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Amy's thoughts on young adult literature, the universe, and her dog Miles. Amy is the author of Vibes and Shadow Falls.
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1. On useless crap.

I love New Year's resolutions. I appreciate the impetus to take a look at my life, and choose something I'd like to do differently, and then acting on that desire instead of letting it nag the back of my mind. That's why I actually take my resolutions very seriously, and I even announce them on Facebook to hold myself accountable.

This year my resolution was not to buy anything for myself for a year. No sweaters, no shoes, no boots, no underwear or socks. No hats, no coats, no tchotchkies, no cosmetics. No. More. Crap.

I was surprised by the reactions I got from friends when I announced my intentions. "Seems extreme," was one comment. Another person joked that I was going to be pretty smelly if I didn't buy soap. Didn't appreciate that one. Of course I'll purchase what I need to keep clean. My husband didn't believe I'd be able to do it, which provides some hint at my reasons for choosing to. I can now report that I've reached the third month of the year, and I still haven't bought myself anything new, at all, except I decided to switch my brand of drug-store face cream, and so far I'm happy with the change.

A lot of people are baffled about my sudden aesceticism, and I decided to explain where it came from, partly because I wasn't absolutely certain of all my reasons for doing it. I'm never certain about anything until I try to write about it, actually.

When I became a mother, I had the same reaction most new parents have: Complete joy, unparalleled love, and paralyzing, keep-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night terror. Suddenly I was responsible for small being(s) who were absolutely dependent on me for sustenance, shelter, and safety. Until you have a child, it's hard to feel in your gut the total responsibility a parent has toward her baby. Take my word for it, non-parents, it's a definite blow to your psyche. Suddenly, nothing you desire comes even close in importance to seeing that your child is safe, well-fed, warm, and loved.

When my baby cried, it was emotional agony for me if I couldn't make it better. If my baby was in pain, or was simply mysteriously freaking out and I couldn't figure out why, I honestly felt like I would go crazy if I couldn't fix it. It's so scary, all the possibilities of what might be tormenting an inconsolable baby: Is it a hair wrapped around a digit? A migraine headache? A potentially fatal intestinal blockage? Or is it just that I'm holding her the wrong way? The anguish a new parent feels in those moments can be intense.

For me, though, I always knew she'd had enough to eat. It wasn't dysentery, or typhoid, or a poisonous insect bite, or an undiagnosed birth defect in one of her organs. I knew this because I live in America where I have access to health care, and I have enough money to buy food for my kids and to provide safe haven for them.

I'm so lucky.

Because these conditions of ease and comfort do not exist for the majority of parents in our world. The majority. MOST people in the world are food insecure, which means that there are lots of parents, today, this very moment, watching their child moan in pain from being hungry, and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. The anguish of being a parent, knowing what is wrong, knowing that your kid might even die from the problem, and still not being able to fix it? Unimaginable. Unbearable. Horrific.

This shift in my world view sapped the joy of shopping from me. I keep thinking about parents fleeing Syria, trying to carry their children across a desert, parents in Somalia, whose children have stopped growing, parents right here in the USA whose kids eat rice every meal, knowing the food stamps won't last much longer. Getting something for myself, with all that on my mind, wasn't fun anymore.

I know that what I'm doing is kind of useless. It's self-absorbed, really. Who am I helping? No one. I give to charities, but not enough. I could give more. Actually I think I will. I just wanted to stop feeling so guilty after the initial fun had worn off from my latest needless purchase.

I've hesitated about writing about this because I didn't want to seem sanctimonious. I don't begrudge anyone their new jeans. I truly don't. Life is hard, and if shopping is your way of coping, then I say go for it. Right now, this year, my way of coping is to not shop. I think of it as an expression of solidarity with the parents who don't even have the option to go shopping for themselves. And you know what? I do feel a little bit better about my choices. It's a break from stuff.  A break from shopping. A break from my own petty preoccupations with the material world.

I didn't expect this, but I feel so free.

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2. Which Sky Chasers character are you? Take the quiz to find out!


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3. On hiding the female form.

Once upon a time, women's bodies were hidden this way:

Waists were cinched with whale bone corsets, full skirts concealed legs and ankles, hats and veils on heads, gloves over white fingers, parasols between skin and sun. To expose a woman's body was to disgrace her. A woman's body was treated with shame.

Now women's bodies are hidden like this:

The fat on this girl's legs has been hidden, her true skin tone obscured, corrected, her waistline digitally cinched ever tighter, her legs narrowed, because Jessica Alba was not beautiful enough.

So now women try to hide their own bodies:

They hide their bodies by eating less, until their muscles atrophy and their internal organs stop functioning. They hide their bodies with Spanx, with cosmetics, with collagen injections and laser treatments, with surgery.

But some women refuse to hide their bodies. Sometimes they are ridiculed for it:

In some places, the consequences are worse:

These women are brave.

We are brave.

We are aging naturally, we are eating healthy food and exercising for our health, not our appearance. We are raising our daughters to be cunning, strong, and fearless. No one takes our picture and puts it on a billboard, but we are your doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, musicians, artists, and writers. We are mothers. 

We know what true beauty is.

True beauty does not hide itself. True beauty is not afraid. True beauty is timeless.

We don't learn the lessons they try to teach us. We refuse to hide behind their idolatry. We find our own idols.

MARIE CURIE, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Science

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, first woman US Supreme Court Justice

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, the first US Secretary of State

Whoever you are holding the camera, the scalpel, the needle, the laser, the stone, we do not need you to see us as beautiful. 

We don't need you at all.

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4. A brief history of the hoodie.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, a hoodie called up images of heroic athletes working to overcome crushing odds to better themselves and win the day. Rocky Balboa wore his hooded sweatshirt as he ran up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, accompanied by a choir of singers belting out, "Feeling strong now!!" This was back when Sylvester Stalone made great movies.
When people wore a hoodie in the 1970's it meant they were working hard to better themselves, sweating it out, getting strong.

But somewhere along the line, hoodies started to mean this:

If you do an internet search that pairs the words, 'hoodie,' with 'crime,' you find that lots of criminals wear hoodies. This is logical, given that the hoodie can obscure your face from a security camera, and make you hard to identify in a line-up if you're caught. A hoodie can be useful if you're up to no good.

But that's not why most of us wear hoodies. I've got one, and I wear it when I go running because I can put up the hood during my warm-up on a cold day, and then once I'm sweating, I can flip it back and I feel cooler. I can unzip the front and get cooler still. When I'm done with my run, I can bundle up again on my walk home. If it starts to rain on me, my hood provides a little shelter. My hoodie is warm, and comfy, and it's one of the most useful, versatile pieces of clothing I own.

I bet that's how Trayvon Martin felt about his hoodie. He was the unarmed teenage boy who, in February of 2012, went to a 7-Eleven to buy iced tea and Skittles, only to be shot and killed by George Zimmerman.

Throughout the media circus that followed, we heard countless mentions of Martin's hoodie. Geraldo Rivera famously said, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” (Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/74392.html#ixzz2thsLEE1L) Rivera, perhaps hearing the mistake he'd made, tried to explain himself: "It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-Eleven, the kid’s wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace." Even if Rivera's intentions had been to advise young men to protect themselves, the logic is right there in his words: Dark Skin + Hoodie = Danger.

One has to wonder if that was George Zimmerman's logic, too.

It wasn't just Rivera making the connection. Hundreds of hooded images of Martin were paraded about, many of them less than flattering, or downright slanderous:

Martin did NOT steal the Skittles. Here's a link to the surveillance video of him buying them from the clerk the night he died: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W34pSMfM6g

There was conjecture that Martin may have been involved in some burglaries, though he was never charged, and it was never proven that the items in his possession had actually been stolen. He'd been suspended for having marijuana paraphernalia in his school locker, but he did not have a juvenile record. It's especially important to note that Martin did not approach Zimmerman in any way. Zimmerman disregarded the advice of the police dispatcher he was on the phone with, followed Martin, confronted him, and when Martin got scared, or angry, or both, and tried to defend himself, Zimmerman shot him. Tragically, needlessly, the boy died.

