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I’m exceedingly thankful to Jenn right now for recommending a book that sounded so exactly like what I wanted that, less than seven hours after she posted the link, I’m already writing a review. I think this means my reading drought is over, although it will probably be hard to tell until after the Stanley Cup final is over too.
The book is The Blue Castle, and I expect that some of you have already read it, because it’s by L.M. Montgomery, and if you love Anne of Green Gables and are in the habit of reading public domain fiction, you’ve probably read everything of hers that’s available. I sort of love Anne of Green Gables, just…selectively. And The Blue Castle isn’t public domain here in the US, but Project Gutenberg Australia is a beautiful thing.
Anyway. This is one of those books where a woman with a deeply unsatisfying life turns over a new leaf — or has one turned over for her — and comes into her own. Like Gertrude Haviland’s Divorce, or Now, Voyager. Or A Woman Named Smith, but less so. It’s such self-indulgent fantasy, but it’s my favorite kind. The heroine of The Blue Castle is Valency Stirling, a 29 year old spinster, frustrated and unhappy and firmly under the thumb of her widowed mother and a vast array of aunts and uncles. When she visits a doctor to ask about her recurring chest pain and he diagnoses her with terminal heart disease, she finds that knowing she’s only got a year to live is what she needed to cure her of her fear of her family. She strikes out on her own, becoming nurse/housekeeper/companion to the dying daughter of the local drunk, and then marrying a man who is rumored to have done all sorts of terrible things.
She gets the material things she’s been wanting — a husband, nice clothes, a home of her own, better looks — but, more importantly, she learns to speak her mind and trust in her own judgment and, you know, have fun. And it’s a delightful journey to accompany her on. There were things I didn’t love, too: the specific awfulness of Valency’s family would have worked better for me if Montgomery rubbed their faces in Valency’s transformation a bit more, for example, and I would have liked some of the romantic bits to be taken down exactly one notch. Also, there was one of those passages where a woman discovers she’s in love and doesn’t expect anything to come of it but somehow feels that her unrequited love has transformed and validated her life, and I find passages like that kind of irritating. On the whole, though, The Blue Castle is approximately as perfect as I want it to be.
There were ways in which I identified with Valency very much. Her feelings — at least, the ones that don’t feel a little performative — are real feelings. But one thing that interested me as I read was the ways in which I didn’t identify with her. I (obviously) read a lot of old books, but somehow they don’t usually make me think of the ways in which certain things — the things that have an impact on my day to day life — have changed since they were written. This one did. I’m not that much younger than Valency, and I have things in common with her, but…I don’t know. In Valency’s world whether a woman is married or unmarried is barely her choice, and I took a moment this evening to be thankful that even whether or not you want to be married is a choice in mine. It was nice.
I am writing to you as I pack for Camp NaNoWriMo, a virtual writers retreat where aspiring novelists from around the world gather to bash out 50,000 words of fiction in a month.
That's right! I've committed to writing a 112,500-word novel in a month. And to reach my goal, I am going to need all the encouragement I can get!
There are a number of ways you can help me along my way.
Just like sponsoring a marathonner, you can donate on my behalf as I write toward the 112,500-word goal. I'll receive some truly nifty prizes for my fundraising efforts on behalf of The Office of Letters and Light, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that hosts Camp NaNoWriMo. Your donation will help provide free writing resources for even more kids, teens, and adults around the world!
I have a sponsorship page set up here:
Or, there are a number of inspirational items in the online Camp Store (store.lettersandlight.org/merchandise) that will help get me through the month. You could send me a Camp NaNoWriMo Care Package full of campy encouragement, a Camp NaNoWriMo T-shirt declaring my goal for the month, a Campfire Mug to fill with writer fuel, or a poster for my writing nook.
You can find these and other writing supplies at store.lettersandlight.org/merchandise.
Thank you so much for your support as I write my novel. Wish me luck! (And hope that I don't get poison ivy.)
(It seems that every single time I say that I have Big News, people immediately jump to that conclusion. So I figured I'd cut you all off at the pass this time.)
The news is:
Earlier today, I was offered the position of Head Librarian at my town's public library, and I accepted.
I can't even express how happy I am about it: it's a library that the town's residents LITERALLY built themselves, and so the community is really actively invested in it, and I'm so excited and pleased that they are trusting me with it.
SO VAIR VAIR EXCITED AND PLEASED.
