Tumbleweeds have been blowing around this blog but not in my life. I moved for the second time in 10 months this year. Whew, that is too much.
I'm glad to say I'm settled and #amwriting again. Pulled out the manuscript I was revising and rewrote the opening. About 2k new words in the last two days. Feels good.
In June, I attended an amazing workshop on revision, Novel Metamorphosis, with Darcy Pattison. As soon as I get deeper into the revision I'm going to post more about this incredible experience.
For now, want to let you know I'm still here and share pics from around my new neighborhood. They're not the best focused shots but perhaps they give a flavor.
I stumbled on a gem of a botanic garden where professional artists and students from local schools are encouraged to create art out of/in nature. The experience is like walking a trail through the woods and discovering unexpected marvels along the way.
This masked being with antlers looks like a powerful shaman. Although he's magically awesome to behold, he's really made of old planter pots.
This captivated me, made me want to step into a tale. A table, chair, and meal growing moss. What does it mean? Everything returns to nature, dust-to-dust? Or the remains of a shipwrecked or fairy-stolen soul? What do you think?
Playful splash of color that almost seems musical.
Um. I have no idea, but it's deeply strange. Like a bog creature.
A wildly colorful yarn tipi thing with a wheel and arrow stick.
A fortified fairy abode. There were a bunch of tiny twig and bark houses tucked in corners of one part of the garden.
This is a big leaf magnolia, one of about 2,000 different native and exotic plants suited to the Pacific Northwest, growing in the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline, Washington.
At an on-site nursery, volunteers propagate many of the trees, shrubs, herbs, and flowers so that people can buy them to grow in their own yards. Workshops for adults and exploration programs for children continue the mission of the garden as educational as well as enjoyable.
I read We Were Liars two times, start to finish, within days. It's that good, that fascinating, that compelling.
I had read e. lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (a Printz Award Honor Book and finalist for the National Book Award) and fallen in love with her brilliant storytelling, so when the buzz started for We Were Liars I was excited. No disappointment here. This is another brilliant book--one that left me thinking about the multiple ways people can love and hurt each other, the deceit of behaving as expected, the emptiness of privilege, the danger of moral superiority.
This is one of those special books that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
We Were Liars takes place mostly on a private island owned by a super-wealthy, manipulative patriarch who summers there with his grasping daughters and fed-up grandchildren. What ought to be idyllic instead seethes with jealousy and desperation, leading to unbearable tragedy. But no more can be said about the plot, because it would be criminal to give away anything that will spoil it for the next reader. This story is a mystery, intricately crafted. In my second reading, I saw clues that could be taken in more than one way. The effect was I didn't see what was coming but accepted its authenticity when all was revealed. And it was so real it hurt to the marrow.
We Were Liars isn't a long book, nor is it heavy with description, but the description it delivers is crisp, fresh, and vivid.
So here are some examples to show lockhart's style, which is simply stunning:
(A beautifully-written, gripping couple of lines about abandonment and loss) The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.
(A snippet from the POV character, Cady, about herself) I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects.
(Cady about her migraines following an accident she can't remember) Welcome to my skull. A truck is rolling over the bones of my neck and head. The vertebrae break, the brains pop and ooze. A thousand flashlights shine in my eyes. The world tilts. I throw up. I black out. This happens all the time. It's nothing but an ordinary day.
(Cady's description of the first time she met Gat) His nose was dramatic, his mouth sweet. Skin deep brown, hair black and waving. Body wired with energy. Gat seemed spring-loaded. Like he was searching for something. He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.
If you've been on Twitter, Tumblr, or other media in the last few days you've probably noticed #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DiversifyYourShelves, a grassroots movement to increase diversity in books for children and teens.
I decided to go to an independent bookstore and ask a bookseller for suggestions to expand my (already crammed, I might add) shelves. She was great, taking time to not only point out books but talk about each one.
I bought some titles by authors I didn't know and added some by authors I did.
Among my new books is Matt de la Pena's The Living, a disaster-at-sea story with a protagonist from Otay Mesa near the border between Mexico and California. Shy is a towel boy, a water boy, on a cruise ship. His economic background is a world apart from the passengers, but he figures by summer's end he'll make enough to help out his mother, score some gear, and take a girl out.
I love his voice as he considers the last thing: He'd get a reservation at a nice spot, too. Cloth napkins. Some fine girl sitting across from him in the classy-ass booth. Maybe Jessica from the volleyball squad. Or Maria from down the street. All eyelashy smiles as whatever girl glances at him over her menu. "Get whatever you want," he'd tell her. "You ever had surf 'n' turf? For real, I got you." Yeah, he'd play it smooth like that.
Matt de la Pena is a fantastic speaker--funny, heart-breaking, and inspiring. I heard him at the SCBWI LA conference last summer. Using himself as a case study about finding your voice as a writer, he said he was told in second grade he couldn't advance because he couldn't read. He formed an opinion of himself as a bad student, but in high school he began writing poems because he liked the rhythm of language. Eventually, he got into a writing program. He said he decided not to worry about where he fit in but to just work his ass off.
