostly sane person.  I don’t do drugs.  I don’t sacrifice animals.  I don’t time travel and I sure as hell don’t play baseball. (I apparently do swear, though.)

One of my favorite writers, Barbara Kingsolver, has a scene in which one of her characters is a teacher who decides to hold an impromptu, unapproved sex education class after one of her best students shows up pregnant.  She rationalizes by saying something like this: “Just because you know how to use a fire extinguisher doesn’t mean you’re going to burn your house down.  But if your house is on fire, kiddos, it just may save your life.”

And that’s how I think about books.  Just because you read about drugs, or sex, or baseball, doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and do those things.  But knowing those things are out there may help you make more informed decisions down the line. It might give you the vocabulary to hold a conversation with the adults in your life.  It might help you navigate the tricky waters of adolescence.  It might give you the life line you need to get through them.

A few months ago, my book club chose a book written by a young man about his experience as a drug addict. It’s graphic and although it in no way glamorizes drug use, it’s definitely realistic. When I went looking for it at my local library, I was a little shocked to find it in the YA section.  Would I want my daughter reading it as a third grader? No.  But for some kid in middle school with no trusted adult to talk to, it could be a life saver.  Just because a book isn’t right for my child doesn’t mean it’s not the absolutely critical book at that moment for someone else’s.

If you object to your kid reading about drugs, or sex, or baseball, that’s your right.  But insisting a book be removed or banned for everyone presumes to make that choice for MY child, and that’s stepping on MY rights as a parent.

Will I let my third grader read Evenfall?  Not on your life.  But will I let her read it as a sixth or seventh grader?  There’s a good chance I will, or that she’ll have found a way to read it no matter what I say.  (If  I’m lucky, it will spark a conversation about sometimes, when adults fall in love, they have sex.  If I’m unlucky, she’ll roll her eyes and refuse to talk to me for a few days for embarrassing her in front of her friends.)

So where do you stand on all of this?  I’m really interested to hear.  Comment before Monday and you’ll be entered to win Wake, a book that came under fire when a parent requested it be removed from school because she objected to the adult language and felt it promoted drug use and sexual misconduct. Her request was denied and for now, it remains on shelves.  (For the record: I’ve read it and in my opinion it does no such thing.)

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Last night my son woke up around 11 p.m..  He was talking loudly and stumbling a bit, and we raced up the stairs to see what was the matter.  Fever? Stomach bug?  Instead we found him in the bathroom, struggling to get his pajama bottoms off in time.  He wasn’t quite awake, and after he’d finished and we were helping him wash his hands, he started, for no apparent reason, to laugh.  And laugh and laugh and laugh.  It was so infectious, so glee-filled, that when my husband and I looked at each other, we couldn’t help it — we started to laugh too.  In the bathroom at 11 p.m. I was as happy, for no reason that I could tell, as I have been in days.

As a toddler, my son had the kind of laugh that made people feel good.  One neighbor would tickle him on a regular basis just to hear it.  My daughter, though always more reserved, could get strangers to belly laugh along with her.  After I tucked him back into bed, I thought about the last time I heard either of them laugh like that.  It’s been months, if not longer.  Sure, they smile on a regular basis, they chuckle and cackle and giggle, but the kind of laugh that makes your cheeks hurt, that puts a cramp in your stomach, that you remember for days?  Not so much.

Lately, my family is Peter Pan obsessed.  We’re listening to Peter and the Starcatchers in the car (It’s fabulous and read by the inimitable Jim Dale), we watch this version of Peter Pan at least once a month (if you haven’t seen it, it is heartbreaking and beautiful and many of the catch phrases have worked their way into our daily life, so if my children tell you I am Old! Alone! and Done For! it’s not quite as terrible as you may think), and I’ve recently finished reading a biography of J.M. Barrie.

I never cared much for the original Peter Pan — I read it as a child, and then as a young adult, and both times found it somewhat cloying, but recently one line has returned to me: “When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.”

It’s overly sentimental, but I  get what Barrie was saying now.  There’s something so magical, so awe-inspiring, about that early laughter.  It comes so freely at first that even as we smile in response,  we fail to see there may come a time when we won’t hear it every day.  It gets pushed down, buried under the 7:30 a.m. alarm, the rush and hustle out the door, the worry over homework, over standardized tests and who is friends with whom and where to sit at lunch and what the coach thinks.

If there’s a reason not to grow up, it would be to preserve that laugh, that sense of joy that comes from just being alive and in the moment.  I can’t give that feeling to my family on a CD or DVD, no matter how good it is. But I can try to find and preserve those moments whenever they come, even if it’s at 11 p.m. at night.

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