Anyway, starting in early August, that's what I'll be up to in my library-life.
First item on the agenda? Building them a website.
Going forward? We shall see what we shall see, but I'm sure it will be awesomesauce unchained.
(I might sound somewhat blasé about it (for me), but I am SO. EXCITED. And, as Josh, Amber, my sister, Amanda, and a few others can attest, I've been so revved about the application/interview process, etc., that I've been a tad difficult to be around. So thanks to everyone for A) putting up with me and B) being so amazingly supportive. YAY!)
For Father's Day, I want to introduce a book about a father-child bond that not even Chairman Mao can break.
Red Kite, Blue Kite, one of my most anticipated picture books of 2013, takes place during the Cultural Revolution in China, when chaos reigned and families were broken up when members were sent to labour camps or labour farms or were just disappeared. Tai Shan is separated from his father, but at first it is so close that he can walk home on Sundays to share their favourite activity of kite-flying. But when that isn't possible, Tai Shan flies the kites for both of them so that they would look up at the sky and know the other one was looking too.
The Cultural Revolution is pretty heavy stuff for early elementary school students. But Jiang breaks it down into parts that any child could understand. Missing a parent is something that many children can understand, whether they are separated due to divorce, relocation, or one of the many conflicts going on in the world right now (I'm thinking of the children of the lawyers rounded up in Turkey these past weeks).
Focusing on the good in a situation (or the beauty in an area of pollution) is a very Asian concept, although not particular to Asia. It reminds me of the child-parent bond in the film Life is Beautiful. Two horrible situations, but you still have to live your life and might as well find the good parts- like two kites flying high above human worries.
Ruth's illustrations and affecting use of colour highlight hope, represented by the brightly coloured kites. It's amazing how a colour can be intimidating on the arms of red guards but buoyant when it is a toy controlled by a small boy meeting his father after a week apart.
A great supplementary activity for this book is fashioning a grasshopper. We used bamboo grass but you could use a straw like in this tutorial.
This is a powerful book that highlights an amazing familial bond and the triumph of the human spirit over tragedy.
The Next Big Thing! is a blog tour that gives authors and illustrators a chance to share their work, then tag others to share theirs. Each blogger answers the same ten questions. The tour started in Australia, and has spread worldwide.
I've was asked to participate by illustrator Debbie Meyer, my roomie for the upcoming SCBWI LA Conference. Debbie and I have been online friends for years, and we met and hung out at the 2010 SCBWI conference in NYC. I'm looking forward to hanging with her again in August!
Debbie blogged about her dummy book she wrote and illustrated called "The Three Little Pigs Go To Preschool." For a dose of cuteness, visit her blog here.
1) What is the working title of your next book?
I am currently working on illustrating a book called "Annie the Scientist" by Daniel Johnson. It's the first book I've ever illustrated – Yay!
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
Since I'm not the author, I'll talk about what inspired the illustrations. The character came from the text. She comes off as sort of a know-it-all, so I had to make her cute to be likeable.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
If we could turn back time, I think Abigail Breslin at the age she was when she did Little Miss Sunshine would be a great Annie.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Annie tells her skeptical friends that she is a “scientist,” and we watch as she slowly gains their confidence by performing one amazing scientific feat after another.
6) Who is publishing your book?
7) How long did it take you to create the illustrations?
I'm still working on them! At the end of the project, I will have had 14 weeks to design the whole book and complete the illustrations from the time I got the text.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I really don't know.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Once again, since I'm not the author, I'll talk about what inspired the illustrations. The age of the character is the same as 2 of my nieces, so I made her look kind of like one of them and gave her freckles like the other.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
This book is packed scientific facts. It includes a glossary in the back explaining some fun scientific facts. As for the illustrations, I have given Annie a little sidekick who appears in every illustration.
Thanks for stopping by to see what I'm working on. The blog tour continues next week with:
Hi, folks. I'm continuing my series about story structure. I'm using analogies to structural elements of buildings to shed some like on some structural elements of stories. This week I'm comparing the scenes to joists. Joists are load-bearing boards or girders that run from beam to beam or from floor to beam. They carry some of the weight of the building insuring that the structure is sound. Scenes also carry some of the weight of each story. They fit within chapters, and they glue your story together, like the joist's job in a structure. There are various kinds of joists, and there are various kinds of scenes. I'm going to describe the basic structure of the scene then talk about a few variants. Hopefully this discussion will help you create much more "sound" stories.
