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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. To the Stanford Survivor.

First, I want to tell you that you are a very good writer. I think you could make a career of it. I hope you do.

Second I want to tell you that you are an inspiration. You are courageous, and your poignant letter to that smudge of excrement who attacked you will serve as an inspiration to other survivors. You have inspired me.

Third, I want to acknowledge your repeated trauma, first at the hands of a morally bereft Neanderthal, and second at the hands of a morally bereft injustice system. Much of our society functions in a haze of sociopathy, without remorse or empathy, and your letter forces us all to take a look at that. Well done.

Fourth, I want to advise you to reclaim your body, your sexuality, and your life, as quickly as possible. I am a survivor of sexual assault too, and I can personally attest to the possibility of a full recovery. You will enjoy sex again. You will enjoy life, and love. I bet you've already had good moments, and laughter. That horror of a few hours will fade, and you will get better. If you get therapy to help you deal with PTSD, you will get better faster. But know that you will get better. Your life HAS NOT been ruined.

Finally, to any other survivors out there, it wasn't your fault. Were you tricked? Were you coerced? That wasn't your fault. Repeat after me: It wasn't my fault. And the shame society tries to impose on you? It isn't yours. It's theirs.

With a raised fist in the solidarity of love, AKR

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2. On All the Things I Used to Do Before Social Media Took Over My Life

Authors have to do social media, they said. You must develop a platform, they said. Post eighty percent on random crap, and the other twenty percent on shameless self-promotion! No ten. Actually fifty! You must include Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr and Twitter, wait, not Twitter! Twitter is dying! No it's not! Are you writing a book about birds? Look for message boards filled with people who will attack you like a flock of rabid chickadees if they get ANY INDICATION AT ALL that you are there to promote your book. You must promote your work without SEEMING to promote your work! Actually it's okay to promote your work! People expect it now!  Unless they are internet purists. Avoid the purists. They will TROLL YOU, destroy your reputation, accuse you of trying to actually profit on the very activity with which you are desperately trying to earn a meager living. Get noticed by people, but not OVER noticed, or they will come for you. The misogynists and militant vegans and religious fundamentalists and crazy lonely cat people will lie in wait for you on message boards and in comment sections. They will surround you like hyenas circling an injured baby wildebeast! Don't be a baby wildebeest. Be a hyena. Unless there are catfish around.  Or cat-fishermen. Or...

Avoid animal metaphors!

And forget. Forget how you used to sing in a bar at a thing called a Hootenanny, how you would practice with your friend Mimi and harmonize for a group of tolerant middle aged people. Forget making dinner for friends, showing off your lasagne, telling them that hilarious story that happened in Spain and making them laugh. Instead entertain those friends from afar with 140 characters. Forget how you used to get bored of being home, and you'd put on your shoes and walk to a coffee shop to read a book. Especially forget that you used to carry a book with you everywhere you went, because books are heavy and iPhones are light, and Twitter is even lighter. Forget sitting quietly in a park listening to birdsong. Forget taking naps.

Entertain yourself entertaining people entertaining you.

And definitely forget about how much you used to write. How much MORE you used to write. How much longer you used to write.

On second thought, forget it all. Forget Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr. Forget your passwords. Forget your iPhone. Remember that story you never sent off? That book you meant to read? That idea you had for an essay about how social media is destroying your attention span?

Look out the window.

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3. On Migraine.

It's scary when your head hurts so bad that you can literally FEEL that a vein IN YOUR BRAIN is swelling up, causing clusters of neurons to cry out in agony. It makes your stomach turn inside out. It totally exhausts you so that taking a single step requires an act of will. You lie there helpless for hours, for days maybe, and hopefully your special pills from the doctor will work. But sometimes they don't. Sometimes the headache takes on a life of its own, and it won't be controlled, it won't be reigned in, and your only choice is to huddle your poor head between two pillows, pressing an ice pack to your temple, and just pray for time to go by quicker.

I had a headache like this on Sunday. It really started Friday night, but it was late when I felt the first pulls inside my skull, so I took a prescription pill and went right to bed to sleep it off. Or so I thought. The next morning I woke up and, since it was Saturday I had time to myself while my husband played with my kids, so I ignored the slight ache in my head, and took myself to breakfast, and then took my dogs for a nice stroll in the woods, thinking a little food and nature would be restorative. But by the time I got back home, I felt shaky, so I decided I better lie down and take it easy. I figured I wasn't dealing with a migraine, I was dealing with a migraine hangover. And in most cases, I would have been right. I've never had a migraine last for longer than a day. That night I endured a headache while I put the kids to bed. (Hubby got to go out with friends, only fair after he took care of the kids all day, and I was glad he had the chance for some fun of his own.) I watched a little trashy TV before I finally went to bed myself.

The next morning I woke up, made breakfast for the kids, and realized by the shaking of my hands and the spike in my head: I had a full on migraine. I took a pill, which is usually enough to make it better, and lie down. Hubby took the kids out for some fun. And I waited for it to get better.

And I waited.

It didn't get better. And I had taken my last pill. And my husband was gone.

At some point, with a migraine like this, when you've run out of pills, you begin to cry. For about an hour, I let the tears come as I pressed an ice pack to my head. I called in a refill for my pills, and texted my husband to please go get them. He did, but I had to wait, and that was not an easy wait.

The second pill took the edge off. I was able to kiss my kids goodnight before going right back to bed. I slept through the night, and then had a weird migraine hangover that lasted another twenty four hours, which included foggy thinking, poor muscle coordination, and knock-you-down dizziness. But the worst was over.

There are supposed to be four stages of a migraine: the Prodrome, where you don't feel quite right; the Aura, where you might see things or have ringing ears; the Attack; where you lie helpless in all encompassing pain; and finally the Postdrome, or hangover, where you feel foggy, confused, and SORE. But I submit there should be a fifth and final phase, which is the Aftermath. Every migraine is so painful and scary and isolating that when you finally come out of it, the world looks different. You feel unbelievably lucky to be able to walk across the room without leaning on the wall. You can look out the window at a sunny day without feeling like someone with long fingernails is pinching your optic nerves. You feel grateful it's over, and incredibly relieved, and yet. And yet.

You will get another one.  Sometime in your future another headache is lurking. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. It's impossible not to feel afraid.

If you have a friend who suffers from migraine, or a family member, you can help, but just a little. Make the room dark and quiet. Bring them ice packs. Bring them cups of cool water to sip. Don't touch them. Don't speak. Above all don't make them talk.

If you suffer from migraines like me, I'm here, buddy. I know. I know.

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4. On Politics

It's an election year, did you hear? This time around, it's scary.

Our Republican front runner is building his power with rhetoric that scapegoats vulnerable minorities. Muslims fleeing political upheaval and civil war, who have had their lives destroyed by extremism, are being told they will not be allowed in the country whose motto is Freedom and Justice for All. He wants to build a wall to keep people out because he is so ignorant of history that he believes walls actually work, when in fact they embarrass the nation that builds them. Remember "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall?" If not, you should look it up. A Republican said it. He wants to register Muslims in the United States because their young men don't feel excluded and disenfranchised enough. He wants to deport millions of people from US Soil. Do you know what has to be built in order to accomplish such a feat? Internment camps. Sound familiar? Other Republicans are talking about carpet bombing the Arab world. These people are being cheered by thousands.

We have another candidate using facts and figures to build his argument that the middle class in America is in danger. He is only saying what economists have been saying for decades. He wants to give free college to everyone, like they do in Europe. He wants to bring single payer health care to America, like they already have in Europe. He wants to readjust the tax structure to pay for it. The numbers work. Independent agencies have vetted his math and approved it. He wants to bring prosperity to the middle class again, and how is he dismissed by the media? Not possible. Can't do it. Pie in the sky. Vote for the one who is in bed with Wall Street, the one who will uphold the status quo, won't rock the boat too much, won't piss off those powerful billionaires who are really running things, including the media. They try to prop her up. They try and try. Maybe they'll do it, and she'd be so much better than the fascist orangutan, but only because she's not insane.