We all know what happened next. George Zimmerman pleaded self defense, and was found not guilty.

In the wake of the grief and outrage that followed, one must ask the question: Why did the the negative details about Trayvon Martin's past even come up? Why was the hoodie itself so hotly debated? They were irrelevant to the case, but Martin's past indiscretions and wardrobe choice seemed to be on trial just as much as George Zimmerman was. At the end of it all, looking at the way Martin's image was scrutinized in the media, and how Zimmerman was shockingly let off the hook for his murder, one might conclude: If you are a young black man in America and you're shot down, you have to be a saint for your murderer to be convicted. And you better not be wearing a hoodie.

And that, my friends, is what oppression looks like.

Link to The Million Hoodies Movement.

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Hi all,

This week I'm running a goodreads giveaway. See below!

    Goodreads Book Giveaway

        Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan


          by Amy Kathleen Ryan

            Giveaway ends February 14, 2014.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.
      Enter to win

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Here is what the e-verse is saying:

From a Kirkus starred review: "...a climax that is tense and viscerally frightening...Detailed and gripping, with a thorough and satisfying resolution."

MajiBookshelf: "Me not being a fan of books set in space, this series totally blew me away! I'm so happy that I was able to read it, and would totally recommend it to all sci-fi readers out there! I will be looking forward to future books by Amy Kathleen Ryan!"

Fresh Fiction: "Fans of Orson Scott Card and Suzanne Collins will appreciate the depth of Amy Kathleen Ryan's world and how it reveals society at its weakest and strongest points."
Snarky Bird: "This trilogy offers a great mix of dynamic characters, politics and well, spaceships." 

Me on Books: "Flame is a tense and dangerous conclusion to a series about survival, faith, power and hope."

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7. For anyone who thinks gay people should be "reformed."

(Reposting this in solidarity with the gay couples in Utah who have just had their right to marry violated by the government.)

Imagine a world where almost everyone is gay. It’s fully accepted that women ought to fall in love and marry other women, and men should marry other men. Every movie and TV show depicts gay couples and families. In the park, everywhere you look, there are gay couples strolling hand in hand, lying on a blanket looking at the clouds, or just laughing together, having a good time. No one bothers them, because in this world, everyone assumes that everyone else is gay.
Since being gay is ‘normal,’ gay people have all the power in this society. Every school board member, state legislator, and congress-person is gay. Even the President of the United States is gay. In fact, there has never been an openly straight president in our entire nation’s history.
Now imagine that you’re one of few straight people in this world, and you've finally met the squeeze of your dreams. If you’re a girl, you’ve found that super cute guy with blue eyes and dimples. If you’re a guy, you’ve found that gorgeous girl with the shiny hair you’ve been looking for all your life. For the first time, you’ve met a person who feels right, who makes you happy and excited and peaceful all at once. There’s a problem, though. When you walk down the street together, you get dirty looks from passing gay couples who think that you’re disgusting. You can’t even hold hands when you go to the movies because roaming bands of gay guys might come and beat you up. You have to somehow tell your moms that you’re straight, and when you do, they cry, and maybe even kick you out of the house. In fact, now that everyone knows you’re straight, they act weird around you, embarrassed. Many of them stop being your friend.
After a year or two of this treatment, maybe you decide that being with your perfect squeeze isn’t worth all this grief and rejection. You decide that being straight is only in your head, and that if you try really hard, you can make yourself be attracted to same-sex people. So you give up your perfect squeeze, and you try to “pass” for gay. If you’re a guy, you find a decent looking dude, and you pretend you can’t get enough of touching him. If you’re a girl, you find a nice chick with good skin and you make out in the hallways at school. Because that’s what everyone wants you to do.
Could you do it? Could you make yourself be attracted to someone in order to satisfy a social order you don’t fit into? Could you suddenly decide that you’ve had enough of being straight, that you’re gay now, and you’re going to be happy with that? 
 When I met my husband, I thought he was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. I loved the way he rubbed my back after making me laugh. I loved kissing him, and holding his hand, and snuggling with him. I didn’t have to force it. I wanted to do all these things because, on a very basic, biological, even cellular level, I was attracted to him. I didn’t decide to be attracted. I wasn’t attracted to him because I thought other people would approve. The attraction came first, before everything else, and I had absolutely no power over it.
            Ask anybody about their squeeze, they’d be likely to tell you the same thing. There was just something about her. I felt drawn to him immediately. There’s no reason they’re attracted to the people they want. They just are. Instinctive, biological attraction is a universal human experience. We want who we want. We can’t help it.
            If attraction is powerful and ungovernable, then Love is a force of nature akin to a hurricane. Love cannot be contained. When two people recognize their soul mate in each other, the world lights up around them. Colors are bolder and the air is cleaner. The future is suddenly not so scary, because they have each other, and they know they always will. They’re so sure of this, in fact, that they want to stand up in front of everyone they know and declare that from this day forward, they will be unquestioningly devoted to each other. For the rest of their lives, they will act as one, because from now on, they are part of a family.
            Because that’s what marriage is. Marriage is two people deciding to make a new family, even if it’s just a family of two.
            I would never, ever want to deprive anyone of that experience. I could never say to another human being: “I can know the joy of declaring my love for my soul mate and committing myself to him forever, but you never can.” Who could dream of taking that away from another human being?
Anyone who thinks that heterosexuality can be "chosen" is either lacking in basic human empathy, or is a self-loathing closeted homosexual themselves. Either way, it's no way to be.
Don't like same sex marriage? Marry the opposite sex, mind your own business, and let other people choose their own lovers. Okay? It's time to grow up already, America.

See this article about a recent ruling on Oklahoma:http://bit.do/gvjo
Quote from ruling judge:
“Exclusion of just one class of citizens from receiving a marriage license based upon the perceived ‘threat’ they pose to the marital institution is, at bottom, an arbitrary exclusion based upon the majority’s disapproval of the defined class. It is also insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, enduring relationships.”

