{even among these rocks…}

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Happy Lenten season to my Catholic peeps, and to the rest of us who take this time of year to recalibrate ourselves, and try to practice a bit of self control for a month. I think especially of The Brilliant Athena, who is eleven and is trying out Lenten sacrifice as a nonreligious, intellectual exercise this year for the first time. She’s given up … the internet. That is ONE. TOUGH. CHICA. Her Dad is supporting her by forgoing mainlining Coke Zero for forty days. (How much do I love that parenting style? Can they be MY parents??)

Lent, whatever your religious stripe, really is a good reminder to us that we shall not surely die without our Cherished Things. It’s an exercise in self-discovery to realize how much we suffer when we deviate from the little streambed of our usual haunts and activities. How like ants we are, only traveling along our same little lines, doing the same things the same way, whether they’re good for us or not. Lent gives people the excuse to jump out of their ruts.

We Protestant-raised folk who don’t officially “do” Lent still have our opportunity and our excuse to be open to change. March 4-5 was the National Day of Unplugging, started by a group of Jewish folk who made a modern renewal of the traditional Sabbath, and turned off their technology. The Sabbath Manifesto, a weekly sundown-to-sundown shut-off-your-tech agreement between families and friends, and open to everyone, came out of this. Disconnecting and stepping away from the conversation is a very good thing, and gives us time to read, reflect, and to think. Weekly re-creation, an invitation to recreation, in answer to a need we may not have known we had.

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So, too, the Lenten season.

Every year around this time, I ATTEMPT to read and fully understand T.S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday, and every year, I realize I have to settle on a single section of it, and go with that. The entire poem is rife with subtle references, both Biblical and otherwise, and there’s a lot there to miss.

Sometimes, I feel like I have to read Eliot with annotations and a dictionary on hand, but because I love his sonorous voice (I have heard recordings, people, I am not THAT old. Listen to it for yourself, or read it in its entirety here.) and can just imagine him speaking these circuitous, profound and allegorical lines, I keep knocking my head against this one. Today I read this portion aloud:

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
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And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Excerpted from ASH WEDNESDAY, by Thomas Stearns Eliot, 1930

This is a poem is about doubt, about coming two steps forward in belief, and perhaps moving three steps back. It is a poem about difficulty, and faith. It is hard — very, very, very hard. In more ways than one.

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I think I actually enjoy the difficulty of this poem, in a weird way. Every once in awhile, it’s okay to be challenged. It’s okay to give things up. It’s okay to try, and try, and see the edges of where we fail and fall apart.

And pick up again next year. And try again. Even among these rocks…

Poetry Friday, which this week may have even more difficult poetry to share, is hosted by Poetry Princess Liz @ Liz in Ink, who is gleeful about Spring.

{I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.}

Yat Yee Chong‘s blog post amused me greatly the other day. At present, the sky is the color of old pewter and the thirty-some mile-per-hour wind gusts are somehow forcing their way through… well, everything. My hands are cold, and though it’s still in the forties, the forecast calls for… snow. Starting Wednesday, and rolling on through the weekend and into next week.

Ah, Christina. I, too, will not believe that “Spring” thing until I see it… But, the birds are tweeting themselves hoarse around 5 a.m. and right this minute, I smell… grass. And my nose is itching.

It approacheth, yea, verily, yet it is not quite close enough… darn it.

More than the weather, though, I am finding myself hovering on the edge of …well, grief. RIF – Reading Is Fundamental had their budget scrapped. The music program at the elementary school where I had my first solo has been… well, possibly cut altogether, possibly left in the hands of the talented community volunteers. We all acknowledge the power and importance of reading and music, so there may be some hope of salvage, but… the cuts and belt-tightening country-wide have become intensely personal. It becomes even moreso when you imagine the cuts and belt-tightening going on on a personal level. (If you’ve never played “Spent,” it is …disturbing, but eye-opening.) So many friends and family members have lost jobs, and are simply struggling to keep their heads above some very deep water.

It feels, on this gray day, like we need — something. In all the Ingalls books, isn’t this the time when there was a barn-raising or a corn-shucking, or something to pull the community together and out of their own grayness? Or is that no longer done, since everyone has all their own entertainment and social needs met on Facebook or with their Tivo, iPods, Netflix, or Smartphones at home? We can all be miserable separately, that way.

Since I can’t think of a positive solution, let’s have a flower.

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Thank God for greenhouses. Light, color, perfection, even on a freezing cold day.

Things which have made me happy: a discussion on diverse books over at The Reading Tub – I’m on a roundtable panel for Share a Story, Shape a Future, and I invite you over to take a gander!

