Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I love sarcasm.

THIS is hilarious. You must read.

thanks whomever tweeted it. I can't find you now, but that was awesome.

Friday, November 21, 2008

WBBT Interview with Emily Wing Smith

At the Kitlitosphere Conference my evil twin (she is too more evil.) and I were mingling away from the main throng when none but Sara Zarr pushes someone aside saying that she wanted to give me a book. I then tried to take the book from her with mild interest saying, "Oh is this your new one?" but Sara Zarr would not let go of this book, despite my tugging. She proceeded to clutch this book close to her chest and say wonderful, passionate things about it with genuine fervor in her eyes. I wasn't sure she would actually let me have the book, and then I worried a little for her sanity that she had gotten so worked up and had chosen ME ( I mean, ME? wha...?) to share it with. Nonetheless, eventually she relaxed her grip and gave me the book.

What was that book, you say? What made the illustrious Sara Zarr so fervent? THE WAY HE LIVED by Emily Wing Smith. I should have simply left the hotel lobby then and gone up to read the book in our room, but I did not. I did manage to crack the cover on the train ride back to Seattle, where I was instantly engrossed, but I was with the evil twin and knew I'd be unable to give it the attention Sara Zarr clearly implied that it needed, so I returned home where reality and reading commitments returned, leaving THE WAY HE LIVED to gather dust until just last week.

Upon finally reading the book, I found myself compelled to turn page after page, reading it with a speed and eagerness that Sara Zarr was undoubtedly familiar with.

A synopsis most basic:
Joel meant many things to many people, and now that he's dead six teens are coping with the hole he's left in their lives.

Emily Wing Smith shows enormous restraint with this title. She doesn't shy away from portraying religion and the implications of religion in an insular community, but does it with such deft skill that conclusions are left up to the reader, and there are no right answers. The novel is broken up into six parts with six distinct narrators. Each character's complete story is told individually, short story style, and based upon the Monday's Child nursery rhyme, with each character claiming a birth day, Joel being Sunday, the missing day. It's very well written and I was eager for every page. It isn't entirely mournful by any means, but it is moving and empowering. Smith also raises some very interesting commentary about how easy it is not to know a person no matter how much information you think you have - if you can't get in their head, you really don't know that much.

Moral of the story: If National Book Award Finalist Sara Zarr ever tracks you down in a large hotel among large groups of people, in order to give you (you specifically, how freakin' cool is that?) a book, but actually has a hard time letting the book out of her hands because she feels that strongly about it, read it. Push the large stack of books on your shelf (and night stand... and floor... and kitchen table...) out of the way, and read it right then. She seems to have rather good taste. And then when you feel compelled to interview the author you won't have email Sara Zarr and rudely demand that she get you that interview post haste.

On to the interview:

Jackie: Each of the six narrators have clear, distinct voices that are in a small part aided by the different points of view you choose to write their portions in. Were there challenges to working with that many P.O.Vs, let alone that many narrators?

Emily Wing Smith: Definitely! People often ask me why I chose to write the book with multiple narrators and points of view. I didn’t really choose to write it that way—this story came to me as a collage of voices, each voice telling me how he or she was dealing with Joel’s death. So having six different narrators wasn’t as much of a challenge as each one needing to be told in a specific style.

This was most obvious with my character, Miles. I heard his voice in my head as if he were talking to himself, clearly saying “You don’t know shit.” All I could think was: “I can’t start out a story like that! There must be some way I can filter and still be true to his voice.” I worked on turning that line into a first-person account of a guy whose world was falling apart around him, but something about it was just off. Finally, I wrote the story from second-person, just the way his thoughts were coming to me, completely unfiltered. It worked! I eventually changed it back to first-person, but this time it was as simple as replacing every “you” with “I.”

While the novel is a portrait of Joel, it is a very open-ended depiction that focuses on how a person can be different things to different people. We can't ever hear from Joel himself, so we are left to piece him together from the people who knew him best, but even their knowledge of him is imperfect. It is an astounding feat to show that even six people can't know everything about one person. The reader is left with the perfect balance of suspicion and conjecture about a beloved character, but no solid answer - what motivated you to tell the story like this?

As a teenager, I moved to a community where a boy my age had recently died on a camping trip. Occasionally, I would meet people who had known and loved him, and I was amazed by their diversity—Bad Boys, Good Girls, and everyone in-between. It’s interesting to get to know someone only through what others say about him—especially when you know you won’t get the chance to meet him yourself.

With Joel, I am trying to re-create that experience. Joel’s not around to tell us his story, so we’re left to come up with our own conclusions. Some people are upset that the book has no solid answers, but that’s the point: you can hear a million different stories about someone from a million different people and still have questions.

