Is Global Warming Real?

Today a student asked me that. She was in the midst of an argument with another student, who I suspect was just trying to provoke her. But nonetheless I responded, “Do you want my answer as a science teacher, or a flaming liberal?”

I always assume my students can see my political flags flying a mile away but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about middle school it’s that you should never ever assume the students are actually listening to you. Most of the time you’re just that Charlie Brown teacher up there nattering away about something that is way less interesting than a snapchat from their friend about a chicken nugget that looked exactly like Harry Styles from One Direction.

But someone was listening because they asked me what a flaming liberal was. It could be that they’re truly interested or it could be that they smelled a way to get their teacher to go on a non-homework related tangent for the next 8-10 minutes while they snapchatted or texted under the desk. Regardless, I took the bait.

What’s a flaming liberal. Hmm, I thought about it for a minute before I began to rant.

“I’m a flaming liberal because I believe that everyone has the right to love and marry whomever they like, because I think all children deserve food and clothing and the semblance of equality in the quality of their education. I think everyone should make a living wage. I think the top 1% of our country should not control 35% of our nation’s wealth or that the wealthiest 85 people in the world should not have more resources than the 3.5 million poorest put together.* I think that everyone has a right to free healthcare and medicine and that older people should be taken care of regardless of their ability to pay. I think women and men should be granted a minimum of a year’s paid parental leave  and I’m more than willing to pay loads more in taxes so that all this can be paid for by our government. And yeah, global warming is real.”

Seriously, that is what I said. The 8th graders looked at me a little bug eyed, at least the ones who were still listening. Then we went back to standardized test prep -because unfortunately, flaming liberals like me do not yet rule the world or the educational system.

 

*okay, okay I didn’t really have these facts off the top of my head but 51% of all statistics are invented anyway.

Book Review: Challenger Deep

Challenger DeepNeal 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.

This is The Sign

Sign

This is the sign that hangs above the door on the way out of my classroom. It’s also the most important rule (to me) governing behavior in the tiny microcosm of controlled space which is my classroom.

I care that students learn about science. I hope that they find the world around them as fascinating and exciting as I do. But if they learn nothing from me all year except the importance of being kind….I would be okay with that too. Kind to others and kind to themselves.

Over the weekend we were again reminded of the violence of the world we live in. The violent actions of those with guns who seek to make their point by cutting down the lives of others. Not just in Paris, but in Lebanon and in Syria and too many places around the world.  I wrestle with the relative safety I feel in my every day life. Lucky? Guilty? Privileged? All of the above?

So what can I do? What can any of us do in our every day lives to resist, to feel less helpless, to inspire peace in others?

Here’s my short list:

  • Be kind to others
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Read a book to understand the perspective of another
  • Listen to someone else’s fears
  • Give your time to someone else
  • Find and do work that you love

Maybe it seems trite or cheesy but it helps me, and I do believe it matters. And that is the best I can do in the place that I am right now.

Once Around the Sun

SunToday my little boy is one year and one day old. He’s one. I’m aware of this milestone in a very different way than with Eliana who is now 5. The perspective I have with Avi is that I know after one it all starts to go so quickly. That first year is full of firsts. His first winter, spring and summer. His first boat ride, his first holidays, his first parade, etc. All this summer I thought about how last summer I was doing everything while pregnant, waddling to the beach, waddling to the fairs, eating a lot of ice cream. Full disclosure; I do that every summer.

The days are getting shorter and darker now. The sun at three in the afternoon feels like it’s just clinging to the sky, sinking below the trees.  Last year at this time I was afraid that the darkness I experienced after my first pregnancy would return with this one. And it hasn’t, it just hasn’t.

This year has brought tests of my parenting and myself as an adult in ways I could have never imagined. I’ve found strength in myself that I didn’t know was there. I’ve felt more love and also more loneliness than I’ve ever known before. All in just one trip around the sun.

Is it YA? Summer Reading Round Up

As a YA author and a middle school teacher, I read a lot of YA. But even if I wasn’t either, I still would. Stories about adolescence and coming of age interest me. They always have. The line between what is considered YA and what is not gets fuzzier every day -especially with new categories like NA joining the party.

Now that Labor Day is past and we’re officially in the heady waters of a new school year, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about three books I read this summer. All three featured young adult characters, though only one is officially categorized as YA.

LilyKingThe first of the three was FATHER OF THE RAIN by Lily King. In the first third of this book the main character is 12-13 years old and if the book kept her there it might even qualify for a YA label. But soon we speed up to her future as an adult in her mid-twenties and the bulk of the book is told from there. Even without this, there is something dark and gritty that would prevent me from ever labeling this book as YA even though it is a coming of age story. Perhaps it’s that the coming of age doesn’t really take place until the character is in her twenties. Or perhaps it’s that the main character is unprotected and just barely shielded from her alcoholic and sexually explicit father by her own naivete. Regardless the book is tense and emotionally engrossing from beginning to end.

