HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAYS TO…

…THE ENIGMA GAME, and to Elizabeth Wein, whose book shares the excellent timing of having a book emerge on Election Day. THE ENIGMA GAME is a WWII mystery featuring a Jamaican-Scots girl, and it’s for older readers, and is All Good Things. Go, read it!

And, of course, Happy Book Birthday to SERENA SAYS!

Reviews so far talk a lot about this as a very happy book – which, with this year as it has gone, is a hopeful, helpful thing. I hope Serena’s very ordinary frustrations and celebrations remind older readers and younger readers alike of how very much the same we all are – no matter what makes up the bits that make us who we are. Here’s to having that to celebrate today, if nothing else.

{a running list of events}

Welcome to my running Author PSA to remind myself what’s going on this month, and drag you along for the ride:


FYI: the naani poetry form was created by Indian poet and retired professor Dr. N Gopi. Naani is a short form, like haiku or senryu, with a set line- and syllable-count: 4-lines with 20 syllables total. Unlike haiku, naani poems are typically written about people, or on the human condition.

{word wrangling in a time of pestilence}

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HOORAY for another completed project! Somehow, though I had published two small press books before Knopf, and four books with Knopf, I’d never before sold a book I hadn’t written. That in itself was a new and stress-laden experience. Try writing a book that a.) touches on microaggression and racial misunderstanding as social unrest regarding racism erupts nationwide, and b.) feeling like everything you say is being observed and judged by both Black and white readers, during this time, and c.) needing to quickly move up the deadline for it. Nope, it was not stress-free, and even up until early the morning I was meant to turn it in, I was sitting there, wrapped in a blanket, fussing with one scene which hadn’t quite hit the note I wanted until – ding! – suddenly, it settled exactly into its proper level. At last, I could shower in peace. Whew.

Harper-Collins/Katherine Tegen Books continues to be an utter treat to work with. Here’s a pro-tip, writing people: you’re supposed to be asked your opinion on things like cover styles, cover artists, and voice over talents for audio books. I say again: until this book with this house, (with the caveat that I DID comment on other projects without being asked) I HAVE NEVER BEEN. And it thrills me – and saddens me – every single time it happens that I’m so excited about being asked/included/considered/acknowledged as a person of intelligence who can make meaningful contribution to the publication of HER OWN DARNED BOOK. It infuriates me to know that other authors – certainly white authors I’ve spoken with – considered that de rigueur, sometimes even with their first book. I mean… you suspect that you’ve been treated differently based on race, and then you see how clearly differently you’ve been treated, and it’s like… okay, then. Maybe it was the publishing house policy. But, maybe it wasn’t…? It’s hard to know, and hard to trust your work to someone when you’re not sure about them.

Publishing remains a tricky field, friends. But, at its best, there’s a lot there to love.


Americans love humor, and children are huge fans of the silliest things, but actually producing humor, actually writing funny? It’s SO hard.

My writing group, led by the humorous ones among us, have pushed for a long while to discuss humor from a craft perspective, and I was… reluctant. Because funny, to me, is not the same as funny to them. We didn’t have a common understanding, I thought, so it was better to skip it. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way – some of us have decided to pass on this discussion, and I don’t blame them.

But… humor. It’s subjective, and yet, necessary to explore in order to understand it.

We’re making our way through an older book, THE COMIC TOOLBOX by John Vorhaus, and dissecting what we agree and disagree with in regards to actually eliciting humor from ourselves and properly setting up our work to support it. We’re pulling humorous bits from our favorite books and films. And we’re making laughably bad attempts at writing humorous dialogue, sports team names, and TV pilots. ‘Laughably bad’ is, at least, funny.

I suspect we could think of worst ways to pass the time during the plague.

{“…after the watermelon thing.”}

I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.

And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book. And I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morrison, and Barack Obama saying,”This guy’s okay. This guy’s fine.”

Yeah, remember that? 2014, the National Book Award, televised on C-SPAN and elsewhere. People are so heartened to see African Americans on the National Book Award finalist list. Poets and writers and people of letters are tuning in. In the children’s lit community, we’re thrilled that Jacqueline Woodson, one of our steady bright lights in YA literature, has won. She’s earned that BIG award, one which will thrust her outside the quieter waters of children’s lit, and… in that moment, the professional crowning pinnacle of her success thus far, the presenter makes …a watermelon joke.

“In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from.” – Jacqueline Woodson, quoted in the New York Times.

He had an hundred million reasons why, later, he had remarked so disparagingly on the poets who were nominated, why he had told jokes and tried to wrest the attention of the crowd from the nominees onto his vast and hungry ego. But, it wasn’t personal; he cried no foul, she’s my friend! a thousand times, and yet, that moment, those sly, knowing words sliced thousands of us to ribbons, as the audience laughed, and a tall, serene woman had to stand – and yet again, endure. Endure. Endure, with her face at peace, as if the buffoonery of the man before her didn’t reach her.

