Friday, January 6, 2012

A Break Until Spring

So, my friends, my new year didn't stumble in tipsily, nor did it gently knock. It shattered my front door as sure as Vader blasted Alderaan. It has my full attention.

I must bow out (again!) of the blogging in order to do the living. It's a new living, and a challenging one: learning how to be a single mom, learning how to bid farewell to a love that leaves . . . as well as just lots of learning as I take four college courses while teaching part-time.

I know I disappeared last year, too. It's totally fair if you're not around when I come back. BUT! I'll come back in April. AND, I will offer you one of the BEST parting gifts!

My parting gift is the name and face of a new favorite: PATRICK ROTHFUSS

Back story: Laini herself first told Jen and me about Patrick Rothfuss when we met her in Chicago. Hearing we were from Wisconsin, Laini mentioned a great fantasty writer from Steven's Point. Okay, ANYBODY Laini recommends, I need to read. Unfortunately, I quickly forgot his name. Ack! But how can you blame me? I had just met Laini Taylor.

In December, Laini posted a picture of the back of her UK edition of DoSaB, and Rothfuss wrote the blurb on it: "Wow. I wish I had written this book." I thought, He blurbed her? How fantastic is that? And oh, yes, that's how you spell his name?

So I checked out his book, The Name of the Wind:

And friends, it's gorgeous. It's 700 pages of oh-my-god-he's-three-years-older-than-I-and-how-the-heck-did-he-get-so-amazing?-and-he-lives-an-hour-away!-and-I-want-to-eat-ramen-with-him-and-his-girlfriend-and-learn-everything-he's-ever-thought.

Wait, that was way too much inner dialogue.

It is, honestly, a beautifully-written tale of a young hero named Kvothe. Kvothe is a boy traveling with his troupe-family when disaster strikes. He struggles to survive for years before finding haven at the University. There he learns the magic of sympathy, but what knowledge he really seeks is a) how to call the name of the wind and b) how to find and conquer the baddies that attacked his troupe. Kvothe is a brilliant boy living in a ruthless world. Honestly, Kvothe is teaching me to take my licks these days better than any creed or self-help book. The boy gets knocked down every other page, it seems. But I'll be damned if he doesn't get back up every single time.

Check out Rothfuss' webpage and blog to learn more. (His blog Worldbuilders has raised over half a million dollars for Heifer International over the last several years. How fantastic is that?) And maybe, if you fall in love with the beard as much I do, watch a video or two of him to hear some of his thoughts of genre writing, Simon and Garfunkel, and trying to make the world a better place.

Rothfuss is coming to Appleton in April for our spring book festival. I'll be sure to return then with a post on his visit. Hopefully a couple of you will have joined Kvothe in his battle against the scrael and have enjoyed his captivating lute playing at the Eolian in Imre. :)

Keep writing. Keep hoping.

I'll talk to you soon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Did My Class and I Rock NaNo?

QUICK NaNoWriMo Update for me and my four brave, brilliant 7th-graders:

Student 1 Wrote 18 pages of a brutal story that involved a broken home, an abusive father, and the hope found in a friend-who-could-maybe-be-more. This student read bits of her story to the other girls during lunch; they argued over who was their favorite character and pestered her to keep writing so they'd know what happened.
Then the student tore that story out of her book and started a new story.
Her guardian had read through it and didn't approve it. Her new story does not contain a broken home or an abusive father. All the favorite characters are gone.

Student 2 Wrote bits and scraps on backs and half-sheets for most of November. By the third week, she had about 6 pages all together. Organization knocked her out. So did setting--she didn't know how to write scenes about Washington D.C. when she'd never been there. We talked at length about writing herself into a corner. :) She picked up her pace during the last week by focusing on her characters, and she wrote about 9 more pages.

Student 3 Hated her story by the middle of the month. When I gave her permission to start over, she gleefully stomped on her old pages. She spent most of the fourth week glumly facing her new project, annoyed with how she kept ruining great ideas by writing boring set-up. This girl is an artist, so I showed her Maus--we had just finished a WWII-lit unit--and discussed graphic novels. What a bright face she had! It was like I had lifted a lead blanket off her shoulders.
She showed me pictures that she just worked on last night of a girl getting run over by a car. The student was glowing, proud of her bloody images and of grossing out Ms. Jessica. She's going to finish her story through December.

Student 4 Had 37 pages at the end of November and will write through December. She had started writing a horror story, but she realized she didn't need to embellish anything to tell a terrifying tale. She is writing her life story.
At first, she thought she had to modify it to keep it 'middle school appropriate.' I told her to be as honest as she wanted to be about what she's been through.

