Oh look, I’ve neglected my blog since early November….like many of you I felt sucker-punched in early November. The rise of Voldemort has left me feeling rather lacking in the words department.
In the last few weeks I’ve felt more consistently angry than I can ever remember feeling. I have felt torn between wanting to run out and join whatever guerilla revolution would have me, and wanting to hide with my kids in a blanket fort. Guerilla revolutions offer full health and dental coverage right?
I’m afraid to continue with my life as though things are normal and yet I’m struggling to know how best to resist being squashed by the pavement roller of patriarchy and oppression that is rolling across our land. I’ve always felt like the work I do as a middle school teacher is less about kids learning science and more about kids learning that there are lots of different ways to be a healthy functioning adult in the world. But right now that doesn’t feel like enough. I suppose I feel more helpless and powerless than I ever have in my life before. It’s kind of scary to stand in front of a class of 13 year olds when you’re feeling that way about the collective future of the country.
I’ve been told that tomorrow during our school-wide viewing of the inauguration “personal emotions/beliefs/views will not be communicated/shared”. I understand this in theory; no one wants Ms. Kaufman to launch Dumbledore’s Army during 5th period, and yet there is so much about this that is troubling. I don’t want to be passive and accepting. I want to channel my rage into something productive, into something that makes a difference and I want my students to know the importance and power of resistance. But mostly I want my students to know that 3 million more people in this country voted for love and acceptance over hate and division. I want them to know that this is not a “normal” election even if it is a peaceful transfer of power. I want them to know that what they do with their lives matters so I guess I have to practice what I preach.
Totally normal things authors think when their agents take more than 24 hours to return an email.*
*My agent is a wunderkind who never takes more than 6 hours to get back to me. But, if say an email were to get lost in the shuffle…..
- She hates me
- She hates what I wrote
- She is in the middle of negotiating a really important deal for someone else
- I will never get important deals because I suck and shouldn’t ever have gotten her as an agent anyway.
- Everyone has better deals than me
- She thinks I’m too needy
- Am I too needy?
- I bet her other clients aren’t this needy
- Was my question dumb?
- Maybe I can google the answer
- Maybe I should add dolphins or an amusement park to the ending of my book
- I bet her other clients write about dolphin-themed amusement parks
- There is probably a huge dolphin-themed amusement park book about to be HUGE any second now.
- Shit, we’re going to miss it.
- *Hits refresh*
There are two great ways you can win a copy of WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE before its official pub date of September 1!
First -my publisher, Carolrhoda Lab is giving away a copy on their blog.
Second -I’ve got a giveaway up on goodreads through September 2nd. So please spread the word!
I wrote this book about two years ago -my first book took about four years to go from draft to publication. The point is it’s fun to celebrate with all the people who have supported me and this book along the way.
When: SEPTEMBER 9TH AT 7PM
Where: MECHANICS HALL LIBRARY 519 CONGRESS ST. PORTLAND, ME
What: Cupcakes, Reading, Wine/Beer in a really cool old school library!
Poster Book Launch
I spent a lot of middle school and the early parts of high school trying to be normal. In WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE my main character Ben is obsessed with the appearance of normalcy and doesn’t understand people like Ilona, the blue-haired skater girl, who reject it. (Who are these people I’m referencing? See last week’s post for character details.)
In order to write a whole book about something I have to connect to the material on a fundamental level. I distinctly remember experiences from elementary school, middle school and high school where I felt called out for being other than normal. In 4th grade I had friend ask the boy I liked what he thought of me. His response: “She’s pretty, but she’s kind of weird.” So for more years than I care to admit I tried really hard to be less weird. Something I understand now as a very typical part of adolescence -but what a waste!
As a middle school teacher I’m most in awe of those kids who seem to move through middle school with a strong sense of self firmly intact. Those kids who don’t try and be anyone but themselves. which in middle school this is not only an act of wisdom but one of bravery.
