Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Score two . . .

. . . for the Russian tweens, bringing more people to my site than any other weird search term.

If anybody out there's looking for a freelancer to do search engine optimization, a little keyword magic, I'm clearly ready. The more times I gratuitously use the phrase "Russian tweens" in my blog, the more people I can disappoint world-wide. Power of blogging, people.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Born on the 4th of July!

Endless congratulations to my friends, now parents to the girl born on the fourth of July!

They've worked to articulate why and how they want a child in their lives -- more than most couples who have babies of their own. The process takes patience, equanimity, and exhaustive self-reflection. The baby's room has been ready for months. Now it has an occupant.

And she has two amazing fathers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Scribble scrabble

Despite the melancholy tenor of my last post, it's great to be back in Chicago, and back in That's Weird, Grandma! starting tomorrow.

If you come, I'll be your "mouse-like little Ghost Friend."

Also, distance can be fun . . .

Like when your friends come back in town and you get to celebrate them not expiring in a canyon.

Or when your super-talented classmate reads your entire messy manuscript and gives you some much-needed reassurance that you're not a complete fool, and that you can, and should, work it out.

Or when you play a real-time game of Scrabulous on Facebook with a friend in another state because you don't really feel like going out. I spent a good two or three hours chatting and scrabbling last night with a long-time-no-seen friend from college. I laughed to the point of spitting on myself. The sweet (and perhaps shameful) part is, we never had a conversation that lasted that long in person. I was surrounded by so many good people in school (and so unsettled in myself) that I didn't get to know half of them as well as I wish I had. But it's never too late.

Moving to and from LA, doing a low-residency grad program, and shuffling up my relationships, have all led to the most wired year of my life . . . a year in which, as I've mentioned before, I've made more new friends in a short time than I thought to be possible post-college -- many of whom I can only keep up with online. Internet communication has its limits, but they're neither as many nor as daunting as I used to think.

Thank you, friends!

Thank you for making me laugh.
Thank you for making me brave.
Thank you for not dying.

Currently reading: The Minister's Daughter by Julie Hearn

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One moon

I'm having one of those nights where I'm painfully aware that many of the people I love are scattered all over the planet.

One moon, right? That's what they told us at summer camp.

One moon that happens to be just a tiny red sliver right now.

One moon over Alabama. One enormous moon hanging over Chicago, and New York, and Austin, and Ecuador. Louisville, Shanghai, and Santa Fe. Many moons over California. One over Jonathan and Sarah's moving van that I helped pack last night, over Roger and his family making their way, like the moving van, to Maine. One creeping slowly across the southern states, watching my friends make words sing.

I eat books like moon pies

I'm midway through my third novel in two days. Today, I'm reading Godless by Pete Hautman, the National Book Award winner about teens who turn the town water tower into a god. Yesterday, I finished Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsberg, which I hadn't read since childhood.

It's funny to compare my memory of the book with the book itself. I hadn't remembered the positive resolution, only the disillusionment when the girls give up on witchcraft because I had been so on board with the fantasy and didn't want it to end.

Also, in my memory I'd given extra weight to the scene in which it's plainly stated for the first time that Jennifer is black. Her mother's come to see her in the Christmas pageant, and Elizabeth picks her out because she's the only black mother present. This is a book from 1967, and it's pretty cool that a cross-race friendship is handled in such a subtle way (in the edition I just read, Konigsberg's word, "Negro," has been changed to "Black," but the original gives a sense of how old this book really is).

Jennifer's illustrated as being black in the book, but I remember reading that scene as a child and still being surprised and attributing importance to it. In my memory, that scene occurred near the climax, which isn't the case at all.

Even though there's no suggestion of racism in the book, I felt worried for Jennifer. She's portrayed as an outcast, although no more so than Elizabeth, and she hides the fact that her father's a caretaker on a wealthy family's estate. Elizabeth's one of the only kids in town who lives in an apartment building. There are certainly hints of racism and class difference floating around, but they're super subtle.

The revelation that Jennifer was black probably affected me so much as a kid because there weren't any black students at my Alabama private school -- diversity meant the one Jewish kid, Elliot, whose mother always taught us how to play dreidel before winter break -- and I'd probably never read a book with a black character, or at least not one where race wasn't the central issue of the book. Go E.L. Konigsberg! Her subtlety, the space she leaves for the reader, is at least part of the reason this book stuck in my head as a kid, why I read it aloud to my little sister, and why I'm coming back to it now as a an adult.

The other funny thing I hadn't remembered about this 1967 book is how many references there are to cigarettes -- some of the kids at Elizabeth's school even dress up as cigarette boxes for Halloween. No big deal.

