Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy 2011!

Let's start with a font joke, shall we? I love font jokes.

2011 will be quite a year, I believe. Aren't they all? Most interesting piece of writing wisdom from 2010: it feels *really* weird to voluntarily take all the f-bombs out of a manuscript. Don't know if it will stay that way, but I wanted to try it.

Happy New Year, friends! Thanks for reading along. Here's to more hilarity and more stories in 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Outlaw boots, pair #5: Neesha Meminger

Friends, this month's pair of Outlaw Boots is early, but no less notable for its outlaw-ness. Neesha Meminger is the author of SHINE COCONUT MOON (a book I'm teaching in the spring, can't wait) and the released-last-week JAZZ IN LOVE. She is a Debs 09 Debutante, which is how I met her, and I have it on good authority (meaning I saw it happen) that she's been mistaken for Halle Berry. But Neesha is *way* more outlaw than Halle Berry.

Neesha writes about girls that not many people (if any) write about. Sam (SHINE) and Jazz are daughters of South Asian immigrants. Have you ever seen books about Indian-American girls? No, I didn't think so. The girls struggle with traditional teenage things--love, clothes, friends--but layered on top are cultural traditions and constrictions that will surprise any reader. Want to learn about identity struggles that shake you to your toes? These books are for you.

(Not to mention the fact that Neesha has published JAZZ IN LOVE in a unique and cool way--she's a true outlaw for that as well!)

Here's Neesha:

And here's why she's an outlaw:

--Who's your most outlaw character (in any book)--why?
Jazz, from JAZZ IN LOVE, is the biggest rebel I've written so far. She just keeps getting herself into bigger and bigger piles of doo-doo as she struggles to do what she wants while trying to hang on to the approval of her friends and family. She doesn't do a very good job of the latter, though. In following her own heart, she ends up alienating just about everyone she cares about, and then she has to decide if it's (he's) worth it.

--Are you an outlaw too? How do you know?

I am definitely an outlaw, for better or worse. I know because, like Jazz, I often find myself in big piles of doo-doo.

--What kind of shoes does your outlaw wear (you or your
character--maybe outlaw boots?)?

Jazz is definitely a sneaker gal--probably a wildly colored pair of Converse; while Sam, from SHINE, COCONUT MOON, is more of an Uggs type of gal--comfy, practical, yet still trendy. Me, I like clogs.

--Pirate, ninja, nerd, other outlaw title for you/your character:

Jazz refers to herself as an "academic rock star," or a "cool geek," and Sam is more of a stealth bomber--she comes at you sideways, and before you know what hit you, she's gone :).

--Best thing about being an outlaw:
You're probably happier than most inlaws. *heh heh*

--Favorite outlaw/badass food:
I'm a mostly-vegetarian who has been vegan at various points in her life, so my badass food has to be goat marrow. Seriously. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

--Favorite outlaw/badass role model/why:
The real Storm from X-Men because, dude--she can command the WEATHER.
(me talking: real Storm = better than Halle Berry (again!))

Neesha, you are amazing. Thank you for showing us your Outlaw Boots. Go, friends, and buy these books! Don't you have an outlaw on your Christmas list?

One more thing: those Chucks up above are my Chucks, but I figure Jazz would like them. But the new Chucks I want--right here. They say MUSIC IS MY LIFE--Gabe needs a pair!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Truth and chickens

I like knowing the truth, and I generally like putting it out there, whatever it is (it doesn't always go well, of course). Emily Dickinson, that wise old housebound poet, says we need to let the truth dazzle us gradually, or we'll be blind. Fair enough, but I prefer to have you lay it on me. Don't hold back.

Why am I thinking about this? First, student evals. Two nontraditional students ripped me a new asshole (or would that be new assholes, since there were two of them?) on anonymous evals. Again, fair enough, since I "wasted [your] money on bullshit!" So, why didn't you stop flapping your white wings and step up and tell me so we could negotiate? I am open to it--seriously--I want to make class OK for you. AND--this is what chaps my ass--why were you all nicey-nicey to my face all semester, in that horrible passive-aggressive way? I *hate hate hate* that. Just get it out there, people! Let's be honest!

Not claiming your truth = chickenshit behavior.

I realize American social conventions do not allow for truth. If people do say it, it's angry and awful and hurtful (as these evals were), and anonymous. Could we please have some cultural training in how just to say it without being mean? Kthxbye.

Secondly (and more interestingly): characters. Here are two I admire who ALWAYS tell the truth: Heath Ledger's Joker and (oh yes) Anton Chigurh, from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (the film version). These men are no-holds-barred, strafe-the-world types, not chickens in any way, and I envy them, as humans and as written creations. I marvel at how those characters are flat-out awful, but so straightforward in their agenda.

It may be that characters who tell the truth are villains, so I guess I'd better get cracking on some villains. I don't know if I'm talented enough to create a YA Anton Chigurh, but I will aspire. Off to do that now in my WIP, though on a much smaller scale.

And students: suck it up and tell me you hate it. Don't be chickens.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Desire + book = rehab

Friends, this has been quite a semester, for tons of reasons, none of which are worth going into here. Lots of people have wanted my attention, and I'm drained. One situation in particular has been hard: I took a friend to rehab.

She is 21, and has been using actively since she was 12. She is on Day 18 of sobriety, and she is alternately loving it and hating it. She's known for a long time it was rehab or death, and I agree with her wholeheartedly. I was waiting for the obit in the paper.

How did she get there? A desire not to die, and a book: BEAUTIFUL, by Amy Reed. That book is with her at rehab. I read it this last summer and told her about it, because BEAUTIFUL helped me understand why she used. Once she read it, BEAUTIFUL helped my friend understand how I felt about her drug/alcohol use, and how sad I was.

I love it when books do work like this. It's confirmation that words can help and heal, and that books will never die as an art form.

(could she have done this with a Kindle? maybe. but electronics aren't allowed at rehab, so the Kindle would have stayed home, ha ha!)