I don’t support hate, and yet, in that moment, that dizzyingly visceral emotion shivered in my sight. Gut-punched, I wanted to both hiss and claw, scream and spit. As far as I was concerned, that man was finished, and I was done with him and all his works, forever. I never bought, reviewed, read, or talked of anything else he said or did. It made no difference to his life, I am sure, but it seemed right, to me, to simply use my internal Wite-Out and blot him from my notice for the rest of forever. I was fully over this “problematic” favorite.

It’s clear that I’m still sitting with our current moment in the children’s lit industry, trying to work through it, and thinking about the last time that so many voices came together to exclaim in disgust. It was for our Ms. Woodson, and rightly so. The commentary was sharp, and loud – and ultimately… was placated by the huge monetary donation Handler gave to We Need Diverse Books. And then, most of the voices were hushed, pressing their hands against the shoulders of those who still rose up, and their hands over the mouths of those still bitterly protesting. He apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

But, yesterday, after Handler wandered flat-footedly into the pages of children’s lit history again, this time into the earnest signatories of the #ustoo pledge, wherein members of the children’s lit industry pledged to hold accountable conferences and gatherings, and not attend those which have no clear sexual harassment policy, people took him to task for his very clear participation IN the harassment. The very innuendo-laden jokes, in front of children and adults. The demeaning sexual talk. But — he apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

It seems clear that you can, unless what you say is racist.

In my small and petty way, I blocked Daniel Handler from my sight years ago – but he’s still been doing things, writing, being invited places, feted within the industry, and I’m the doofus who didn’t realize that his “little faux pas” on Ms. Woodson’s big night had long been forgotten.

But, as Heidi so succinctly asked, didn’t we figure out this guy was trash after the watermelon thing? What are we doing still courting that kind of person to be a speaker and to visit classrooms? Why don’t we seem to take the humiliation, shame, and harm of racism as seriously as we’re all endeavoring to take the #metoo harassment thing?

In all seriousness – is a #metoo movement going to actually succeed if, once again, racism is instructed to take a seat at the back of the bus?

1897. “The day before the inauguration of the nation’s 28th president the Congressional Committee of NAWSA hosted a large parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The idea behind this was to maximize onlookers who happened to be in town to attend the inauguration. Woodrow Wilson expected a crowd at the train station to greet him; however, very few people actually showed up to greet the president, the largest part of the crowd was his staff. The parade was led by the beautiful lawyer Inez Milholland Bouissevain upon a white horse. This image of her as a warrior atop a horse is what made her an iconic image in the fight for womens’ right to vote. This massive parade consisted of no less than nine bands. It also included four brigades on horseback and close to eight thousand marchers. The parade was cut into sections: working women, state delegates, male suffragists, and finally African-American women.

The point of the parade was “to march in the spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the journalist who led an anti-lynching campaign in the late nineteenth century, organized the Alpha Suffrage Club among Black women in Chicago and brought members with her to participate in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. The organizers of the march asked that they walk at the end of the parade. She tried to get the White Illinois delegation to support her opposition of this segregation, but found few supporters. They either would march at the end or not at all. Ida refused to march, but as the parade progressed, Ida emerged from the crowd and joined the White Illinois delegation, marching between two White supporters. She refused to comply with the segregation.”

– Excerpts taken from One of Divided Sisters: Bridging the Gap Between Black and White Women by Midge Wilson & Kathy Russell, Anchor, 1996, and PBS.org.

I think I’ve been naive, and pretty quiet – but it’s clear the time for my naive assumptions is way over.

{thanks, again}

This year, I did not do my Daily Gratitude post-a-day challenge in November.

Have you ever heard of scleromyositis? Systemic scleroderma? Polymyositis? Neither had I… but October and November were largely given over to familiarizing myself with Latin and Greek words that characterized these random autoimmune disorders. I suggest you don’t get on the internet and look up either one, or their adjacent symptoms; it’s just not helpful. It’s honestly never helpful to go straight to WebMD after talking to your doctor, but it’s least helpful when you have an autoimmune disorder, and everything you hear or see is a variation on this disorder is related to both fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s and arthritis, and Your Mileage May Vary. At baseline, you can characterize it as the chronic inflammation of the nerves, muscles and joints, but it’s much less straightforward. There is just so little unambiguous information on our bodies attacking ourselves. It’s hard to figure out what you’re feeling, how you should react, what you should fear, and what you should do next.

So.

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I didn’t lack gratitude this autumn — I don’t lack gratitude — but I was lost in my head, trying to remain normal, participate in normal industry activities within the Kidlitosphere, finish this novel, keep normal on the front burner while my head was filled with gray mist and buzzing. After a September move, and finally settling into a little jewel box of a house, I should have been grateful. After the horror of the fires, I should have been grateful that we have had a lovely autumn, with one last splash of unseasonably warm days in October followed by glorious rain, and more rain, with a few clear blue days interspersed in between. Autumn has had a drinkable quality this year, as our lungs praised the air quality and took in deep draughts of petrichor, crisp, leaf-mould, wet ground, faint woodsmoke, and glowing moonrise. I got a new bike! I randomly lost another seven pounds! There has been much that is lovely and fine, including the gift of teenagers trick-or-treating who ensured that we did not have a year’s worth of old candy in a jar to keep eating. Even amidst the grinding exhaustion and pain, even with the weird lesions that showed up on my fae, there has been so much grace, so much relief, so much change – but I missed a lot of it, locked in to the paralysis of What? How? Why?