Monday, July 21, 2008

On a jet plane

Sitting in the Birmingham Airport, on my way back to Chicago, there's no denying third semester's underway. I need a first draft of my critical thesis by August 11th.

Partly because of this, I'm thinking of suspending word counts for the time being, maybe indefinitely. I've liked posting them (especially when they're big), but I'm getting deep into revision territory even in my creative work, and I don't know that quantity's the best measure of my work right now.

For my thesis I'm looking at books in which middle-grade-aged protagonists use fantasy or imagination to empower themselves, along with the attitudes adults bring to writing about childhood imagination. So far, my reading list includes:

The Witches of Worm and nearly anything else by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth
The Lord of the Flies
The Other Shepards
The White Darkness

I'd love book suggestions if you've got them!

During residency, I came to consider that I may have been writing two novels side by side, one with a 5th grade protagonist, and one 10th grade. I've been writing so much back-story and twisted chronology, and the story's gotten darker as I've been writing, so that I'm no longer convinced all the pieces belong together. I suspect that writing so much just opened the floodgates -- I've certainly got enough "issues" in my novel to warrant more than one. So, I hope to simplify.

Lucky me will be working on all of this with my new advisor, smart lady Uma Krishnaswami.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

One more kitty

"I'm Y.A. and I'm O.K." by Margo Rabb in the NY Times, all about the blurred line between YA and adult fiction, condescension towards YA, and what's to be found in YA. Via Varian.

About that class name

As Ginger posted (the pic here is hers), our class had fun, maybe a little too much fun, choosing a name. Traditionally, the third semester students in my Vermont College program choose and announce a class name during residency.

They don't traditionally chalk the entire campus with weird little symbols, leading Sharon Darrow to speculate that the city's putting in a new sewer line, or get Tobin Anderson to plant said symbols in his lecture slides. They don't traditionally pass out weird little hints on scrolls with burnt edges at the party, nor do they traditionally hang their logo out a fourth floor window, but we did all those things.

When kids from the local day camp asked me what the logo meant, I pointed to an alum under a tree and told them I couldn't risk her overhearing.

"Does she spy a lot?" a boy asked.

I nodded, and he understood.

The S cubed, Q squared stands for The Super Secret Society of Quirk and Quill, AKA The Quills. Something along the lines of this name popped into my head during my pre-res shower at the Holiday Inn, but the final version (and the decades of lore we've now attached to it) was a true collaborative effort.

We revealed our class name by candlelight in College Hall Chapel, marching towards the organ chanting, "I do not like green eggs and ham," and smacking our foreheads with placards.

Prepare for your memory to be erased and this post to self-destruct, because everything I've just said is super secret. Shhhhh!

Here, kitty, kitty . . .

In my world . . .
Ginger posted regarding the naming of our class at Vermont College.

Gwenda posted about the party at residency. Want to know how fun it was? Check out that poster on the wall. I defy you to find something unfun about Dean Cain.

Through the Tollbooth has a ton of posts about the recent alumni weekend that took place during residency at Vermont, starting with this one from Tami Brown.

Varian posted some res pics as well.

A new student at VCFA, Dawn Buthorn, has a blog that chronicles her writing journey starting with applying to MFA programs. I like the post where, out of all the places that accepted her, she chooses Vermont. Well done, Dawn!

. . . and the world at large . . .
Just discovered the Guys Lit Wire, focused on bringing "literary news and reviews to the attention of teenage boys and those who care about them." Contributors include YA columnist for Bookslut, Colleen Mondor, Kelly Herold of Big A little a and The Edge of the Forest, Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and fellow VC'ers, Gwenda Bond and David Elzey, among others.

Participate in a study from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, that seeks to understand how and why people participate in the arts. This can help arts organizations understand their audiences better. More info about it on the Monkey Blog.

I just found out what my heartthrobs Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion are up to . . . Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I told them I can't marry them both, but they really like each other, so we might just work it out.

Libba Bray likens writing a book to falling in (and out) of love; Justine Larbalestier claims it's more like dealing with the devil.

And finally . . . Knitting that's not for the faint of heart. Thank you, Tutaj.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


So, I'm a zombie now. I don't remember how it happened (I don't remember dinner), but I think one ate my brains a couple days ago. That's the only explanation I can think of for my slurred speech, black-hole eyes, and rigid, twitching leg muscles. Rigor mortis has set in, my skin's a mess, and I can't begin to think of a third thing to end this sentence. Zombies don't have any use for the rule of three.

Sue, Varian, and Erik are currently trying to decide whether to use an axe, a bullet to the brain, or electricity to do the job. Friendship means not letting you go on a murderous, brain-eating rampage just because you haven't slept or exercised in nine days.

