Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Teach

It was a book. No buttons to push.  No signals to link up to.  Nothing to get excited about.

Except, someone forgot to tell that to the kids.

When Bradbury Smiled* 
Someone forgot to tell the kids it was a book, not a Camaro.  The way they clamored around me after class, you’d have thought it was a Camaro, or tickets to the Super Bowl, or something.

They pleaded.  “Pick me!  Pick me!” 

 They prayed.  

They drew a collective breath and leaned in as I pulled a paper slip from a jar of paper slips.  

“Please,” someone whispered.  

Another looked at me, with huge, round eyes, his scarecrow frame draped in an oversized football jersey.  “Mrs. Kingery,” he said, “I REALLY want this book.” 


What WAS this object of everyone’s desire?

It was “Other Worlds, the fourth volume in Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read anthology series for tween boys, (a collection of) ten thrilling new tales of science fiction and fantasy from some of the biggest names in children’s literature.”(Amazon)  

The Guys Read series isn’t just for guys (girls like Ray Bradbury and Rick Riordan, too), but, admittedly, it’s a clever marketing tool.   The stories are a nice sampling of the genre.  My eighth-graders and I have been riveted to Neal Shusterman’s “The Dirt on Our Shoes”.  Without knowing it, they’ve discussed character development, setting, story structure, and action.  To them it’s just a great story and great stories generate conversation.  

To keep the karma going, I decided to give away a copy of the book.  I love books.  Maybe one or two of the students did, too, right?


ALL of the students were excited and ALL of them wanted to win.   

The wistful look on the football player’s face is one I won’t forget.  The grin that cracked out on the face of the winner when I read his name was worth the Pulitzer.  I like to think Ray Bradbury, up in Heaven, smiled at that moment.  It was the sort of moment he would have written about: a boy, a book, a back door out of an ordinary afternoon and into another world.  

When the excitement was over, the students tucked away their iPads and shuffled out of the classroom.   The football player looked at me and shook his head.  I shrugged.  “We’ll do it again,” I said.  “I promise.  And don’t look so down.  It was just a book.”  
Nothing as cool as the stuff on YouTube.  Certainly nothing to tweet or post about.   No buttons to push.  No signals to link up to.  It was a paperback with a few illustrations and a lot of pages with words.   Not a Camaro, or a ticket to the Super Bowl.  Not even something to get that excited about. 

Except, I guess, someone forgot to tell that to the kids. 

* Bradbury is famous for saying “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them.”

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sex? Or No Sex? How This Writer Decided

Recently, a reader expressed her wish that “Charli Weeks” – the fifteen-year-old narrator of my novel “Starfish” – had refrained from having sex. 

My response:  “ME TOO!!!”

Though “Charli” is inspired by my own daughter, she isn’t a mirror image of her.  All of the characters in “Starfish” are fictitious, but I still cared about them, so much so, that I struggled mightily between wanting to protect them from their own unwise decisions – the results of which were pretty much like having blunt force trauma applied – repeatedly – to the body, mind and soul – and the need to tell a story.

Ultimately, the need to tell a story won out.

Since I was writing somewhat realistic and contemporary fiction, I wanted realistic and contemporary characters.  A 2010 online article for U.S. News & World Report states that “More than 40 percent of unmarried U.S. teenagers -- or 4.3 million teen males and females -- have had sex at least once...”*

They do other things, and there are statistics about that, too. 

And there is the human heart. 

It beats on, unaware of statistics, but – strangely – affected by stories.   Those we hear.  Those we experience and choose to share.   

Sharing is when those stories and characters set out into the world.  Readers are the places they stop along the way.  Feedback feels like postcards that come from those places.  It means my characters – for better, or worse – are making their way in the world.

It means the writing has come full circle. 


photo from tumblr

Monday, April 7, 2014

Writerly Wisdom.

I am a fiction writer who, like most writers, is happiest when I'm working. I have somewhat erratic work habits, and can go for weeks without producing much, then suddenly find myself in a whirlwind of productivity that lasts a long time and occupies most of my waking hours. Between those productive bouts I tend to read a lot, mostly contemporary novels, an activity that serves as a kind of re-fueling that I seem to need. I love being excited and keyed up by other people's novels; the best of them remind me of how powerful fiction can be.

-Meg Wolitzer, author of "The Interestings"

(Thanks, Meg!  I needed to hear that!)

Unexpectedly Great!

There was much more substance to the story than I expected. Every moment with Mrs. P. was enjoyable. I loved how she endured with a noble spirit and lack of self pity and whining. She was the least experienced character in the book, yet, in some ways, the strongest in heart, mind and spirit.

I look forward to reading the other books in the series.

Take the Magical Mystery Tour...

...through 1960's San Francisco; a world of lost ships, hidden books and enigmatic characters. The Audible version was excellent. Perfect narrator. I felt enveloped in an alternate universe. 

Didn't want this little gem to end.

THIS is the book I wish "Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore" had been!

Gilbert's Latest is Tedious at Times

Lists. Five hundred pages of them. I was too conscious of it.

Characters were kooky (Retta, Ambrose), frustrated (Alma), mean (Beatrix), wimpy (George), angry (Henry), repressed (Prudence). Couldn't connect with any of them. Retta felt like a "shoe from the blue", created for the purpose of shaking things up a little. What was her diagnosis? And Ambrose? Did he have synesthesia? An end note from the author addressing this would have been helpful.

Henry's arrogance and thievery in the set up didn't endear him to me. His request to Joseph Banks about a recommendation into the royal society was a complete misstep and a foreshadowing of Alma's inability to read people or situations.

Though Alma was described as having a "handsome profile" and a "fine, friendly nature", what "essential, invisible ingredient" was she missing that "despite all the frank eroticism that lay hidden within her body" prevented her from kindling "ideas of ardor in any man"??

The third person voice was distancing.

The narrative felt researched and crafted to the point of stasis.

Did like the scene when the Italian astronomer came to dinner and posed all the guests in planetary tableau. Alma played the part of a comet, running through the scene with sparklers.

Twenty pages into part four on Tahiti I was skimming (only ninety more pages to go!).

Btw, what's a "fingerstink"? Um, never mind. Just looked it up on "Urban Dictionary".

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is it called an addiction if it's books??

Doing my best to support the literary arts, on a weekly basis.  This is how I supported it this week.