Me? I mean, does it really matter, compared to these girls? I think they're so cool, so brave, so fun, so strong. They inspire me. But, just to round it out--I wrote 18, 400 words. It was totally fun and diverting and sometimes awful and annoying. Like John Green says, NaNoWriMo gives a writer 1) discipline and 2) permission to suck. I think I picked up some discipline, and I definitely am all about being okay sucking.

So, YES, we absolutely rocked NaNoWriMo!

And now we're reading "Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti and "Goblin Fruit" by Laini Taylor. Favorite. Unit. Ever. :)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Geeking Out Over Collaborations

My love for both John Green and M. T. Anderson has led me to another dated discovery:

The hot-hot-hot themed YA anthology!

Collections of short stories by rockin' authors are popping up all over, and again I'm late to the party. But that's okay! Late to a party equals awesome! (NOT early. NOT on time. These, to a party, are not so awesome. These are tragic and send a gal home by 8:30 in tears.)

FIRST anthology is Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales published by Candlewick in August 2004. I'm putting this first even though I have no real idea if it has a predecessor. If you know of another first, let me know! This cool collection came out with authors like Neil Gaiman, Celia Rees, Gregory Maguire, and of course, M. T. Anderson. (no. not obsessed.)

SECOND anthology is Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, published by Little, Brown in August 2009. Holly Black collected stories along with her friend and co-ComiCon attendee, Cecil Castellucci. Contributing authors include M. T. and John Green, natch, as well as Sara Zarr, Cassandra Clare, David Levithan, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Scott Westerfeld, Garth Nix, and Libba Bray.

Side-note: I ADORE 2009-LIBBA BRAY. I'm sure 2011-Libba Bray is just-as-if not-more adorable, but 2009-Libba Bray made this video promoting her Printz-winner, Going Bovine. Please watch, even if you never click on links. Three minutes of adorable in a cow costume.

I admit it: this is why I write. Not to write, but to write with friends like Libba who rock cow costumes in New York City. More on this thought in a second.

THIRD anthology is Zombies vs. Unicorns, collected again by Holly Black, this one published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in September 2010. This collection offers six stories pro-unicorns, and six stories pro-zombies. Contributing authors include Carrie Ryan, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, and more fun from Cassandra Clare, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfeld, and Libba Bray.

John Green posted a vlog about this debate in 2007 and described unicorns as the "horned beasts of suck." Also, he questions, "What have unicorns ever accomplished? Providing transport for the Care Bears to and from the Forest of Feelings?" :)

LATEST collection is Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories. This one came out by Candlewick in October 2011. It was put together by Kelly Link, but Holly Black still contributes, along with Corey Doctorow, M. T., Garth Nix, Cassandra Clare, and Libba Bray.

(Afterthought disclamier: This list of four books is, of course, in no way exhaustive and is as extensive as my Googling skills allow.)

So--I want to say how awesome I think this is--writers consistently publishing together.

I mean, I'm not saying that all these writers got together and wrote their stories in one big house, sharing coffee duties and pizza runs. However, clearly the community--as John said in his vlog--had been discussing the topics for months. I don't know, but I imagine that the books came out of those discussions. So community created art, rather than art bringing together a community.

I love that.

But, as an extension of that thought, why not gather together in a big house and write? Why can't we do that? Percy Shelley did, at Leigh Hunt's, with John Keats. Some writers used to write together. Some said--Shelley certainly said--they needed the companionship for inspiration. So I say YAY anthologies! YAY communities of writers collaborating and inspiring one another. I cannot WAIT to join you. I will totally take the first pizza run.

So my friends, who would you want in your big writers' house? Who would be in charge of meals? Who would you borrow toothpaste from? :) Who would you love to toss ideas around with over slices of pepperoni pizza?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I am thankful for John Green

First, I have to say that I bought Paper Towns when it came out in 2008 and liked it.

And that was the extent of my experience with and appreciate for John Green.

AACCKK!! How foolish am I??? All these years I have missed out on the wit, the hilarity, the now-accumulated 904 video blogs that John and his brother have posted to one another! It's a travesty, and I can't allow it to happen to you, my friends; so I am spreading the good word of John Green and the Nerdfighters.