Please don't bother posting your defensive comment spewing hysterical fear, and rage, making some veiled threat like, "You'll feel differently when the scary brown people come for your family!" No they won't, so no I won't. And I won't feel differently when people are forced into long lines where they have to register, and ushered into camps where they await deportation, and become more angry, more embittered, and more sadly aware that the land of Freedom and Justice for All was a mirage.

Let's not go down this road, America. Let's remember who we are. For the love of all that is holy, if you are capable of empathy, if you believe that violence and oppression are not the answer, if you don't buy into the easy scapegoating being touted by a bullying braggart who inherited his wealth, if you believe that hope is a worthy cause, vote. Please vote. And remember what Edmund Burke said:  The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing. 

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5. On Loving Yourself.

I was always a little uncomfortable with the phrase, "Love yourself." Aside from it being a little touchy-feely, I feel it puts too much pressure on a person. Love myself even after I said something I deeply regret to someone I love? Love myself even after I embarrass myself socially in front of esteemed peers? Love myself after I tell a lie to get out of a tight spot, and even as it escapes my mouth I feel my character diminishing?  The truth is it isn't always easy to love yourself. We all make mistakes, some of them disastrous, and living with the consequences can be crushing.

Besides, how do you really love yourself? When you love someone there's a certain polished sheen we give them. We forget the nasty sides of their characters, and see only their glossy goodness. Parents love children this way, often blind to their character flaws, sometimes to damaging effect. And romantic love might be the most blinding of all, sometimes making us vulnerable to a malicious personality, or simply a careless one. Love is blind. Familiarity breeds contempt. Both are phrases coined by that greatest of geniuses, Shakespeare, and they've taken hold in the English language because they perfectly and succinctly express profound truths about human nature. Don't we all know ourselves a little too well to really see ourselves through love goggles?

I think what the phrase, "Love yourself," really means, is that you must treat yourself lovingly. Think of yourself during that embarrassing moment when you did a social belly flop in front of your peers. Oh, you're probably pretty angry at yourself for the way you undermined your social standing, sure, but try viewing the scene with the compassion borne of love. If your best friend did the same thing, or your child, or your lover, wouldn't you wrap your arms around him? Wouldn't you give her a kiss on the cheek, try to say something encouraging, and maybe run her a nice fragrant bath where she could relax and put it behind her? Instead of those self-punishments, try a little self nurturing.

Or think of the stranger who is being attacked by a group of mean bullies. This type of thing happens all the time in school when you're a kid and at your most vulnerable. Most people walk by, trying not to get involved, and sometimes this is the best thing to do if the situation seems dangerous. But those silent observers are not on the side of the bully. Most of them are on the side of the person being attacked. So if you're the one being attacked, and you have no choice but to be a silent observer in your own humiliation because you're outnumbered, or in physical danger, try compassion for yourself. Instead of joining in, admonishing yourself, even hating yourself for being the target of a bunch of knuckle draggers, try being the kid who, when the whole thing is over, picks you up from the ground, gives you a hand, tries to say something kind and comforting, and buys you a chocolate sundae. Because it's not your fault what some troglodyte decides to do to you for some random reason in his own twisted mind. You can't control how he treats you, but you can control how you treat yourself. If you can't love yourself in this moment, at least be loving.

Be your own friend. Never be a bully to yourself.

That's what that silly, touchy feely saying is all about. Maybe you can't love yourself the way you might love that beautiful girl or that handsome boy. Maybe you can't cuddle yourself the way you cuddle your dog, cat, guinea pig, lizard, what have you. But you can be kind to yourself. Instead of being malicious in your internal dialogue, catch yourself, notice when you're repeating some cruelty done to you by a peer, or a parent, and reverse it. Be loving. Give yourself a nick name. Call yourself sweetie. Give yourself a hug. Go ahead and be loving toward yourself.

It's the first step toward a better life. I promise.

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6. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
Posted by Amy Kathleen Ryan on Friday, January 1, 2016

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8. On Child and Teen Obesity: It's not your fault.

The world breaks your heart. They advertise the worst food to you using the cartoon characters you loved when you were a toddler. They programmed you since birth. They fill your schools with sugar and pizza and french fries, with fruit juice and chocolate milk and soda, all foods that make you fat. And they put it in front of you and feed it to you, and then they tell you "Get more exercise." They don't tell you that no amount of exercise could work off the calories they're selling you. There aren't enough hours in the day.

It's not your fault if you're fat.

Even though everyone else joins in telling you it's your fault. All the skinny kids and adults who snicker, hiding their smiles from you, making jokes behind your back when you get in the swimming pool to exercise, they like to blame you because they don't want to see the truth: The deck was stacked against you before birth. For genetic reasons, you store more fat than they do, and that's an accident of chromosomes.

It's not your fault.

The diet that doesn't make them fat does make you fat, but it's making all of us sick, and that's the truth. Sugar is addictive. It's more addictive than cocaine. Think about that. People try to give sugar up every day, but they can't. They break down, adults who are supposed to be responsible and mature can't give up sugar, because it's in their brain and their blood, and it's been there since they were babies. The sugar is so ingrained in their brains that they end up sticking needles in their bodies to augment their natural insulin because their bodies can't keep up with the sugar. The age of onset for type 2 diabetes gets younger and younger every year. And you know what? Plenty of those jeering skinny people? They're going to get Type 2 diabetes too. We are in a public health crisis right now, and we should be screaming about it, but our government looks the other way.

That's not your fault.

Look on a nutrition label. On the right hand side there is a percentage recommended daily allowance for every ingredient on the label except for sugar. Why is that? Because they don't want you to know that they're making you sick. They want you to believe the labeling on the front of the box that tells you what's inside is good for you. Whole grain cereal. Fat free cookies. Low fat potato chips. It's double speak. George Orwell couldn't have written it better. They are tricking you.

That's not your fault.

Are you living in a food desert? Are the stores you shop in stocked only with food in boxes and bags? Do you have no other choice?

That is definitely not your fault.

Do you want to be healthier? If it's in a box or a wrapper, don't buy it, and that includes fast food. If you can put it on your pantry shelf for the next year without it going bad, don't eat it. It's poison. Do you crave sugar? Eat an apple. Eat five apples. Just don't reach for that healthy sounding whole grain granola bar that keeps feeding your addiction, making you want more and more and more. Are you thirsty? Have some water. Have some sparkling water. Have some tea. Don't reach for that cola or that fruit juice because it's practically the same thing as reaching for an insulin needle. If you live in a food desert, make the healthy choices you can make. Opt out from soda. Do water instead. You can do that even in a food desert.

Are you a child or teenager living in a house with people who rely on processed foods? It's not your fault if they resist you or stop you from making a change in your diet.

It's not your fault at all.

It's not our fault, but that doesn't change the problem: The only thing that will save our health as a nation is if we stand up to the sugar and the processed food that is killing us and say, "No more. I'll feed myself thank you." Be a voice for change. Volunteer to cook dinner for your family. Make everything from scratch, and only eat what you make yourself. Avoid school lunch because it is horrible. It's criminal what they feed you. Learn to be a great cook. Pack your own lunches. Carry a water bottle. Eat from nature, not from industry, as much as you possibly can.

And above all, remember, it's not your fault that you will falter sometimes. It really isn't. There is a multi-billion dollar industry that spends oodles of money on advertising and marketing aimed at making you crave their product, distracting people from the obvious: Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. It's killing us.

It's not your fault at all. Just keep trying. That's all you can do.

Be your own hero.

I believe in you.

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9. On Lying.

Confucius said, "I do not see what use a man can be put to, whose word cannot be trusted. How can a wagon be made to go if it has no yoke-bar, or a carriage if it has no collar-bar?"