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8. Jane and Henry

            Jane Austen and I enjoy an occasional acquaintance. I open one of her novels, catch a whiff of printer’s ink and rose water, and suddenly she is with me. She waits patiently until I close her book before she asks her questions.
            “It certainly is warm here, yet I see no hearth!”
            I point to the radiator. “The fire that warms this contrivance is in the root cellar.”
            “How clever, though a fire can be very merry. Where are we going?”
            “To the kitchen,” I say. “I've left the dishes rathertoo long.”
            “What?” she says as I scrape the egg yolk off my breakfast plate. “Are you doing that yourself?”
            “Here in the colonies, the few servants available work only for the very rich.”
            “How vexing!” She watches, captivated as I turn off the water. “Water comes right from the walls, does it?”
            I improvise: “The wall makes it. Now look at this, Jane.”  I go to my desk and turn on my computer.
            “What a wonderful little lamp!” she exclaims politely, though I can see she is appalled by its ugliness. “Where does the oil go?”
            “Actually, Jane, this is more like pen and paper than it is like a lamp.” I point to the keyboard.
            “Letters!” She says. “But it must take so very long to search out the correct -- Oh!” She cries, for I have begun to type, and my speed is positively dizzying.
            She reads over my shoulder, delighted with what she sees. “What beautiful sentiments! What lovely language!”
            “Thank you,” I say.
            She reads my work aloud: “We the people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union… You must be very studied in matters of state!” With a sideways glance at my person, she ventures, “Perhaps this occupation, which belonged only to the men of my day, is the reason you go about in trousers?”
            “My attire is not entirely unrelated to democratic government,” I say to cover the fact that my furious typing has stopped. I am finished with the Preamble, and now I am at a loss. The Preamble is all I know. My eye alights on a slip of paper, and I wince with immediate regret. A schedule I'd written for myself the night before lies in full view on my desktop.
Before I can hide it, Jane says, “I fear I am keeping you from your work.”
            “Not at all, don't give it a thought!”
            “But here it says that you were to begin revisions on your novel at eight AM, and I've selfishly kept you occupied with my own writing these many hours. Do not let me prevent you! I am quite content to amuse myself with a novel from your library until teatime.”
            “It is nearly teatime, now,” I say, wondering if I have any cookies left in the cupboard. I begin to rise from my desk when I hear a throat primly cleared.
            “Oh, I haven't any appetite, and you must be eager to begin your work.”
            “Naturally,” I say, sitting down again. “You are too good.”
            She walks to my bookshelf and peruses the selection. When her back is turned, I feverishly type the Preamble to the Constitution a few more times. I have to stop, though, when she stations herself on the divan in perfect position to view my computer screen.
She opens The Tropic of Capricorn.
            I open the file containing my novel. I look at the first sentence. There are no truths universally acknowledged, and no one is uniting the best blessings of existence. Morality is so absent from the page that not even morality’s absence is a commentary on anything.
            “Do you call this writing?” I hear Jane mutter to herself. “This is obscene.”
            I give her such a look that my true sentiments are fully, visibly expressed.
            “Oh, dear!” She cries upon seeing my countenance. “I am sure your writing is everything this is not!” She holds up Henry Miller. “I am only on page one and already confronted with such grotesque offenses!”
            Suddenly the overwhelming odor of printer’s ink and human effluence pervades my apartment. With dread I realize the smell is coming from my bedroom. He is doubtless reclined on my clean sheets, utterly naked. I can only hope he has bathed recently. “Obscenity is a concept employed by the cowardly,” he mutters, his voice resonating through the wood of the bedroom door. I am momentarily relieved that he’s said no more, until he adds, “you prudish, frigid husk.”
            “Who is here!?” Jane whispers, alarmed.
            I move in front of the bedroom door. “It was the man delivering more water.”
            “I thought the water was made in the wall!” She says, agitated.
            “Someone has to put in the ingredients, doesn't he?”
            “I suppose,” she says suspiciously, but delicacy prevents her from pursuing the subject further. “Perhaps a walk would be in order,” she mumbles.
            “Yes, Jane, you are looking pale,” I say by way of excusing my readiness to usher her out.
            She gathers her shawl about her shoulders, ties a bonnet under her chin, and walks through my front door, muttering, "Boar." Or maybe it was "bore."
            “Overrated priggish little noodle,” I hear growled from my bedroom.
            “Yeah, well I only read you for graduate credit,” I remind him.
            “Oh? And who reads you?”
            It is best to ignore him. And I should work on my first sentence, I remind myself. I should make it perfect.
            Maybe not perfect. Maybe just good.
            But what is good?
            The question is terrifying enough to warrant a good gorging. I get the cookies from the cabinet, pick up the Tropic of Capricorn, and head for the bedroom.
            “My god you’ve gotten fat.” He leers.
            “Move over.” I kick at a hairy leg.

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9. Nation’s fat lazy husbands wish their wives looked more like Angelina Jolie

A recent Pew Study has found that up to 60% of American fat lazy husbands wish their wives looked like Angelina Jolie. The other 40% of those surveyed mentioned such unattainable actresses as Megan Fox, Scarlett Johansen, and Jessica Alba.

When asked to comment on their choices, one respondent said, “It’s just you can really tell Angelina works hard at her appearance, you know? She’s always got her hair fixed nice, and her makeup looks good. And I think she’s got really nice taste in evening gowns. My wife…” Respondent pauses to think while scratching a fungus growing in the folds of skin between his fat rolls, “I mean I’m lucky if she puts on a tube top, you know?” Other respondents echoed similar concerns while picking at hairy moles, pulling underwear out of their butt cracks, or pausing to swallow a large mouthful of under-chewed meatball sandwich.

Respondents’ wives were too busy cleaning their houses, earning a living, mothering their children, and working out at the gym to comment.

(If I wrote for The Onion)

((And for the record, my husband is neither fat nor lazy. He's actually very cute.))

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10. Learning to talk - (Beware: F-Bombs.)

            I have a two year old daughter who is a big talker, but like a lot of kids her age, she has trouble with certain sounds. Lately almost every vowel that comes out of her mouth sounds like “uh.” So our conversations go like this:
            “Fuhk.” She jabs her hand into the air in the direction of the kitchen counter.
            “What honey?”
            “Fuhk. Fuhk.”
            I go to the counter and randomly pick up objects –a wooden spoon, a ladle. “This? This?”
            “No! Fuhk!”
            “Point to it, honey,” I say as the sweat soaks through my shirt.
            I finally realize that she wants a fork, except she can’t have one because she’s only allowed to have them during mealtime lest she remove one of her sisters’ eyeballs with it.
            “Not now honey. You can have a fork at lunch time.”
            At which point she throws herself on the floor, kicking and screaming, “FUUUUUUUUUUUHK!!! FUUUUUUUUUUUUHK!!!”
            My thoughts exactly.
            She also has trouble making the “th” sound, and so she’ll substitute, “f” for it. This linguistic peccadillo becomes especially awkward when the grandparents come to visit.
            “Thank Grandpa for the new Elmo doll,” I say as I pick up torn wrapping paper from the floor.
            “Thak,” she says around the wad of red fur in her mouth.
            My heart leaps with hope. She almost said it right! “Take Elmo’s hand out of your mouth and speak clearly.”
            She sweetly obliges, climbs onto grandpa’s lap, places one chubby hand on either side of his face, and says quite clearly, “Fuhk you, Pop Pop.”
            My father is hard of hearing, and he bends his ear toward her. “What honey?”
            “Fuhk. You.”
            “What?” he says, refusing to believe his own senses.
            “FUHK! YOU!!!” she yells into his face, and runs off with Elmo trailing behind.
            Grandpa looks at me, pearly blue eyes clouded with confusion.
            “Just say you’re welcome,” I tell him.
            The problem is that anyone who knows my husband and me are aware we suffer from the condition of potty mouth. Like every conscientious couple, when I was pregnant we resolved to purge all swears from our vocabulary so that on the auspicious day we would be curse-free. For months we were pure of mouth and thought, somewhat, and on the inaugural day of our parenthood we believed we’d been adequately conditioned to avoid the salty side of the English language. The problem is that when you become a parent, your stress reaches a level heretofore unimagined. You can find yourself pacing the living room at three in the morning, not having slept four consecutive hours for weeks, with an infant inexplicably screaming in your ear. When your husband asks you if you’re absolutely certain you mixed the formula correctly as he examines it under the light... I defy anyone not to release a few expletives under these conditions.
           So I feel a little guilty that, during moments of extreme duress, I might have relieved myself of a few fu*ks within my daughter’s hearing. A worry nags at the back of my mind that my predilection for cursing is what led to her phonetic confusion. To make matters worse, I think she has begun to notice the flicker of shame on my face whenever she says it, because lately she’s been coming up to me when there are no forks in sight, says, “Fuhk,” then visibly enjoys my unease.
            I know in my heart if I tell her to stop saying it, she’ll develop a one-word vocabulary pretty quickly. What’s worse, her vocabulary is expanding, but she can’t say the “T” or “G” sound either. So I do my best to suppress my guilt and let her explore the myriad applications for this combination of phonemes.
            And my favorite, owing to my obliging explanation for where farts come from: Fart=Fuhk Butt. (She can say the “T” sound in “butt” perfectly, but not fart? Do you see why I sometimes wonder if she is, if you’ll excuse the expression, fu*king with me?)
           She’ll grow out of it. Her language skills are developing by leaps and bounds. She’s beginning to explore verbs, in fact, and is even starting to form simple sentences. Even if she has trouble pronouncing letters like “s,” she’s making an effort, and it really is exciting. So when she comes up to me holding her frog toy, lays him gently on a chair, points proudly, and says, “Fuhk shit in chair,” I’m a proud momma, even as my mother in law stares at me in horror.

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11. The defilement of Hannah Montana.

Unless you're living in Antarctica right now, you know that the media has been in an uproar over Miley Cyrus's lascivious performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. My first reaction was: "Meh." Much ado about nothing. But the more I've seen written about it, the more interested I've become, not in Miley's silly dance, but in the media's reaction to it.