The scene is the basic load-bearing element of the story. A basic scene works like this. First, action and dialogue mix, followed by the main character's emotional reaction to the action and dialogue, and then the character thinks about the action and dialogue, and finally the character decides what to do next. The basic scene will appear over and over in your story unless you are seeking something very avant-garde.
HINT: Don't move on to the avant-garde until you can easily produce fluid basic scenes that all connect and move seamlessly from one to the next.
You will use a few variations of the basic scene in your story, especially for action sequences. You might have an action/dialogue, emotion and then action/dialogue/emotion and finally cap that with a basic scene action/dialogue/emotion/thinking/decision. This set-up is generally one chapter. Chapters contain one to three scenes or a hybrid like described. If you try to put more in a chapter the thing implodes. I have found that stories that don't use enough of the basic scene generally collapse.
HINT: Action/dialogue sequences need breaks to give the reader a chance to breathe and process. If your action and dialogue goes on too long you will lose your reader. Find those long sequences and break them up.
One kind of special scene starts inside the main character's head -- I calling this a hook scene. I see this start in books a lot. The action and the dialogue happen off scene. We start with emotion and the thinking of the character wrapped together and that leads to first basic scene of a story. A hook scene must be shorter that a basic scene and is generally used to connect the reader with the main character emotionally and intellectually. The author uses this short scene to hook the reader. You have to tap into a universal emotion and/or intellectual depth to make this one work. Also this emotion and thinking must lead to a real problem in a basic scene. Put a row of hook scenes together and lose your reader.
Now I'm going to touch on the passing scene. This scene is used for transition, usually from one setting to the next. Use it sparingly These scenes are very short. Something like:"Our journey from Earth to Titan took weeks. My emotions ran the gamut. I thought about leaving my father, my pony, my boyfriend, and my favorite burger joint behind, but now I must look forward. The engines fired up as we approached the landing base on Titan." This passing scene gets us from point a to point b, and we have some deep emotional connection, more than in a basic scene.
HINT: Use passing scenes to bring your reader close to the bone of your main character.
There are special scenes that happens toward the end of stories. I'm calling these the bank scenes. One bank scene generally shows up in all books as the "darkest moment." The events of the whole book leads to this scene of revelatory emotion and thought from your main character. Your character feels deeply failure, remorse, agony of decision, pain, brokenness -- no feeling that we like to feel. Your character thinks deeply about the cosmic consequences of her journey Another bank scene is comes after your climax. This scene again is in response to all the scenes in your story. The main character feels deeply, thinks thoroughly and comes to her truth.
Check out your scenes and make sure that your interior structural story elements are sound. Look at your scenes and make sure they are complete or purposeful hybrids. Create a strong story.
And now the doodle: "Alien landscape"
You need a quote for your pocket too! Here's a good one:
Whatever satisfies the soul is truth. Walt Whitman
Do you see that picture? Seriously, folks, do you understand the ridiculously awesome thing you’re looking at there? Click on it for closer inspection. That, my friends, is the blood, sweat and tears of three classes of 5th Graders at LCCS in Jersey City, NJ. These kids were kind enough to not only read DWEEB, but also create some amazing artwork based on the book. You are looking at movie posters! Cereal boxes! Comic strips! Character profiles! And hamburgers of all shapes, sizes and dimensions! Amazing? You better believe it.
I had the distinct honor of visiting these young readers and artists last Thursday. They welcomed me into their school with kindness, questions and pizza. A special thank you goes out to the teachers and staff who invited me, especially Ms. Litman, a friend from the days of yore. LCCS is a wonderful school with kids so smart and audacious that they are demanding a sequel to DWEEB (Random House, are you listening?) and a 150-million-dollar movie based on the book…starring them:
P.S. One of these kids was wearing a Keith Richards T-shirt. He should probably be cast in the role of Elijah.
Voiceover for Children's Apps Have you ever wanted to be a voiceover? Maybe you could be if you join a site that could help you access jobs in this field. Voice123 is a a website that provides voiceover jobs for anyone interested in being a voice for an 'App' or a children's story on-line. I have been a member since 2006. They give you a webpage where you can showcase your talents. Check out their website: http://voice123.com/ Here is a demo of my voice. Powered by Voice123 - Voice Actors
הפיצו, העבירו , שתפו , ליקקו ולנקקו- הפעם יש סיכוי של ממש !