An additional happy: Emily Asher-Perrin’s piece on Tor.com on our lives as readers. You never truly forget where you read some of the books that changed your life… I will never forget where I was when The Hobbit was read to me for the first time, and the feel of the hard plastic phone receiver against my head as I drifted off to sleep every night. (Yep. It was read to me over the phone by Tech Boy, the boyfriend who worked nights and was wide awake. Fortunately we were in the same town or I would have had the phone bill from Hades.)(Actually I did the year after that when I graduated and moved away, but that’s another story…)

A further happy: Good Night, Dune. I giggled madly. (Well, yes, I am a geek. Thanks for noticing.) The Atlas Obscura — absolutely fabulous places all over the world – as discovered by the atlas makers. There’s a nifty place in your neck of the woods you knew nothing about! Check it out.

(Video via Smart B’s)Okay, that one’s a happy, but a little envious, too. I want the world to love stories and libraries and books like the Irish do. Could that be possible, world? Could we work on it??? And stop cutting arts programs??

My last happy for the moment: the BRILLIANTLY homeschooled “Jane” Wiley has split the atom! Okay, maybe not. She’s extracted the DNA from peas, though, which is twice as cool, and didn’t cause an explosion. In all seriousness, I stand in awe of that girl’s brain – let no one tell you that homeschooling does not produce a capitol-E Education.

Okay, the wind is howling, and I’ve given up on not wrapping myself in another layer of fleece. It’s time for a treat. Let’s have another flower…or several.

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Happy Tuesday.

{o, happy day}

From a note from my S.A.M. ~

“I really, really loved your new novel!! Wow, what a different sort of novel for you. I gobbled it right up. I’d be most happy to send this to [Editor E] in due time. I think your description and comparison to those novels [The Exiles by Hilary McKay, The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall, and a few Beverly Cleary books] is apt to a certain extent…”

Well, it’s not yet sold, but my agent does not tend to be an over-emotive, over-reacting kind of guy, so if Mikey likes it… well, I feel REALLY, really good about that.

I’ve feared in the past being limited to one kind of writing — I’ve been afraid that my editorial house only wanted one kind of book from me, people only wanted to SEE one sort of thing of mine, but I tell you — reading about new projects from authors in general and this month’s highlighted authors of color recently has really inspired me.

I’m just so excited at the moment. ::happy dance!::

Okay. Better go call the man, he’s waiting…!

{thanks for the love, D.i.YA!}

I was pleased and grateful to see A LA CARTE get such kind words from guest blogger Doret Canton at Diversity in YA Fiction. Being mentioned alongside of such great authors as Angela Johnson, Jacquline Woodson and Christopher Paul Curtis is indeed an honor, thank-you!

Speaking of ALC, last August, fantabulous Knopf book designer Kate Gartner started working with the new cover for my first YA novel, and while the new MARE’S WAR cover has debuted first, today you get a sneak peek of what else Kate’s been up to on our behalf.


Not entirely sure when this paperback version of ALC will hit the bookstores, but look for it around next autumn!

Lots more love to go around today. Don’t forget to check out the CYBILS AWARD website to see the names of the 2011 winners! I am PULLING for Rot & Ruin to win from the long list of fantasy and science fiction nominees. (There are tons of other great books, but that one is stupendous.) For whom are you especially cheering? Do tell!

{it’s kind of a NOT funny story}

“You never would have guessed what I had been through; where I had been. I didn’t look “crazy”-I never had. I looked like any other teenage girl. I went to classes with everyone else. I talked to other kids. I attended school events. I would have the [sic] seen your dance team, had I gone to Waunakee High School. And you would never have known. In fact, the next time you perform, I want you to look at the kids in the audience. About 1 in 10 children under the age of eighteen have a mental illness; 1 in 5 have a serious mental illness (SMI) like the ones you mock. ONE IN FIVE.

How many kids are watching you perform? How many are in your school? How about in your district? Your town?” ~ Erika, age 14

I remember reading It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini, the YA novel which has recently gone on to movie fame. I was at first uncomfortable with how funny I found it — because Mental Illness Is Not Funny… but I reread it, and found myself relieved. It is real. It has poignancy and bright/dark moments which are so very normal to how life goes, to the way I feel. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is most important to me because it highlights the decision to live, and get help when faced with what a friend and I call Those Intrusive Thoughts that make hanging one’s toes off the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 a.m. seem like a really good idea.