I have a weird name and weirder still -I made it up when I was 2. My family played the guitar and sang folks songs at Thanksgiving and went to nude beaches on summer vacation. I gave my stuffed animal monkey the name Harriet Irving because I couldn’t tell if it was male or female and I didn’t want to impose gender on it….I was nine. I was weird. And the only thing I regret about it is that I didn’t learn to embrace it sooner.
Next Wednesday I’ll be revealing the cover for WIRED MAN on the awesome YA Interrobang site -stay tuned!
So What’s this new book about anyway? “What’s its aboutness?” is a phrase my former fiction writing professor Justin Tussing used to use. Kind of like theme but more generous than theme, more room for loosey-goosey feelings about what you’re reading.
Yeah Kaufman, but what’s the book about? It’s about friendship, ultimately. Which is why I chose the dedication I’m revealing above. The acknowledgment section of a book is a bit like the blurb underneath one’s yearbook photo (see last week’s post). You want to be sincere and you don’t want to leave anyone out. A dedication is a little bit different. This book is really about finding the friends that make you feel at home in the world and no one has done that for me more than my dearest Tara. In our first meeting on the rugby field I stepped on her foot and broke her toe. This was not a tough girl move -it was a clutzy one. She still decided I was worth keeping around. Like any twenty year friendship we have had our share of ridiculous moments and poignant ones. I know there are more to come.
Here’s a little more about the book from the inside flap copy:
Ben Wireman is partially deaf and completely insecure. The only two things that make him feel normal are being a soccer goalie and hanging out with his best friend, Tyler.
Tyler Nuson is the golden boy, worshiped by girls and guys alike. But Tyler’s golden facade is cracking, and the dark secrets hidden behind it are oozing to the surface. Ben has no idea what to do when Tyler’s memories of their past start poisoning everything, including their friendship.
Enter Ilona Pierce. With tattoos, blue hair, and almost no friends, she’s exactly the kind of weirdo Ben has tried to avoid his entire life. But without Tyler, Ben isn’t sure who he is anymore, and maybe, just maybe, hanging out with a freak is what he needs.
Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature is a captivating and compelling story about the shifting dynamics between two best friends during their senior year in high school, as their loyalty to each other is tested by betrayal, secrets, girls, and the complex art of growing up.
Neal Shusterman’s book Challenger Deep was on my radar even before it won the National Book Award for young people’s literature -I swear! But winning the award didn’t shake my interest either. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression I’m wary of books, especially YA books, with these issues as their focus. Sometimes in YA mental illness is treated too “cutely” for my taste. And I really hate when it’s a surprise plot twist – as in actually none of this happened because the narrator is just batshit crazy!
In adult fiction I often find mental illness too hard for me to read about -call it a trigger if you want, but I just call it hard. It’s hard to read about harmful or scary thoughts that are not that different from ones you’ve had yourself. It’s even harder when the person having them is behaving in ways that are self destructive.
All this is to say I was relieved and a bit surprised to fall in love with Challenger Deep the way I did. Shusterman brilliantly blends the real world of its main character, sixteen year old Caden Bosch with the delusions and hallucinations that have taken over his life. Caden believes he is at sea, on a pirate ship bound for the Marianas Trench. The Captain and the parrot on the ship are at war for his loyalty. The book almost borders on magical realism but it is always clear that this alternate reality is one of delusion and not fantasy. Being on a ship, being at sea are wonderful metaphors for how Caden is adrift and un-tethered from reality and Shusterman is never heavy handed in using them.
Shusterman does an outstanding job of letting the reader understand how seductive this other world is to Caden but also how dangerous it is for him to remain there. About midway through the book the places where the real world and the world of delusion overlap become more clear to the reader -again a writer of lesser skill would have struggled to bring them together. I can’t say enough about this book for any reader seeking a great story and a better understanding of what it’s like to live through the throws of mental illness.