A few days ago I watched the dance on YouTube to see what all the fuss was about. There's Miley shaking her tail feathers and simulating oral sex, surrounded by people dressed up as giant plush toys. The choreography didn't wow me, nor did the artistic vision behind the display, but the entire thing is very clearly the work of many professionals. To get something like that together, a juggernaut of producers, choreographers, audio-visual experts, software engineers, costume designers, dancers, and cameramen all had to come together to execute this folly. Miley Cyrus herself must have had an enormous staff of people, from the agents who fought to get her the gig, (which must have been sought after by many performers,) to her make-up artists and hair specialists, not to mention all the dancing lessons and coaching she must have gotten regarding how to properly twerk.

And then: OUTRAGE! How dare Miley Cyrus behave like a wanton slattern, stripping down to her underwear to gyrate so suggestively! Suddenly she is at the center of a disapproval vortex for performing in a dance that someone else designed, being asked to explain herself only to have her absolute dumbest sound-bites published. (Were there any intelligent sounding bites? Perhaps we'll never know.) This twenty year old girl is being grilled rather mercilessly.

Considering, though, all the people involved in the show, I have to ask why isn't anyone else being held accountable? Somehow I doubt the dancing puppets, the twerking, or even the song were all Miley's idea. After all, she was hired for this gig by somebody, and told what was expected of her. She was given a job to do, and she did it.

I did a quick web search looking for the names of the choreographers and producers who are ultimately responsible for the show, but I couldn't turn up any interviews done with them. All the attention and scorn is for Miley. I went to the MTV website and found triumphant reports of Miley's record sales skyrocketing, and proud mention of how her name dominates social media. She sure is cashing in on all that disapproval, and so are a lot of other people. So I can't help wondering: Wasn't she just trying to do what they asked of her? And I'm sorry to say this, but at the age of twenty, I would never expect her to have the kind of judgment an older woman would have. She's young, ambitious, she wanted to please her bosses.

In the final analysis, what I see when I look at that performance is a young woman's body being exploited --by a multinational corporation, by producers, by music executives, and by herself. Was she a victim? Not at all. She was more than complicit in that performance; she obviously embraced it. But I have to wonder at all the many people behind that dance number, the people pulling all the strings to make it happen, and question why twenty year old Miley is the only one sitting on hot coals.

To me the answer is obvious: Because the ones behind the scenes are mostly wealthy middle aged businessmen, and she is a young woman.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I'm pulling out the sexism card.

As soon as a woman exposes her body to suggest sexuality, she is labeled a slut. No matter that she was fulfilling a contract, no matter that a thousand other people are making money off what some see as her degradation. She's called the slut. She's named the whore. My personal reaction to her dance was to feel a little grossed out, but rather than heap all responsibility on her head, I think the responsibility can be spread around to plenty of other people who made the cynical choice to display her that way for the sake of money. They knew exactly what would happen in the media, and probably so did Ms. Cyrus. This tempest in a teapot is every bit as choreographed as Miley's twerking, only in this case, you and I are the performers, and we are fulfilling our role splendidly.

We are talking about it, we are blogging about it, tweeting and twerking about it. We are dancing where they want us to go, and with us come our dollars. Because they knew that nothing gets people more worked up than seeing a young woman unapologetically embracing her role as a sexual object. If it hadn't been Hannah Montana it would have been someone else, but they chose Miley because a few short years ago she had a wholesome, spotless image, and turning that image on its head would provoke the most heated response, and bring in the most money.

I don't have a problem with Miley Cyrus. I have a problem with the system that made such a display so damn profitable.

3 Comments on The defilement of Hannah Montana., last added: 9/6/2013
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12. Tales of School Humiliation: Chapter One

The thing about middle school is that you are thrown into close proximity with people who you would never socialize with by choice. The kids tend to self sort, so the smarties hang out together, and the burn-outs corner a table in the lunch room from which they emit their dreadful vibes. But that doesn't mean you won't get stuck sitting next to someone who loathes your very soul in math class.

There was this one guy I remember from school who seemed to see into the very pit of my being and recognize some irredeemable shortcoming there. His name was Mark Something. I didn't think much of him either. I was always a good student, and he never seemed to try very hard. He was kind of chunky, and he walked with the kind of lumbering gait you see more often on a middle aged retiree. We were in band together, and he was a consummate musician. He played the French horn, or the Souzaphone, or some large, curly brass instrument. I played rhythm piano, quite poorly I might add, which probably didn't do anything to dispel his contempt.

It was people like this I learned to avoid. I sat with my speech team compadres at lunch, I hung out after school with my goofball pal Annika, I avoided parties altogether. In short, I was not very sociable, though I felt like I ought to be, and to be honest, that hasn't changed much even three decades later.

I wasn't without my petty rebellions, though. One day I wrote on the corner of my desk, "This sucks." I thought I'd gotten away with something occult and mysterious. I'd defaced public property! I was a true rebel! Imagine my surprise when the next day I discovered that someone who sat in my desk during another period wrote a reply: "No kidding." I had a partner in crime! Naturally I don't remember the conversation, but it went something like this:

"School is boring."
"I hate social studies."
"Who cares what the Netherlands exports?"
"You got a problem with tulips?"
"Yeah. I got a problem with tulips. What of it?"

Like that. Meaningless banter, but kind of funny, kind of entertaining, and healing to my introverted soul.

Finally, after a couple weeks of this exchange, I committed a fatal error. I finally breached the firewall of our concealed identities, and asked the name of my desk buddy. The reply came: "Mark Something. Who are you?"

Mark Something? The guy who loathes me in band? The chubby guy who walks like my grandpa? Mark SOMETHING? I was very disappointed.

I wrote something I wish very much I hadn't. I wrote: "I'm Amy Ryan. I'm not thrilled about it either."

And boom. When I saw Mark Something in band class his loathing had morphed into a complete withdrawal of any kind of emotion whatsoever. He no longer looked into my being and found it wanting. He no longer looked at me at all. I did not exist to him. All desk banter stopped.

And ever since, I can't help wondering if I'd left that last bit off. If I'd just told him my name and waited for his reaction, if he might have become my friend? We had a connection after all. If I hadn't assumed that he would be bummed out to see my name under his, if I hadn't been so defensive, maybe band class could have become fun instead of boring, and I'd have made a friend instead of an enemy.

That is one of thousands of moments in my life I wish I could go back and fix. Mark Something, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I ruined it. You can write on my desk anytime.

That's the problem, though. I will probably never see him again, and even if I did, I doubt I'd recognize him. But I remember what happened. It has stayed with me through the decades, even haunted me a little, as though it were whispering in my ear that I was supposed to learn something from it.

The connections we have with people make life interesting and worthwhile. Before our desk graffiti, I had a connection with Mark, even if it was defined by a mutual dislike. The graffiti could have changed that, and gave us a chance to create a different mode in our relation to each other, but I was too stubborn to let my idea of our connection change. With one sentence I gave Mark a reason to sever our tie altogether. Maybe if I'd been willing to tolerate the ambiguity of our relationship, something even more special and interesting than our desk graffiti would have happened. But I couldn't tolerate that ambiguity. I had to keep defining us as enemies, so I wasn't open to anything else. Something about that negative definition felt safer to me than the possibility of change.

If I hadn't been defensive, if I'd just let my name hang there, he might have responded meanly, or he might have decided to offer friendship. I couldn't have done anything to prevent him from putting me down if he'd wanted to. My only power in the situation was how I behaved. I don't know if I let Mark Something down, but I think I did let myself down a little in the name of self protection. I don't know if the experience really changed me, or if I learned anything from it at the time. I think I was too young to think very deeply about what this exchange meant for me and the way I related to the world. But I can think about it now.

It reminds me of a quote from the poet W.H. Auden: "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"

So here's what I think: My definition of Mark Something as an enemy was actually useless. It was useless to define him at all. A better attitude would have been to accept the fact that I had no idea how he would react to seeing my name written on that desk. I had no control in the situation. Trying to maintain our old orientation to each other, persisting in seeing him as my enemy, was cowardly. If I'd been brave, if I'd been open to change, I might have a happy memory of that time instead of a sad one.

It is better to face the world with an open heart than a closed one.

Sometimes it's better to let your name stand alone.

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13. A minute a week.