14. Confucianism. Analects 2.22
From: http://www.unification.net/ws/theme062.htm

We all do it, even though we know we shouldn't. Every major religion condemns lying; you can see for yourself if you click on the link above. If it's so universally frowned upon in practically every culture on Earth, then why is it so common?

Let's be honest. (Ha.) Who hasn't made their lives a little bit easier with the occasional untruth? "I love your new haircut!" "My cell phone was dead." "Oh I didn't know you were coming into town!" Or, my favorite: "No. I'm not mad." Lies make our day to day existence a little easier. They can smooth over hurt feelings. They allow us to better get along with each other. So how can they be so bad?

I was raised a very strict Catholic, and I took the whole "Ten Commandments" thing seriously. Thou Shalt Not Lie? Okay. From God's lips to my ears! Even if a lie could have gotten me out of a tight spot, I refrained. I softened the truth, perhaps, but I always told it. Almost always, anyway. And if I was weak in the moment, and I did tell a lie, I would later confess it and explain myself, hoping for forgiveness. But to my parents, and I'm being honest here, I hardly ever lied. I'm sitting here trying to remember a single lie I told them, and I cannot. I was a very truthful kid. I took truthfulness so seriously that my honesty became widely known and appreciated about me. Guys in my college told other girls they liked me because I seemed like I'd always be straight with them, (which I was.) And my boss was fond of exclaiming about me: "Amy is the most HONEST person you'll ever meet!" I liked being known for that. It made me feel really good.

Then, shortly after I graduated from college, my parents began divorce proceedings. My brother and I were both young adults living on our own so there was no custody battle, and our parents had been separated for years, so it ought to have been a somewhat amicable negotiation, but it was NOT. Nasty secrets were dragged from the war-chest; accusations and denials flew through the air like ballistic missiles. Two people I'd have sworn were fairly mature individuals turned into spitting screaming toddlers. I was shocked, and then I was numb, and then I was confused. There were so many accusations flying around that I realized at one point: One or both of my parents are lying to me.

I realize this is common behavior during a divorce. Legal lawsuits rarely bring out the best in people, but when the plaintiffs used to sleep together and know each other's secrets, things can get evil. Even knowing this truth didn't help me cope with the idea that my parents, whom I'd struggled my entire life to be completely honest with, were telling me lies, and about really big important things too.

Then I began to realize that all the adults around me lied, a LOT. My coworkers lied, my friends lied, the frigging President of the United States was telling some whoppers... It seemed like I was the ONLY person in the world who really cared about telling the truth. I was fed up, and I started trying it out. I started lying.

It was about little things at first. "Sorry I'm late but my car broke down." "I can't come to your wedding because I have to work." "Yeah, I've got a cold. Can't come to work today." THEN, the party fund happened.

The party fund.

I worked in a jewelry store for that same boss who was always proclaiming my honesty. Sometimes women would bring their diamond rings in to be steam cleaned. It was kind of fun putting on the safety gloves and getting out the rubber-grip pliers to hold the ring under the vapor that jetted through a tiny spigot, blowing all the dirt and crud off someone's shiny diamond. I loved doing it. It cost the person a couple bucks, but instead of keeping track of such a tiny sale in the register our boss had us put the cash in a coffee can for later use as a party fund. WELL, one day I rushed in to work at the last second and discovered I had no money for a cup of coffee at the nearby coffee stand. I didn't want a caffeine headache, so I borrowed a couple bucks from the party fund to be paid back later. Only... did I pay it back? I couldn't remember. And I was late a few more times, and borrowed a little more, until I lost track of how much money I'd borrowed in the first place. Basically, I was stealing. Little Miss Honesty had graduated to the big time. Yep. That's right. I had become a petty thief.

Little did I know that one of my coworkers was keeping close track of the party fund, and she brought it to my boss's attention that something like twenty bucks was missing, and it came out at an employee meeting. My face went cold, and I sat there embarrassed and feeling like a jerk, but did I own up to it? I should have. I really should have explained I'd just needed some coffee and I'd always meant to pay it back. I didn't, though, and the mystery remained unsolved. Ever after, I had a hard time holding my head up at work. I felt miserable about it. You know what? I still do.

I'd gone from being painstakingly honest to a thief in a few short months.

If I hadn't told those little lies, would I have worked my way up to wholesale thievery? Who can say? Now that I'm older I can recognize how young and confused I was, and I can see that I was acting out. I felt disillusioned with the world, disappointed and let down by people who were very close to me, and I wanted to lash out. I wanted to take advantage of other people's trust the way I felt I'd been taken advantage of. It might've felt good in the moment, but in the long term it feels bad. It's one of my more painful memories.

After that, my boss stopped proclaiming my honesty because, of course, she figured it out. I think all my coworkers kind of realized it must be me. I lost face with them. I lost their respect. I felt degraded, and then I started feeling left out of conversations, and not really "in" with people anymore. Of course the stealing didn't help my image, but if I'd owned up to it, if I'd just been honest in the moment and said, "Oh, that was me. I needed some quick cash and I was going to pay it back on payday. Sorry." People might've been weirded out by it, but I would have been redeemable after that. Because I lied, no redemption for me.

My parents' divorce went through, they settled out of court, the dust settled, and then... There I was. Somehow not the same person I'd been when the whole thing began, but I don't think it was my parents' actions that changed me. My actions, my decision to experiment with being a liar, put a mark on me, and it was a mark that I thought everyone around me could see, and I was ashamed.

So now I'm back to being painstakingly honest, or at least I try to be. Somehow I don't have the same discipline that I did as a kid, maybe because I woke up to how much I was being lied to on a daily basis, because we all do it, right? Ever since I had a taste of how much easier it is to lie, though, it's harder. I struggle more with the temptation. The big one for me is being honest with friends when I'm mad at them. I'm too afraid of losing the friendship. But I try to always tell the truth to everyone. And if the truth is too painful? I try to say nothing at all.

I think that lying is considered a sin in every religion because of this effect it has on the human spirit. There is no dignity in lying, and that's the truth. When you lie you are skirting responsibility, trying to avoid the consequences of your actions, or you're trying to manipulate the people around you, using them as pawns. Lying never comes from a place of strength. It's a sniveling, crawling, sneaking way of wriggling out of the difficulties in relating to other people. Lying is weak. It takes strength and courage to be honest, it really does. That's why so many people lie so much of the time. Honesty is hard. But the person who is honest can always hold their head up. They can always be proud of who they are. And other people usually respect that integrity. In fact, I believe honesty is the only way to deserve the respect of others, but perhaps more important, it ensures the respect of self. Believe me, solid self-respect is worth suffering through those uncomfortable moments of truth telling.

Whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in the existence of sin, honesty is the more practical route. In the long run, owning the truth is safer, and much more dignified. Honesty is the path to good social standing. Lying is a certain path to disrepute.

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10. On griping.

First New Year's with my husband.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that I'm kind of big into New Year's Resolutions. Last year I resolved not to buy anything for myself for a year. That was kind of extreme, so I only made it about six months, but it was a good exercise that made me realize how materialistic I really am even though I'd never thought of myself that way. This year I'm thinking about something less tangible, but kind of important, and it can be summed up thusly: I do entirely too much griping.

I used to joke that complaining is how I get energy from the universe. Because I was such a prolific complainer, I developed a method that made it entertaining for me and my listeners, employing hyperbole, sarcasm, and cutting wit. This kept me just shy of being insufferable, at least for most people... I think(...?) But lately, perhaps because the world seems to be turning into a hellhole everywhere but here, I've come to a realization that has left me feeling a little embarrassed about my former behavior: I have nothing to complain about.

See? Cute.
I am self employed in my dream profession, and reasonably well preserved for my age. My kids are beautiful and healthy, my husband is supportive and loving, both my parents are still living, my kids enjoy a very devoted uncle, and I have the two cutest dogs on Earth. I live in a relatively nice house that backs to a preserved natural area in the middle of my town, situated in sunny Colorado where the weather is just about perfect 85% of the time. I have reliable transportation and access to affordable healthcare through my husband's stable nine to five job. Most of the time, on most days, I don't have to do anything I don't want to do, and that makes me luckier than about 99% of people on the planet.

The view from my picture window. Nice place to live.
There are things that I wish were different, naturally. As a stay at home mother of young children I feel isolated sometimes, and dissatisfied with my looks from certain angles, and I get irritated by my family when I'm tired and hungry, and I wish my book sales were stronger, but all in all, most of the time, I'm a very happy person.

When I look at the violence in Syria, the oppression of women in Afghanistan, the unemployment and economic uncertainty endured by most people on Earth, I really have nothing to complain about. I am so lucky it's almost ridiculous.

AND SO, this year I resolve to be much less of a complainer. I will be looking on the bright side, and keeping my snits to myself. I will have to find some other use for my wit, and some other way of entertaining my friends. I expect this practice will make me more grateful for my wonderful family, my pretty keen job, and my life in general. I will let you know how it goes.

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11. On Headbangers.

No, I'm not talking about Ozzy Osborn fans. I'm talking about toddlers, the little people with huge emotions, and a specific subset of these little people: Headbangers.

Baby Girl is a head banger. Her anger and frustration escalate so quickly and to such proportions that she can't express her feelings any other way than thudding her head on something hard. Wood door. Wood floor. Sometimes she'll just hit herself with whatever she's holding in her hand: baby doll, magic marker, Play-Doh, her sister's head. It's shocking and scary and very upsetting to behold.

The first thing people always say when I share this is: "Is she autistic?"

"No. She is not autistic."

Then I get the sideways glance, the thoughtful pause in the conversation, and we move on to another topic, because my head banger toddler makes people anxious.

Oh believe me, she makes no one more anxious than me.

But she shouldn't. She has been looked at by occupational therapists, behaviorists, and pediatricians, and they all give her a clean bill of psychological health. She's just a normal kid who, when she feels bad, copes by banging her head. In truth, about 20% of toddlers do this, almost all of them healthy kids who, when they're really mad, put bruises their dear little foreheads. And believe me, it's awkward walking around with a bruised kid. I have never, ever hit my kids. Ever once. Never. But people wonder about me when they see those bruises, and that hurts.

If you have come to this blog post, I'm assuming it's because you are out of ideas and you've performed a desperate internet search looking for answers. I got all kinds of advice from all kinds of experts, and almost ALL of them told me, "Put her in a safe place where she can't hurt herself, ignore the behavior, and she'll stop it."

I followed their advice. I bought a play yard, covered it with foam so she couldn't hurt herself, and we named it The Thunderdome. When she lost control, we'd put her there, saying something like, "You're not allowed to bang your head," and we'd let her tantrum run out. I was told by doctors and occupational therapists and behaviorists and speech therapists this was the right thing to do. For more time than I want to admit here, puzzled and baffled and scared and worried, I ignored her head banging, walked away, withheld the attention she was supposedly seeking with this violence, assured by these folks she would get the message and stop.

Did she stop? No. She did not stop. In fact, it got worse.

Finally, one day we realized that maybe not every emotion a kid has is meant to seek attention. Maybe not every single behavior they engage in isn't about making Mommy love me. Maybe our poor baby girl was banging her head because she didn't know what else to do.  Her emotions were just as scary to her as they were to us, and this practice of isolating her was making her feel alone and rejected when she most needed love and understanding.

It makes me weep. But at least we caught it while she's still young.

We retired Thunderdome. We said goodbye to those well meaning experts. Now, when I see her escalating, getting ready to bang her head with something, I don't walk away, I don't isolate her. I get down on one knee, put a hand on her back and say softly, "You're feeling really frustrated right now! I don't blame you! You want things to go another way and they didn't work out, and now you're upset! Let me give you a hug sweetie."

Empathy. Lots and lots of empathy.

It doesn't always work perfectly, but more and more she puts down the hard object. She comes into my arms. She snuggles against my neck, and I kiss her little cheeks.

Which is what I wanted to do the whole damn time.

Is there a moral to this story? There is, and it's this: When your kid is feeling out of control and scared, don't give her the message you don't want to be around her. Give her the message you love her, you're there to support her. Instead of banging her head, she'll eventually come to you for hugs, and everyone in the house will be MUCH happier. Always, ALWAYS, err on the side of love.

And read this book:

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12. On the Romantic Triangle

People love to disparage young adult fiction. YA is the new kickball for the literary establishment, and one of the most common remarks I see about YA novels is this: “The book is well written enough, but of course there’s the obligatory romantic triangle…” Cue the literary eye roll. Oh those young adult authors! So formulaic! So unimaginative!

And critically acclaimed, (very often) with more vigorous sales than any other genre, and by the way, more movie deals too.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s acknowledge that not all best selling YA novels have romantic triangles. The Fault in our Stars by John Green, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell all feature straight forward love stories. I’ll point out, though, that the main focus of all these stories is the relationship between the two love interests. Everybody loves a good love story, and considering how immensely difficult it is to write one, these authors deserve every bit of success they’ve seen. (I salute you!)

But the trend is real. Twilightby Stephanie Meyer, The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins, and the Sky Chasers Trilogy by yours truly all feature romantic triangles, and that’s because romantic triangles work. Here is why:

Romantic triangles have been a part of literature since time immemorial. Helen of Troy, Menelaus, and Paris in The Iliad might be the first. More examples include Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Room with a Viewby E.M. Forster, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak… the list goes on. This is an illustrious tradition to participate in.

There aren’t a lot of ways to instill tension into a romantic sub-plot. There’s the classic Taming of the Shrew device, which has the two romantic leads loathing each other at first, then falling in love. There’s the trope of two lovers torn apart by society or fate, as in Romeo and Juliet. And then there’s the classic love triangle, with messy feelings all over the place, and lots of opportunity for conflict. If any of you can think of a new way to lend tension to a romantic plot, say so in the comments so I can write it. Please.

Romantic triangles happen in real life, all the time, and part of a novelist’s job is to write about real life. I’ve been in a few romantic triangles myself, more often as one of two girls lusting after the same guy, but a couple times as one girl with two guys vying for my attention. (Ah! Those college days!) Believe me, romantic triangles are a lot more fun to read about than they are to experience.

The focus of my Sky Chasers series really isn’t love. My books are an examination of the way in which ideology, both religious and secular, can shape political discourse, the manufacturing of power, and resulting societal problems. My female protagonist is poised between two boys who represent different philosophies: Seth is the pragmatic, apolitical survivor, and Kieran is the idealistic, ambitious leader. Waverly represents the future in my books, and her choice will, in a very real way, shape the future world she is helping to create.

In the final analysis, what matters isn’t which device an author uses to develop tension in a romance. What matters is if it’s well written. The Sky Chasers has been recognized as an exceptionally good dystopian series by reviewers such as School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and even by mainstream commentators from People Magazine, Seventeen, and USA Today. But every reader must decide for herself. If you read my series, I’d love to hear from you about it! But what I care even more about is that young adults keep reading, whatever you want, no matter what the stuffy literati say about your choice of material.

You have good taste, kids. And in case you haven’t noticed, you are leading the publishing industry around by the nose. Good job.

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13. On the Stories We Tell Little Girls.

I have three little girls and they're all at an impressionable age, so I let them watch Frozen, written by the brilliant Jennifer Lee, as much as they want to. I do this because Frozen is the most important children's film to come out in decades, and I hope that it's as influential on future films as it deserves to be.

That's a pretty big statement I just made, but I'm prepared to defend it.