I'm filling out my end-of-residency evaluations, and by graduation tomorrow afternoon, I will have attended 17 lectures, 6 workshop sessions, and 5 talks by visiting writers; I will have attended roughly 10 readings and given 2.

When you kill me, remember to separate my head from my body so I won't regenerate. Thanks guys.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stupid smart

Yesterday at residency, two men with giant brains gave lectures on plotting -- Tim Wynne-Jones, author of the brazilliant Rex Zero series, and Tobin / M.T. Anderson, 2006 National Book Award winner for The Astonishing LIfe of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party. They can write. They can teach. And they sure know how to sell a stuffed cow.

Some generous students and alumni put a lot of money towards VC's scholarship fund last night. Folks stayed late into the night even though we're all stupid tired.

And as long as we're using stupid as an adjective, it's stupid gorgeous outside right now. My roomie Jess and I are putting off going inside.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How did I get so lucky?

It's Residency Eve. Larissa and I are snuggled all warm in our beds at the South Burlington Holiday Inn, and tomorrow we and Sue and Carol take a cab to Montpelier.

How did I get so lucky? My program draws the most lovely, fascinating people. Larissa's been flying for two days from Shanghai, with Hello Kitty in tow.

Carol's a former superintendent and Paris ex-pat, now living in New Orleans, canvassing for Obama, and saving the world one social circle at a time. After dinner with them, I'm so excited to get started with res that I'm having trouble sleeping.

Over the last two semesters, I've studied with pretty fantastic people . . . fabulous workshop leaders: Tim Wynne-Jones, Ellen Yeomans, Uma Krishnaswami, and Leda Schubert. This time, it's Margaret Bechard and Shelley Tanaka.

I should have given her a shout-out here long ago, but my first semester advisor, Kathi Appelt (who was already clearly a rockstar in so many ways) has been getting huge praise for her latest book, The Underneath. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has one of so many fantastic reviews.

I've learned and received so much support in the past year from both her and my second semester advisor, Sharon Darrow. Kathi asked me big picture questions, encouraged experimentation, invited me to write "like your fingers are on fire," and had an eerie knack for sending me to books that worked on me. Sharon had me slow down, play with diction and syntax, shake up my point of view, get closer to my character. Sharon's a believer in the magic of Vermont College, that you get the advisor you need when you need them. So far for me that's been true. And within the next ten days, I get a third . . . What?

It's seriously better than Christmas.

If anyone stumbles across this blog and wants more info. about the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at The Vermont College of Fine Arts, shoot me an email: and ask away. Just don't ask me to temper my enthusiasm.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Goodbye, Garden of Eden

The sun sets on the beach -- on Birmingham as well. I'm off to Vermont College, and I believe I'm ready. Going to res is a little like going to summer camp, except with lectures, and a higher percentage of introverts, and no one to make you go to bed.

I went to summer camp for about seven years as a kid, for two weeks at a time. These residencies are shorter than that -- ten days. Leaving camp, I would always cry with the rest of the girls when they played, "A friend's a friend forever, if the Lord's a Lord of him," or something sung by Amy Grant.

(Yes, I went to a camp run by Alabama baptists who banned Disney's Little Mermaid because it portrayed a girl in a bikini breaking a commandment by disobeying her father -- but that's a story for another blog, or, hey, maybe a book.)

At the end of camp, I would always cry and hug the other girls, even though my best friends at camp were my same friends at home, and I never made a camp friendship that lasted beyond those two weeks. When I leave Vermont, I cry -- usually from lack of sleep -- but I do consider the people I've met there friends, real, live, tell-you-my-secrets, come-to-my-wedding, sleep-on-my-couch-for-a-week friends. And I get to see three of them tomorrow! I'll be spending the night pre-res at a hotel in Burlington, so for once I won't be starting the residency exhausted.

I've largely taken a writing vacation between semesters here, blogging excepted, and I don't expect to get much of any kind of writing done at residency, though being there always makes me eager to write. I'll try to update, but it might be sparse.

Very excited! Must sleep.

Currently reading: Skellig by David Almond, and I've also started, perhaps unwisely, The Memoirs of Cleopatra, historical fiction by Margaret George. I do not have time to read this book. I write my critical thesis this semester, which means plenty of school-related reading, and this book's a hefty 957 pages. I'm telling myself that reading a few pages a night won't take time away from the kids' lit. and YA, and I'm really feeling the need for some adult fiction in my diet.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Oh, Tom, tell me again how it is with the sublime

Have to say I loved The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, and I'd recommend it to adults, not just young ones. A girl on an adventure in Antarctica has an imaginary romance with the explorer Titus Oates who died in 1910. I love stories that play with reality like this -- bring the present together with the past, or with mythology or legend. Because the first couple lines might persuade you to read it, I'll quote them:
I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now -- which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and then the age difference won't matter.