Go write and read those helpful books, OK? Buy them for Christmas presents! Give an addict a copy of BEAUTIFUL, and see if it doesn't help.

Tree drawing swiped from here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I am in full avoidance mode, I don't want to go to school, and I'm timing myself to see if I can write a coherent blog post in 10 minutes (ahem). Go.

IT'S DECEMBER! I love December. Here's why, in no particular order:

1) school break

2) school break = reading time!

3) school break = writing time!

4) my/my birthday twin's birthday, Elsie Yvonne Callahan (miss you, Grandma)

5) presents--buying them, but getting them, too

6) snow

7) school break (I love school, but I need an effing BREAK)

8) family get-togethers

9) the Vince Guaraldi Trio, who did the soundtrack to A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, love it

10)time to PEACE OUT and hang out with my BAMF self and watch X-FILES on Netflix

Oh--11--bowl games. GO HUSKERS.

I'm out of time, and very late. Happy December!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

early post: gratitude, of course

I wrote a post. It was too deep and convoluted. I scratched it.

Since I won't be near a computer this weekend, here are some things I am grateful for. There are only a zillion more, so it's just a sampling. I like living in gratitude, not that I succeed all the time, but I try. You waste less time plotting people's demises.

So, here goes:

1) the traditionals: health, family, friends, job (I'd like less of the job, please)

2) pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread/muffins, pumpkin pie Blizzards from DQ, and pumpkin malts from Culver's

3) books--they save me, help me, amuse me, annoy me, and make my life whole

4) the women in this photo--all 2009 Debs--and the diversity of thought and experience they brought me during our YALSA weekend this month

5) #4 repeated again and again, related to all my writer friends and acquaintances. I heart writers a million times over.

6) the TaTas, my writing group, who deserve awards for how good they make my writing

7) Flux, my publisher--awesome and extraordinary

8) my agent, Amy Tipton--also awesome and extraordinary

9) lemon water (do I always mention this? I think so)

10) my students, who give me amazing character ideas and make me laugh

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends. I'm grateful for you, of course.

In the photo, l to r in back: Neesha Meminger, me, Malinda Lo, Megan Frazer. In front, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Cynthea Liu, Lauren Bjorkman. We had a ton of fun!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dun dun dun--it's here!

OK! It only seems appropriate that I write about HP 7 today. If you're not a Harry Potter geek, I think you still know that the 7th film comes out today (part 1, anyway). I hope it lives up to the hype.

And now, stealing shamelessly from Tahereh Mafi, 5 reasons (each) why it would be cool to date an HP character:

1) bad boy
2) furry to cuddle with (and a dog takes up less space in a bed)
3) smart ass
4) cool kid, so I'd be cool by virtue of hanging out with him
5) good at hiding
This does not take into account the fact that he's spoiled, which is kind of a turn-off.

1) free time every month while he's werewolfing
2) gentle when he's not a werewolf
3) shabby = low maintenance
4) protection from the big V with his DADA skills
5) cool pets like grindylows

1) funny
2) funny
3) dorky
4) funny
5) big crazy family


WHY I'D NEVER DATE HARRY: eeeew. Too much like a brother.

It's always the books that have my heart--always!--but the movies will do, and it's fun to geek out once in a while. In my house, HP is like comfort food. No other book to read? Get out the HP discs, and let's listen (we're in love with Jim Dale, too). And it doesn't make you fat, like frozen pizza will.

OK! Hot-cha! Off to work so I can stand in line with a non-guilty conscience later. Woo woo!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Seven things I am doing instead of writing

Finding time to write these days is like finding a lost kitty--the reunion is joyous, but kitties are quite elusive, especially when it's noisy and chaotic. All I want is my skulls, my Black Hills, and my ghosts. Is that too much to ask? It seems to be. But Ray and Callie sit patiently on my table, waiting for me, as characters do (thank god--can you imagine if they got up and walked around? Eeek.).

Here's what I'm doing instead of writing, right this instant:

1) grading my students' discussion posts

2) listening to Stevie Wonder on the 70s music channel on my TV (this is no hardship)

3) listening to my kid play a video game my spouse lets him play, one that came out this week and I HATE it, but I lost that battle, no pun intended

4) gluing the treadmill key back together

5) reading A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS in preparation for teaching it (also not much of a hardship)

6) prepping for a reading tonight (also not much of a hardship, but it's 90 miles away)

7) wrapping birthday gifts for mailing

All of it serves a purpose, of course. BUT I NEED TO WRITE. I love my family, my students, the people who read my books, the people who need birthday gifts, all of it. I love what I do in life. BUT I NEED TO WRITE.

Hear me? I NEED IT.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kick me with an Outlaw Boot

I am sooooo embarrassed--I forgot author website links in my Outlaw Boots posts. I know I forgot it in Jon's post, but maybe even in all of them. : \ Instead of going back to check, I'm just going to try again.

Courtney Summers can be found here.

Kurtis Scaletta can be found here.

A.S. King can be found here.

And Jon Skovron can be found here.

I mean, what kind of a yo-yo forgets an author's website?



Graphic swiped from here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Outlaw boots, pair #4: Jon Skovron

In this month's installment of Outlaw Boots, we have classic outlaws: rock and roll heroes in the forms of Jon Skovron and Sammy, Jon's protagonist of STRUTS AND FRETS. If you are a music-is-my-soul kind of human, you must read STRUTS AND FRETS. Music is the thing that gets Sammy through--and through a lot. His grandfather is sick (my favorite parts of the book involve his grandfather), his best friend (Jen5, love that name) is maybe more than that, and, well, there's his band. Sammy is someone you will understand. And don't you love the title? Rock and roll and Shakespeare, all rolled up.

Here's the book.

Here's Jon.