I’ve started on an immunosuppressant drug this week which means a lot of hand-washing – and a lot of hand-wringing about having twelve people for Thanksgiving and five choral performances and loads of rehearsals between now and December 16 – but the plans were made before the treatment was decided, and there’s no turning back now. I’m being as careful as I can, whilst balancing and juggling all else that is on my plate — being a good partner and friend and daughter and writer. We’ll see how it all goes.

As for my blogging, it’s time for a recenter/restart. It’s never to late to try for some gratitude, after all. Hope you’ll join with me for December Light. It’s a dark old world out there, so I’m going to light a candle a day – a poem, a thought, something. The new trailer for A Wrinkle In Time reminded me of my favorite part of the book, when IT was vanquished:

“Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.

It’s not a direct quote from the book, but the movie synthesizes it beautifully: The only way to defeat the darkness is to BECOME THE LIGHT.

Join me?

{the new year’s resolutions…}

*dusts off blog*

Autumn, incoming. Been foggy and chilly in the mornings for most of August, and this morning I opened the first jar of applesauce we canned two weeks ago. Today’s chill and fog, in honor of the battering poor Hawaii is taking, is hardly noticeable, and yet: September. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the breezes smell of apple peels, etc. September is always the beginning of the year, after sooooo many years of school and teaching. So, happy new year, friends. It’s time to start over, and make new resolutions.

Strawberries on Cake

Summer’s goal was to finish the WIP by today, the official, can’t-really-excuse-it-anymore month when summer ends. Guess what? It’s …kinda finished! But, I’m not in the Cake-With-Rejoicing phase. *checks mood* Nope. Definitely still The Whining Phase, so it’s not time for cake. (Banana bread with whipped cream and a few shavings of chocolate, maybe. Technically, despite my Scottish friends’ snorts to the contrary: banana bread IS NOT CAKE. {LIE: it is BANANA CAKE. Maybe it’s just not time for chocolate cake yet??}) I’m not yet sure the novel says what I want it to say. Secret Agent Man will look it over on the 15th, Tech Boy is reading it now, so I’m holding off saying I totally hate it until then, but…

I might hate it. As usual. The thing is this: I keep trying to write to the well of deeper ideas that I have within me, the well which doesn’t come with a winch and a bucket but just… a cover? A nice little decorative bench seat around it? Some wild flowers? No way to get the water out, in other words. This inarticulateness really bugs me, but the cure for being unable to speak is to keep talking, and talk… louder. And, so I continue.

To that end, I’ve also listened – equally, doubly important. This morning I listened to a round-table discussion on Writing The Other with three writers of color, discussing the importance of practice, of failing, and of not holding minority communities responsible for your wanting to tell their stories. This is important to me – still and always – as a person of color, because my current Kinda Finished Work features a person who is part of the albinism community, and a Latino character. I don’t feel like I necessarily need an empathy-check on writing these characters as human beings, but it’s been empirically shown this year that people of color can still mess up – COLOSSALLY FAIL, even – if they don’t check in with the people whose voices they’re borrowing, so to speak. And so, the plan is to check in… once I get past this mushy, “I think I hate this” spot. Eventually.

(What’s really niggling with me right now is less writing minority experiences ignorantly, but writing, I guess, feminism coherently. There is a metaphor about teen girls as blank canvases that makes my main character kind of an extended metaphor – and she kind of is, but she’s also a character, so she’s kind of is not. Her albinism is being used to underscore that metaphor, but I’m still not sure it works. ANYWAY. Book mechanics!)

Part of my intentional resolutions for this new year is participation – I’d like to go to another writing conference, somewhere, and listen and talk about ideas and writing. Last week, I let out into the light of …social media, if not “day,” the idea I’ve had and written and rewritten for a science fiction novel. I’ve kind of been discouraged by my agent about speculative fiction — on his website, Secret Agent Man flatly states he doesn’t read it and has let me know that the editor with whom I work at Knopf has no experience in it, either. Since “Contemporary YA sells” (Thanks, John Green), the interest in it from my people has been less than faint, and so I’m kind of at sea… but on the other hand, thinking positively, I now have the opportunity to work with new people. I may even use a different configuration of my name, just to keep things straight. I’m determined, especially after listening to people writing under the hashtag #YAWithSoul, that there really does need to be more representation of marginalized groups in science fiction and fantasy. I’ve been fiddling with this novel FOR YEARS and — I’ve decided it’s going to be the next one I work on. I’m hoping it feels riskier than it is.

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Finally, there’s a potential move on the horizon – another international relocation. I tend to lose my ability to write in the panic of packing and unpacking. This time, I’m a.) going for less panic (“Well… good luck with that,” Anxiety says, examining her nails), and also intentionally going to carve out some time for my brain — and at least write some poetry or SOMETHING to start processing things sooner. More information on that as it happens.

(And, hopefully, cake. Soon.)

So, those are my new writing thoughts for the new year. What are new year thoughts?