Frozen explodes one of the predominant fairy tale conventions of the twentieth century, (and probably every century before,) that the love and attraction of a man is the only thing that can save our heroine. The trope of the dashing prince, or rogue, falling instantly in love with the accursed princess dominates Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and probably others. Even Tangled, which is a very well written movie, still operates under this convention, portraying romantic love as the saving force for our besotted princess. While the heroine of Tangled is hardly helpless, Frozen is the movie that recognizes the fallacy in fairytale logic. The two pronged idea of a man falling hopelessly in love with a woman based mostly on her beauty, and that without this love she is lost, amounts to an indoctrination into the patriarchy that has kept women vulnerable for centuries, and gives members of both sexes a very unrealistic idea of romantic love. Frozen begins to undo the damage.

Anna is our princess in trouble in Frozen, and the first time she's released from an isolating childhood she meets the dashing Hans. They have a conversation full of sparks and laughter, and she takes an instant liking to him. She is so excited about the idea of romance as the solution to her troubles that she accepts him as her future husband by the end of their first night together. All this follows the trope of the princess being saved by the dashing prince who is so taken with her beauty that he proposes immediately. But then the trope begins to unravel. Her sister, the queen, refuses to grant her blessing for the union because she sees how unwise it is for Anna to marry someone she just met, and this causes a fracture in the already fragile relationship between the sisters. The crisis point is reached when Queen Elsa loses control of her powers, causes a deep winter freeze in the middle of summer, and flees the city to isolate herself in the mountains. Anna must delay her marriage to Hans and go on a quest to bring back Elsa, and with her, summer.

This bit about Elsa and her powers constitutes the second fairy tale myth that Frozen explodes, which is that powerful women tend to be evil. Indeed, the original Hans Christian Andersson story upon which Frozen is based, The Snow Queen, depicted an evil, powerful woman causing all kinds of mischief with her magic. Evil queens, naughty witches or malicious mother figures inhabit many fairy tales, including Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Tangled. Frozen rises above this trope to beautiful effect by telling Elsa's story in a new way.

Elsa is incredibly powerful. She can manifest snow and ice at will, just by thinking about it, but in childhood her magic injures Anna by accident. And so she is taught to hide her power, to pretend she is ordinary, to dread her own magic, and above all, to fear her own emotions. "Conceal it. Don't feel it. Don't let it show," is a mantra her father repeats with her again and again.

This illustrates another indoctrination into the patriarchy, and it's a well known one. Little girls and women are, both subliminally and overtly, taught to hide their anger, control it, to concentrate on being cooperative, nurturing, and helpful. (For a study that illustrates this perfectly, see here.) Strong, fiery little girls who are destined to be leaders are softened, and they learn to hide their leadership attributes. These pressures have very negative effects on young women. More than one study, (see here) has shown that a girl's self esteem is likely to drop when she reaches her teen years. Many specialists think the reason is she is increasingly aware of her passive role in society as a sexual object rather than as a powerful agent acting for her own good. Even worse, suddenly it becomes a girl's job to be in competition with her sisters for male attention, which alienates them from each other, complicating friendships between women, sometimes irreparably.

Elsa's journey follows this social tragedy almost in lock step. Just as she is discovering her own personal power in early adolescence, she is taught to hide it, deny it, and cover it up, which alienates her from her sister Anna. This fracture between the two girls sets off a spiral of psychological torment for both. For Elsa, this torment only intensifies her power, and she loses control of it altogether. Only when Elsa finally learns to accept and embrace her power, and to mend her relationship with her beloved Anna, is she able to assume her proper role as a powerful leader who can accomplish great things for her people. In other words, my dear sisters, it isn't the love of a man who will always save you. We women will all do better if we accept and cultivate our own power, and admit that our relationships with our sisters are just as important as our relationships with men, perhaps more so.

And what about Anna and her love affair with Hans? By the end of the movie we learn that Hans

seduced Anna, making her think there was an instant connection between them, for his own selfish ends. When he denies her the "true love's kiss" that would save her life, we see he is a nasty little sociopath who wants to feed off of her and her family. This is how a lot of stories of "love at first sight" end in real life, and it's a valuable lesson for every little girl, and boys too.

So yes, I let my daughters watch Frozen as much as they want, and we talk about it, and I answer all of their questions, because I want them to understand how easy it is to be tricked by a man you're attracted to, and how easy it is for a girl to lose her own sense of personal power and her connection to her sisters. This knowledge will, I dearly hope, help them avoid some of the more negative experiences many adult and teenage women have in their love lives and their working lives. Above all, I want to see more movies like Frozen that take a second look at the fairy tales we tell our children, and refashion them into the truth.

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Look for me at the BLOGFEST! 
Lots of giveaways!! 

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15. Let's junk libraries and buy everyone a kindle.

Says Tim Worstall of Forbes: "More titles, easier access and quite possibly a saving of public funds. Why wouldn’t we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?"

What an idea! What a deep thinker! It's pure dollars and sense! Fire the librarians, tear down the libraries, and give all the money to AMAZON! After all, they know what to do with it, right? Let AMAZON be in charge of what the public reads from now on and into eternity! I trust them.

Business purists like Mr. Worstall are dummies in intellectual clothing. The only thing that matters to him is money. Forget after school and adult literacy programs, lecture series that are free and open to the public, literary events with guest authors, and the plain and simple public good of having a gathering place where people can read, think, research, and be together.

Forget the blow to the economy of all those millions of suddenly out of work librarians, who would now have absolutely no place to tender their skills. (And they are skilled. Very.) 

Oh wait! Mr Worstall has a solution! They can work at AMAZON!!

Forget the slap in the face to all those people who have dedicated themselves to the love of literature, and to the good of their communities. Forget the deep insult of devaluing them to the level of a portable reading device.

The fact that this guy has a national platform is honestly baffling.

What concerns me about this article isn't really the idea, which is ridiculous and obviously stupid. I'm more concerned about this trend of devaluing our public servants. If we devalue our teachers, then we devalue learning too. If we devalue librarians, we devalue literature and research. And do I have to point out that both these professions are populated largely by women? Is this a coincidence, or are suggestions like Mr. Worstall's just chauvinism in the guise of fiscal streamlining? 

I'm not providing a link to the FORBES article because it's probably click bait anyway. Instead I'll link to this blog piece by a NYC librarian that responds to Worstall's article rather hilariously:

If you love books, if you love your library like I do, you have to stand up for it. We all must defend our teachers and librarians, because they're under attack in a very real way.  Teachers and librarians are heroes on the front lines on our crumbling society, trying to battle the forces that are destroying literature and love of learning. They deserve our utmost respect.

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16. Cheer up: Here is a joke about writing.

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

I didn't write this. Found it here, a great page with jokes for writers:


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17. Blog Tour: Writers share their process.

I have been asked by my good friend, Jil Picariello, (isn't she cute?) author of the beautiful memoir Jessica Lost, to participate in a blog tour. I'm to invite a third writer to a conversation about process, but first let me tell you a little something about Jil. She is a brilliant cook, so brilliant that she even makes her own cheese. She's a sweet and loving presence, and she has an infectious giggle. I was in a writing group with her for a few years after we both completed our MFAs in Creative Writing from The New School, and I learned a lot from her, not just about writing, but about life in general.
Jil is all around delightful, and so is her memoir, Jessica Lost. (The picture to the right is a link to purchase the book on Indiebound.) In it, she tells the story, with the help of her biological mother, of how she was given up for adoption as a baby, and how she found her way back to the woman who gave birth to her. It's a beautiful story of loss and healing, and I highly recommend it. Jil writes very charmingly about her own process here: http://bibliocook.blogspot.com

And now let me introduce the next writer on the tour. We've chosen to have a conversation about our writing process, and I'm honored she agreed to be here.

Laura Pritchett is kind of famous in the town where I live. She's got a Ph.D. in creative writing from Purdue University, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her novel Sky Bridge was chosen by School Library Journal as a top ten book for that year --very impressive. She also writes beautiful essays that you can find in such literary journals as The Sun, Orion, and High Country Review. You can learn more about her at her website: http://www.laurapritchett.com/

Her latest novel, Stars Go Blue, draws heavily on her experience having a parent ill with Azheimer's disease. The book is heartbreaking and absolutely beautiful, and it's getting all kinds of wonderful reviews and well deserved attention in the media. And the cover is just gorgeous! (Click on the picture to order from Indiebound.)