And look next fall for MISFIT, Jon's second novel, with an even more significant badass outlaw. The one-sentence summary of MISFIT: "A half-demon girl in Catholic school must keep her parentage a secret as she learns to control her emerging abilities and protect those she loves from the forces of Hell." Can't get much more badass than that, now can you?

Without further ado, here's why Jon is an outlaw (and dig those black Doc Martens! Classic!):

--Who's your most outlaw character (in any book)--why?
Jael Thompson from my forthcoming book MISFIT. Because being a demon in Catholic school makes you an outlaw automatically.

--Are you an outlaw too? How do you know?
Not on purpose. It's just that there are so many rules that get in the way...

--What kind of shoes does your outlaw wear (you or your character--maybe outlaw boots?)?
A classic: black Doc Martin boots.

--Pirate, ninja, nerd, other outlaw title for you/your character:

--Best thing about being an outlaw:
Life is never dull.

--Favorite outlaw/badass food:
A New York slice, folded in half, eaten while walking.

--Favorite outlaw/badass role model/why:

It's a toss-up between Henry Miller and Oscar Wilde...Two very different guys, but they both stayed true to their creative spirit and boldly faced the consequences.

Go, friends--have a rock and roll break with STRUTS AND FRETS. You won't regret it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things I love this week

First and most obvious (if you are my FB friend, you know this already), this announcement from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:

"Kirstin Cronn-Mills's BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN, following a boy, who thinks he's the master of disguise because his given name is Elizabeth, and his weekly, hour-long radio show, where he entertains the world as his true self; pitched as Pump Up the Volume for this generation, to Brian Farrey at Flux, by Amy Tipton at Signature Literary Agency (World English). "

I AM SO STOKED. *This*, friends, is EPIC. I am here to convince the publishing world that a book with a trans man narrator will sell a zillion copies! A big task, but I'm up to it. Flux, you won't regret it. Thank you for your trust in me.

Second, this conversation:
Shae: Mom, you *have* to read this book [Riordan's new one, LOST HEROES, from his new series HEROES OF OLYMPUS).
K: why? [looks at him and his grin] You're dying to talk about it, aren't you?
Shae: YES! So just read it!
I love raising a reader.

Third: school break.
Fourth: school break.
Fifth: the novel I'm revising.
Sixth: school break.
Seventh: fall soccer in beautiful weather.
Eighth: dodging a bullet (you know that feeling? Said bullet may not be discussed here, but I dodged it, and holy crap, my heart hasn't slowed down since.)
Ninth: lemon water.
Tenth: you. : ) I always love you, friends!

Graphic stolen from here, a blog I now plan to read, and not just for its cool graphics.

Rock on, friends! Here's to new adventures with BEAUTIFUL MUSIC!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Epic-ness and skulls

Do you feel epic, friends?

Some days I do. Some days I think I can win the Internet, single-handedly make my books NYT bestsellers, make my students elect me for a Nobel Peace Prize, and raise my child to be Gandhi, while I also make gourmet dinners and provide all my loved ones with oodles of smooches and glittery unicorns carrying my affection for them.

Then there are days I definitely, positively, completely do not feel epic.

There are also days in between. I like those days. Today has yet to be determined. But I owe you a blog post.

The most epic thing in my life right now: Skull-A-Day. Have you seen it? We're in skull season now, with Day of the Dead coming up. Even better than Halloween, if you ask me.

Here's the epic part: Skull-A-Day is research now. Remember the buffalo book? There are now 100% more skulls in that book. I am hooked on epic skulls, and that blog has some crazy amazing ones.

Skull image from here. Thanks, Noah Scalin. You rock, and you are kind and generous. Can't wait to dig through your archives.

So: go be epic. Blog post accomplished.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Domestic violence and you . . . and me

I've been trying to figure out how to write this post for a couple weeks. First, the deets: it would be great, awesome, and cool if you could check out Swati Avasthi's auction (click the button above to get there). I donated a book and a critique, as did many other people who are cooler than me. Swati's book SPLIT is a wonderful, voice-y read, and it brings up many angles of a violent situation. Please check it out.

Second, why it matters to me to be a part of this: I've got domestic violence in my background. There were people who were hurt by others who in turn hurt me. Alcohol abuse, mental illness, and huge needs for control and dominance were part of it. It was mild, comparatively speaking, but it's given me a trick knee, which pops out and knocks me down sometimes. The great thing: now I get back up, which is a relatively recent skill. There were times I stayed on the ground forever.

One of my abusers is very sick now, and me and the trick knee are working it out. We mostly walk, though there is limping involved when I'm tired or overwhelmed. It's hard sometimes. I want to say: you didn't help me, why should I help you? But that's dumb. This person needs lots of love. And I can give it, most days, when there's no yelling involved.

I can't say what it's like for others. Forgiveness is a far reach sometimes, depending on the severity of things. But people change, and people are sorry. And abuse isn't about the person *being* abused. They're just a convenient target for all the hurt the abuser feels. When I learned this fact, it was a huge weight off my shoulders. And Swati's auction will send money to help abusers not be abusers.

Please check it out and help stop the violence before it starts. Do it for the people you know who are affected by domestic violence. And when I say "affected" I mean everything from people who are still living with it to people with trick knees.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Outlaw Boots, pair #3: A. S. King

Today’s Outlaw Boots are worn by A.S. King, an outlaw if I ever met one (photo of her boots supplied by Amy!). She is the esteemed author of THE DUST OF 100 DOGS (from Flux, so she is an imprint-mate) a fantastic story of PIRATES! and reincarnation and history, plus the anxiously awaited (starred review from Kirkus, woo woo!) PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, out very, very soon, and there’s a third one coming soon, but I don’t know the details. These books are for rebels everywhere. Her characters are independent, quirky, and unafraid, plus they find themselves in situations where you say, “huh?” Then you say, “hmmm,” and then you plunge back in, anxious to find out what’s next, because you can’t put her books down.

Saffron and Emer live behind the red/black cover, and Vera is behind the lime green (?) one. Spectactular art on both books, wouldn’t you say?

