{my kinda guy}

Soo, the other day was Tech Boy’s birthday, and the ritual Pratchett book was received (Sir Terry really is a helpful man, frequently having a book released in September) and then the Boy sat down on the couch, and …read.

And that was all.

And, on the phone the next day, when his brother called and asked, “So, didn’t you do anything for your birthday?” the Boy said, “Well, yeah, I told you. I read all day.”

Blessed are those who can see a day of reading for the gift it truly is.

{the fifth freedom}

That time of year again, the time to consider all the reasons thinking parents and teachers and librarians take their courage into their hands, breathe deeply, and trust people to read whatever they’d like, and then unleash those readers onto the world.

This concept only doesn’t take courage if you’re not a person in charge of the character formation of others.* I expect it must be difficult at times to realize that the world shoots information into a child’s ears and eyes at a rate which cannot be matched by the sane and rational and safe adults in their midst. Parents give birth and realize that Thing One or Thing Two comes with its own personality and its own ideas, and that though they can guide it, it’s only theirs for a given value of theirs. Children are never owned.

And then, they grow up and adults who are trying to own their brains and the brains of their child’s classmate, with loving intent, I am very sure, try to block them from reading certain things.

Book banning is appallingly, gallingly easy for me to understand. I am a total control freak. I could see, if I were the parent of a Thing of my own, that I would want all to be perfect for it. I would want it to be ultimately happy, successful and wise, and it would cause me some moments of …Hmm, should they really be reading that? if I saw my imaginary child with a book I hated — or feared. Imagine my young Thing wanting to read Twilight? or some V.C. Andrews? Or some Kurt Vonnegut? Imagine my eight year old Thing wanting to read The Graveyard Book or the newest Lane Smith that has that questionable-word-punchline?

Would I, like my parents, figure that for Christian reasons they should control my reading and restrict it to nonfictional channels, hoping to fix my mind on “whatever is true?” Would I storm my Thing’s classroom and demand the the principal, the board, the district chair make that evil teacher stop giving those innocent children such immoral books that deal with witches and vampires and zombies and unicorns?

It comes down, for me, to this question: Do I really believe in freedom of choice?

Every year, I am glad for this week which makes me think of first The Four Freedoms – not just Roosevelt’s speech, but the Rockwell paintings which illustrate those freedoms, and then I ponder what I think of as the fifth one – freedom to choose. Every year, I question myself. May I continue to be able to examine my own motives – even if someday my kids are non-imaginary – and say, “Yes. I believe.

It’s a hard question, the question of freedom not just for yourself, but allowing that to others who are yours to supervise and oversee and guide. If you’re a parent, you must think about it carefully. If you value freedom for all, you know what the right answer is, yes?

Happy Banned Books Week.

* I am always galled when people who have no children in a school or district, no responsibility for anyone’s children (except in their own heads where obviously they’ve elevated themselves to the position of Village Elder in that allegorical village that it takes to raise a child) and/or no reason to snatch books from library shelves and black-out “bad” words and otherwise get all het up based on some idea of alleged moral superiority — I do loathe seeing those people get involved with book bans. Their “who will save the children” mentality — and their need to make sure we all know it will be THEM and likeminded people who saves everyone – that really troubles me. Such community blowhards have nothing to do with the kids, to my mind. It’s all about control over other people. I want to tell them, “Cut that out. Get a hobby. Sit down and read a book!”

{jump on it}

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You know, it’s a funny thing how many of my friends and peers have had recent good news. Last weekend my writing partner got her black belt in Taekwondo. My poetry sister Liz was nominated awhile back for the 2010 PEN USA Literary Award and her book All the World was honored as a finalist. Blogging buddy Karen, who is hosting Poetry Friday this week, was jazzed to note her new book’s birthday this past week. An expat writer friend, Liz Gatland, whom y’all might know her by her maiden name, which is Elizabeth Wein – has just sold a book to a British publisher after living here for ages. Code Name Verity is a fabulous name for a WWII epic involving women flyers. Can’t wait for that one in the Spring of 2012. Just yesterday, a writing partner floated her first novel to an agent – and the agent is excited about this deliciously involved fantasy-mystery. I am jonesing for the rest of the world to read it.

So much good news. And I always think to myself that none of it would have come about without some nail-biting, some stomach churning, and the taking of some risks. Author (and former classmate) Tara Austen Weaver (The Butcher and the Vegetarian) blogged recently about how many things she missed out on because she didn’t sign up, didn’t think she’d win so didn’t try. She makes some good points about risking for gain – and about what a difference it makes in your life to actually get out and toss your hat into the ring. Writing can seem weirdly competitive – full of contests and deadlines and other people wishing they had your opportunities — but the truth is, the opportunities are the same. It’s just what we do with them that makes a difference. And for Elizabeth, Karen, Liz, Yat Yee and Anne, the difference was that they shouldered their fears to the wall and pushed past.