I've been an on again, off again runner for most of my adult life. When I'm off, it's because I've overdone it and injured myself. When I'm on, instead of enjoying the run I'm on, I'm always thinking about how far I'm GOING to be able to run. I would read articles written by seasoned marathoners, and followed the advice of these experts who tell you that you can build your mileage quickly if you take a one minute walking break in the middle of a run, or that you can increase your mileage ten percent per week. I dutifully followed these rules, confident I was doing what I was 'supposed' to do, yet they still led to injury. I would end up with a wicked case of plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, or incredibly painful clicking hip joints. I thought for a long time that soreness is simply a part of running, that it's normal. After all, most runners' magazines are filled with tips about how to wrap sore feet or properly ice a throbbing knee, so I ignored what my body was telling me. The truth is, I am an impatient person, I want what I want right now, and if that means I have to damage my body trying to reach my goal, I tend to grit my teeth and try to run through the pain --until I can't anymore.

Since the last time I was running in my mid thirties, I've had my kids, put on a bit of weight, and turned forty. For a while I tried to tell myself that I can't run anymore, that I shouldn't even try it. Instead I walked, or used my elliptical trainer. After all I've got kids to keep up with. I can't afford to be limping around after them. But I miss running. Nothing makes me feel stronger. So a couple months ago, I got an idea. What if it is possible for me to run pain free? What if I went even slower than the experts tell me to go?

So I started running again, but I'm building my miles at a snail's pace. The first week I got back to running, I ran for one minute. Was I tempted to go farther? Hell yes. It felt good to be on the trails again, but when my timer ran out, I quit and walked the rest of the way. The next week I ran for two minutes. I've continued the pattern for ten weeks now. I figure, since I'm slow, that once I reach twelve minutes of running I'll have broken the mile. The impatient voice inside my head demands, "According to the experts, I could be running a 5K by now!" But I ignore that voice. I'm no longer trying to be the hare. I'm going for turtle.

It's agonizingly slow, it's frustrating, but you know what? I've been running for three months now, and I don't have plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, or clicking hips. I'm not limping. Instead of listening to experts about what my body should be able to deliver, I'm listening to my body, and it's working.

For a long time I made the mistake of trying to fit into the expectations of other people. I ignored the pain, which was a message from my body that I didn't fit into the experts' rubric, that I am different from the norm. Maybe my body is more fragile, maybe my joints are too loose and wobbly for me to ever be a marathoner, but maybe, if I pay attention to the signals I'm getting from my feet, knees, and hips, and take it slow, after another year of running I might finally reach my goal of five miles.

It's taken me four decades to accept myself as I am, to stop trying to measure up to an ideal that simply isn't possible for me. Just because I can't measure up to the ideal doesn't mean I should give up on something I enjoy. So what if I'll never run a marathon? I accept that. And, if I find my upper mileage limit is three instead of five, I'll accept that too. I'd rather run a regular three miles for the next ten years than run five miles this year, only to burn out and quit again. The important thing is to keep running, and to do it in a way that respects my body.

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14. What I've been up to.

When I am writing to meet a deadline, I just don't write much on my blog. I've been feverishly working on my next novel, FLAME, which ought to come out in January sometime. I just turned it in to my editor on Friday, and it's going right into copy editing this week. This was by far the most difficult of the three Sky Chaser novels to write because I had to tie up about a thousand pages of story into a meaningful denouement. I feel good about the end product, and I hope my readers enjoy it.

Other than that, I've been raising my cute kids, walking my dogs, and tending my garden. As the summer wore on I became less and less attentive to my garden, but once things are planted they tend to take care of themselves. I've got tomatoes, beans, lettuce, and carrots to harvest, so much that I'm not always sure what to do with it!

Now that I'm not on deadline, I'll have lots more time for my blog, and I'm looking forward to getting back into it. I've sadly neglected my online presence, but the nice thing about the internet is it's never too late to dive in!

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15. RUBY'S FIRE by Catherine Stine

I'm excited to help sound the clarion call for my friend Catherine Stine's new e-book, Ruby's Fire!
If you're interested in imaginative science fiction with a romantic twist, you should check it out! Here is an excerpt and some links to help you find (or win!) a copy of RUBY'S FIRE, book TWO in the innovative FIRESEED series.

Danger! Is Ruby falling for the wrong guy? A short excerpt

“I didn’t know you cared,” I tease. “Do you?”
Blane shrugs. I know he can’t answer those kinds of questions. Instead of answering, he places the mask on my head. His fingers, fastening the straps at the back of my head shoot fire through me. His body, so close makes my chest swell with confusion and desire. Why am I so sensitive to his presence?
I press him. “Why do you always stare at me from the window? Why do you ask me questions with your eyes and not your mouth? What do you want with me?”
He stands his ground, his boots planted apart. His silent confidence angers me.
“I asked you what you wanted. Do you want to kiss me? Huh?” I ask with more fury than I intended.
He lowers his head and kicks at the sand. “Why are you such a tease? You’re either too remote or flirting in an angry way. What happened to you at that place, Ruby? What did they do to you?”
“What did they do to me? Hah! What didn’t they do to me?” I barrel on, looking over Blane’s shoulder at one of the dunes. “That man you saw claimed me when I was five. He beat me.” I hold up my bad hand. “He cut off three of my fingers. He would’ve assaulted me if I hadn’t run!” I pause to catch my breath. My knees are ready to cave. As at peace as I was before, the memory of what I went through renders me a furious, quaking catastrophe in seconds. “And you have the nerve to ask me why I’m such a mean tease?” That hurts. Armonk has said as much, about me being seductive. But why should I tell Blane that he’s the second guy to tell me this? “I have a question for you,” I fire back. “Why are you such a brute?”
He flinches. Hurt dims the light in his eyes. Is that what we are to each other? Punching bags? No, I won’t play that game. There’s good in Blane. He dragged Thorn and me in to safety when we passed out in the sun. He saved me from Stiles that night. He defended me against Jan. Blane might be a brute but brute force is sometimes what’s required. And I sense that there are more layers below.
“I had to get strong to survive,” he whispers, so low that I need to move closer to hear him. “I couldn’t protect my brother, Percy. I couldn’t protect my family. I vowed to always be stronger after that.”
“You got too strong, too mean,” I tell him.
“You too, Ruby.”
“You helped me get rid of Stiles,” I admit. “And I never told you what that meant to me.”
“No, you went off with Armonk.”
“You didn’t give me a chance because you stormed off so fast,” I tell him. I raise my head to Blane’s solid neck, to the honey-brown stubble on his chin and up to his eyes—locking gaze-to-gaze, fire-to-fire. “I do like Armonk, as a friend.” Why am I admitting all of this? Why?
I feel Blane’s heart beating out of his suit. Or is it my heart that’s beating out of my chest? He steps closer. His warm sea apple breath drifts onto my cheeks. I breathe him in. This is dangerous madness. He reaches for me, hungrily, desperately. Our masks bump awkwardly against each other as we kiss.


“Seventeen year-old Ruby and her little brother Thorn, have only known a life blighted by the extremist Fireseed Cult. The night Ruby is set to be claimed by one of its cruelest and oldest leaders, she makes a bid for freedom. With Thorn in tow, she stumbles into the world beyond, and finds an opportunity for a fresh start in Skull’s Wrath under the guidance of Nevada Pilgrim, a woman who may not be all she seems. Ruby's new life could bring her friendship, love, even fortune, but nothing comes without a price. Is Ruby's talent for elixirs keeping the roof over their heads, or do some of her associates have a more sinister and lucrative interest in them? Life outside a strange cult isn't without its dangers, and the experience leaves Ruby transformed and communing with the Fireseed more closely than she ever would have imagined. Stine delivers a thrilling adventure led by an exciting cast of characters, and the romance is really well handled.”   -YA’s The Word

BIO summer 2013
Catherine Stine

Catherine Stine writes YA, New Adult and middle grade fiction. Her YA futuristic thriller, Fireseed One, illustrated by the author won finalist spots in both YA and Science Fiction in the 2013 USA Book News International Book Awards. It was also granted a 2013 Bronze Wishing Shelf Book Award and a 2013 Indie Reader Approved notable stamp. Her YA Refugees, earned a New York Public Library Best Book. Middle grade novels include A Girl’s Best Friend.