This is Amy.

And here are her Outlaw Boots:

--Who's your most outlaw character (in any book)--why?
Emer Morrisey--because she likes to take out people's eyeballs, probably. And she refused to be a kept woman.

--Are you an outlaw too? How do you know?
Yes. Becasue my actual nickname is "The Outlaw." I'm serious, too. Also, because I never do what I'm told. Which is probably how I got the nickname.

--What kind of shoes does your outlaw wear?
All of us wear boots. Big honking boots.

--Pirate, ninja, nerd, other outlaw title for you/your character (I think this one is a duh for you):
Uh. Pirate?

--Best thing about being an outlaw:
No one tells you when to go to bed. You can spit. It's a toss-up between them.

--Favorite outlaw/badass food:

Skittles for breakfast or, if no Skittles, Peanut Butter Capn' Crunch. (Emer's answer: you eating your own ear.)

--Favorite outlaw/badass role model/why:
Mickey & Mallory from Natural Born Killers. Why? Because like most outlaws, they have baggage that perfectly explains why they're outlaws. I love that the movie explores it and I love that the characters embrace their outlawness once they decide to go for it.

Read her, read her, read her. Read her now. You won’t be sorry. And now I’m going to sit by my mailbox and wait for my copy of PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. It's coming out NOW--go get it!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A love letter

Dear SKY readers:

After last week's post, I realized I forgot to give credit where credit is due--to whom do I owe my first published year (besides my awesome friends at Flux)? You, kind readers. You have been astoundingly generous and completely wonderful to me. Thank you for taking Morgan into your heart and understanding her. Thank you for carrying her around the world.

I hope you laughed, too. She's a drama queen, isn't she? But she means well.

With my love and gratitude--let's do it again sometime--


(graphic swiped from here)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yawp, yawp, yawp, yawp . . .

. . . yawp yawp YAWP!

First, anybody know who this handsome young dude is?

That's right! It's our friend Walt Whitman, also known to me and my students as Uncle Walt, sometimes Gay Uncle Walt. I truly, truly heart Uncle Walt. He is into excess (soooo many words!), he has a bit of an ego, plus he is wonderful at detail and is deeply, DEEPLY in love with the world. Plus, without him we couldn't have had lots of other fabulous poets, like William Carlos Williams and Alan Ginsburg.

Why Uncle Walt right here and now? These lines:

"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."

Those words are close to the end of his crazy-ass, wonderfully intense and immense poem "Song of Myself," from his book LEAVES OF GRASS, published in 1855 (he self-published the first edition with his own money!). Every time I think writing is stupid (like today), or blogging is pointless (like a lot), I think of Whitman's words, and I take courage.

If he can yawp, I can yawp. Someone will hear us. And if not, we did it anyway. That's what matters.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The year of living bifurcatedly

Bifurcation = a split. Your word nerd moment of the day. Notice how the yin/yang is split? More on this later.

I have now been a published YA author for just over one year. Craziness. Complete awesomeness. The time went FAST. Of course, I’ve learned things. A*lot* of things:

1) my YA writing colleagues are kind, giving, smart, and tons of fun. I am honored to be part of such a crowd that's so generous. I knew this before I was published, actually.

2) I love my publishing house. Flux and its peeps are the absolute bomb.

3) I am a shy person online, but not in person. It's a mystery. I’m working on it.

4) When you are a debut novelist, don’t teach extra classes.

5) My jealousy can be intense, which both shames me and motivates me. It also doesn’t last long, which helps, because it’s overcome by #s 1 and 2, hearing from readers, and working with book peeps everywhere.

6) People don’t want to read my book.

7) People want to read my book.

8) “Success” is relative, depending on where you’re standing.

#s 1, 2, 3, and 4 are self-explanatory. #s 5 & 6: if I want to sell a million copies and be on the New York Times bestseller list, I need different material. Contemporary YA (and/or edgy YA) is a perennial category—like the sun, we just exist—and we are not generally a hot topic. That’s all right. We persist in our wonderfulness. Some days I think I should aim for trendy, but the hot would be cold by the time the book got to market.

#7 & 8 (still related to #s 5 & 6): Man oh man. Was I "successful"? Depends on who you ask. My publisher: “well, um, sales, yeah, some, well, she almost won an award, so, um . . . maybe?” (I honestly don’t know what they’d say. They might refer you back to #3). My family: “We have no idea. When is supper?” Me: “my book got read on 4 continents, and some people really understood Morgan and Tessa. I met cool people and got to do cool stuff, including seeing/listening to Neil Gaiman, and I got to talk about what I love. Hell yeah I’m a success!” New York Times bestseller list . . . well, you know.

There's a give and take between writing your passion and being marketable--this is the bifurcated part. I haven't mastered it yet. Do I write that crazy-ass storyline about those boys in the Laundromat or should I try a zombie romance (I do like that idea)? Even my husband said, when I was pitching an idea, “You need to write more marketable books.” Ouch. He doesn't know the biz, but he's a reader, so he knows what he likes. And readers vote with $.

And that's the bottom line--publishing is a business (duh) and runs on money. My literature teacher side says WOW THAT SUCKS IT SHOULD BE STORIES. And stories still matter. But marketing possibilities trump stories—-it just happened to me, and it hurt for a bit. But I can’t begrudge folks the opportunity to run a profitable business. No profitable publishers = no books at all.

So. Was it a good year? The best. Will there be more like it? I really, really hope so. Which to write next—-laundromats or zombies? I don’t know. I just want more years to find out.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Outlaw Boots, pair #2: Kurtis Scaletta

Today, friends, we have our second installation of Outlaw Boots, this time featuring middle-grade author Kurtis Scaletta. True confession: my kid loves Kurtis' books, which is enough endorsement for me, but I think Kurtis is awesome, too.