So, thinking of them brought this poem to mind. Here’s to living without hesitation, writers.

Against Hesitations

If you stare at it long enough

the mountain becomes unclimbable.

Tally it up. How much time have you spent

waiting for the soup to cool?

Icicles hang from January gutters

only as long as they can. Fingers pause

above piano keys for the chord

that will not form. Slam them down

I say. Make music of what you can.

~ Charles Rafferty

The Man on the Tower and Where the Glories of April Lead are two poetry collections by this author you should check out. Poetry Friday is at Karen Edmisten’s Shockingly Named Blog.

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Carpe Diem. Now.

{Congratulations to Lady Jane (Yolen)!}

“Why am I working so hard? Going for 400 books, perhaps, but who’s really counting? Maybe in 10 years. Maybe if I live long enough. Maybe if I still have a head that works in old age. Maybe if I can just, following the Asimov model, type faster.”

How did I miss it? As of yesterday, when the piece showed up in the Huffington Post, Our Jane has written her three hundredth book.

Three hundred. That’s a three, two zeros. 300.

I suspect she did not do it by futzing around on the internet much of the day. Which means I’m going to stop typing this in a couple of sentences and get back to work. But — three hundred. It’s a staggering, gobsmacking amount. Poetry. Picture books. Chapter books. Novels. Three hundred books.

And she remembers them all, of course.


However did she do it? Butt In Chair, obviously.


No, it’s not about the number — I don’t think I’ll live long enough to write three hundred books, not with the way I seem to have to agonize over each and every one. I lack the temperament. The confidence, too, probably. It’s not the number, but it’s the commitment she has, and, too, the surety that though there will be rejections and interruptions, that this is her work, that she has a perfect right to it without feeling foolish or silly or thinking she would be better to play with the grandkids or clean the house.

Jane Yolen is a writer, and she owns it.

Of course, if you read her occasional journal you will see that she had to go a long way to get there, just as we all do. It’s a three-step-forward, two steps back sort of thing that must be possible only to those most sincere and serious about moving forward… I met a lady just the other night who, in the course of a break in chorus rehearsal, asked what I do, and instead of the polite and pained look I sometimes get when I tell people I write for young adults (No “Oh, like that J.K. Rowling, hm?” from her) her eyes lit up, and she gripped my shoulder and said, with great longing, “Ohhh.”

M. loves writing short stories, but she says, in her lilting Scots brogue, “Well, there’s a bit of dignity to it, isn’t there, for someone like you? You’re published.” And so, just like that, she pretends she doesn’t long to write stories because it’s not dignified to tell the kids to go play and to let the house go so she can fuel her dreams.

Writers, writers, writers. We must believe that this is our passion, and our privilege, and that it’s not just okay to do it, but that it’s our … calling. Or else, we’ll never make it. — Not “get published,” you’ll note I didn’t say that. We’ll never move forward or “make it” as happy, well rounded fulfilled people who are doing what they want to do.

Right. Enough of that chat. Back to work, kids.

x-posted in part (without all of the personal rambling, just a nice congratulation) @ Finding Wonderland.

{three steps forward, two steps back}


Because my writing group “meets” on Friday, Monday is one of the more difficult work days for me, at least when my work is up for critique. I set things aside for the weekend, but know that Monday means reading through line edits and commentary from my compatriots, and seeing through their eyes where I’ve fallen short in what I’m endeavoring to portray.

This past Friday there were so many questions asked about the political and military systems in my science fiction novel that I’m actually kind of dreading getting to work. Part of the problem is that my readers are reading the story episodically, only a few chapters a month, with long pauses in between — and the other issue is that not all of them are sci-fi geeks like I am. Their questions are good ones, but I am beginning to seriously question my own storytelling ability if they can’t tell a space station from a planet. (Granted: the activity thus far is all taking place indoors, not out on any planet surface, so they can be excused for being confused, but…) As always happens when I start wondering about myself, whispery, niggling questions become fifty foot speakers blaring doubts into my subconscious: You should probably just stick to historical fiction or something – it’s what people like from you. You can’t really write science fiction anyway — I mean, that’s not really an African American thing. Have you ever noticed there’s only one leading brown person cast per show on Star Trek? (Think about that, peeps – Originals to NextGen all the way through to DS9.) African Americans don’t even do steampunk. Why are you going where you’re not wanted? What do you know about science and technology and robotics? Your fight scenes are totally implausible, and no one will want to read this novel.

Welcome to the killing fields that reside in my brain.