“Pritchett delivers a brilliant novel, filled with heartache and humor,
that will strike a chord with many readers.
A heart-wrenching exploration of a family in crisis.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review

“Pritchett’s prose is so beautifully crafted that she manages to make
 sadness beautiful and tragedy compelling.”
—Real Simple

Amy: Hi Laura! Thanks for being here! 

Laura: Thank you for having me! And Amy, YOU are famous in this town. And for good reason. I have to say: this town has such a wide diversity of voices, which is how, I suppose, we ended up doing a blog post together. First, I heard of you and your incredible books, and now I have the extreme pleasure of getting to know you. Whether YA or sci fi or historical or whatever – it is an incredible joy to share this writing journey with others. Also, I think all this speaks to the importance of community – of being part of the larger scope of things. When I first started writing, I was often home alone, writing away. And I still do that. For sure. But I also realize the importance of engaging in the larger community of writers and book lovers ---- which has (luckily for me) brought your work into my world. It’ s an honor to be sharing this conversation with you. You and your works are a complete joy and wonder. 

Amy: Thank you so much for that! (Ego swelling very pleasantly. Enjoying sensation...) But let's get down to business: I'd be so interested to hear about what you're working on right now.

Laura: Besides celebrating the release of Stars Go Blue, my new novel set in contemporary Colorado, I’m working on essays that revolve around that. For example, I got asked by O Magazine to write about issues of caretaking, since that’s one of the themes in the novel. Frankly, this type of writing has been a joy – to “write around” and explore a book that just came out. Besides that, though, I’m working on a novel about a young woman in eastern Colorado who is running illegal drugs and immigrants through a well-known route there. It’s a sequel to Sky Bridge, my first novel. How about yourself? 

Amy: I am a bit cagey about it because it's still in process. Suffice to say that I'm writing another young adult epic, but it's not contemporary and it's not science fiction. It's a new animal, and I like the way it's flowing out of me so far. I'm wondering, Laura, how would you differentiate your work from the rest of your genre?

Laura: My work is literary and set in the West – so I’m going to address that. I’d say that here in the American West, the West has been portrayed one way: Men were the focus, they were quiet and stoic, they had a bunch of broken dreams, and they had a minority and a woman to help them out. But literature has rapidly changed; we’ve evolved. We’ve quit being so romantic and nostalgic, and new voices have become part of our literary dialogue--voices by minorities, women, and complex men.

I am often afraid, however, that we’ve backed ourselves up into another corral. Perhaps the myth has not gone away, it’s just changed, and I wonder if our books have romanticized us yet again. One example? I often wonder if we Westerners are we all to be fishing, camping, kayaking outdoorsy tough folks? Are we just the mythic male, only in slightly different form?
So I hope my books at least attempt to deal with this myth-busting. I think lots of other writers are doing this, too, just to be clear. We are trying to tell the untold stories: Besides the ranchers that live all around me in my little rural hometown, there are also painters and musicians, army personnel and homemakers. There are folks suffering from anxiety, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorders. There are meth addicts, illegal immigrants, the very poor and the very rich. There are plenty of people in the West who aren’t outdoorsy, don’t fish, don’t camp, hike, or fix fence.
So, what is my plan? To keep pushing the boundaries of the literature set in the West. I want the full spectrum and an honest gaze directed at politics, poverty, wealth, sex, sexual orientation, class issues, overpopulation, climate change. A good book’s job is to expose real lives, the blood and heart inside us all.
How about you, Amy? How is your work different from most YA?

Amy: I guess I'd have to say that I'm a bit philosophical in my writing, or at least I try to be. I'm not the only writer of YA who is philosophical, not by a long shot, but I would say that most of the genre tends to be more about story and character and voice, and less about theme. (Though it would be a mistake to say theme is absent in YA.) My Sky Chasers series is, in the final analysis, an argument for the separation of church and state. I look at how corrupting it is when a leader is both the spiritual and the political figurehead, and why it's better for the two roles to be kept separate. Beyond that, I tackle pretty weighty issues like religion, medical ethics, and the futility of violence, so my books, though they are full of action, are not your typical shoot-em-up adventure, even though I think it's a pretty exciting story.

It's always a mystery to me where writers get their ideas. How does it work for you? Why do you write what you write?

Laura: Because I love to read. Be a part of the larger community and conversation. Books have a lot of power, after all. They show us how to live, or how we could live. They make us less lonely, they connect us, and they illustrate ways of being human.  Always, as a writer, I am seeking to put words to the inchoate, as truthfully as I can.

And by the way, Amy, I’m a huge fan of your work. And I have to say, I just ordered another to catch up with all you’ve been doing. The other day, at a conference, someone questioned “young adult literature these days,” and I went into a semi-rage rant. He obviously hadn’t read your work – or the work of so many YA writers out there. Frankly, there is TONS of great YA out there, and it makes me a bit crazy when it gets dismissed as being less sophisticated (or something) than “adult literature.” Wrong. YA Lit is EVERY BIT as sophisticated and complex and important as adult literature , and your work is one amazing example. I know you’ve posted on this before, and I so appreciate that.  Okay, but back to biz: Tell me, why do YOU write? 

Amy: To me this is an unanswerable question, because I really don't know why the stories that come to me almost always star a teen protagonist. Just like for any writer, all my ideas come from deep inside my subconscious, and my subconscious seems fascinated with the teen years. I guess I like the fact that teens are dealing with adult issues even though they have less power and experience than adults, so the stakes become naturally higher --I like a high-stakes story. Plus, I really care about young people, and I want to give them something to read that makes them feel less alone. I slip some heady ideas into my stories to encourage my readers to think, because I know what most YA authors understand: Teens are just as smart, and just as good at reading complex texts, as most adults. And that's the truth. So I try to write books that challenge them, and believe me, that's not easy.

Your books are so evocative and lyrical. I'm curious how your writing process works?

Laura:  Generally I think of a character first. I let her sit in my brain for a while. Then I start to ask questions: what’s up with her? What’s her main problem? What’s her main source of joy? From that comes a plot, a story. Then I try to make that character more complicated, more human. When I write a character, I think of that person as having a certain “weather pattern” going on. They are calm, stormy, violent, dull, bright. Of course, a character can change, and needs to change, but still, the character’s core is unique in some way. If I can find that core and write from there, then I feel like that character is a one-of-a-kind – and thus my story will be one of a kind. That’s the most important part of my process, bar none. How about you? What gets you going with a story?

Amy: For me the process is mostly about creating a space in my life for writing. I have three young children, so this is a lot harder than it used to be. I have about ten times more housework than I used to, and a million demands on my time that make keeping a writing practice very difficult. Lately I've been getting up very early, making myself some coffee, and getting some writing in before anyone else wakes up, maybe a couple pages. Then I make breakfast for my family, and they're off to their little social engagements with their nanny, and I get a few more hours to write mid-morning. I find that those few pages I write in the wee hours sets my whole day up for writing during stolen moments the rest of the day. If my book is the first thing I do, it's naturally on my mind all day. I like that. As far as where I begin, for me, it's always a scene, or a conversation between characters. I think I write down the action first, and then hone my characters from there.

Laura: Time to introduce the next writer on our tour! I’m very interested in issues of environmental and social justice, and to that end, Laura Resau’s work has been an inspiration (her work is very imbued with social justice issues, particularly those pertaining to poverty and life in South America). She’s helped me a lot with this upcoming book, in fact, and she continues to be a guiding influence in both my writing life and my regular day –to-day life. She’s brave and courageous – and so is her work. You can find more about her at:

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18. SLATE, on the embarrassment of Young Adult Fiction.

What a fascinating turn of events! Another writer has ventured forth with an article condemning the genre of Young Adult literature. This time it's Ruth Graham writing for SLATE, and she wants you to know that if you are over 18 and you read young adult literature, you ought to be ASHAMED of yourself!