What does Kurtis write? Funny boy stuff (I love funny boy stuff): baseball games that get rained out for years and years (MUDVILLE), guys who have a thing for poisonous African snakes--in Africa (MAMBA POINT), and scary fungus run amok (THE TANGLEWOOD TERROR, out in Fall 2011)

Here's Kurtis.

Here's why he wears Outlaw Boots.

Who's your most outlaw character (in any book)--why?
- Sturgis Nye from Mudville. As a pitcher he's a fan of the beanball.
As a kid, he's gotten into a scrape or two. And his theme song is
"Outlaw" by The Cult!

Are you an outlaw too? How do you know?

- No, I'm very lawful. I don't even speed when I drive. Seriously.

What kind of shoes does your outlaw wear (you or your character--maybe
outlaw boots?)?

- Snakeskin cowboy boots.

Pirate, ninja, nerd, other outlaw title for you/your character:

- I like the cowboy-style outlaw. Jesse James or Butch Cassidy.

Best thing about being an outlaw:

- Playing harmonica.

Favorite outlaw food:

- Key lime pie and black coffee at a highway diner in the middle of nowhere.

Favorite outlaw role model/why:
- Robin Hood, because (at least in the legend) turned to crime out of
a sense of justice. But a version where he's a cowboy outlaw.

Tune in next month for the next installment of Outlaw Boots! Kurtis is one of my role models for how to write funny boy happenings, so I need to go read about Linus and his mamba.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The week's favorite things

BEWARE: blaspheming ahead.

Here are my favorite things for this week:

Be careful with that touching, guys. And do your hair like these ladies--He'll like you even more.

Both images swiped from here.

Now for my new motto:

Go, friends, go! Do epic shit! And *you* decide the definition of "epic". You don't have to save the world. Just spend an hour with your grandma. GO!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Silence is the new conflict

This guy is an environmentalist named John Francis. In 1971, he witnessed an oil spill in the San Francisco bay, and he swore off motorized transportation for 22 years. But--more amazing to me--in 1973, he decided to be silent. FOR 17 YEARS, with the exception of 1 phone call to his mom after 10 years. No writing, even. He taught himself Indian Sign Language, then realized nobody spoke it, then just used gestures and touch and pantomime. 17 YEARS, FRIENDS. I couldn't do it for 17 days , even though I desperately want to right now. But teachers/writers don't get very far without communicating. And--get this--the guy completed 3 college degrees (including a Ph.D.), all in silence.

John Francis matters to me right now because of two things: 1) I need a conflict for my next novel, and I can see a teenage boy refusing to speak for long periods of time; and 2) he was a black man who carried a banjo (see above), and this intrigues me. Of all things--a banjo. Francis said that if he *didn't* carry his banjo, then he was a tall threatening black man. If he *did* carry his banjo and play it, then he was a friendly guy with a banjo, not a tall threatening black man. I admire his ability to hide and/or change stereotypes with a goofy instrument, though it sucks he had to think that way in the first place.

John Francis claims he set out to show one person can make a difference. His Planetwalker organization continues to work for environmental change and goodness, which is fantastic, plus he made a difference to me--he gave me a conflict for my character (at least an initial one, though we know how revision changes things, grr). I'm going to study this dude some more.

Tell me, friends: could *you* be silent for 17 years?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy/sad/mad + characters

I love how life contributes to art. Or not.

At the moment, I'm trying to write some big emotions for a couple characters, and I'm not quite getting there. Things are still flat. So what does Life decide to do? Hand me situations that I can translate to the page. Grrr . . . I've gotten brained with the sad stick and pounded with the angry stick about sixty times this week (thank you, birth family! thank you, publishing industry!), but hey, it's great for my WIP, right? Grrr. But now I get the sadness that drags Callie down, and the anger that eats up Ray's insides. Still--dang--I'm tired!

Luckily, life also whacks you with the happy stick, and those beatings contribute to the goofy, silly things my characters do. So, some things that have made me happy this week:

Image swiped from here, and the guy with the website is the guy with the funny sign. LOVE. IT. And yay for same-sex marriage in California!

Also this:

I was in the mood to strafe the world, and I let them do it for me. Perfect. Plus it's a decent action film with a relatively coherent script.

Back to your regularly scheduled emotions. Whew.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Outlaw Boots, pair #1: Courtney Summers

BACKSTORY: I've been looking for a way to feature writers/writerly peeps on my blog, because part of blogging is returning the blog love. So--Outlaw Boots. Now I'm sure you're asking, because you are discerning blog friends: what the hell? What are Outlaw Boots?

BEHIND THE BACKSTORY: I love writing YA because of outsiders--almost every protagonist believes s/he's an outsider, in whatever way. That I-don't-belong sensibility is near and dear to my heart, partly because I've felt that way as long as I've been able to think about myself.

Then, at some point, "outsider" got translated to "outlaw." This correlation isn't exact--some outsiders aren't traditional outlaws, but there are still take-charge, let-me-mess-with-you elements to outsiders, too. I see outsiders as the key element of the basic YA "formula": outsider/outlaw makes crazy stuff happen, and hilarity may or may not ensue, then we discover all the vulnerability *underneath* the outsider/outlaw posturing, and oh man, perfect setup for a story. I love my genre!

OK, so, with that loooong introduction, I give you the first set of Outlaw Boots, worn by Courtney Summers. Courtney is the author of CRACKED UP TO BE, SOME GIRLS ARE, and FALL FOR ANYTHING (out in December), all from St. Martin's Press.

Edited to add: I didn't even tell you what her books are about! Basically: high school girls behaving badly, mostly to each other. For example, from the CRACKED UP TO BE blurb: "Perfect Parker Fadley isn’t so perfect anymore." Hmmm . . . interesting! Or, from the blurb of SOME GIRLS ARE, "Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard–falling from it is even harder." Provocative! All you need to know: read them.

Full disclosure: Courtney is an agent sibling. But even if she wasn't, I would still love her, because 1) she's sparkly, but not in a vampire-y way; 2) she's funny, smart, and talented; 3) she's Canadian, which seems rather outlaw and outsider to begin with; and 4) I loved loved loved CRACKED UP TO BE.

There are questions (dun dun dunnnn!) for those who wear Outlaw Boots, and these are Courtney's answers:

Who's your most outlaw character (in any book)--why?

Definitely Parker, because of her determination to go against the grain.

Are you an outlaw too? How do you know?

Maybe! I refuse to compromise a lot. I don't know if that makes me an outlaw so much as a jerk, though.

What kind of shoes does your outlaw wear (you or your character--maybe outlaw boots?)?

A kick-ass pair of flowery slippers.

Pirate, ninja, nerd, other outlaw title for you/your character:

I always go with ninja. Because Ninjas are cool.

Best thing about being an outlaw:
Not answering to anybody.

Favorite outlaw food:
Zucchini fries! Wait. That's food that should be outlawed. ;)

Favorite outlaw role model/why:

Pierre Trudeau! He was a bit of an outlaw as far as Canadian PMs go. He didn't take no guff!

Image of kick-ass flowery slippers stolen from here. Courtney also moonlights as Pele, the volcano goddess, because she hearts volcanoes. When she is not sparkly, she looks like this:

Thank you, Courtney, for wearing the first pair of Outlaw Boots!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Confession: I am not good at maintenance.

This confession applies to many things. For example, I don't scrub out the fridge except in the summer. I just did it today, which is why I'm thinking about maintenance. I cleaned my oven two years ago ONLY because I won cook-for-me chefs in a charity auction. Laundry is OK, but dusting is horrible. I get pissed when I have to shave my legs (TMI, but it falls under this category) and color my hair. I don't vacuum my car. I also don't do so hot at publicity, which is really maintenance of one's writing career.

Maintenance ALSO implies that you own it/you bought it/you're responsible for it. Oh come on, can't I be irresponsible? For a supporting argument,please see this post. Clean ALL the things???


Some of my maintenance crabbiness is really just laziness. Some is skepticism (who sees the inside of a fridge?) and some is futility (I'll just have to get highlights AGAIN?? WOE IS ME!) Some is self-preservation (dear child, can you fix your own lunch SO I CAN WRITE AND GET THESE PEOPLE OUT OF MY HEAD???).

On the upside, usually I am good at maintaining relationships. I write, I call, I e-mail, I FB (I don't Twitter much). I kiss my kid and husband good night every night, and I pay attention to them (except at lunch). I call my mom. All that other stuff is just that--STUFF. Step off, stuff.

I realize it does matter--people accept me better if I shave my legs. People will see me if I blog/Twitter/have a web presence (my publicist will like me better).

But please, oh please . . . don't make me maintain anything else today. The fridge was enough.

(Full disclosure: my lack of desire to maintain stuff frustrates the shit out of my husband. He is good at maintenance, and is an ace at housework.)

Monday, July 12, 2010


Do you know the play FENCES? I teach it in my Intro to Lit class, and it just closed on Broadway (three Tonys, including one for Denzel). Awesome play. An African-American play, but a universal play. The main character, Troy, never gets his fence finished. He needs to protect his heart, his family, his territory--but what is he also keeping out?

I am thinking about this because we just finished discussing FENCES, but also because I read this fantastic blog post and its comments, all about inclusion and exclusion in children's literature, and it directly relates to books 1 through 3 of my repertoire. So directly I blushed.

So here's a request: what about gates in the fences? Or maybe a big ol' pasture with little fenced-off spaces inside it? Places to mix and mingle, but still with some protection for those who feel the need? I'm not discounting the need, either--I have no idea what it means to have to protect yourself to survive, and I have no right to refute that feeling. But man, I'm here, outside your fence, trying to say hello because I like you and want to get to know you. Yes, I know. Privilege. I don't have to have a fence. But I mean it: I like you and I want to get to know you. You can give me the finger, and you have every right. But I really don't want to walk away.

Thanks to Malinda Lo for showing me Arthur Levine's blog (he's the man who brought Harry Potter to America, I could kiss your shoes, dude).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pride, PRIDE, pride

I am so lame--Pride Month is over today! Happy Pride! I love Pride Month--I always want to take my homophobic students to a parade and say "Look. Not all gay men wear buttless chaps. They're regular people, just like you."

I am the advisor for SCC PRIDE, a safe-zone group at my school. I love it, but I realize it's not ideal, because I am an ally. Problem is, I don't think any of the people in the LBGT spectrum who work there feel safe enough (work-wise, not violence-wise, I hope) to be the advisor. How's that for shitty? So I do it, and I'm honored to do it.

However, one student called me out. She said it wasn't my fight, since I don't know what she goes through every day. Fair enough--no I don't. Some folks don't trust allies for that reason. Understandable. But it's still my fight, because of all my family and friends who don't have the same rights I do. Civil rights fights are everyone's fight. Plus I fell desperately in love with Harvey Milk when I saw the documentary THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK when I was an undergrad. MILK is phenomenal, too, but that documentary--holy shit. The candlelight march (which is in the Sean Penn film)? It still reduces me to tears.

It's also my fight because I wanted to say, to the real Tessa who inspired SKY, that it would have been OK. Had she come out to me when we were in high school, I would have still been her friend. She knows that now, in real life. But I think she liked that it happened in a book, too. And it makes me happy that she likes it.

Graphic stolen from WIPEOUT HOMOPHOBIA ON FACEBOOK (which isn't letting me link), a phenomenal page, except it should be "Wipe Out," not "Wipeout," like the surfing song. English teacher = always a possible grammar lesson. Sorry. : \

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cultural (in?)competence

In our house, we like Rick Riordan. My husband and son devoured the PERCY JACKSON series this winter, and I finally finished it late this spring. When we saw his latest series, THE RED PYRAMID, we were all over it--woo hoo!

