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That thing out of left field [May. 31st, 2014|02:14 pm]
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It happens to all of us. Maybe we have our whole story resting on a certain place we want to go to school, or a city where we want to live, or the idea that we’ll write a book, or get married, or have kids. What do we do when it doesn’t work out? What do we do when we don’t get what we thought we wanted? We can either choose to feel like it’s the end of the world, or we can choose to decide it’s the beginning.
That's from Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage, a memoir by Allison Vesterfelt.

My sister-in-law calls it when life throws you something out of left field, that thing you weren’t expecting. That wasn’t even on your radar. The thing that suddenly puts your whole life in perspective. That you didn’t prepare for, because how could you?

Because you couldn’t even imagine it.

But it isn’t a question of whether it will happen; it’s a question of when. We know how to prepare for natural disasters, but personal ones? I think maybe we protect ourselves by not being able to imagine some of the dark places we can go.

And maybe it’s okay if we’re unprepared.

Because when things don’t go the way you planned, that’s when you really grow up. That first curve ball knocks you off your pedestal of expectations.

Can you bend, but not break? When you buckle to your knees can you still manage to move forward? I think of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” and her question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

One of the wonderful things about reading Maya Angelou, who died this week, is that she had so many of life’s curve balls thrown at her, and yet she both survived and thrived, and she took on so many roles in her long life: author, mother, artist, dancer, activist, teacher. She gave the commencement speech when I graduated from college, and I remember her reciting “Still I Rise.” I had already read many of her books, but I didn't know her poetry.

I’d had a couple curve balls thrown at me by then. I’ve had a lot more thrown at me since.

And while I’m not dealing with anything in particular now—it’s some of my friends who are reeling from what life has thrown at them—I’m going to go listen again.
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Dreams of a debut author [May. 15th, 2014|11:01 am]
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"I think there might have been a misunderstanding. What I really wanted was for you to publish my story, and send me fifty thousand dollars. Didn't you realize that?"
—Snoopy
upon receipt of a rejection letter

I was in Nepal when my first novel came out. I remember reading the Kirkus Review in an internet café in Kathmandu, and thinking to myself, well, that’s nice.

I had never heard of The Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators. I had never heard of marketing collectives of authors banding together to cross-promote their work.
I don’t think I was even aware that I should promote my work.

When I came back, somehow I was invited to come sign my book at the Arizona Library Association Conference. I remember very clearly receiving the brochure in the mail, with my name highlighted with a long list of books. None of which I had written. That was my first experience with my doppelganger, the author Jennifer Stewart without the crucial middle initial J.

It seems to me that there is another whole level of pressure nowadays. Like your book has to be the first out of the gate, as if it were a racehorse, and that it has to lead the whole way, and there is no winning by a nose, it had better be by lengths.

As if when you go to the Olympics, you’re only going to be satisfied with a gold medal. Come on, you went to the Olympics!

You had a book published!

I suspect I might sound like a crotchety old-timer, but honestly, the amount of pressure debut authors put on themselves—not to mention what happens to their blood pressure—would be better channeled elsewhere.

Like go write another book.
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Tucson Festival of Books [Mar. 14th, 2014|02:39 pm]
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If you love books, you need to come to the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend at the University of Arizona campus. Now in its sixth year, it’s the fourth largest in the country, and the weather’s going to be perfect.

Tomorrow I’m moderating a writing workshop called “Crafting a Conversation” with teen novelists Erin Jade Lange and Tom Leveen at 10:00 a.m. Later in the afternoon, at 4:00 p.m., I’m moderating the panel “Other People, Other Times, Other Places” with Ann Hood, Kathleen Krull, and Lenore Look. But in between there are lots more workshops and presentations.

You want to be there.
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Hit the road [Feb. 27th, 2014|10:21 am]
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You want to feel like a rock star?

Visit schools and get up in front of children and speak into that microphone. Today I’m preparing for the Arizona Young Authors Conference (AYAC) in Casa Grande on Saturday, a school in Oro Valley on Monday, and another school in Chandler on Thursday.

I hadn’t planned on teaching writing workshops at AYAC this year, but another presenter had to drop out, and since I am a nice person and I love this event—I’ve gone multiple times—I’m filling in for her. The children who come are hand-picked by their schools. They like writing, and they want to spend their Saturday sharing their stories with each other and writing new ones.

I’m all over that.

I could recycle a writing workshop I’ve given in the past, given that there isn’t much time, but I think I’ll pick highlights from a few, and try to come up with at least one new exercise or prompt to try.

Wish me luck! And when I’m all through next Thursday afternoon, I’m going to hit IKEA. It is curated so nicely, so that I can almost picture my imaginary people living there, besides being a nice place to chill and have a meal and a bit of caffeine before getting on I-10 and driving back to Tucson. Without having to talk to anyone but the cashier, if I don't want to.

I take off my rock star attire and I'm back to being a writing hermit. Until the next time.
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Method acting [Feb. 24th, 2014|02:28 pm]
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Friends, family, and local Tucson indie Antigone Books came together to help author-illustrator Adam Rex make a book trailer for his funny fantasy series, the Cold Cereal Saga. The third and final volume of the trilogy—Champions of Breakfast—has just been released by HarperCollins. The first two books in the series are Cold Cereal and Unlucky Charms, respectively.

