Bits of info

220px-Common_snipe_fencepostSo, those birds that I thought were plovers are actually snipes, looking very much like the little fellow on the left. When I walk down the road that borders their nesting grounds, one or two will land in front of me and peep with distressed desperation to lead me away from their chicks.

searchI was right about the ospreys. Yesterday I saw a couple diving for fish. One was successful but not the other. When they fly back with their catch, it’s always facing forward, looking like it has hitched a ride.

700+ words written yesterday. My tent mates and I all made a slow start, but today we’re determined to do better. For this project, my chapters are short — brief scenes presented in 2-4 pages. This makes the writing a bit like doing power laps: a spurt of effort, and then a short breather before the next one.

Protagonist’s name is Calvin Callaghan Calhoun. Too much?

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Camp NaNo begins

tent-06.jpgI’m in, my bunk is organized, my wash kit stored in the showers.

My tent is just a few feet from a beach on Long Island Sound, where a sail boat’s mooring light marks its position. Further out, buoys and a lighthouse point to the safest route for vessels heading east or west.

A storm just blew through, thunder and lightning punctuating each tent-mate’s arrival. Thunder still rumbles above, but the rain has stopped and the sky gradually clears. Plovers cheep and pipe, and three sets of osprey parents have begun the day’s fishing to feed their hatchlings. My binoculars have never seen so much use.

Today’s goal is small, just a couple of pages, but enough to make me feel I can ignore the fascinating campgrounds and discover the plot that’s lurking at the back of my mind.

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Revving up for a busy summer


Signed up for Camp NaNoWrimo in July, to work on Oklahoma project, and actively querying agents with most recent fantasy MS.

The summer is already looking too short!

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Sherman Alexie on sad books

banned booksIn a 2011 Wall Street Journal blog post, Sherman Alexie explains why YA books that address real issues of violence, death, sexuality, and other horrors need to be available for teen readers.

Alexie was responding to an earlier WSJ article, by Meghan Cox Gurdon, decrying the prevalence of “dark” themes in YA lit and positing a troubling dichotomy:

This is an old dialectic—purity vs. despoliation, virtue vs. smut—but for families with teenagers, it is also everlastingly new. 

While I find myself (gasp!) agreeing with two of Gurdon’s points (books for teens are more explicitly violent and sexual than they used to be, and parents ought to be aware of what books their children read — as well as what shows or films they watch, and what video games they play), and while I will probably never read most of the books she references, I want to argue with her analysis of the options.

61NrUg95p1LGurdon doesn’t mention Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a bleak novel of racism and child abuse set in the late 1940s that I’m sure she would qualify as a novel of despoliation (it’s been frequently challenged as a book of “child pornography”). “It does not end happily,” as Gurdon would put it. Cruelty, incest, rape, violence, racism, sexuality — Morrison doesn’t flinch from the lives she’s portraying. Yet the book is beautifully written, with the precise and poetic language we’ve come to expect from Morrison, and with characters who feel real even in their most troubled moments. Would I want my child to read it? Yes, but I’d want to read it with her, to be an informed listener if she wants to talk about what happens to Pecola Breedlove and the other characters. I don’t expect this book to teach how to “deal with horrors”; few of the characters use successful strategies for getting through life. The “lessons” of this book are much larger, too complex to put into a quick summary. They grow from the consequences of a long history of slavery and racism into a web of failed relationships and hopeless self-images that traps each character.

This is something Gurdon doesn’t recognize: great literature will often be troubling and end unhappily, but that isn’t where its value lies. Think Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Oedipus Rex, Moby Dick, Romeo and Juliet. Yes, of course such literature is less explicit in its sexual references, but the violence is as vivid and graphic as anything in current YA lit. But that’s not the point. These are good books, “classic novels”, because the writing is good.

So, where’s the problem with current YA lit? It may lie in an idealization of innocent childhood, or in a yearning for a blissful ignorance of the awfulness many people must face. I don’t think Gurdon wants to deny the existence of evil in the world, and she absolutely does not imply that good literature can’t also include scenes of violence and sexuality. She may just be taking on the problem of bad writing.

And we know there’s plenty of that out there.

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The course has ended but the reading continues

Lizzie Ross:

From my other blog. No surprises here, but lists are always fun, aren’t they?

Originally posted on Readers Are Leaders 2014:

So keep posting to this site. I want to hear about the new books you discover, and I bet others do as well. Tell us what your students are reading. Post Top-10 lists.

Top ten red word Top ten red word

I’ll start with one of my own: In no particular order (these all rate #1 for me) here’s my Top-10 fantasyseries list. Most of these were written for the YA audience, but adult fantasy fans will love them as well.

1. LOTR. I’ll only add that this of course includes The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Tree and Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham and just about anything else Tolkien wrote, including his translations of Old and Middle English poetry.

2. Michael Scott, The Alchemyst. Remember the first Indiana Jones movie, which barely left you a moment to breathe before sending Indy into another frenzy of…

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Girls Running from Houses…

Lizzie Ross:

Great post from the great Lizza Aiken, about one of the great guilty reading pleasures. A bit of background, an excerpt from a “poem” I wrote in 1982:
She threw the novel on the dying fire.
“Such passion should combust spontaneously!”

Originally posted on Joan Aiken:

Herondale Edit cover     What is behind all those fabulously lurid 1960s romance novel covers showing a beautiful young woman fleeing a dark, sinister house in the middle of nowhere? Not what you might expect…!

Although the cover art of these 1960s and 1970s paperbacks has become increasingly popular on internet sites, the origins of this particular genre of novel, together with the images that represented it, are swathed in as much mystery as the gloomy, fog-enshrouded castles from which these girls are so desperate to escape. Why did this particular image become such a powerful symbol? Joan Aiken would never have expected her 1960s suspense novels to be seen as part of the genre but the rather astonishing artistic conventions of the time dictated otherwise. She was often amazed to see her heroines flamboyantly pictured on American paperbacks, caught up in fantastic scenes which hardly ever took place between their covers. What were…

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Well, There’s This.

Lizzie Ross:

It says a lot about the mindspace I’m in right now, that these train/boat trip films are my idea of binge watching. Thanks, Chef, for posting these links.

Originally posted on So, I Burnt Dinner:

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