BonegapThe second book I wanted to mention was BONE GAP by Laura Ruby. This YA novel featured incredible writing and original small town characters and layered on magical realist touches a la Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende. Magical realism is hard to do well and rarely done in YA -it’s all usually fantasy or realistic contemporary, but rarely are the two combined, and skillfully! Underneath the wonderful layers of disappearing girls, magical horseback rides and faces that can’t be seen is a story of self-acceptance and first love, both archetypal YA themes.

LightwecannotseeLastly, I read the much lauded ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr. Okay, this one is a Pulitzer prize winner as well as being endorsed by yours truly! So what I would mention here is that the two main characters, who’s lives we follow through World War II are both little more than adolescents for the entirety of the book. But no one would every categorize this book as YA. Perhaps because its characters are not engaged in the typical tropes or plot lines of adolescence? I think if YA is to survive and thrive as a true genre it can’t define itself by what it is not. As in, it’s not deep or thematic. Or it’s not complex as this book certainly is. These are neither true nor useful in reading or defining YA.

So read anything good this summer? YA or otherwise?

A Short List of Things I Do While Writing

Ha, ha, ha if you though the first thing was going to be writing or some such other glamorous author activity.

  • twitter
  • look up library books
  • update goodreads progress
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • read articles linked to twitter
  • read articles linked to facebook
  • consider entering online contests to win more books
  • write emails
  • write blog posts -sometimes about writing, sometimes about other ephemera
  • look up meaning of word ephemera or other somesuch to avoid looking like idiot
  • check craigslist for things I don’t really need
  • online browse for things I don’t really need
  • do consumer research for things I don’t really need
  • Watch occasional video of people or animals doing foolish things
  • twitter

Now this could be a wild rationalization but I do think that all this computer jiggery pokery does actually keep me in the seat -which keeps me writing longer. I think. Maybe. I’d write more about it but I have to go google myself.

Books by his bed

May was a killer blog month for me, June not so much. Life caught up to me, family, end of school year, a new edit letter on my Spring 2016 book -ha I wish I could say I’ve been writing. Mostly I open the letter, read and think, “whew I have a lot of work to do”! But I’ll get there, I will. In the mean time I have some thoughts on life and reading.

Many of you know that about 2 weeks go my whole life changed. It’s disingenuous to say it in lesser terms. My dad suffered a bleed in his brain that caused a stroke. I don’t want to get all medical here -not the place for it -but over the course of the last 2 weeks he’s been slowly regaining his consciousness and cognizance. There is a long road ahead for him relearning to do so many tasks that we take for granted.

Nick (dad) has had varying degrees of awareness about what happened to him and where he is. For a week he could barely open his eyes and even so there were a few things he asked for repeatedly. One of them was his book and his reading glasses. If you know my father, and it is so lovely that so many of my friends do, you know he is a man who loves words. I dedicated my first book to him with the words;

For Dad and the shared love of stories

Next to his bed at home my dad has his stacks of books. Stacks is not an exaggeration. Stories are what my dad turns to for entertainment, for joy, for distraction, for insomnia and to appreciate the beauty of the world. They provide a kind of security. When the narrative of life is challenging you can always focus on a different narrative when you open the pages of a book.

One of the first things I was able to do for my dad in the hospital was read to him. I opened up to his bookmark in The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien and picked up where he left off. Oddly, it was a book he had mentioned to me on the phone the last time we spoke. And here I was sharing it with him. We were in the ICU, there were tubes and beeping monitors everywhere and as I read, dad whispered hoarsely, “She gets the details just right. She nails the characterization with the details.” My mom, brother and I shook our heads. Even in the worst of situations, here was dad, still able to appreciate and love what was dear to him.

I was so happy to talk about this book with my dad. There in this surreal twilight world with it’s sickening sterilized plastic smells we discussed the main character and why it was she couldn’t be seen with her male companion -was he married? Too old for her? Was it just that it was Ireland in the 1960’s? We changed the narrative, if only for a few minutes.

So what am I reading right now? Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; a post apocalyptic novel with just the right amount of good writing and plausibility.  Here’s a little blurb from goodreads:

“Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”

It’s perfect for where I am and where I want to be.

 

Recipe for a Book Title -the Final Installment

Here are a few more stories about how books got their titles. I find the genesis of book titles totally fascinating -hopefully you do too!

Thanks to all my author friends who shared their stories!

Braider“The Good Braider was always The Good Braider and my editor and editorial staff all thought of it that way.
A novel coming out in a few months was always Rabbit in the Moon to me.  I was terribly committed to it, having found myths and symbolism around rabbits and the image of the rabbit in the moon in Cambodian culture. But now it’s called Either the Beginning or the End of the World,  taken from a Carolyn Forche poem.” -Terry Farish

Fletcher“With my debut, the title began as The Family Furnival. And then, fairly late in the game my editor told me that “some people” thought Furnival sounded like “funeral” and they couldn’t get beyond it. I polled literally dozens and dozens of people and no one else heard “funeral.” I got “carnival” “festival” “fun” and even (my favorite) “fur carnival” but no one (other than my editor’s “some people”) heard funeral. However, it was not a battle worth fighting, so I embarked on a name hunt. I wanted alliteration with family, but Fletcher actually has another secret meaning. My aunt is children’s book author Elizabeth Levy, and her first book series, back in the 1970s and 80s, were a series of picture books called Something Queer is Going On, and they featured a basset hound named Fletcher. So my book’s title -The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher – was ultimately a little inside joke with her!”  -Dana Alison Levy*

*Another gorgeous author website!!