You can watch the trailer here. I’m the woman in sunglasses who takes everything that Adam says a little too literally (it's pretty easy for me to play clueless). If you think the trailer's funny, you should read the books...
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Guarding your time [Feb. 18th, 2014|09:26 am]
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Writing takes time, nobody questions that. But it takes more time than you might expect. There’s thinking time, there’s mulling things over time, there’s waking up in the middle of the night time (hate that), besides the sitting in front of your computer time typing words that might someday become a book.

And it’s easy for a writer—okay for this writer—to lose sight of that, and to over commit. But, but, but they are all good causes. And they are. I give of my time most notably to MAKE WAY FOR BOOKS and to my church (St John on the Desert Presbyterian). But I get easily sucked into other good causes, too, and that’s when the problem begins.

The to do list gets longer and longer (I use Teux Deux, and I start waking up feeling anxious in the small hours of the morning, because I don’t think I can get it all done. And really, I can’t.

Not without ignoring the one thing that means the most to me. The one thing that will make me wake up even more early mornings if I ignore it. What I figure I was put on earth to do.

To write.

I think writers—writers like me—need to get good at saying no. It’s not always easy. I like to help aspiring writers, but I can’t read their manuscripts anymore. I need to concentrate on those that my critique partners write, and only those.

When a friend asked if I would look at a picture book manuscript for a friend of hers, I took a deep breath, and five minutes later said no. Without saying I was sorry.

Because time is finite, and I can’t stuff more of it into a day. It felt good. I slept well, too.
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Bookishly yours [Feb. 11th, 2014|03:23 pm]
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My nightstand overflows with ALA Youth Media Award winners and honor books, so I have been working steadily through my pile. I also have five authors whose books I need to be familiar with, as I’ll be moderating them when they present on panels at the upcoming Tucson Festival of Books. Two write gritty teen fiction, and the others write middle grade fiction and nonfiction. It will be fun for me to read something out of my usual modus operandi.

The book festival is now the fourth largest in the nation, and the way I see it a must attend event for anyone who is interested in writing for children and teens. All the events in this genre take place in the University College of Education Building on March 15-16. Usually there is a special afternoon event the Thursday before the festival as well.
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Something you don't think about too often [Dec. 23rd, 2013|07:26 am]
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Periodically, when I’m bored, I think about the coming zombie apocalypse. If you read too much young adult literature, you probably do, too.

But really, ever since Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson and masses of Jules Verne read during my childhood, I figure I might not be the first to be voted off the island. Especially if I’m allowed to take one thing.

You would think that would be my husband, and yes, given the choice, he would be it, because he is very handy to have around and he can fix almost anything.

But I might not have the choice. What if it’s me, all on my lonesome, and the gibbering hordes are coming?

I like to think that with advance notice, I could avoid the zombies and find someplace remote to hide with lots of canned food cached away with me. What you don’t think about much is how many can openers to bring. Because when your only can opener decides not to function, it seems like you are pretty much screwed.

Which is how I found myself making soup the other day, with a lot of not very creative swearing, and now I sport a band-aid on my finger.

Take more than one can opener. You'll thank me.
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Books, books, and more books [Dec. 17th, 2013|11:20 am]
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My holiday shopping is done, and no surprise probably to anyone, I bought books. I think there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t buy books. Like, I had fallen into a coma and was in a persistent vegetative state.

So as not to spoil any surprises, I’m not going to reveal which books they were, but I’ve been reading many fine books lately, and I’ll mention a few of the stand-outs.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—I love books set in foreign places, and while most of this hefty novel is set in the United States, it’s seen through the eyes of a Nigerian expatriate. It does make you think about race and the consequences of privilege.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham—This is a picture book biography about a boy who grew up to become a famous and influential mathematician. I am glad there are books like this one in the world.

Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley—Like the next book on this list, this fun novel has voice in spades. Truly original and oh, so funny! What if your superpower was the ability to talk to cats?

Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith—Time travel and dinosaurs, what’s not to like? What takes this book over the top is the laugh out loud humor. Consider this passage:
They only leave two toe marks, because they hold the one off the ground.

The switchblade one. The one that could disembowel you and leave your intestines on the outside so they could eat you at their convenience while you watched.

I didn’t say this aloud, though, because sometimes you don’t have to tell everyone everything.

I sure hope there’s a sequel.

Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz—Yes, it’s a cookbook, by the author of the classic Veganomicon. I am vegetarian, my eldest daughter is vegan, and a couple small and medium sized relatives have severe food allergies, cutting out whole categories of foods. This cookbook is easy enough for even me to follow (I’m easily distracted), and the recipes are indeed as yummy as promised.

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George—I listened to this one at the gym and while doing housework, which insured that I did both, otherwise, I would neglect everything. If you read mysteries, you should read Elizabeth George.

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Coming (eventually) to a bookstore near you [Dec. 13th, 2013|02:42 pm]
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I don’t think I’ve announced this before, but a profile I wrote of Navajo musician Vince Redhouse will appear in an anthology out from Fulcrum Publishing, Inc., in Spring, 2015. The focus of the book is on contemporary Native American athletes and performers. I must say, it’s a stellar line-up, although I don’t think it’s my place to reveal who else will be included. I’m very happy with my piece, and feel privileged to be a part of this project.

Author Nancy Bo Flood is the editor.
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