Love it.

McCaughrean's book also introduced me to a Napoleon quotation that may earn the dubious distinction of becoming my life's theme: "There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous," or, "Du sublime au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas."

In doing a little googling, I found out that Napoleon was loosely quoting Thomas Paine: "The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related, that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime, makes the ridiculous; and one step above the ridiculous, makes the sublime again."

Napoleon apparently slept with a copy of The Rights of Man under his pillow and said of Thomas Paine, "a statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe." So I think he liked him.

If you'll excuse me, I'm now going to go have an imaginary, out-of-time romance with Thomas Paine.

Narcissistic, histrionic, antisocial, schizoid

Sometimes I like to pretend I'm in grad school for another discipline. So I'm currently reading Personality Disorders in Modern Life by Theodore Millon and Roger Davis, a textbook my sister picked up in a psychology class. It's not a bad resource for writers. Super fascinating. Although dangerous, because it's too fun to decide what disorders everyone you've ever known would have if they had a personality disorder, which probably they don't, but what if they do? What if I do?

Psychology is dangerous and fun. I think the title of this post would be fun to sing to a driving rhythm a la R.E.M. "End of the World."

Yesterday, I also read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, since my class will discuss it and White Darkness at residency. Good Masters! is a series of monologues and scenes with roles for 23 children. Reading it gave me so many ideas for directing that I'm thinking about looking for a teaching gig that would allow me to stage a production of it, so there's my endorsement. It's also pretty inspiring for writing since it handles a lot of historical information in a unique form. It's empowering to see someone writing outside the box.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mostly like cousins

My family's been vacationing in Florida for most of my life. Here we are in the eighties. Awww.

It's been a long time since we came to the beach alone. This marks the twentieth year we've been coming to Florida with two other families -- I've only missed one summer in all that time. There's a girl my age in each family. One has a younger brother born a day apart from my sister, in the same hospital. The other has a sister only two years younger. The six of us grew up sharing each other's parental quirks and sibling rivalries. As 4th grader Sejla would say, we're "mostly like cousins, but not cousins."

We know this beach routine so well, we can predict who'll be first to the beach, who will be last to dinner, who will get cranky mid-week, and who'll have the most trouble leaving. There'll be new adventures too -- this year, there's competitive parking, playing Wii Fitness for hours in a monsoon, and of course, the frogs.

We've been visiting our favorite restaurants-- since we add more each year, it's starting to feel like a foodie tour of Walton County down here -- Red Bar, Bud and Alley's, Basmati's, and new this year, Fish out of Water.

Thursday, though, we'll be staying in. Thursday we do our annual New Orleans-style shrimp boil. We'll all crowd into one condo. The "kids" will sit outside, and the only (but not for long) kid of a "kid," June's son, will play with the sliding glass door between groups and fall asleep on a pallet on the floor.

Today, I watched him build a sandcastle on the beach, and it hit me how quickly a week goes by here. At the same time, all the years blend together, so it feels like we've picked up where we left off, been here forever. Run it all together, and our families have spent five months here -- five months of time jumps. I've watched June's son grow in spurts over the last three years. The collapsing effect makes it seems fast, but when I think about where I was three years ago, how much ground I've covered since then, it really is epic.

Florida's a hall of mirrors for me. It makes me confront all my former selves. And I do it in the presence of not one but three families. Confronting history, confronting family . . . both good (even though both sometimes feel like having your brains scooped out with a dessert spoon and served to you on a plate with Basmati's ginger ice cream).

That's not a complaint. The good part's really good, and the ginger ice cream is spectacular.

Mmm. Brains . . . brains from your past . . . from your future . . .

Yesterday I wrote 832, new, and had fun with it. None for Wednesday. Spent some quality time with my sis and what may have been our last non-rainy day at the beach.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Frog songs

Tonight, we made friends with the tree frogs that live in the marsh outside our building. We hear them singing all night, but up close, they sing so loud you have to yell to be heard over them. And their bodies work away like little bellows.

My sister, Laura Wilson, took the video and lovely pics. Only after we'd been listening for about half an hour did the sound work its way into me so that it sounded like a perfect, "Ribbit, ribbit," and once I'd heard it that way, I couldn't stop hearing it.

I wrote 622 new words today, partly during my twenty minutes alone with a giant storm this morning before the rest of the family woke up. I love writing in rain, and this was major -- sheets of grey and occasional lightning were all I could see with rivers pouring past the windows off the roof. I also got an idea for a picture book, that until anybody tells me differently (or until I wake up and look at my notes tomorrow) I'm going to refer to as "the brilliant picture book idea." Doesn't that sound good?

Currently reading (since Saturday): The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean