What a week it has been.

The Supreme Court upholds Obamacare subsidies.

Funerals are held for the people who were killed at AME in Charleston.

The Supreme Court makes marriage equality the law.

Governor Haley of South Carolina calls for the confederate flag to come down.

President Obama gives Reverend Pinkney’s eulogy.

Bree Newsome takes down the confederate flag and is arrested.

Arsonists are still burning black churches.

I don’t even know if I have all this in the right chronological order, but it isn’t in any neat order in my mind. I’m feeling like the country is being hit by good and bad, from right and left, and there is no logic pattern to it. Part of me feels like we are making progress.  Yes, it’s taken way, way, way too long for marriage equality to be the law, but it is finally here. At the same time, government officials whose names I won’t give space on my blog are saying they aren’t going to follow that law. And Supreme Court justices are proving to me that you can be narrow and hateful and still sit on that bench. Obama’s eulogy is pretty amazing, but I look at his face as he talks, at the grimness there, and I know how much better it would have been if he had never had the need to say these things. A governor is finally calling for that flag to come down, yet a brave, strong woman is arrested for taking the action to bring it down.

So, yes, I guess progress. And yet…

It’s such a big yet.

Meaning? I guess that we do, very much, still have a long, long way to go. And that, as Obama says, we can’t just slip back into silence or complacency. And that, thank goodness, there are good people out there as well as the bad, and we have to remember that and use their courage and persistence as reminders of what we ourselves need to be doing.

Today, my husband is taking advantage of the long hours of daylight to do some work outside, with rocks. Rolling them slowly, shifting them slowly, placing them slowly. He says, “You can only think about the one rock. If you think about all the rocks, you’ll never get out there and move one.”

And then, Tim Federle, author of the wonderful Better Nate than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate, posted this on his Facebook page: “Kid walking down the street at roughly 1 MPH while reading a Roald Dahl book is giving me the courage to face the blank page again.”

Oh, yeah. Thanks, guys.

I’d already made plans to keep this day clear, to step back into the writing which–for many reasons, no excuses–has been on hold for too long of a bit. But these reminders have helped push aside some of the trepidation, have told me that thing I can never hear too often–to tuck away the vision of the whole thing that has to get done and to just sit down, open things up, and see what you can start with. It does take courage, but it takes less when you remember that other people are in the same spot–whether they’re working on a picture book revision, like I plan to today, or are facing a blank page or are moving big rocks.

Because this is how it goes. And today, thanks to the season and the sunshine, I have plenty of time to see how it goes for me.

I just reached the halfway point in Amber Lough’s The Fire Wish (and, yes, things did get much worse). I’ve got an image in my mind. On one side of a desk is a stack of notebooks, filled with lists and tables and scattered notes. Pages and pages and pages on top of each other, the pile so high that it looks precarious, as if it may topple at any moment. On the other side of the desk is a clean piece of paper. Blank. Waiting. And as we watch, the author’s hand comes into view, holding the finest of paintbrush. She dips the tip of the paint brush into the stack of notes, lightly, barely touching. She moves the paintbrush to the blank page and, with a feathered touch, writes the first words of the story, transformed from the mounds of thoughts into a delicate line of ink that evokes just what the reader needs.

This is how good the worldbuilding is in The Fire Wish. This is how good the best of all worldbuilding is, right? I know we all build worlds. I know all genres require some of this skill. But in fantasy…oh, when it’s done right in fantasy! It’s just (excuse the pun) epic. And the reading experience is one of joy because that delicate line carries all the knowledge and understanding, detailed and layered, of the author’s time with the notebooks.

Or maybe Lough is just so good, she skipped the notebooks and the words flowed perfectly onto the page by themselves. But I’m guessing not.

There’s more to the book than the worldbuilding. It’s a great premise, with two young women–one human and one jinn–having to swap places on and inside the earth. And it’s a great premise, even further, because each of these young women holds responsibility for the actions that caused the swap, and they both have to step up, take responsibility, and figure out a way to correct their situation. Lough does a beautiful job of switching between points of view, and while the young women look pretty much identical, they have distinct differences in their personalities and experiences, so we have no problem following who’s talking when. Plus, they each have strong tensions pulling them in two directions. The humans and jinns have been at war for a while–if either young woman is discovered, she will be imprisoned, possibly killed. Plus Narwa, the jinni, has information her people need to defend themselves in the war, while Zayele, the human, wants to get home to protect her younger brother, who has been recently blinded. And then…each of them kinda sorta wants to stay where they are, because, well…romance. Okay, yes, some extra freedom, but also…romance.

Like I said, I haven’t finished this book, so I can’t really judge whether the ending will be fitting, tight. But I’m also not caring, right now, which–along with that worldbuilding–is another sign of how excellent The Fire Wish is. The pacing is just right, the balance of liking the two main characters and recognizing the flaws that got them to this place–also just right. And did I mention the secretive government departments, the harem dynamics, and the suspicion I have that somebody has been telling lies about why this war is “necessary?”

All around excellence. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the second half of the book.

About a book inside the book.

Okay, maybe not a book, but a journal. And the book isn’t really about the journal, but it’s the construct that explains why we, the reader, get to step inside the reader’s story. From close up in his head. Because he has been given an assignment to record his days, his actions, his thoughts in this journal.

I’m going to cheat and not share the book title, because it’s one I’m not enjoying as word-of-mouth would have predicted, and I just don’t feel like getting into all the whys and why nots today. Besides which, I haven’t finished the book, and maybe it’ll surprise me. Maybe one of the surprises will be a true story reason for the journal.

Right. The journal. It bugs me. Traffic alert: Whining ahead. The book is a YA and the journal “allows” us to get in very, very close to the hero’s perception and thoughts. Except…don’t a lot of YA books do that without a journal? Isn’t that…and, yes, I’m making a big generalization here…something that’s relatively common to YA? Could we have foregone the journal in this case and just stepped into the story? First person, third person–couldn’t the author have even slipped in the few instances of second person that he uses–with the “you” being the reader, instead of the person who assigned the journal? Why, yes, I believe we could, he could. It all would have worked.

I get irritated when something is added to a story without a reason.

Of course, the journal/diary construct was something I adored when I was a kid. I’d have to go back and reread most of my childhood books to be sure (not a horrible chore by any means), but maybe we just didn’t get first person as often as today’s young readers. Maybe the diary was, in those days (hand me my cane, will you?), a construct that gave us access to a voice we didn’t get as often, a close up and really personal voice. I suspect, though, that I loved it because the kid hero who kept a diary was a hero I aspired to be. Aspired to and failed. I have never once, not as a kid, a teen, a young woman, or a…less-young woman succeeded in making more than a few entries in any journal. And as a child, I so wanted to. Every time I read a book with the diary-inside-the-story format, I tried again. After I read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, I tried to find my own version of “Dear Kitty.” Nope. Nothing. And I kept reading about and loving those heroes who  managed to put their thoughts on paper, day after day, week after week.

I keep reminding myself that there are a whole world of young readers out there to whom the journal format isn’t old hat, kids who may still identify with or aspire to be a diary keeper. I keep telling myself that they haven’t over-eaten in the genre, so that yet one more serving results in a bout of piggy burps. But all the time, as I tell myself these things, I’m still thinking…he didn’t need it!

What do you think? Do you like/still like the diary format? Did you like it as a kid, and has your affection hung around or faded with the years? Do you think the need for a journal device has shifted as story voices have become more immediate, more intimate all on their own? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I hope I’m not taking too big a risk with this post. I’m going to put a few things out on the politics plate, and I’m going to ask for some information and opinions. I have faith that most of you who read my blog will keep it all respectful and polite and that we can share thoughts with honesty and care.

Just as an FYI, I will delete any comments that don’t fit with that goal. Also, while I can’t imagine this actually happening, I will delete any blatant campaigning/political-only comments for or against any candidate.

So here we go.

I had a voting plan for the next presidential election. I looked at the expected field, and I thought, okay…it’s time to vote for Hilary Clinton. She is not my favorite prospect and never has been, but I do have some basic respect for her goals, and–while I try to stay open to candidates from both parties–she was the only person coming along from either Democrats or Republicans that I thought would represent any of my priorities and beliefs. So I thought, okay, cross your fingers that she’ll surprise your expectations, and give her your vote.

And then Bernie Sanders declared.

As far as I can tell, I like Bernie Sanders a lot. I am pretty sure that he is much more aligned with my ideals than is Hilary Clinton, and I think he will always fight more strongly for the things I believe in than she will. And, even if–as the first discussions were saying–he can’t win, I appreciate his stepping into the race. I agree with him that the overall conversation needs to lean Left, and I think that it will benefit Hilary Clinton (if she stays the defacto Democratic nominee) to have someone to debate with, to get some energy going in her campaign, to have some momentum going when she takes on the Republicans. Plus, I really respect that Sanders is running through the Democratic party, rather than as an independent. Not because I am a huge two-party fan, but because I think–the way things are–he’s right not to take Ralph Nader’s path.

In an ideal world, I am pretty sure Bernie Sanders would have my vote.

But…that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where the word Socialist still scares people. We live in a world where people think about it’s being someone’s “turn” for a presidential run. And we definitely live in a world where politics runs on a few things other than idealism–on the bad side: corruption, bribery, egos; on the not-so-bad side: negotiations, partnerships, experience, and practicality.

So, those of you who know Bernie Sanders better than I do—those who enjoy following politics and understanding who is doing what, those who live in or near Vermont and have been listening to and watching Sanders more closely, those who understand more about him than the memes and quotes and videos that pop up all over the internet, can you give me your reasons why I should (or, okay, shouldn’t) vote for him? I have some particular questions–feel free to answer those if you can, but also feel free to go off on a tangent and just share your beliefs about him with me. Again, given that we’re all staying respectful, I really want to hear.

  • Do you think Bernie Sanders has a chance of actually winning the Democratic nomination? Why/Why not? (I feel that I may need to choose based on who can get this nomination, because they may need the power of momentum to take on the Republican nominee.)
  • Do you think Bernie Sanders has a chance of actually winning the presidency. Why/Why not? (Similar to above, I am pretty darned scared by the Republican slate, and I feel a strong pull to put my vote behind the candidate who can beat their nominee.)
  • Does Bernie Sanders have practical, real plans to execute some/most of the ideals he’s espousing. Have you seen him execute these plans while representing Vermont in the House and/or Senate? What? When? How?

And, of course, anything else you feel is important for me to know.

Thank you in advance for sharing!

It rained today. For two hours, it came down outside the building where I work. We had lightening, we had thunder, and–by the end, we had nice big puddles.

In the middle of a long drought, this is obviously lovely. But it’s also weird. Because, really, we don’t get rain in NorCal in May. We get rain in February and March. Except, you know, when we don’t. Except I’ve now made those statements so many times this May that they are becoming inaccurate, if not laughable.

But here’s the thing. Those statements have been true over the course of my life, the years of which now add up easily to the phrase, “many decades.” And while I totally accept climate change (and think irritated thoughts at those who don’t), still…there are the past few years of weather weirdosity against all those years when I actually knew the weather.

My son came home from his first year of college Tuesday. Which again, is lovely, and the fact that he surprised us made it even more lovely. We had celebratory ice cream. We sat and heard about his past couple of weeks, everything he did, everything that’s coming for him this summer and next year; we looked at his face and listened to his voice and knew that he is happy and–wow, I can’t tell you how happy that makes us.

I feel ready for this stage, with him building his own world and coming to visit, and my husband and I–oh, let’s say we’re retrofitting our world. But here’s another thing. While I’ve known him now for almost 20 years, I don’t feel 20 years older than I did before we met. I can close my eyes and almost be the woman I was when he was an infant, when I was amazed and awed but also–on tired days–wondering how I would stay myself for the next 20 years. I can be at his preschool drop-off; I can see him doing middle-school math homework; I can drop into any one of his highschool concerts. And yet, here we are. At this point. It is enough to make you not only believe in, but understand, science and science fiction ideas about multiple universes, about tesseracts.

I have multiple writing projects that are going well–a MG novel and several picture books. I am very much aware that I am doing some of the strongest (and happiest) writing of my life, and that all of these projects are stepping stones forward on my path. I know I have learned from every bit of writing I’ve done in the past, and I can walk backward and feel how long that past is–I’m up to many decades here, too.

But here’s one more thing. I remember lying on my bed as a tween, writing a short story about how George Washington really did tell a lie. I remember filling notebook pages with a set of horribly derivative and drivly chapters about an elf and a wizard, after reading a very tall pile of Shannara novels. I remember asking for and getting Phyllis A. Whitney’s writing books and feeling like This. Was. It. I was a writer.

It’s all jumbled together, you know? I can see the line of travel through all these stages–weather watching, parenting, writing. And I can erase the line in a blink, a thought, a Jedi wave of the hand. And yet, somehow, even with the muddle, every moment is a building brick to now. With the future mingled in there as well.

So, you know…pretty darned cool.

I have just reached (maybe) the halfway point in the second draft of my MG, but since I’m writing it 99.9% from scratch (that first draft was really just an idea dump), there isn’t much of what I’d consider revision going on.

And yet I’ve been thinking about it.

Why? It started with the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference last weekend, where I sat in on an excellent revision workshop by Kirby Larson. As Kirby said, we practiced only some of the smaller, more specific revision tasks–it’s hard to do big, global changes in a workshop setting. But a lot of her talk and the general conversation was about revision–how to approach it and how it feels. And I started remembering that I LOVE how it feels. That I love having a (relatively) full understanding of your story in your head and being able to sort and process changes in the context of that understanding. Of being able to think about moving something from here to there and knowing it will fit better. Of realizing that this piece doesn’t add a single thing and knowing you can let it go. Of figuring out what all the placeholders for that one character are for and giving her the actions she needs, in what used to feel like a lot of big, gaping holes of nothingness.

The second thing that happened, also tied to the conference, was that I got a really lovely critique from an agent on one of my picture books. Lovely in two ways: 1) very nice, with compliments as well as suggestions and 2) with feedback that I could really use. That started the revision ideas churning in my head. I’ve already run the feedback and my ideas through my critique group, getting MORE ideas, of course, and this revision will start very soon. And, again, I’m remembering why revision is one of my favorite writing stages–it’s a (very little) bit like Tetris. Your job is to see the shape that’s coming–from a critique or your own figuring-out–and find the right place to lower that shape into. And then, yes, unlike Tetris, you do some shaving and some padding and…SNIK! It fits. Yes, yes, that’s an understatement and probably not at all the right metaphor, but you know what I’m getting at. You have something to work with as you make the changes, and you can see how the changes are going to make that something more complete.

And the SNIK! part is absolutely the best.

I’m not going to get this right, so consider it a total paraphrase, but Kirby said that she has always believed everything you need is in your first draft. She says this, I think, in the context of the times we all look at our early drafts and decide that there are things missing and that we have to add a lot of new stuff. Instead, she suggests, try working with what is actually there. You may need to move an action, a character trait, a need from one character to another. You may need to shift a plot point to earlier or later in the story. You may need to deepen and layer a moment that you previously spent only one sentence on. But things are there. Don’t start your revision by assuming they aren’t.

And that, my friends, is something I’ll be thinking about a lot when I do head back into revision.

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