Religion plays a significant role in THE WAY HE LIVED. Your treatment of it was subtle, yet deft. Religion was THE foundation for the community and many of your narrator's lives, but each of them had a very different relationship with it. You dealt with (let's be honest) a slightly controversial religion in a completely objective and realistic way - it was good for some, had cracks for others, and wasn't a big deal to most. I'm curious to your relationship with religion and how you chose to include it in this way.

As I mentioned, I moved as a teenager. My new town was overwhelmingly populated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was—and still am--also LDS, and used to both the religion and the culture that surrounds it. But this place (which is very similar to the fictional Haven/West Haven) took the Mormon culture to a whole new level! So the culture in this specific town plays an important role in the book.

However, I’ve always been curious about what happens when over ninety-percent of a population has the same “belief.” I mean, obviously not all of those people can have the exact same beliefs, right? So I wanted The Way He Lived to explore how death affects characters with different degrees of the same belief.

One of the big, unresolved questions in THE WAY HE LIVED was if Joel was gay or not. I also think it was very interesting that Joel's sisters, when searching for comfort after his death both find themselves in situations that surround them with gay culture - without either ever making any conscious acknowledgement of Joel's sexuality.

The other big unresolved question is whether or Joel killed himself, a prospect that becomes more probable when considering his insular community, its stance surrounding his sexuality (if the reader decides he's gay) and events revealed in the final section. I don't want to stray too far into the realm of conjecture, but I'm curious as to how much a product of his environment Joel may have been, and basically, why you chose to deal with homosexuality in this fashion.

Speaking of big, unresolved questions--you’ve done an excellent job with this one here, Jackie! (Jac sez: She only says this because she saw my tweet about how I was struggling with making this a fair, um, unbiased question. Darn you internets!) This is a pretty broad question which I could discuss at length, but I’ll try to be as concise as possible.

Two things jumped out at me as the idea for THE WAY HE LIVED percolated in my brain. One was the idea of how the boy in my community had died—by giving up his water on a hiking trip. At face value, that is the ultimate in unselfish acts, and from what I know about this real-life boy, I fully believe that this caused his death. But I also couldn’t help thinking that there was no way I’d do the same thing in that situation. I mean, I like to think I’m pretty unselfish. But I’m also practical. Lots of people on a hiking trip + all of them requiring water to stay alive – enough water for everyone = someone isn’t going to make it. What if you did the math and decided the person who wasn’t going to make it would be you?

The other thing that jumped out at me was the last line of the nursery rhyme that connects these stories: “The child born on the Sabbath day is fair and wise and good and gay.” These days, you can’t use a line like that without considering the double-meaning of the word “gay.” That’s when the story took off.

I wanted to address the subject of Joel’s sexuality the exact same way it would be addressed in his community: “He’s a member of the [LDS] Church, and therefore isn’t gay.” LDS doctrine considers homosexuality a sin, and Church members, even those with same-gender attractions, cannot practice this lifestyle and remain in good standing with the Church. To me, it’s always been heartbreaking that some faithful Church members struggle with this “forbidden” attraction for years, without anyone acknowledging that it’s a struggle (for example, thinking it’s a choice to “become” gay and you can just as easily “choose” to be straight). What if you decided you couldn’t spend your whole life trying to be someone that you weren’t?

You mentioned the process of writing the Miles character. Were you particularly attached to one or another of the narrators (or characters, it doesn't have to be one of the six. The mysterious Adam perhaps?)

Not really, although I do hold a particular fondness for “the mysterious Adam.” While in the process of writing this book, I told my critique group, “Each one of these narrators is completely different, yet they each sound exactly like me. How is that possible?” I think the reason I’m not most attached to any certain character is because a part of me is in each one of them.

Oftentimes you read books that simply rotate narrators, interweaving the stories, rather than letting each narrator have their own section. THE WAY HE LIVED is very much short story-like because of its presentation - did you purposely fall into that format, was it automatic? Are you a fan of short stories (and if so can you share some of your favorites?)?

The first YA manuscript I wrote (unpublished, and likely to stay that way, at least for awhile) had dual narrators who alternated chapters. Since I had experience with “rotating” narrators, I already knew that wasn’t right for THE WAY HE LIVED. I think the short story format of novel writing is difficult—in my experience, more difficult than one with rotating narrators. Still, I felt the stories of the individual narrators would be too diluted if I separated their stories, and it just wouldn’t be right.

My main inspiration for using this style was M.E Kerr’s YA novel I Stay Near You: One Story in Three. The novel is written in three distinct sections. Part one is narrated first-person and revolves around a girl coming of age in the 1940s. Part two is the third-person account of the son of this same “girl” twenty years down the road. Part three is in the form of a letter sent in the 1980s. This book is amazing in the ways it ties a single story together through three generations of family, using a variety of narrative structures. I don’t mean to imply that my book is anywhere near as well-crafted as hers—but it did give me a starting point.