די לשוטף+++ !!!!!
"אנחנו משלמים שוטף +65"
"כי ככה אנחנו משלמים, כולם מקבלים ככה"
מה זאת אומרת למה? אמרתי לך אלו התנאי תשלום שלנו"
אם אתם עצמאיים שמזדהים עם השיחה הזאת ומאסתם בה- בואו נעשה משהו.
מוסר התשלומים בשוק העצמאיים מתנהל בבריונות שקטה. כזו שהולכת ומתעצמת נקבעת כנורמה כ'מובן מאליו' כשהיא מותירה את הצד המעסיק חסר מוסר ואת הצד המועסק ללא תשלום.
עצמאיים, גם ככה, חיים על הקצה, ילדי הרחוב של שוק העבודה, נטולי שייכות ארגונית. אין לנו ימי חופשה, ימי מחלה, פנסיה – משלמים את מחיר החופש והעצמאות במחיר השקט הנפשי.
אנחנו לא מתלוננים. חלקינו בחרנו בזה וחלקינו עובדים בתחומים בהם עבודה כשכיר היא לא אופציה. הדבר החשוב הוא שיש לנו עבודה, יש לנו מוסר עבודה ואפילו אנחנו מצליחים להנות ממנה. . נכון, יש תקופות 'מלפפונים' אבל ככה זה. אלו סיכוני העצמאות.
זה קורה כמעט כל שנה. וכל פעם מחדש נכנסים למרדף כנגד הזמן כי אנחנו לא לבד. אנחנו אחראים לקיומם ורווחתם של עוד כמה אנשים קטנים בבית. ואז זה מגיע. אפשר לנשום. רגע, יש רק בעיה אחת.-
לא משלמים לנו בזמן ריאלי.
פעם כשהשוטף היה קטן הוא היה +30 . היום הוא כשהוא כבר גדול הוא מגיע ל+72 ואפילו ל+90!!!
אצלינו קוראים לזה "שוטף+" אצל שכירים קוראים לזה "הלנת שכר" כן כזו הגוררת בעקבותיה קנסות וריביות של 5% על כל שבוע עיכוב.
לנו העצמאיים אין "הלנה" ואין פיצוי. אנחנו משלמים את המחיר!!! כי זה מה שקורה לכסף שעומד- הוא צובר ריבית. כך שבעוד הצד המעסיק נהנה עוד קצת מתשלומי הריבית על הכסף שהוא מעכב, נותן השירות סופג אותם ובמקרים מסויימים אף נאלץ למצוא מקורות מימון אחרים שיאפשרו לו לצוף מעל המים עד שהכסף השייך לו, אותו הרוויח ביושר, ישוחרר.
ובמקרים עצובים יותר יפשוט רגל. מחיר ההמתנה.
שר אוצר יקר!! אני פונה אליך בשמי ובשם המון מחבריי במצבי – תעשו את הדבר הנכון, תעגנו בחוק את תנאי העצמאיים תגנו עלינו ממעשים לא הוגנים- תנו לנו להתפרנס בכבוד ולא על הגחון!
מאת היחידה שיכלה לנסח את זה , סוף סוף- כל כך ברור ויפה סיגל קפלן
Thrilled and humbled and very happy! First full review from the New York Journal of Books...
"Getting through high school is difficult enough—especially when you’re a Dungeons and Dragons geek like Jonathan Schwartz.
Add in two sisters who lean toward the cruel and sadistic, a famous father who shuns his Judaism, a Holocaust-survivor grandmother who tells incredibly offensive Jewish jokes, and his father’s zealot “inkwhores” showing up at the house begging to be impregnated. Poor Jonathan doesn’t have a chance.
After a calamitous meeting with the family rabbi, Jonathan’s father runs off to Israel to live with an ultra-orthodox sect under the guise of writing a new book. But the family only sees it as abandonment. Shortly thereafter, the Schwartz family train begins to derail. It’s a wild and sordid ride to its final conclusion.
David Michael Slater’s 1980s coming-of-age story fuses intense family dysfunction with literary intelligence. Fun and Games is like a 1980s Jewish version of The Wonder Years, except with more confusion and heightened teenage awkwardness.
Though seemingly a tale rife with the depravity and debauchery of hormonal youth, Fun and Games author Slater deftly balances out the storyline with a deep, dark emotional flair that disguises the heartbreaking truth hovering just below the surface.