I'm not going to write a response to the actual article, because it is full of false logic and reductive thinking with a healthy dose of arrogance. This writer has obviously read precious little of the current genre, and assumes adults who read young adult literature, like me for example, aren't reading anything else. (I'm well into Persuasion by Jane Austen for the second time, but never mind about me.)

I think the real reason for this article is a cynical observation by the editors of SLATE, or by Ruth Graham herself, that every time another condescending piece of "criticism" is posted from on high, pointing the judgmental finger of Culture at all us YA lovers wallowing in our narrative "simplicity," legions of incensed readers and writers of YA march to their website to register their rancor. And then they make more money.

They want the controversy. They want us to go to the article and defend our reading tastes, (which, by the way, need no defense.) So my suggestion is, don't do it.

Which is why the above hyperlink takes you directly to a picture of a rainbow, which is much more worth your while.

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


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21. 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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22. Here only, a chapter that was cut from FLAME.

Big Man

            Jacob Pauley liked thinking of them sleeping in their beds with no idea of what was going to happen, all those self righteous little people singing their little hymns praising God for what? For bearing the children of their enemies? That’s what they were doing; didn’t they realize? They were raising the brats of the people who had killed all their families before they even existed. They were living a nightmare, but the good thing about bad dreams was you could wake people up from them. He was going to be their alarm clock. Him and Ginny.
            He smiled at her. They hadn’t been able to get a gun; they were too closely guarded by Mather and her small army. But they’d been able to score a whole lot of bullets. Now Ginny was carefully sawing the butts off of them and pouring out the black powder from inside them. She’d already done a case, and had a nice little pile of powder. She knew lots of tricks like that, stuff she’d learned during early childhood from her dad, a man who’d been one of the last chieftans living in the rocky mountain survival camps. How the old man had gotten Ginny a place on the New Horizon, Jake never knew. He supposed he’d closed down some supply chain that led to the construction yard for the ships, held up some ore or fuel for ransom. There was uranium in those mountains, Jake knew. Maybe Ginnie’s Dad had known how to get it, for a price.
            Jake’s own father had had money. Lots of it. And land too. Tracts and tracts of grasslands in the Midwest where they used to grow corn. Daddy owned the land, he even farmed it. But Daddy’s money had come from the chemicals they put in the soil, those chemicals that fed the world corn while killing the fish in the oceans. That was his daddy. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
            Jake remembered the safety that came before the fear. He remembered the big house and the big woman Marta who took him from his mother’s thin arms and held his head to her bosom, rocking him back and forth, murmuring in his ear. Marta was the one who told him the doctors didn’t know anything. “You are smart, mi hijo,” she’d tell him. “You will surprise them all, and be a great man some day like your daddy.”
            But Jake knew what no one else did. Jake’s daddy was a bully. Jake only wanted to please him, make him happy, so he could earn a rare smile, a nod of satisfaction. Jake was learning. To prove the doctors wrong he’d learn about his daddy’s job so that he could take over the business someday, and make even more money, build an even bigger compound than his daddy had.
            As often as he was allowed, Jake would stand by his father’s desk as Daddy made his morning phone calls to his business associates, working to keep the supply chains open so the supplies could keep flowing. He watched the cold eyes, listened to daddy’s rapid-fire words, watched as Daddy clenched his fists, hardening his knuckles, trying so hard to understand what his father said. But none of it made sense, and he knew better than to ask questions. He didn’t give up, though. Even if he couldn’t understand the words, he could study Daddy’s method. Daddy always spoke with a sharp voice that was sure to whittle down any resistance, break through any silence.
            Daddy talked on the phone every morning until the day came when, suddenly, there was no one to call. Jake watched as Daddy dialed and dialed, one number after another, his eyes growing colder and colder until he finally threw the phone through the glass window and left the room without a glance at his son. Jake went out to retrieve the phone for his father, to please him. He dusted it off and placed it carefully on the big man’s armchair with an unsure grin.
            “We don’t need it anymore,” was all Daddy said.
            “What if someone wants to call here?”
            “They’re all gone, Jakey,” Daddy said, and surprised him by lifting him up and hugging him so tight his ribs rubbed together. Jakey tried to hug his daddy back just as hard. Inside though, Jakey was sad. He didn’t understand what his daddy was doing. He didn’t understand throwing the phone away, and he didn’t understand the hug. He’d never understand his daddy enough to be a great man like he was. Marta was wrong. Jakey was stupid, just like the doctors said.
            For a long while after the last phone calls, the house was very quiet. Mommy stayed in her bedroom for days at a time. Jake played quietly in the attic because Marta didn’t think it was safe outside anymore. “Why isn’t it?” he’d ask her.
            “Don’t you worry, mi hijo. That is for the grownups to know. You stay upstairs where I can find you. And if I call, you come fast like a bunny, okay?”
            He didn’t understand why Marta always looked so afraid, but it all became clear the day the fires came. Jake remembered the smoky sting in his throat as he watched from his attic window the line of red winding its way up the grassy hillside toward his house. There was a sudden explosion of angry voices downstairs, and Marta’s heavy footsteps running up to get him. “Come fast, mi hijo!” When Jake and Marta went downstairs, Jake saw the hard man who worked for Daddy holding a gun. “There’s no guns allowed in the house,” Jakey said to the man with his squeaky little boy voice.
            “Those were your daddy’s rules,” the man said with a wink of his yellow eyes. “They don’t hold anymore.”
            “How long do we have?” Jake’s daddy asked the man.
            “They’re about two miles away,” the man said.
            “I’ll give you money,” Daddy said. “If you let us go.”
            “Money ain’t much good anymore, or haven’t you noticed?”
            That’s when Mommy started to cry. Jake hadn’t noticed her sitting in the corner, a shivering pile of bones wrapped in a cashmere blanket.
            “You’ve worked for me for fifteen years,” Daddy said to the hard man. There was something in his voice Jake had never heard before. Daddy sounded almost like the dog they had a long time ago when he cried to be let in at night. Jake didn’t like hearing his father that way, and wished Marta had left him to play in the attic.
            “I don’t work for you anymore,” the hard man said.
            “I hired you when no one else would,” Daddy said, straightening his back against the hard wood of his chair. This was the daddy Jake understood, angry and commanding. Jake saw Daddy making his fist hard under the table, twisting it inside his other palm as though polishing it. “I trusted you. I gave you a second chance.”
            “They’ll kill him,” Jake’s mommy said to the man. She stood up, and the afghan hung off her sharp shoulders. “When they get here, you know that. They’ll kill him, right off. And Jakey…” Her voice dropped off.
            The head guard looked at Jakey then, and Jake made himself stare at the man in the eyes. He knew he ought to feel afraid, but he felt only confusion. Marta reached for his hand, but Jakey didn’t take it. He wanted to stand up straight like a grown up. Later he would wish with all his heart that he’d taken her hand.
            “You can have one of the helicopters,” the hard man finally said to Daddy as he tossed a burning cigarette onto the floorboards and ground it out under the toe of his boot. “I’ll tell them you snuck out and stole it.”
            “Thank you,” Daddy said quietly.
            Daddy didn’t wait. He grabbed Jakey, called to Mommy over his shoulder, and ran out the back of the house and up the hill, coughing out smoke from the fires. He threw Jake into the back of the helicopter and got in the pilot seat. Jakey’s mother sobbed, wrapping herself around her son as Daddy started the engine.
            In that moment, all Jakey could think about was how daddy had thanked the man! He’d actually thanked him!
            The helicopter lifted off the ground, hovering in the air over the house before Jake realized they’d left Marta behind. He screamed and screamed, kicking his mother in her fragile legs, reaching for Marta, who was running out of the house, her thick brown arms lifted up as she cried for her Jakey. Jake screamed until his voice broke in two. Marta got smaller and smaller as they flew away, until she became a tiny brown dot scurrying over the hillside like an ant.
            In the distance, Jakey saw them coming, the men on their horses and in their wagons, a vast horde of them. They made the shape of a knife blade, cutting through the prairie.
            Daddy flew for hours as Jake’s mother peered at the ground, her eyes filled with helpless fear as Daddy shook his head time and time again. Didn’t look safe there. Didn’t look safe here either. They were nearly out of fuel before Jake realized his parents had no idea where to go. They set down near a tree by a stream. How Jake’s mother had cried when she realized the polluted water wasn’t fit to drink.
            “Where will we go?” Jake’s mother had cried the next morning, watching her husband with round, darting eyes.
            He stamped out the fire with his foot. “We’re going where money still matters,” he’d said quietly. “To the shipyard.”
            “The shipyard? That’s a thousand miles away. How will we get there?”
            “We’ll walk.” Jake saw the fist he made, and stood up to show he was ready to go right away.
            “Walk?” Mommy whined? “Are you joking?”
            “Get up,” Jake’s father said, and pulled on Mommy’s shirt until she stood.
            “I can’t! You know I can’t!” Mommy wailed.
            So he slapped her. He reared back and slapped her right across the face.
            After that, most of what Jake remembered was filled with darkness.
            But life became clear somehow. The confusion Jake had felt before sitting at his father’s knee was replaced by total understanding. The world he lived in now, after the billowing curtains and soft furniture of the old house and Marta’s warm arms –this was a world he understood. The bigger man always won. The man with the gun beat the man with the knife. The man who was ruthless beat the man who hesitated. And Jakey’s father always won.
            Those were lessons Jake would use now, to make things right on this ship. His father would be proud if he could see him now, with his wife, making the tools he’d use to get what he needed to become the man he was always meant to be.
            Anne Mather was finished. That’s what his friends told him, the people who brought supplies to his and Ginny’s hiding place. They said she was weak, and it would be time to strike soon. He liked imagining her smug little smile wiped off her face by a bit of shrapnel. Jake was going to make that shrapnel. He and Ginny were going to make the bomb that changed everything.
            It had to be done very carefully, like a surgical excision. He couldn’t damage the hull, not if he wanted to have a ship when it was all done. But he had the advantage. He knew where Anne Mather and all her friends and supporters would be when it was time. Every week they sat together, all in one room, like lambs waiting for the blade.
            When he and Ginny were ready, things would change.
            Change would come so fast no one else would know what to do.
            That’s when Jake would step in.