Fireseed One sequel, Ruby’s Fire is earning advance praise from reviewers and authors:
“Ruby's Fire, returns to the sun-scorched earth of Fireseed One. In this long-awaited sequel, Stine delivers a thrilling adventure led by a new and exciting cast of characters. Ruby, Armonk, Thorn and Blane are memorable, and the romance is really well handled. Favorite quote: " It feels wrong to lean on Armonk right now with Blane staring at me, a hungry, lonely look in his eye. It’s as if he’s never been hugged, never been fed, never been loved..." ”  -YAs the Word

More and more, Catherine enjoys writing speculative tales where her imagination has wild and free reign. She has taught creative writing workshops at the Philadelphia Writing Conference, Missouri University Summer Abroad, The New School and in her own ongoing NYC writing workshop. She loves her readers, and enjoys blogging.

Buy links (and online links) for Ruby’s Fire:

Amazon illustrated paperback:

Amazon Kindle:

Ruby’s Fire on Goodreads:

Catherine’s author page on Facebook:


Catherine’s blog:

Catherine’s website:

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16. Buy the Book May 20th, 2013 featured SPARK on their segment, 'Reads Ahead of the Trend'

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17. How to Tell You're Dating a Jerk

Here is a list, compiled from my long, ignoble dating career, that will help the young ladies spot a dud early on. (I hope.)

1. He doesn't laugh at your jokes. This is a lame power play, and a subtle way of embarrassing you.
2. He is rude to your friends or family. If he's a nice guy and he really likes you, he would want to please the people in your life, not drive a wedge between you and them.
3. He either arrives late for a date, or stands you up. No brainer, right? Dump him.
4. He checks out other girls while he's with you. This is impolite and uncool. You're the one he's with. He should be paying attention only to you.
5. He lets his buddies make jokes at your expense. Any guy worth hanging out with has nice friends, and won't let anyone treat you with disrespect.
6. He talks meanly about girls he's dated in the past. If he pulls out the "B" word about another girl when he's on a date with you, he'll probably say something nasty about you later on too.
7. He doesn't make eye contact with you while you're talking. There is shyness, and then there is rude disregard. Learn to tell the difference.
8. You find yourself making excuses for him, or you spend a lot of time trying to understand his behavior. A jerk acts like a jerk because he is a jerk. Nice guys don't need excuses made for them.
9. He's mean to animals or younger siblings. This is a sure sign of a bully. A good guy doesn't use his strength to hurt someone who can't defend themselves. Get this guy out of your life ASAP.
10. He bosses you around. "Don't do this." "Do that." A good guy asks nicely, says please, and doesn't expect obedience.

The sexier a guy is physically, the more likely you are to stick around past his expiration date. The best way a young woman can protect herself and stop wasting time on jerks is to think clearly and logically, look at the behavior, and not let her mind get too clouded by hormones. Easier said than done. But I do wish I'd had a list like this when I was a teen and even into my twenties, and I wish I'd run from the guys I describe above. Time is precious. Don't waste it on someone who doesn't deserve it.

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18. On the silky sexies.

I love my silky, sexy, lacy top, and I love wearing it with my low rider skinny jeans. I'm not as young as I once was, but I can still rock lace and denim. My husband likes it too.

I see plenty of girls who like their lacy tops and their denim, and they rock theirs even more than I do because they haven't had kids and they're young and gorgeous. ***

When I was younger, and I would dress for work, I would ignore the voice in my head that said, "Perhaps showing your bra strap while serving people ice cream is somehow NOT a good idea." This voice sounded like my mother, so naturally I disregarded it.

Mom always said I'd get the "wrong kind" of male attention if I showed too much skin. She wasn't wrong. I got plenty of gross come-ons, but I knew how to shoot down a guy who was less than respectful. I didn't realize that it wasn't the guys I should be worried about. It was the girls. And the women.

When I dressed in my skimpies at work, I was sending the signal that I was AVAILABLE. The signal wasn't wrong. I was available, looking for a boyfriend, and I didn't want to miss out on any opportunities. The problem was the CONTEXT: An ice cream shop where husbands and wives brought their little kids in for a cone.

Now that I'm married, I know that any man who has a pulse can't really help but look. And the older I get, I know that no matter how good I look for my age, I can't compete with a teenager. And so when my husband and I take the kids for ice cream and I see a hottie who would be prettier than me wearing a HASMAT suit, and she's showing off her lacy bra under her skimpy little top, and I see my husband pretending not to look, I hate her a little bit. Can't help it. I'm human.

And so I run through my memories, and understand all those times when a friend who thought herself unattractive clammed up whenever I wore a sexy top just to hang out, or when an older woman stared daggers at me for no discernible reason, or a male professor or teacher or boss was checking out my boobs when I was trying to impress him with my brain --and I get it. I finally get it.

It's about context. I was all good wearing those sexy lacies to a party, on a date with my boyfriend, or to a dance. There, all the girls are showing the goods. But the sexy lacies ought to have stayed in the drawer when I was in a context that wasn't all about attracting a man. Work. School. Hanging out with girlfriends, some of them sixes like me, some of them tens, some of them fours. And especially when I'm around married couples. When you're young and gorgeous, it's just considerate not to dress too sexy. Other women, the young and the old, will appreciate it, even if they don't say so.

***Even if you don't think you're gorgeous, wait until you're 40. You will realize that you were gorgeous when you were young. So don't miss it. Just admit that you're gorgeous and stop worrying about not looking like a model.

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19. On guns.

Like most everyone who has heard about it, I am broken hearted that yet another mass murder has occurred in Colorado, my home state. A young man, aged 24, walked into a movie theater and opened fire on a group of fun loving people who just wanted to watch a good movie. Naturally the endless gun control debate will resurface, and will likely be tamped down once more by the National Rifle Association and their incredibly effective stable of lobbyists.

Some people think that guns are really cool. I do not really see the appeal, but I'm willing to concede that most people who own guns are decent, responsible citizens who would never engage in such senseless violence. They're not the ones I'm worried about. I'm worried about the nut-jobs.

A dozen people are dead now because some total lunatic got his hands on four guns and decided to externalize his angst in a public place. One of the dead is a little six year old kid.

I am tired of this. I want stricter gun control. If it were up to me, and I wish it were, we as a nation would take every gun we own, melt them down, and use them to make useful things that don't kill people. How many more people have to die before our "leaders" stand up to the NRA and create some legislation that at least tries to keep guns away from the mad men? I for one am tired of our kids dying violent, painful, terrifying deaths, and I'm tired of our politicians doing nothing about it just because some people think that guns are cool.

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20. Thank you bloggers!

Please check out this interview with me on author Catherine Stine's awesome blog, Idea City:

Thank you Catherine, for the interesting conversation! In the coming weeks, look for a guest post from Catherine Stine right here! Catherine is, herself, an accomplished author. Fans of dystopia should check out her highly imaginative novel, Fireseed One

I also want to recognize the many bloggers who have been kind enough to review SPARK. Below I'm listing my favorites of the reviews I've run across in the blogosphere. THANK YOU ALL!

Bananas for Books:

Candace's Book Blog:

The Teen Bookworm:

The Book Swarm:

Genre Go Round:

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21. Guest Post from Author Catherine Stine!

Today, we have YA and middle-grade author Catherine Stine presenting characters from Fireseed One, her YA futuristic thriller set in 2089. Varik and Marisa, archenemies at the onset duke it out in a Streamerazzi Interview!
First, here’s a novel summary:

What if only your very worst enemy could help you save the world?
 Fireseed One, a YA thriller, is set on a near-future earth with soaring heat, toxic waters, tricked-out amphibious vehicles, ice-themed dance clubs and fish that grow up on vines. Varik Teitur inherits a vast sea farm after the mysterious drowning of his marine biologist father. When Marisa Baron, a beautiful and shrewd terrorist, who knows way too much about Varik's father's work, tries to steal seed disks from the world's food bank, Varik is forced to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold and venture with her, into a hot zone teeming with treacherous nomads and a Fireseed cult who worships his dead father, in order to search for Fireseed, a seemingly magical hybrid plant that may not even exist. Illustrated by the author. Fans of Divergent and Under the Never Sky will likely enjoy this novel, as well as those who like a dash of romance with their page-turners. What book bloggers are saying: 5 stars from Parafantasy: “Amazing world-building and extremely clever plot! 1 Comments on Guest Post from Author Catherine Stine!, last added: 8/1/2012
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22. Conversation with Carolyn MacCullough

For a nice change of pace, here is a conversation with my friend, acclaimed writer Carolyn MacCullough, author of two fantasy books: Once a Witch and Always a Witch, as well as three contemporary YA novels Falling Through Darkness, Stealing Henry, and Drawing the Ocean. All Carolyn’s novels have received much deserved critical praise, and I can’t wait to see what else she has on the drawing board!

Since Carolyn and I are both parents of very young children, we’re discussing the challenges of being a writer who parents, and a parent who writes. Enjoy the read!

A: Hi Carolyn, and welcome! Life got in the way for me even before I had kids. For the longest time I had to work a day job to pay the rent, and would have to spend my off-time writing. Once I could leave the day job permanently, there were a few years of blissful writing time when I had all day to write. But then life got in the way once more when I started my family. I love being a mommy more than anything, but it sure does compete with my writing time! I know your situation is similar. I'm wondering how you carve time out to write, and when you do have that time, how do you clear your mind so that you can really focus on your work?

C: Focus?  What exactly is that again?  I had a great response ready on focus and then my 18 month old wandered by trying to shove a grape in his ear and I lost track of what I was saying. 

Anyway, carving out the actual writing time itself is hard enough--but doable--with my extremely supportive husband always willing to jump in.  But....for me, I miss the 'dreaming time' that I had (pre kids).  That's when I had hours and days and weeks to just /eat/sleep/think/dwell in the universe of my book and its characters.  That's when I got to listen to the characters’ voices in my head and let the story slowly develop.  I feel like plot elements that were tricky and/or unresolved suddenly got resolved as long as I had enough time to unwind them.  Now, my head is so crammed full of baby world details (I fear that Wheels on the Bus is permanently stuck in my head) that I have very little time and head space for myself.  That's the challenge that I'm currently working on.  Keeping a journal before bed every night seems to be helping.

What about you?  Do you have any magic rituals that help you to focus?  (Please tell me you do so I can copy them!)

A: Oh, boy, I wish I had wisdom there. Honestly my "ritual" is to leave my children in the capable hands of my fabulous nannies for about three hours every weekday, and I go to a coffee shop, or Whole Foods where I can have coffee AND do grocery shopping after I write. I begin each session with a little Facebook time, and I answer emails, (my hundreds and hundreds of fan emails... yuk, yuk,) and I also do a little professional web-based stuff like comment on blogs, that kind of thing. Then I settle into writing, after about thirty minutes, sometimes more like forty-five. When I'm drafting I have a quota of five pages, which I usually meet. When I'm revising I try to get about three chapters done. And then I rush back home. The truth is, some days I’m just not very focused, but having a daily goal helps me get the work done despite my shaky concentration.

You know what I miss the most from my pre-child writing life? Time to READ! God! I used to be able to stick with a book for hours and hours at a time! Now if I get about 45 minutes of reading a day, I'm lucky! How about you?

C: Yes, time to read!  I miss reading in bed in the morning--just waking up, reaching for my book, starting where I left off the night before.  Instead I wake up with two toddlers crawling all over me, burrowing under the covers, kicking me, and turning on the light.  And it's usually about 6:53 AM.  But the really nice thing is that my two kids like to start out their day with books, too--so I guess I am reading first thing in the morning--just not exactly my choice of reading material.  But fun all the same.

45 minutes a day!  I'm jealous.  I usually manage about 26 minutes if I'm lucky.  Right now I'm reading Mary and O'Neil by Justin Cronin--man, it's so good.  And amazing to read since it's a heartbreaking look at this couple and their entwined lives.  The same Justin Cronin who wrote that post apocalypse government created vampires in a science experiment gone horribly wrong book called The Passage (also really good in a different way).  What are you reading?  Oh, and do you find that you read differently now that you're a mom?

A: I'm in a slump with reading right now. Finished a Stephen King novel called Desperation recently, which was thought provoking and interesting, but kind of a downer. So I'm taking a break from reading and going to my second love: movies. I have to watch them with the volume turned down for fear of waking our kids, so they're not as much fun, but I do like the escapism they're offering. As far as whether I read differently? I think I’m far less willing to spend precious reading time on a book I only kind of like. If I’m not totally addicted to it within the first twenty pages or so, I throw it over my shoulder and move on to the next!

To finish up, care to tell us a little bit about your most recent novels, and what you're working on next?

C: I'm too scared to read Stephen King.  (But I think he's really good).  Whenever, I'm in a reading slump I start working my way through Foyle's War episodes--they're so good.  And written/created by young adult author Anthony Horowitz--I'm so impressed.

My latest two books were Once a Witch and Always a Witch--about a 17 year old girl, Tamsin, who comes from a long line of witches and yet she herself has no magical Talent--or so she thinks.  It's takes a sinister NYU professor, a hunt for a lost family heirloom through time, and a reunion with her childhood best friend/love interest to persuade her otherwise.  What I'm working on now would also be considered a YA paranormal set in a seaside city and the shadow city just beneath the waves.  (That's a bit vague, but it's all so new still).

A: I love the idea of a shadow city! Sounds wonderful! And thanks for the recommendation for Foyle’s War. Sounds like books that might get me reading again. I’m already getting bored with movies. Thanks for chatting, Carolyn, and good luck with the writing!

C: Thanks for chatting with me!

4 Comments on Conversation with Carolyn MacCullough, last added: 9/22/2012
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23. Conversation with Todd Mitchell: On Buddhism, Rejection, and Writing!

Today I present my friend and acclaimed author Todd Mitchell! Todd is the author of The Traitor King, which School Library Journal called "a must for fantasy readers," and The Secret to Lying, which won the coveted Colorado Book Award! We're all looking forward to his upcoming novel Backwards, which he'll tell us about in a minute, right after our conversation about rejection and how a writer can use it. 

A: When I first started off as a writer in my twenties, and I would tell people that's what I wanted to do for a living, I almost always got some warning like, "Being a writer involves lots of rejection..." Few people were particularly encouraging of my dream. Now that I think about it, this might have been my first taste of what was to come. I didn't sell anything at all in my twenties. I wrote short stories and poems and sent them off to very unrealistic places like The New Yorker, or The Paris Review. I don't think I was so naive as to think I'd be accepted. I always received those rejection letters with a grim kind of complacence. Probably deep down I knew that what I was sending off wasn't actually good enough, and so the rejection came as no surprise. It's when I started really getting serious, and trying my hardest, that the rejection started to hurt.

T: The New Yorker? Wow, you're bold. But I definitely sent out some similar, unrealistic submissions in my time, too. And writing, I think, is all about rejection. Not just the big manuscript rejections, but the countless little ones that happen when an idea, or character, or even a line gets "rejected" (yeah, I know, most people refer to that as criticism, but essentially it's the same as rejection. Or at least it feels the same, because for whatever reason, a reader isn't accepting a part of the story).

The thing I've come to understand is that there are different types of rejection/criticism. There's the "yeah, that probably wasn't ready to be published" (or "that line wasn't right") rejection that you mentioned. And ultimately that's a helpful rejection, because it's the world's way to push you to do better. When I think about what we do as writers, part of it depends upon believing in a fantasy (even if you're writing realistic fiction). After all, when you start writing a story, you start with a blank screen. With nothing. So you have to delude yourself into thinking that you can create something out of nothing. You have to believe the story, and characters, and all of it can exist. So much of the writing process at first is building on that belief, until writing the story isn't so much creating something, but discovering something, as if the book has always been there just waiting to be unearthed. I mean, aren't those the best books? The ones that you can't even imagine anyone writing, because they seem to exist so completely.