Most of us have personal experience with those Intrusive Thoughts. Most of us have the dear friend/family/personal connection with mental illness. I know I do.

Mental health issues are the biggest elephant in the room, EVER. They are hugely awkward in our society. When the “American dream” is to, by our own effort, rule our particular little worlds, a loss of control through mental challenges has a massive stigma to the American — heck, to the WORLD public. No one wants to be associated with the stereotypical “crazy person” who has to miss days of work and school, staying home and struggling. No one wants to be “that guy,” the one who has to take medication, who sometimes emotes too much – the girl who cries or laughs too easily, who has blackout panic attacks in a crowded hallway, or who falls apart at the drop of a grade.

It is something we all fear. Therefore, it’s really easy… to make fun of it.

Which is what happened, inadvertently, a few weeks ago at a Wisconsin high school. The pep rally routine featured cheerleaders with black makeup smeared on their faces, snarled hair, scary expressions, and the words “Psych Ward” on their straitjacket-looking uniforms as they danced through a “fun and catchy” song to get school spirit up and going. “We Get Crazy” is the title of their routine.

All right. The finger-pointing and shouty bits of the dialogue can go on without our input, can’t they? We can agree that the routine was insensitive and surreal without all of the screeching, and we can also probably agree that it was a misjudgment by the head coach, who isn’t an Evil Person and didn’t intend to humiliate or shame, just create a dance to a “catchy and amusing” hip-hop song.

Conversely, some of us might even agree with the NBC sportswriter who claimed that it’s a political thing and wrong to teach kids to back down under pressure, and that the cheerleaders should go on if they feel okay about things, and everyone is oversensitive and too PC these days, and should shut up. Yeah, someone can probably agree to parts of all of that.

I was able to pass the news story without public comment until I ran across a letter of response. Erika, guest blogs her story without adding a last name (for obvious reasons), writes with frustration and passion to the head coach of Waunakee Wisconsin High School. She tells a story that is familiar to far too many.

I blink when I think about the statistics that Erika quotes. One in ten young adults below eighteen have a mental illness, one in five have a serious one. One in five is a REALLY big number. Does YA fiction reflect this? Or is this invisible to YA authors, too?

Other than Ned Vizzini’s book, what was the last book I read wherein someone had a serious mental challenge? Okay, there are some classics: the Sonya Sones book, Stop Pretending; Patricia McCormick’s Cut. There was an old book I remember reading called Lisa, Bright & Dark about a girl with severe mood swings. Deb Caletti’s Wild Roses comes to mind, as does When She Was Good, by Norma Fox Mazer (boy, that’s an old one.) More recently, Dia Calhoun wrote The Phoenix Dance, a fantasy retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses — cleverly paralleling their dance mania with bipolar disorder. The intensely arresting Tallulah Falls by Christine Fletcher is about a drop-everything kind of friendship, and a very impulsive friend.

There are more novels, there must be — can you think of them? Have you read anything that struck you as extraordinary? I’m thinking of making a list to post — fiction which depicts people with wonky brain chemistry leading lives with meaning and humor and balance, in spite of school and work and life’s crap. Let me know if you find something which needs to be included.

My point, if I have one, is to let Erika know that I, as a writer, hear her, that this is bouncing around the echo chamber in my head, and that I’m still listening. And, that I know how easy it is to make fun of what we fear, but this isn’t funny, and smart people aren’t laughing.

That’s all.

(Mostly)cross-posted @ wonderland

{I turn off the internet for five minutes, and…}

BOOM. Controversy. Shrieking. Finger-pointing. Vitriolic ranting.

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I see I can’t leave you people alone for even a minute.

I’m not in the habit of listing every award I’ve won on my blog, mainly because there just aren’t that many, and also because it gets to feeling weird and icky and self-serving, and I’m pretty sure that’s not why you’ve stopped by. So, last week when I was included on a new Best 100 Young Adult Books list, along with Harriet the Spy, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, I was pleasantly cheered, but not intending to write about it. I thought, “Huh! A magazine whose stated goal is ‘to point out the insidious, everyday sexism of popular culture, propose alternatives, and celebrate pro-woman, pro-feminism pop products,’ thinks Mare is cool and profeminist too! Excellent!”

Then, I pretty much went on with my life, which included, helping Tech Boy through some weird viral pneumonia and, wrestling yet again with the end of this @*%$!*& novel, (Which I’d really like to get into shape this week, please, God).

…meanwhile, back at the ranch, the list was surveyed by the internets. And lo, it was seen as Not Good. This morning I read through my usual blogs – Colleen Mondor, John Scalzi, Sarah Wendell – and discovered that sometimes being on Greenwich Mean Time means I am so behind the curve. Apparently as of yesterday, other fine publications once included on the list were yanked for various reasons. Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, for one, which is odd, considering that it’s a Printz-winner and is beautifully written and intensely literary. It is a book that readers may not like, as Lanagan also writes things which are disturbing and intense, but she “tells the true” in a way which speaks movingly of real life, as seen through the fractured fairy tales she uses. (Think fairy tales minus Disney – the originals, as written, where people lied, bled and died – and you’ve got the gist.) Because Lanagan’s book was on the list, I thought it was there because the list-compilers had read and appreciated it, in spite of its dark and painful aspects.

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Um… no. They hadn’t read it. They put it on a list because they’d researched it and it sounded good, and then, based on an excerpt which someone provided and a very virulent criticism which led to them finally reading it, they removed it. This was true of other books as well, some of which were removed – the common denominator of all books removed is that they dealt with rape… which apparently the people who screeched felt was too upsetting for feminist women to have to read about. (That’s simplifying a great deal, but it seemed to be the upshot of the issue, most things considered.)

Well, obviously, this is a Problem. Mainly because it’s a problem which seems to dog young adult authors. Do any adult mainstream novels have people trailing after the authors, pointing fingers and screeching about their content? Not so much. But somehow, YA has its self-elected Gatekeepers, and boy do they like to point fingers and screech and ban. This is not to say that the people who had issues with the Lanagan book and others may not have reasons, but I’m not sure that having a reason is an excuse to apply your reading preferences to the world at large… and to demand that books be removed from a list, or a library, or a classroom. Further, to my mind this list of books was included in an adult-marketed magazine, and if adult people had issues with the books on the list, they could, then, fail to finish reading them… but screeching and finger-pointing is apparently a right listed in the Constitution after that bit about “the pursuit of happiness.”

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Anyway, now many authors whose books were listed are pretty darned ticked. And yesterday, many, many of them said, in mostly polite and intelligent tones, Dear List Makers, please remove me from your list, as I don’t support your book-bannin’ ways.

Well. I didn’t. Ask to be removed from the list, that is. Mainly because all of this drama happened while I was asleep in bed and I fear it would be a sort of also-ran/copycat move by now; more of a gesture than an act with any real meaning. The list is out, people are officially incensed, and that’s pretty much it. Also, I didn’t request they remove my book because I don’t care to engage with the over-the-top shrieking going on in the hundreds of comments on the site – you’ll note I didn’t even link to it (linking to it drives traffic to their site, which I do not choose to do). But mainly I didn’t do it, because I am sort of wondering what, if anything, it means to still be ON that list. And, I’m thinking that the list, with its cross-outs and arrows and shrieking commentary notes in the margins, now has no meaning whatsoever.

It’s kind of like the scratch paper at the end of study hall. It was useful to scribble on to figure things out. Now that you’ve learned, throw the wadded up list away, and move on to the next class. No doubt the world has something else to teach.

{still a warrior}

You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your soul’s own doing.” ~ Marie Carmichael Stopes ~

Maxine Hong Kingston is off on new adventures, at seventy. And isn’t she beautiful? She is my inspiration for the day, still the Woman Warrior.

EDITED THE FOLLOWING DAY TO ADD: Ms. G., a witty acquaintance wrote and pointed out the Stopes quote is pure balderdash. “It reminds me,” she complained, “of when people used to say that at a certain age we have the face we deserve. We do not have the face we deserve, we get the face that genetics dictate and now, thanks to plastic surgery, the face we can afford.”

She then went on to say some rather amusing things about popular do-gooders who were quite wizened when they departed this mortal coil, and if they weren’t beautiful, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Is my witty friend too literal? Do we judge beauty when it comes to the aged in only the most esoteric terms, and not in the more concrete and literal terms with which we judge our younger counterparts?

Hmmmm. Even though I think Ms. G. meant to merely amuse me, she gave me something to think about. You?

{randomly: time for a rondeau}

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Though it’s hard to see, the moon had a perfect rainbow around it last Tuesday night.

I’m not good lately at actually getting a poem up on Poetry Friday, so we’ll have to toss one up when we can. This poem echoed strongly in my head today, for various reasons, not the least of which is having heard from a friend back home, and realized that as the years have passed, they have become someone other than who I thought they were.

How odd life is, sometimes. And yet, not all surprises are unpleasant. Just… this one.