            Until then, he had a pet project. He was going to find a way to get to Waverly Marshall, even if he had to kill every one of Anne Mather’s guards to do it. And when he was finally alone with her, he would finish what he started.

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23. On Diversity in Publishing for Children and Teens.

Anyone in the business of publishing for children and teens right now is probably aware that there's a big push for more diversity in books for children. I completely agree that it's high time kids coming from all different heritages in our country get to see people like them represented in books they are asked to read for school, or that they can easily find in our libraries and book stores. This debate has made me ask myself the question: Why are there so few characters of color in my own fiction? I've had to take a long hard look at this question, and what I've discovered feels a little uncomfortable.

In writing class you are taught to "write what you know." If a writer ventures too far outside her own personal experience s/he runs the risk of inauthenticity. With this in mind, I've felt unsure about writing from the point of view of a person of color simply because I didn't think I knew enough about what it's like to BE a person of color. I want to be authentic, so I've stuck to characters who look like me, who come from the same white privileged background that I do. Until lately, I haven't really interrogated this line of thinking because it's what I learned to do from older writers whom I respect greatly.

But I'm not sure this is really the way to go anymore, because I think there was an assumption in my logic, an ugly one that I feel a little afraid to share with you now, and that assumption is: A person of color is VERY DIFFERENT from me. Another way of putting it is: A person of color is The Other, and therefore I cannot write from his/her perspective.

This assumption sucks.

In my defense I did write a book proposal that had a girl of mixed race as the protagonist. I was invited to apply by a successful book packager, and I was really excited about it! The packager gave me a plot outline and asked for a first chapter so they could get a feel for my writing. I asked if I could change anything about their story, and they said sure. I had noticed that there hadn't been any fantasies written about kids of color, and I thought that would make the book more interesting, and at least for me it did! My character's mother was black, her father white, and as a result of this "mixed" marriage, her family history was more interesting to me as a writer, and I hoped it would be more interesting to the packager, and ultimately to readers.

I have no idea why they turned down my proposal, I really don't. I have met one of the people in the decision making chain, and he is a completely lovely guy. I like to think he fought for my proposal, but I have no idea what really happened. Maybe they didn't like how far I'd deviated from their outline. Maybe they thought the writing wasn't that awesome. I don't know. But sometimes I wonder if they were unsure that a fantasy YA starring a mixed race protagonist would sell well because they think most white kids, still their largest target demographic, wouldn't want to read about a black girl.

This assumption also sucks.

Again, I don't know, but given some of the stories I hear from other writers, I think it's a possibility that my character's race was part of why I didn't get the contract. I've heard that many editors prefer characters that are "neutral." I'll leave it up to you to decide what "neutral" means.

I'm working on a historical novel right now, and while my protagonist is a white pagan girl living in Europe, the other principal character is going to be a heroic, beautiful African teenage girl. I confess I hadn't thought to include an African character in this period piece set in Europe until I saw the recent debate about diversity in children's books, but now that it has occurred to me, I've realized this beautiful girl is EXACTLY what my novel needed to become truly interesting, and hopefully maybe even great. She will be heroic, and smart, and she will help my protagonist survive, and she will be a person everyone, white, black, latino, asian, Pacific Islander, Australian aboriginee, New Guinean… EVERYONE can look up to. I will be able to write about her because I am a human being who is capable of empathy, and I can imagine what it would be like for an African girl in medieval Europe by asking myself the question every writer asks herself every time she sits down to write: How would I feel?

Then I am going to sell that book, (if my luck holds,) and kids are going to read it, hopefully kids of every color and background. And hopefully my book will be one of many books published in the next few years that proves characters don't have to be "neutral" to be appealing to everyone.

Gotta go. I have work to do!

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24. On Mother's Day

People say, "Parenting is a lot of work." And you get that, before you have kids. You understand, but you don't really understand until you have kids of your own. You don't understand how tired a person can be until you have a baby. Your back aches, you can't get a full night's sleep, and you have to carry around a tiny person who needs you to carry her, no matter how bad that kink in your neck is, or how much you need to sleep or you really just might fall on your knees and cry.

Having kids is like winning the most wonderful prize in the world, but you kind of miss life before the prize. The prize makes you happier than you've ever been, and clarifies your life's purpose in a way nothing else ever could, but that prize requires constant attention, constant work, constant worry. Nothing is more exhausting than a baby. Nothing, that is, except a toddler.

And more babies.

Your body changes, whether you're a mom or a dad. Your life changes. Your house changes. Your car changes. Your schedule is a shambles, your ability to work severely compromised. You discover you have a terrible temper when you're too tired and overworked, and sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you yell, and you see innocent faces looking at you, bewildered and hurt. You apologize, you hate yourself. You sometimes even hate being a parent.

Parenting is a lot of work.

But nothing else gives you those warm cuddles, that soft baby-breath, that sweet silky skin on those chubby arms. Being a parent reconfigures all your senses. You become more fully alive. You become more fully yourself. You learn to love better than you ever have. You accept your mistakes, you move on, you try your hardest to make your complete, all consuming, unconditional love understood to little people who are as amazed by earth worms as they are by hearing Beethoven's Ode to Joy for the first time. You see the world in a new way, and the gift of that is more precious than the freedom you gave up to get it.

So on this Mother's Day, I wish all of us mothers the very best of luck, because we'll need it, and for the most part, on most days, we probably deserve it.

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25. A picture of a rainbow.

Now isn't this nicer than reading some mean article on SLATE that will just make you mad anyway?

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