Second, I have to say that I found John Green's vlogs while Googling M. T. Anderson. Which brings me to my subpoint--M. T. Anderson is also a rock star, and I just thought he was an adorable bespectacled hipster. Nope. He's actually sort of everywhere, loved and lusted by everyone: many awesome ladies and gentlemen wish for him for Christmas and/or list him on their hot list, or get to interview him for SCBWI. Shannon Hale herself posts a hilarious interview with him, and so does Sean Beadoin. And Cynthia Leitich Smith. He's on the board of directors of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and particpated in the NCBLA's recent publication, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. He keynoted this week's Assembly on Literature for Adolescents conference. So--woops! I'm just six years late to the M. T. party, and no, sub-sub-point, I am not obsessed.

So Tobin and John Green met years ago at a conference and broke into abandoned buildings together. John recorded their adventure for one of his vlogs. You can find it and the other 900 videos on youtube or on the Green brothers' site,

What are Nerdfighters? The Nerdfighters are nerds who fight--folks who use their inner awesome to decrease world suck. And we are legion! John just announced he has 1.1 million followers on Twitter. Isn't that incredible? A YA author with 1.1 million followers? Again: rock star.

John Green won the Printz award in 2006 for his first book, Looking for Alaska. His second book, An Abundance of Katherines, was a 2007 Printz honor book. Last year, he co-wrote a book called Will Grayson, Will Grayson with David Levithan; and in January, his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, will be released! And he will be touring for it!! (Please come to Wisconsin! And bring Tobin with you!)

John and his brother Hank are hysterical and brilliant. Among their hundreds of videos, you can watch clips on John's top 5 zombie apocolypses, 31 great nerd jokes, the amazingness of Norbert Wiener, how tired John is of signing his first 150,000 copies of The Fault in Our Stars, and how it costs us 70 million dollars a year to subsidize the making of pennies. They talk about great literature, current events, Helen Hunt--just really relevant, beautiful stuff. I've logged in many, many non-NaNo hours this holiday week watching and laughing. Please join me!

Have you already fallen in love with the John? Do you have a favorite video of his to share? What literary rock stars do you follow?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rockin' Jan Brett Rolls to Green Bay!

Jan Brett is touring from Boston to Walla Walla, driving across the country in an enormous, illustrated bus! Clara and I passed the bus as we drove to Green Bay on Sunday, November 13. I cheered and clapped and waved, so happy to see it on Highway 172! Clara kept asking, "What's wrong, Mom? What's wrong?" I tried to explain that a beautiful artist and storyteller was near, and that brought Mom so much joy. :)

Jan Brett spoke to a crowded room at the Brown County Central Library last night at 5:00 p.m. She shared with us the inspiration for her newest book, Home for Christmas. She also told us about the tour that she and her husband took of Sweden, doing research for the illustrations in the book. Since a moose is a key character in the story, she took the time to actually draw the head of a moose for us.

All the while, she was sharing charming anecdotes, like how she met a friendly herd of moose, and how she got to kiss one on its big, blubbery nose.

She filled her half-hour presentation with encouragement for all the young writers and artists in the auditorium. She reminded everyone that just as our fingerprints are our own, so our stories are our own. We have unique vision and creativity, she said. It is important not to lose our vision as we grow so we can make both ourselves and others happy with our art.

I was in line for over two hours to meet Jan. She is, without question, a rock star. Her website states that she has over 37 million books in print. Her stories are rich, warm, and deep. I grew up with "The Mitten," and Clara is daily enchanted by "The Owl and the Pussycat." Which of her books did you grow up with? What are you reading to the children in your life?

I know we are all trying to be true to our visions; but on the drive home, I thought about all of our unique stories. Not the ones we make up, but the ones we are living. And I wondered, what artist would you choose to illustrate the story of your life?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Author Linda Godfrey brings DOGMAN to Neenah!

This is Godfrey's first sketch of Wisconsin's Beast of Bray Road.
You thought I was kidding, didn't you? :)

On Monday, November 7, five Academy students and I, along with our high school English teacher, visited the Neenah Public Library to hear Linda S. Godfrey speak about her newest book, Monsters of Wisconsin. Godfrey has published 12 other titles, including Weird Wisconsin, Haunted Wisconsin, The Michigan Dogman, and Mythical Creatures.

Here is another one of Godfrey's illustrations based on a witness's testimony.

Godfrey was a UW-Oshkosh grad working as a newspaper reporter 20 years ago when she first learned about a local legend of a 'werewolf' prowling around Elkhorn, WI. After learning that the area county patrol officer actually had a file labeled 'werewolf' in his desk to hold the many complaints and sightings he received, Godfrey decided to write the story. The story ran in her local paper, The Week, on December 31, 1991; it went national two weeks later!

And literally, she's been hunting monsters ever sincee.

Godfrey's hour-long presentation on Monday was packed with pictures, sketches, and statistics of the many beasts she has received reports on: Dogman, Pigmen, Bigfoots, and Dragons.

I had asked my students to go into the presentation looking for something they could use for their NaNos. Motivated by M. T. Anderson's passion for place, I was hoping we would hear about wonderfully creepy locations to emulate in our own settings, lending our stories color and personality.

And in a way, we did. What we learned was that many sightings were in normal places, like wide roads, bridges, and well-lit neighborhoods. For example, open Bray Road is a popular place for
Dogman sightings. The road is a most un-spookified stretch, surrounded by cornfields. Godfrey explained how cornfields themselves are the spooky places--they are, in fact, Creature Highways: snack-filled swaths of land that creatures can trek unseen.

Bray Road. How scary is that, right?

So we learned often the scariest things lurk in the shadows near the most normal-looking places.

When Godfrey learned that we were looking for stories to propel our own, she readily acknowledged that many other writers, particularly science fiction writers, read her books for the same reason. She explained that what especially attracts writers is that the creatures she learns about act so very, very differently from how our "normal" concept of creature acts. For example, in the hundreds of reports she has received from the United States and Canada about Dogmen, she has recieved ONE report of an injury caused by one. How interesting is that? A ferocious looking, man-hunting beast that snarls and lunges, that lurks and prowls, but that doesn't actually attack? That's peculiar, and it goes against our preconceived notions of werewolf.

Pretty fun stuff, but I'll be honest. (But I'll say it parentheses: I had to sleep with my light on the first night after the presentation. They were everywhere, I swear. The Dogmen were coming for me, and I couldn't do anything about it!)


Other sort of wonderfully obvious bits I picked up from Godfrey's excellent presentation were a) follow your passions, b) do your research, c) trust people, and d) be open to believing in the unbelievable.

Thanks so much to Melissa of NPL's Adult Programming to let us join the three dozen others for this event. And so much thanks to Linda S. Godfrey for coming and speaking. We had a wonderful time, and we have picked up great spooky stories to weave into our own tales.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo Check-in 1

Seven days of writing have passed. How’d I do?

Total word count: 7355

Total I should have if shooting for 1667 a day: 11669


I present to you four frank reasons I’m not stressing about being behind:


Kate DiCamillo!

My copy of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick came in, and I have a NEW literary crush to add to my list of crushes. Kate DiCamillo’s contribution to this collection is knock-you-in-the-teeth poignant and hilarious. Love, love, love the Kate! How can one be gloomy when Kate’s “The Third-Floor Bedroom” exists?


I found Elzabeth Fama’s blog last night (and commented on it ;)). She, a published author, speaks candidly of the pros and cons (and many more cons) of our yearly NaNo competition. I love her honesty. Her reminder that our goals this month are sort of ridiculous helps me laughingly accept that I may not make my goals—but the best goal is to write every day.

How haunting is Elizabeth's cover?


I’m writing. This, all by itself, is just lovely. This *poofs* stressful thoughts of more and now and hurry away.

My idea that I’m fleshing out this November I had in February, but I didn’t get to it. I had too many shows to watch. :) Then in April, I heard editor Julie Scheina--one of two editors who brought us Beautiful Creatures--speak at an SCBWI luncheon. She enthusiastically shared one of her new books coming:

Jane, by April Lindner, is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre.

My story idea is a modern retelling, too! So I should have been writing in April! Retells are wanted by editors, she said! But I didn’t go for it. I had too many naps to take. I dipped into it a teensey bit, enough to say I was working on it, but that’s about it.

Our NaNo has me deep in my story each night. I’m loving the characters. I’m loving the places they take me. I’m loving the cashmere sweaters or silver nail polish I find them wearing. I’m writing, and it’s fun.


I am, let's repeat, doing a retelling. This makes my life easier, yes? I'd argue yes, absolutely, it does. In addition to my six pages of notes, I have the hundreds of pages of story to follow. So when Elizabeth Fama points out that October should be novel-planning month and we should create pages of detailed outline with dialogue notes—I mean, I do, right? I have the whole book in front of me. I read it again in October and wrote out character notes and plot points to emphasize, but . . . Come on. I think having an already-written-masterpiece in my hands takes some of stress away. :)

So that's my reports, my friends! How are you doing? Week 2, here we come! :)