Last week it was finally my turn with the new book. By page 7 I know this brother and sister do not look alike. Carter takes after his dad, who is African-American, and Sadie takes after her mother, who was white. Here's Riordan's description of Julius, their dad: "He has dark brown skin like mine, piercing brown eyes, a bald head, and a goatee, so he looks like a buff evil scientist" (3). Carter also dresses like his dad (business-like but stylish, always dress clothes). Sadie, on the other hand, looks like this: ". . . she takes after our mom, who was white, so Sadie's skin is much lighter than mine. She has straight caramel-colored hair, not exactly blond but not brown, which she usually dyes with streaks of bright colors . . . [and] her eyes are blue. I'm serious. BLUE eyes, just like our mom's" (7).

Why is this important? You'll see.

I'm reading away, lost in the adventures, and we get to page 373, where Carter is practicing with his sword on a back-porch thingy on his RV. People are looking at him, because he's on the interstate and traveling very fast, so he makes this comment: "Once in a while we'd pass a rancher's truck or a family SUV, and the driver would get wide-eyed when he saw me: a black kid swinging a sword around on the back of an RV. I'd just smile and wave . . . ."


By this point, I'd totally forgotten Carter was black, so the sentence snapped me back to reality. And I was embarrassed, because I'd forgotten that fact. Then I had to ponder WHY I'd forgotten it. I came up with a few reasons:

**it didn't matter to the story

**I didn't think fourteen-year-old black guys should be dressed in dress clothes while going on adventures and playing with swords on the back of RVs

**another reason I'm unaware of

I have no idea which of those reasons is the predominant answer. Maybe all of them, maybe none of them. In my head, when I was imagining Carter and his sword, I saw a kid that sort of looked like Harry Potter. Got a little cultural bias there, Kirstin?

In some ways, I go with reason #1, because Riordan doesn't make it significant that the kids are biracial (or I missed it, which is possible, because I was so absorbed and reading fast). The cover gives no real clues, either. If you look at the book's cover, the kids are turned away from the reader, plus the cover colors are not realistic--it's mostly golds and browns (though their hair is different from each other's). Still, Riordan *told* me the kids were biracial. My brain just chose to impose whiteness on them--at least on Carter, anyway.

Does this make me bad? Probably not. Does this make me a product of my white Midwestern culture? Yes. I asked Shae if he knew what color Carter Kane was, and he said no, he didn't notice. When I told him Carter had dark skin and Sadie had light skin, his eyes got wide. His comment: "I saw him as no color," which means white, but it also means he just took him in, and his skin color didn't matter to what Carter was doing. That's all right.

One last question: how would those kids appear to readers of color? Would they switch them out as white? I bet not.

This is something to think about.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

W-A-I-T is a four-letter word

I'm waiting right now. If you're a writer, you'd better know how to wait. It's not a good word.

I'm waiting for people to say yes. I'm waiting for people to say no.

I'm waiting for inspiration to strike.

I'm waiting for trepidation to recede.

I'm waiting for confusion to clear up (ha ha--never!).

The other verbs that go with waiting are goofing off, surfing, thinking and avoiding.

I'm goofing off in every possible way by doing *other* kinds of work, which is BAD.

I'm surfing the interwebz for new author promotion strategies.

I'm thinking of all the ways I can strengthen my characters.

I'm avoiding the tough stuff--should I *really* be a writer? Should I quit my job, pierce my lip, dye my hair teal, and take up photography? Should I buy a pair of purple Chucks? Should I run away to Australia? All of these things are valid questions, except the last one. I couldn't run away because then my kid wouldn't take his vitamins, and then he'd die of scurvy and rickets and other horrible diseases, which would not be OK.

Despite all this roiling about, underneath it all, there's always waiting.

(Do people even know what "four-letter words" are anymore? Like p*ss and sh*t and f*ck? Maybe the four-letter word concept is old and tired, but I still think wait is one of them.)

The pug is for you, Amy Tipton, and the sign is from here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nobody ever gets shot on the Hallmark channel

One of my students (a high-school guy) said that to me: "Nobody ever gets shot on the Hallmark Channel." Exactly! It's not their audience. Knowing your audience is a key part in selling things, including writing. Granted, I don't know about the Hallmark Channel--I'm not their audience, except for being a woman. Maybe people really do get shot there, but I'm sure, if it happens, it's only bad guys or for a good reason, and there is forgiveness all around.

Henceforth, two wildly different examples of knowing your audience:

Example #1: It's a Chamber of Commerce buffalo, isn't it? Actually, it's a random buffalo I found in Custer State Park outside of Custer, SD, but he looks like he was planted there to sell the place, down to that raised right front foot. He needs a coffee can next to him that says "tips", or the state of South Dakota should have him on retainer for standing around like that. He read his audience (people who drive around looking for SD wildlife) quite well.

Example #2: Hyperbole and a Half. I have no idea why I like this blog, except for the fact that her screechy insanity appeals to me more than almost anything I read these days. I think her audience is people who *want* to be crazy-ass weirdos who scrawl funny drawings about stupid stuff heaped with sarcasm and wild amusement *but have no guts to do it*. Like me. I hope Allie Brosh won't come after me for swiping her drawing, hopefully not since I only said good things.

On a related note, I did see fish at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago that posed for cameras--swam right up to the glass and showed people their best sides and smiled in a fishy way. I was floored. So maybe this buffalo posed too, I don't know. But I'd guess not. I always figure a buffalo could give a fsck about a camera, because he's huge, powerful and able to trash a car in three seconds. He knows he's better that you, tip jar or not.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I heart boobies but not assholes

Has anybody seen the "I heart boobies" bracelet that Zumiez sells? My child now has one, courtesy of a friend. He thinks it's completely awesome, of course, because he's just getting to the time in his life when boobies are ultra-interesting, but not for breast cancer awareness, if you get my drift.