His other books include Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and I Will Save You.
In my pile o' new books is Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney, who also spoke at SCBWI. Set in the 1930's, this novel features three kids looking for hope and finding it in a young Joe Louis, who had a chance to become the next heavyweight champion.
The rest of my new purchases: Crow by Barbara Wright, Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon, Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods, Every Day by David Levithan. I also bought Shades of Earth by Beth Revis, the third book in a futuristic space trilogy, in which humans and society have become homogenized, an interesting concept.
Oh! and for my Kindle, I purchased Best Ramadan Ever by Medeia Sharif.
It will be impossible to remember all the diverse MG/YA books I've ever read but to mention a few I enjoyed: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; Marie Lu's Legend series; Ash by Malinda Lo; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Also I'm a big fan of Paolo Bacigalupi's teen and adult books. And Sherman Alexie!
In the slightly more adult category any book by Susan Straight is a cultural treasure.
To celebrate Earth Day, I'm posting photos of my new natural surroundings in Washington. This place is so beautiful I think the pictures speak for themselves and remind me what I'm grateful for. Happy nature to all!
River running from Wallace Falls.
An urban park. Yeah, really.
Cutest little mushroom.
This hunk of driftwood is a prehistoric creature, right?
Marilyn Cram Donahue grew up in a family that cherished its history and storytelling. At gatherings she’d soak up tales of bear fights and Indian encounters, of flooding rivers and parched land, of deadly fevers and homemade remedies, of love found and loved ones lost, of painted ladies and gunslingers, of fields of wildflowers and snakes in the grass.
From this childhood Marilyn discovered that real history isn’t dates and facts. It’s people and how they face life and each other, and that’s how she writes historical fiction by creating characters real as a neighbor.
Many of her family’s stories would later inspire her novels, including Straight Along a Crooked Road and The Valley In Between that have been out of print for years and have just been released as e-books (on sale as I post!). These are what I might call quiet novels in today’s market of action-action-action, but these are characters to care about. I actually woke up dreaming about one of them and the predicament she was in.
I’m going to mini-review them here, so I will also give a disclaimer. Marilyn is a friend. I was in her critique group for several years in California before I moved to Seattle. I miss her warm heart, sharp wit, and each new and wonderful story she imagines.
In the 1850s Marilyn’s ancestors made the arduous trip by wagon across the sprawling lands of North America to be among early settlers of farm country in Southern California. Her family planted the first orange groves in Highland nestled in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
Marilyn stayed close to those roots, graduating from Pomona College and becoming a teacher and writer who has published more than thirty books and taught more than four hundred workshops and seminars.
Straight Along a Crooked Road, which was originally published in 1985 and is now released as an e-book, is the tale of a family leaving their Vermont home and driving a covered wagon past the Great Lakes, across the plains and its restless tribes, and over a scorching trail south through the Mojave Desert.
While there have been many westward-ho stories what makes Marilyn’s special is her ability to bring characters alive, to show their faults and strengths, their pettiness and their nobility. It’s told through the perspective of fourteen-year-old Luanna Hamilton who loves Vermont so much she swears to never leave. Her father has other ideas, which not only tear her away from her best friend but from her dream of continuing her education.
When a wagon train of people leave their homes for the unknown, there’s going to be friction. People argue. They make bad decisions. Some people aren’t just irritating they’re dangerous. One in particular makes Luanna’s skin crawl. Mine, too.
Since Marilyn aims for a middle-grade to young-adult audience, the scenes, even of death, are not graphic. Some readers may want things a little grittier, but these stories shouldn’t be too disturbing for even the youngest and most sensitive readers. They are certainly a great tool for teaching elementary and middle-grade students about migration, history, and changing societal customs and beliefs. Discussion should be held on the place of women in this society and on attitudes about Indians and people of differing religious belief.
A good story needs humor, and this delivers, particularly through interaction between a lively bunch of characters.
The Valley In Between is a sequel to Straight Along a Crooked Road. Marilyn has used the tales handed down by her great-grandparents, as well as her own love of the land, to infuse the story of Emmie Hamilton, a headstrong thirteen-year-old and Luanna’s younger sister, discovering life in California where law and order is pretty much up for grabs.
I hadn’t realized how far West the Civil War reached until Marilyn’s words brought home the chasm that developed between these pioneers, who had worked shoulder-to-shoulder to get their wagons and families to the golden land of California. But as the election arrived that would make Abraham Lincoln the country’s President, the division caused some secessionists to steal horses from neighbors so they could ride to Texas and join the Confederacy while other settlers requested Union soldiers for protection.
Marilyn deftly gives Emmie two beaus, one from the South and one from the North.
To give you a sense of how Marilyn masterfully weaves character and plot development with a sense of place, here is a snippet from an always outspoken great-aunt commenting on the unexpected arrival of a young man kicked off the wagon train for stealing: “It does seem fitting,” Aunt Clara muttered, after Belvidry had gone home, “that Tawny is blowing in on a Santa Ana. I never did see anything like a north wind for picking up trash and dumping it on the valley.”