But... in order to revise a book, I think that belief in what you're creating (the writing delusion), needs to be shaken a bit. And that's where rejection comes in. It's like that old Zen saying (cliche as it is, it's a good one): First you see the mountain. Then you see no mountain. Then you see the mountain as truly a mountain. With writing, though, it's like first you believe in the story. Then you think the story is all crap. And then, if you're able to get past that point of doubt, you might discover the true story.

When I've sent manuscripts out during that first stage of delusional story love, and they've gotten rejected, it's ultimately been good. What's harder, though, is when I've thought I've discovered the true story, and the manuscript (or idea, or character, or line) has still gotten rejected. Like you, I think that's a different sort of rejection. Because maybe the problem isn't with the story. Maybe the story got rejected because it's so different, or unique, or brilliant, that people aren't getting it. Or maybe I'm just deluding myself again. And there's the rub —how do you tell the difference between the rejection/criticism you should listen to, and the rejection/criticism you should ignore? 

So what do you do, Amy? When do you listen to the voices of doubt, and when do you ignore them?

A: I like that idea of the helpful rejection. Hadn't thought of it that way before, but for the serious artist, rejection really is helpful as a way of pushing us to do better. I also love that Zen analogy. Writing a book sometimes feels a lot like climbing a mountain!

As far as knowing the difference between the rejection that helps and the rejection that means the reader "doesn't get it," I honestly think, for me, the only way to tell is to give it time. Most rejection stings quite a bit, and can feel frustrating. I've found, though, that the criticisms that really stay with me, that hurt beyond the initial barb, are the ones that are true. They're the ones I should be paying attention to. But truthfully, the ones that hurt are often the ones I want to deny completely so that I don't have to deal with the emotions of feeling that I've failed in my project. It has sometimes taken me months to accept a truth about a piece I was working on, to recognize that I needed to let it go. That adds up to a lot of wasted time, all in the name of protecting my ego.

Kind of brings us back to Buddhism, in a way. I'm no expert, but don't Buddhists try to clear ego and its wants out of the way so that they can reach a state of blissful acceptance? Do you see a parallel here with the writing process?

T: I definitely see a parallel. In fact, I often think of writing as a form of meditation, since it helps reveal to us truths about ourselves and the world. And often that path of revelation (or realization) is a difficult one. (Okay, now I'm sounding lofty, but while we're on the subject of Buddhism, I don't exactly see Buddhism as being about acceptance. Instead, the Buddhism I've practiced has been more about awareness, and relieving suffering in one's self and others. It's a subtle difference, but I think an important one).

Anyhow, back to writing — I really like what you said about how the criticisms that hurt the most are often the ones that on some level, are true. But it's a truth that we're often afraid to accept, or unable to accept. This is where the difference between acceptance and awareness comes in. Because I don't think it's necessarily good to accept the criticism. Instead, I find it's more helpful to try to become aware of the truth behind the criticism. Afterall, the criticism itself might not be helpful. It might be given by someone who doesn't get the vision of a piece, or is speaking more out of malice and insecurity rather than genuine insight. But if it sticks with is, it's a sign that there's probably some truth there to be discovered. To accept the criticism is in essence to accept some failure. To use the criticism to develop a deeper awareness of one's self or one's writing, though, is to turn something negative into a positive.

Admittedly, this is a challenge. And I agree, taking time to let the muddy waters settle is helpful. Here's another trick I sometimes use. Since I don't want to accept that a painful criticism is right (lest it cause me to give up on a story, or at least the way I've conceived of a story), I'll tell myself "Okay, let's pretend something about this is right. If so, what alternatives could I think of that will fix the problem?" Often, by asking myself that question, I'll come up with a different turn or layer to a story, that I might have missed before. And always this results in a better draft. It might not mean, though, that I've directly addressed the thing someone criticized. Because that's the thing I've learned about criticism and feedback — readers are pretty good at sensing problems. But they're not so good at sensing solutions. So a reader (or in some cases, even my editor) might comment that a certain line or action doesn't "ring true." But the solution might not be to change that line or action. Instead, it might be to change something that happens 20 pages before, or 20 pages after. And then, suddenly, the thing that stuck out like a sore thumb works great.

I completely agree with your thoughts on how it's ego that often gets in the way of making these realizations (or making them quickly). With revision, I've always found that the sooner I can let go of things and address the big issues, the sooner I can discover a better draft. But it's very hard to do that. Ego is tricky. It tries to talk me into keeping things the way that they are (so instead of restructuring the whole plot of a story, I might spend months trying to "justify" the structure I've written, until I get so frustrated, I give up and start over, and discover what I should have months ago). I've tried to make peace with that process, and enjoy the constant realizations and twists and turns that happen when I write. But I would like to become more efficient, and find the "right" story/character/voice sooner. Because right now, it takes me around twelve drafts to get things right.

So what say you, Amy? Any tips on how to get beyond ego, and let go of things, and unearth the "true" story quicker? Please — I need them!

A: The only short cut I can think of is to have a fellow writer read your work, someone you trust, who is smart and perceptive, and has a writer's sensibilities. I don't see this as criticism so much as plain old help. I've always thought that the central problem with written language is that it doesn't have all the "fail safes" that a face to face conversation can have. When you're talking to a person, you've got body language, expression, and tone of voice to convey meaning. If you're still unclear, your listener can ask questions to clarify meaning. But in writing, it ALL has to be on the page. I see a critique partner's role as similar to the fellow conversationalist --one who asks the questions that clarify to help uncover meaning. Sometimes those questions might hurt, but if you've got a good critique partner, those questions are meant to help, not wound.

To wrap things up, what are you working on now?

T: I completely agree about the importance of working with a good critique partner (or two). Makes me think I should get together with my group again sometime soon (hint hint).

Right now, I've just finished the third (and final) round of editor requested revisions for my new book, BACKWARDS, which will be coming out with Candlewick Press in Fall 2013. I think of it as my happy suicide book, because I wanted to tackle some tough issues like suicide and bullying, but I didn't want it to be depressing. The only way I could think of to make the story uplifting, though, was to have it be narrated by a consciousness who's traveling backwards through time. It's a very odd book, and I'm eager to release it into the wild to see what people think. 

And now that I'm pretty much done with that project, I'm diving back into a paranormal romance hybrid-text project that I've been working on for five years, called THE HIDDEN. I'm literally rewriting this book for the tenth time, but I think I've finally figured out the right story, because all the elements are falling into place, and I can't stop writing it. Sometimes it goes that way, I suppose. I stumble about in the dark for awhile, but when I find the right story, it seems so obvious, I wonder how I didn't see it before. That's the joy of writing for ya.

Thanks for talking with me, Amy. You rock.

A: Thanks Todd. I can hardly wait to read Backwards! Rocketh on, my man.

3 Comments on Conversation with Todd Mitchell: On Buddhism, Rejection, and Writing!, last added: 10/5/2012
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24. Dear Teen Me is ALMOST HERE!

I am a contributor to the awesome anthology Dear Teen Me, in which authors of YA books write letters to their younger selves.

Check out the book trailer to see some of the fabulous authors who contributed!

To pre-order your copy, follow the links:




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25. Guns.

This most recent shooting in Connecticut has our nation reeling with the unimaginable horror of it. How could anyone do that? How sick and evil can a person get? And why the hell did he have an assault rifle? 

The pro-gun lobby in this country is holding us hostage. Until our leadership grows spine enough to stand up to them, killings like this will continue. 

Nicholas Kristoff has written an excellent Op-Ed in the New York Times on the subject and puts forward some sobering statistics: "Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence." For the full article, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-do-we-have-the-courage-to-stop-this.html?smid=fb-share

Kristoff goes on to give some impressive examples of how other governments have curbed gun violence with some sensible laws: 

"Other countries offer a road map. In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands.

The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings.
In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.
Or we can look north to Canada. It now requires a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and it imposes a clever safeguard: gun buyers should have the support of two people vouching for them."
The horror of what happened to those poor, sweet little children and the incredibly brave men and women who tried to protect them is the last straw. It has to be. We've got to end this insanity. We've got to stop arming the maniacs and the criminals. The National Rifle Association and the people they work for have made enough money off the blood of innocents. It's time to take our country back. It's time to protect our babies.

1 Comments on Guns., last added: 12/17/2012
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