We Wear the Mask

by Paul Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

It’s Burns’ Night here in Scotland, and where am I off to, instead of to a dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties? To chorus rehearsal. I can’t complain; if my Scots (and Irish and a few Welsh and one Spanish) contemporaries can rehearse without complaint (hahahah – I’m sure they are complaining, but that makes no difference to our director), than I can, too.

Truth, hurts, as the saying goes. And while I love this poem, it’s a painful kind of love, filled with winces. It makes me question many things, including how needful polite lies are. And masks.

May your day be filled with bare-faced truth-tellers. And strength to hear that truth.

{after the contest}

Yesterday’s paperback giveaway was quite an eye-opener, for reasons I didn’t expect. Homeschool peeps, I know, come from all walks, and are in the field for various reasons, or having kids with learning differences to being unhappy with a school district, to simply just wanting to spend the quality years of childhood with their children, instead of sending them to others to teach them. What I didn’t realize was how many homeschooling folk are from Canada! (Hello, Northern Neighbors!) New Westminster represented for BC.

The Midwest was also well represented, with Illinois, Indiana and Michigan being the most common. I was surprised to find only two Southern homeschool addresses from Georgia and Arkansas. Guess the South wasn’t online yesterday.

There were some interesting statistics I gleaned from the notes I received. The majority of people who participated had more three or more kids. Most were mothers, although there were two gentlemen. We had one librarian pop up and wave. We had twelve people who commented and left notes with addresses but no last names. (Ah, well. The addresses are probably enough, and no one should wonder too much if a book comes to Hope Whatshername.) We had two participants from the West Coast, and only ONE from my home state – which was a surprise! Of course, none of this represents actual numbers of homeschooling families in the U.S., it was just the people who were online yesterday who happened to hear about the giveaway. Still – very interesting.

I’m grateful to everyone who played along. This was such fun! Please remember to take advantage of the Homeschool Teacher’s Unit on Mare’s War, and enjoy your studies. I hope it leads you down a good rabbit trail (as Lissa Wiley calls them) to delve more deeply into new information you hadn’t learned before.

And to those eight or nine of you to whom I sent a wee note to remind you that your address might be good to have, well, I do hope you actually check back and send it, otherwise the whole postal process does get tricky…

A “thanks for playing” and a book go out to:

Jen from Prospect Heights,

Emily from Bloomington,
Sharon from Shelby Township,
Jon from Canton,
Gretchen from Cincinnati,
Megan from Brunaby,
Rachel from Aurora,
Michelle from Lincoln,
Paula from Milaca,
Jennifer, Carrie, and Kathleen from New Westminster,
Teresa from Auburn,
Geneviève and Magda from Montreal,
Jill from Vancouver,
Sheila from Victoria,
Ariel from Seattle,
Moe from Sterling Heights,
Kay from Corpus Christi, and
Diane from Springfield


Most of you will receive your book in a couple of weeks, barring further postal calamities on this side of the pond. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Homeschooling!

{homeschool giveaway day!}

HAPPY TUESDAY! Somewhere, it’s 11:00 a.m., which means it’s time for the giveaway! MARE’S WAR will be out in paperback in February, but if you are a.) a homeschooling family, or b.) a homeschooled kid or c.) a librarian who works with homeschoolers, today is your chance to receive an early copy.

After a parent request, I worked up a Homeschool Teacher’s Unit on Mare’s War. It reminded me of my 1:1 teaching days, which were actually kind of like homeschooling (for the State of California; my students were in group homes, so I visited them instead of them coming to me) and started thinking about the fact that there are probably not a lot of book contests strictly for homeschool folk. So — this one is.

And it’s straight up simple. Just — leave a comment, then drop me a note. Tell me hi, tell me how long you’ve been homeschooled, say you love it, tell me you’re studying WWII and dread trying to write — or grade — a decent essay about it. The first twenty-five of you who comment will automatically receive a copy of the book! (Please don’t leave your mailing address in the comments [unless you don’t mind sharing it with the world?]; send your address in a note, using the private contact form. EDITED TO ADD:The contest is over; please don’t send your address! Sorry you missed it.)

But, if you’re a latecomer and not one of the twenty-five, don’t let that stop you from commenting! I’ll give away a few more books to random people who amuse or interest me — names I’ll pick out of a hat. Those folks also might get a hardback copy instead of a paperback, FYI.

So, that’s my “contest” of sorts — a chance to celebrate homeschool folks and to honor the parent teachers who are doing their own thing, and doing a great job with it.

Happy Giveaway Day!

EDITED TO ADD: Comments are closed now, the contest is over; thank you to all of you who showed up to play yesterday!