No place to fall“My original title was Sing To The Wind. The editorial staff was concerned it sounded too young, so my editor pulled all sorts of phrases from the manuscript and No Place To Fall is what we kept coming back to. Now I can’t imagine any other title.” -Jaye Robin Brown
“Typically when I come up with my titles, I think of the simplest elements that represent my story, and I try to give it a more poetic meaning.  My story is about a lesbian girl in a small town in the rural south.  Since rainbows are the symbol for gay pride I wanted a title that represented rainbows without using the word.  After playing around with some words I came up with SOUTH OF SUNSHINE.  Rainbows are south of the sun, it’s set in the south and I named my fictitious small town Sunshine, Tennessee.  I think it accomplishes what I was going for very well.” -Dana Elmendorf
Water Castle“Secrets of Truth & Beauty was Just Like Mama Cass (changed because marketing didn’t think teens would know who Mama Cass was.)
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill was The Remarkable Adventures of the Girl Detective, the Boy Genius, and the Spy
The Friendship Riddle was Letter Bee
Very in Pieces was Bottle Cap.
So that makes one book — The Water Castle — that kept the title that I gave it.”  -Megan Frazer Blakemore
5to1“I named my book 5 TO 1 because it’s about a world with 5 boys for every 1 girl and I honestly couldn’t think of anything better. I kinda assumed they’d change it but they didn’t. In retrospect, I wish I’d spelled it out as search engines don’t handle numbers very well.”
RealMermaids3TitleChange (2)“My first Real Mermaids book was always ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings’ from submission to publication but the other three titles in the series went through some debate, especially my third book (as did the cover art!). Here’s a comparison of the first title ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Have Two Left Feet’ (which the sales team thought young readers wouldn’t ‘get’) and the second ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Need High Heels’ (which is what went to print).”  -Helene Boudreau

Recipe for a Book Title — Part 2

As promised -a follow up to last week’s post about the new title for my 2016 release:

WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE

I asked a few writer friends to weigh in on their own process in arriving at a title. Here’s what they said:

Dead girls“My original working title was Legacy which I knew would never make it to print–too generic, too dull, etc. I just could never come up with anything that seemed quite right. When it came time to submit, Lauren (agent) came up with Poor Little Dead Girls as a catchier option, and it stuck. I love that it’s memorable, and it fits the tone of the book, but I do get some weird looks when I casually bring it up in conversation.” – Lizzie Carlson Friend

 

EmptyTHE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY was ILLEGAL the whole time I was writing it, pitching it and imagining it on a shelf.  About two months after I sold it, my editor casually said, “Oh, you know we can’t call it ILLEGAL, right?  There’s already a novel out with that title.”  I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened.  But now I love my title so much I couldn’t imagine it being anything else.” –Maria Andreu*

*Side note: Maria has one of the best author websites around! Check it out!!
SandV“My working title of SEX & VIOLENCE was the more benign and enigmatic THE CUPCAKE LADY OF TACOMA.This was not a title my editor could live with and I couldn’t think of anything better so when he took the book to acquisitions, he used the eye-catching title SEX & VIOLENCE. I wasn’t thrilled with this title; I thought it too blunt and also too in your face for my nice little book about lake cabin summer adventures. Even as we worked on it, I couldn’t think of anything better and after a bit, it just grew on me. Then the Meghan Cox Gurdon article happened in the WSJ and I said to my editor, what the hell, let’s just call it SEX & VIOLENCE, bc that’s what we’re being accused of writing about anyway. It still is a strange title to stand behind, though. I always feel a bit sheepish.
I should be making up better working titles for future books, but all the rest of them had no title as we were working on them. It’s kind of the worst part about the process, in some ways. I wonder if not really knowing what your story is about until you edit it and revise it several times plays into this weirdness, because that has been the case with me in all subsequent books, including the 4th one I just handed in.” – Carrie Mesrobian
MurkFrenzy was always Frenzy. Editorial agreed it was a perfect fit for my first book.
The Murk, which came out a couple weeks ago, was originally titled Mergo, a Latin word meaning I drown, I bury, I overwhelm. It’s also the name of the mysterious creature/antagonist of the book. I still prefer it to The Murk, but the editorial team thought Mergo was too vague for an MG book, and they were probably right. The Murk was my suggestion too, so I’m happy that I was able to have some say in the end.” —Robert Lettrick

 

I had so many great responses to my question I needed to divide them into two posts. The next installment coming next week…