So I said to him, as he's talking about his bracelet and trying to annoy me, "Are you sure this is about cancer and not just loving boobies because they're boobies? What about a bracelet that said 'I heart balls' or 'I heart penises'? Could we do that for cancer research?"

Shocked silence. Then "Mom, nobody would wear those."

"I can think of people who would."

"No you can't."

Oh yes I can. And then I start laughing, because I'd bet I could sell a mixed case of those suckers in about twenty minutes, especially if I mentioned it on Facebook.

So here's the next question: if these bracelets are to raise cash for cancer (I am *not* saying raising money for breast cancer is bad, even in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge way), where are the ones for anal/rectal cancer that say "I heart assholes"? Or "I heart cervixes"? My brother has brain cancer, so why not ones that say "I heart brains"? Problem is, brains, cervixes, and anuses aren't sexy and cool--they are what they are, with not a lot of love attached--oh, unless you're a zombie, and then you do heart brains because you're hungry. But boobies--we can admit our sexy love for them and still call it fundraising. Is this good? I don't know.

You can, however, buy a similar product as chewing gum, as the picture demonstrates. Now we just need to skew it towards cancer research. And yes, there is such a thing as penile cancer.

This is why I'm a word nerd--the power within them fascinates me. Now I'm off to find a manufacturer for my "I heart penises" bracelets. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Knock me over with a feather

You'll never guess what I found in the Central Nowhere paper. I had to read it three times to make sure I had the genders correct:

"Mark Edward Becker and Cody Bill Shafer McKiddie, both of Denver, Colorado, are pleased to announce their engagement and upcoming wedding ceremony.

Mark, 29, is . . . Cody, 31, is . . . He is [also] an Iraq War veteran with 10 years of service as Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. He has served 1 tour in the Middle East and 2 in South Korea. The wedding will take place July 31st, 2010, in Council Bluffs, Iowa."

Mark is originally from Central Nowhere! And, double bonus: the other groom is a gay man in the military.

Why does this matter to me? Maybe, if she still was a teenager there, the real Tessa could be out today, and not have to hide herself with fake boyfriends. Maybe she could bring a girlfriend to the prom, and not have to deal with what Constance went through. I highly doubt it--one wedding announcement does not a gay pride festival make--but you never know.

For me, it boils down to this: if this announcement is in my hometown paper, there's hope in the world. Though I hope they don't choose this cake topper.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yaaaaaay, research!

I know--long hiatus. Sorry.

I love research. Why? It's an awesome procrastination tool.

But it's also a smart thing to do. I just took a four-day research trip (and drove 1400 miles total, WOW, lots of gas), and it was beaucoup fantastic. I learned so much, even more than I was expecting to learn.

Some of what I now know:

1) one character needs a French surname, not an English one
2) buffalo are WAY bigger than you'd think (see photo for scale)
3) coyotes can't catch prairie dogs, even though they try
4) grandmothers rule the world
5) people are incredibly generous (thanks again, Ernie & Sonja!)
6) there was a real guy named Buddy Red Bow--he's not just a character in a film
7) a person could get lost in western South Dakota--on purpose or by accident
8) always bring a cooler

The best thing about research is how much better it makes your fiction. At the same time, you have to be very, very careful not to let facts overwhelm your story.

Now to do justice to what I learned. Eeek.

Hilarious photo from here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Writers are cool, part 1

I want to do more to talk up other writers. What are the interwebs about but networking? So I thought I'd start with agent siblings--or people you share an agent with. And I have some really cool agent siblings, way cooler than me, plus they do interesting things.

For instance, Victoria Schwab. Her novel THE NEAR WITCH is out in Summer 11, but what's she doing in the meantime? Helping to bring Nashville back from its recent flood. Writers are good community members, and she's one of the best. Please please please, check out her auction.

Also Amy Reed. Her book BEAUTIFUL came out in October of 09, and she's busy talking about bullies and making a stand with other writers.

There are more! Marci Blackman is publishing an insider's guide to biking in NYC, out in April 2011 (not to mention all the other writing she's got out) with Ed Glazar, a phenomenal photographer. Courtney Summers has been writing since she was one--one!--check for evidence here, and what else could you ask for in a writer, or human being in general? But she also has two YA novels out there, CRACKED UP TO BE and SOME GIRLS ARE. Then there's Tahereh Mafi, who has more enthusiasm in her than one human should be allowed to have. And these are just the agent sibs I know of. I'm sure there are more, all equally cool.

Visit them (be sure to visit Victoria's auction here), buy their books, hang out. Enjoy!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bouncing for books

I wish this was a story about trampolines.

A couple weeks ago, I was the guest speaker at a writing event for 3rd-12th graders. It was great. I even saw parents nodding along with my talk. One guy came up to me afterward (a grandpa) and said, "When you put that cup of water on the podium, I thought, 'Wow, we're in for a long one.' But you kept it short and sweet--and interesting!" Big smile from the dude, and no better compliment could I have received.

After the event, I got to sell my books (which is the subject for another post--reconsidering audience). Great, right? Last week I got a note from the bank, and one check had been returned. My bank account is now out $10, plus a $7 fee, and there's the $6.50 I paid for the book in the first place. $23.50 and a free book went to John and Brenda and their daughter (I'm guessing).

Someone said, "Well, call them and ask for your book back! Or the money!" What good would that do? What if these people have no jobs, but they bought their daughter a book for $10 because she wanted it? What gets me is this: did they *know* they had no money, but they did it anyway, for her? Or was it just a gap between paydays and something came up, and they thought they could float, but they couldn't?

I've thought about this situation a lot (not that it's my biz, but writers think about things). Honestly, I am happy to give them a book and pay $23.50 for it. Maybe they really, really, needed one. Maybe they knew how happy it would make their child.

I could be wrong: John and Brenda may be complete scam artists, though none of the families at this event struck me that way. Moms and dads and everyone else were there to honor their kids, beginning writers who were proud of themselves, and the families were proud, too. I can chip in for that.