Fun and Games is a multifaceted story full of wit, wonder, and blind corners—just like real life—perfectly reflecting the average American family in its many relatable moments followed by sighs of relief. In this very commendable effort, David Michael Slater throws all kinds of crazy against the wall, and not only does it stick—it works brilliantly.
Fans of David Sedaris, Jenny Lawson, and Augusten Burroughs will crown David Michael Slater their new king."Add a Comment
Casey picked a name from the pot because the hat was too small too hold all the names… *Cue drumroll…* Ellen Edwards Kennedy!!!! You have a copy of Being Frank coming your way! Please email me your physical mailing address and if you want me to sign for a particular person. CONGRATULATIONS!! (I apologize …
For the past few years, I’ve been writing books inspired by real events. I’ll hear something on the news and I’ll think - hm, what if...? That’s where Girl, Stolen and The Night She Disappeared came from.
But my new book, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die was actually inspired by the lyrics to a song called Scared at Night by Kathleen Edwards:
As a young man you were shooting rats
By accident you hit the farmyard cat
He ran for the fields and came back the next day
You'd blown out his eye and you could see his brain
That's it boy, there is some things in life
You don't wanna do, but you know is right
So take him out back and finish him off
Got your gun off the shelf, it only took one shot
One day when I was running, I was listening to this on my iPod shuffle, and I thought, ooh - What if there was a girl? And she wakes up on the floor of a ransacked cabin with two men standing over her. And one of them says, “Take her out back and finish her off.”
And the more I ran, the more I thought about it, and the more I knew she had been tortured and the two men were mad because she wouldn’t - couldn’t - tell them something they really wanted to know.
For years, I’ve been collecting stories of people who experience fugue state amnesia. In 1985, a Tacoma reporter disappeared. A lot of people thought she had been murdered in connection with a story. She turned up 12 years later in Sitka, Alaska, with no memory of her past life. In 2009, a school teacher disappeared for three weeks in Manhattan. When authorities went back and looked at security cam footage, they would see her going into a store, for example, and looking confused, and then eventually leaving. When she was found, she had no memory of who she was.
People suffering from fugue state cannot recall their past. They don’t lose their memory of how to function in the world - they just lose their personal memories.
There’s a fascinating British documentary about a guy who walked into a hospital and said he had no idea who he was. In one amazing scene he goes to the beach. He’s standing on a rock next to the water and he says, “I don’t know if I know how to swim. I guess I’ll find out!” And then he jumps.
One thing people with fugue state seem to have in common is that have been under immense stress. One theory is that some brains, when subjected to a lot of stress, simply hit the reboot key. It’s a way for the person to run away from a bad situation.
And when my fictional girl wakes up in this trashed cabin she realizes someone has pulled out two of her fingernails. She figures that’s what caused her to lose her memory - but it’s actually something worse. Much worse.
Figuring out what came next
So now I had an idea I loved, but there was a lot more work I had to do.
Like say you were this girl waking up with no memory and two men are discussing killing you. What would you do next? Well, what I did was have my kajukenbo instructor drag me around the floor with his hands under my armpits and we figured out some ways the girl could fight back.
I’m now taking kung fu and both martial arts have really helped me construct fight scenes and understand the sheer physicality of violence. The only downside is that doctors often look at the fingerprint shaped bruises on my arms and ask if I’m safe at home.
Another thing I had to do was to figure out WHY the bad guys wanted to kill her. I had to figure out if she might possibly be crazy - and I definitely wanted her to look crazy.
And what were the answers? I used a mind-mapping program at bubbl.us to brainstorm. Where was her family? Were they dead? Being held captive? Had they fled to another country? And who was behind it? Was it the military? The government? And if it was the government, was it US or foreign? Was it a drug company? A chemical company?
I spent a lot of time researching bioweapons. It’s illegal to manufacture them - but it’s not illegal to research how to defend against one - which is a pretty big loop hole. I spent a lot of time stocking an imaginary lab, looking at online catalogs, debating the merits of special cages that can hold a thousand mice, figuring out how to grow a virus and make a vaccine. I spent so much time researching bioweapons it’s a wonder the FBI didn’t come knocking at my door. My fictional world was reviewed by a scientist who has a top-security clearance and has done bioweapons research. She said the idea was “very plausible - and evil.”