It’s amazing how simple questions can just throw you – and throw you hard. Geez, it’s just a tiny thing, but it makes me want to sit down like a toddler in the middle of the mall, say “NO” and not go any further. What’s wrong with me? I don’t know what to say except that the minute I start asking myself stupid stuff like this, I know I have to push through. I know I’m doing something different and novel and unusual for me, which means there’s an opportunity for growth and innovation and to change the minds of people who actually think the way my mental ghetto does — and I want to take that opportunity.

I have a good writing group. Tech Boy has promised to read for me later this week. So, I really should be getting on with things, right?

I will. In a minute. First, though, I’m in the mood for some Milay.


I must not die of pity; I must live;
Grow strong. not sicken; eat, digest my food,
That it may build me, and in doing good
To blood and bone, broaden the sensitive
Fastidious pale perception: we contrive
Lean comfort for the starving, who intrude
Upon them with our pots of pity; brewed
From stronger meat must be the broth we give.
Blue, bright September day, with here and there
On the green hills a maple turning red,
And white clouds racing in the windy air!-
If I would help the weak, I must be fed
In wit and purpose, pour away despair
And rinse the cup, eat happiness like bread.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’m kicking over the cup of despair and dumping it on the stairs. Enough with the pity party; on with the work.

Woodlands 36 HDR

Keep climbing.

{just call me “Angel of the Morning (Pages).” Or, not.

Sorry for the muzak reference. Bad Seventies Things have taken over my head today. (I guess I should a.) look up what the real song is, b.) who sings it, c.) and thus get it stuck in my head for life? No. Just remembering my mother’s flirtation with Easy Listening when I was a kid is bad enough, thanks.)

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I recently passed along a piece from the blog Write For Your Life to my writing group. The piece on “morning pages” was based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and according to this piece, morning pages are “three pages of stream of consciousness writing that you do every morning. The intention is to clear your mind of all the annoying claptrap that buzzes around, getting in the way of your creativity.”


So, I asked my writing group — three of whom are published writers, one a journalist, one an award-winning short story writer — what they thought of that. I asked if they used morning pages, or something like that, to clear away their cobwebs before they set in to writing.

The response? A wincing, “every single day?!”, a disbelieving, “why would I do that?!,” a rather polite “sounds like an interesting idea,” and my favorite response, hysterical laughter.

Um, yeah.

I have to say I love it when my writing group is in sync with me.

We bounced the idea around of freewriting and what it does for us, but none of us could face the idea of doing three pages of writing like that, every single regimented day. The idea – even for the promised goal of improving ourselves – felt confining and a lot like the crappy busywork we got assigned in the fourth grade when our teacher had a headache.

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I have a hard time with regimentation of any kind. I force myself to the gym a minimum of three days a week. I have to remind myself to brush my teeth. I sometimes remind myself that at least things like deodorant and putting on something beneath a t-shirt ::cough:: are automatic now, but boy — I really remember fifth grade when my mother despaired of me. I just can’t seem to get into a groove very easily. At least, not doing things that are supposed to be routine; I often can’t even be bothered to eat lunch until 3:30 or so.

Sadly, I tend to run up against this same feeling of put-upon confinement when I encounter …well, any writing advice. When I graduated from college, my favorite professor gave me a copy of a book called, If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. In it, I read that she subscribes to the theory of moodling along, coddling creativity by happily doing nothing in particular. Okay, I can agree with that. Unfortunately, she advocated doing that “moodling” by taking several long walks a day.


I like walking all right, but I don’t think it makes me more creative. Walking usually makes me hot, unless it’s nice and windy out, and then I enjoy the sensation of being all sweaty with a cold face. (It’s actually quite nice, and we get 70 mph gales here – that’s actually a lot of fun to walk in, and yes I know I’m weird. Hush up.) If I took several long walks a day, I fear I would never finish anything much – including simple things like laundry and making meals. While I’m find living on toast and wearing wrinkled sweats, I’m not sure how successful a writer that would make me, not really.

The proof should be in the doing, yes? I mean, I manage to write because I enjoy sitting down and writing. And when I don’t enjoy it, I frown a lot and mutter, and do it anyway — because I know I’m just at a spot where things aren’t working, and if I backtrack a half a chapter or so and change a few things, usually things turn out all right.

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Would that kind of insight be easier with a walk? Or morning pages?

I don’t know. The reason I bring this up is that I’m planning on re-reading all the writing books I have. If they don’t actually contain any helpful information — avast — to the library they shall go. Maybe someone else will be able to get something out of them.

(Why is it that people give writers books on writing advice? Besides the Ueland, I have Bird by Bird, a few more text-book-y types, and a bunch of Annie Dillard, too.) It’s time to make some space on my shelves – past time, with another Cybils coming up – and so I am doing An Almighty Weeding.

But, tell me about you: what do you do with your early morning hours? What writing books have you found useful? What daily practices – if any – make sense to you and inform your writing? Where did you donate all of your unwanted writing books??