I have to be honest, I was a little afraid during Tabbatha's portion that the plot would turn toward watching her in beauty competitions. How did you know when you were done with each character? Many of them left me wanting (not needing, as they were all complete storylines) more.

Um, yeah. Having never competed in a pageant of any sort, and knowing nothing about that world in general, I knew Tabs would never enter that arena. Besides, I knew from the beginning that actually competing wasn’t part of her journey—it was realizing that she could have. But I digress…

Deciding where to end the stories was certainly a challenge. I wanted each portion to have a complete storyline, but sometimes that made me want to tack on endings to each of them. I’m not particularly skilled with writing endings anyway, so writing six of them was a dead-end. Now I feel like each of the stories, particularly those of Claire and Norah, end at a place that is really only a beginning. But it’s a beginning where I felt comfortable leaving them.

You use the Monday's Child nursery rhyme to connect the narrators, and each line directly relates to each character. Why that poem? When and how did it come into play?

The nursery rhyme came into play early in the writing process. I had all these voices, and as they came to me, I would write down snatches of what they said (interestingly, very few of these “snatches” remain in the book). I would draw lines from one voice to another as their connections became clearer to me. As I figured out more about each character’s role in Joel’s life, and his role in theirs, I would draw more lines. It was a crazy mess, but for some reason it reminded me of a nursery rhyme about the characteristics of children born on different days of the week. I had six characters, each exemplifying one of the traits mentioned in the rhyme. I re-read the nursery rhyme to remember the exact phrasing of the line for the child born on the Sabbath day, and everything clicked. In fact, the book’s original title was SUNDAY’S CHILD.

Can you tell us a little about what you are working on now, and how it is a different writing experience from THE WAY HE LIVED?

My wonderful agent, Michael Bourret, has just sold my second young adult novel, BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE, to the wonderful Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton. In some ways, I feel like this is my first book. THE WAY HE LIVED was told more or less through short stories, so it didn’t have the same beginning, middle, end trajectory that most novels require. It’s been quite a learning experience!

Ok, last question: You said in your interview with the 5 randoms that you prefer reading YA over other books (Yay! Me too!). Who/what are some of your favorite authors/books for teens?

I am extremely fortunate to live near some amazing YA authors like Sara Zarr, Ann Cannon, and Ann Dee Ellis. I also grew up reading and loving the work of veteran YA writer M.E Kerr. I think John Green is crazy-talented; ditto for author duo Laura and Tom McNeal.

Thank You EMILY for playing along with me - especially at such short notice!

The rest of today's WBBT schedule:
Mayra Lazara Dole at Chasing Ray
Francis O'Roark Dowell at Fuse #8
J. Patrick Lewis at Writing and Ruminating
Wendy Mass at HipWriterMama
Lisa Ann Sandell at Bildungsroman
Caroline Hickey and Sara Lewis Holmes at MotherReader
A.S. King at Bookshelves of Doom

So they made a movie of that book? You might have heard of it? Twilight? 'Sbout vampires or some such. I hear it's pretty popular.

Right so, I have a few friends who were really excited to see the movie, so we went to the Midnight Showing, da dum dum. Can we say packed? Holy moly with the girls everywhere! Giggling, screaming. What a scene. My grouping was made up of 3 librarians, one wannabe librarian, one reading teacher and brother, all of varying degrees of interest in the whole thing.

I'm not sure how much you'll get out of the movie if you haven't read the book. My mind kept filling in the long mood shots with what all wasn't being said. It was an interesting audience to be in; I can't quite tell if they were just having a ton of fun with it and not taking it too seriously, or if they actually were an incredibly cynical bunch, or if all the laughter was genuine, and in fact, intended by the filmakers. Because, I'll be honest - we all laughed far more often than any of us anticipated. It was genuinely campy in parts. Not at all a direction I was expecting. So ultimately it was an odd mix of angsty melodrama, camp, and action. Every time a main character was introduced there was laughing - not giggling, or tittering, but actual laughter. Especially for Jasper (which I have to believe was intended - we all concluded afterward that he was very Johnny Depp/Edward Scissorhands-y) and Carlisle (not sure why there). Edward, of course, got some screams. It was odd.

Otherwise, I think it was pretty much as you'd expect. Some changes, but mostly quite honest to the book. Yes, Edward sparkled, though it was weird looking and reminded me of the kind of glitter you find on greeting cards that DOESN'T rub off on everything. You'll probably like the movie however much you like the books.

Washington looked beeeaaautiful though. Definitely inspires me to get back out to the peninsula one of these days.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remember that dreck of a film

Ella Enchanted? Remember how mad we all were (possibly still are...or is that just me?) that they took such a beautiful, magical, sweet book, gutted it, lobotomized it, and did other unsavory cruelties too horrible to mention here? Well, if you still yearn for a movie that captures the beauty of Ella Enchanted and is more true to the spirit of the novel then its eponymous film - try PENELOPE.

With Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, Reese Witherspoon, and Peter Dinklage, you can't really go wrong, right?

I'd upload a picture or two, but my computer needs to be replaced. Desperately. It's being especially uncooperative tonight. I hope it doesn't mess too much with my interview with Emily Wing Smith that goes up tomorrow.

Thursday's WBBT

Today's WBBT interviews:
Martin Millar at Chasing Ray
John Green at Writing and Ruminating
Beth Kephart at HipWriterMama
Emily Ecton at Bildungsroman
John David Anderson at Finding Wonderland
Brandon Mull at The YA YA YAs
Lisa Papademetriou at MotherReader

(thank you LW for the code!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Author-riffic Day

Today marks not only Day 2 of the Winter Blast Blog Tour, but ALSO the LIVE CHAT with Ellen Emerson White (Ellen! Emerson! White!) at the Readergirlz MySpace Forum. Last night I told my boyfriend I wanted to name a daughter Meg after Meg Powers, if that tells you ANYTHING about how much I love EEW.

Today's WBBT links:

Ellen Datlow at Chasing Ray.
Tony DiTerlizzi at Miss Erin.
Melissa Walker at Hip Writer Mama.
Luisa Plaja at Bildungsroman.
D.M. Cornish at Finding Wonderland.
L.J. Smith at the YA YA YAs.
Kathleen Duey at Bookshelves of Doom.

Monday, November 17, 2008

2nd Annual WBBT

Things are a little crazy in my world of late, so I wasn't able to truly participate this round of the Blog Blast Tours, but then I read THE WAY HE LIVED on Friday, sent the author, Emily Wing Smith, questions fairly immediately after finishing, and will now have one interview at some point this week. So, yay.

Here's what's a-happenin' today:

Lewis Buzbee at Chasing Ray
Louis Sachar at Fuse #8
Laurel Snyder at Miss Erin
Courtney Summers at Bildungsroman
Elizabeth Wein at Finding Wonderland
Susan Kuklin at The YA YA YAs


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

We should all be personally offended now and again.

It means that we care about something. It means we aren't going about life as zombies. As a librarian I'm happy to direct you toward topics that personally offend me when you ask for them. I don't impose my personal ideologies upon you, in fact, when I'm at the library I'm not even going to tell you WHAT I think, personally, about ANY topic - save whether that novel over there is worth your time or not. You can bait me and try your darndest to engage me in your personal belief system all you want - I won't bite when I'm at the library. Many (many) tried in this past political season. I won't even agree with you when I agree with you. It's not going to happen.

All of this is fine and well - any librarian worth her salt should do the same. And while I have no intention of turning this blog into a mouthpiece for my politics, this has always served as my outlet. I need that outlet now, but in a different way than usual. It took a week for my elation of finally voting for the winner in a presidential election to wear off and the horror, again, at the perversion of civil rights by voters to set in. I still read coverage of The Transition with joy, but that joy no longer overcomes how heartbroken I am at the fact that what amounts to personal offense overriding civil rights.

If they had voted in the 50's about integration, would it have passed?
If they had voted then about interracial marriage, would it have passed?

When I boil down freedom, the basis of our government, to its core, its very essence, I believe that a person can do whatever they want to do as long as it does not impinge on another's rights. And here's where some of you and I are bound to disagree: I do not believe that same-sex marriage is harmful to anyone. You can send me as many articles and biased studies as you want, I will never agree with you. Be personally offended all you want about the "homosexual lifestyle", but I will never believe that a gay couple's right to be legally recognized as MARRIED will negatively affect your life. You'll go on living the exact same way you did before. Your 50% chance of marital success will be the same.

We aren't supposed to legislate just because something offends us. Not when it doesn't harm. Same-sex marriage will not erode "traditional" marriage any more than interracial marriage eroded same-race marriages. Let's disregard what the talking heads tell you and what they expound in the pulpit. Let's make it personal - because it is personal. It's not abstract. THINK about what you believe and why you believe it. Make up your own mind. Consider what you would take away. And what it means to those you would directly affect because you are indirectly, personally, offended.

I know some of you reading this don't agree with me. That's ok. If you've gotten this far, I applaud you. I don't think you are the enemy. I hope you don't think I'm yours, and that we can peacefully agree to disagree on this one. Sometimes we can vote in change. Sometimes social change has to be thrust upon us.

What I'll be doing on Saturday.

It'll be my first rally/protest ever.

For my cousins.
For my friends.
For civil rights.

*"Not Equal Sign" image stolen from James Price's striking entry here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

I just want to say that at the moment, I'm completely enamored with FLYGIRL BY SHERRI L. SMITH. Completely enamored. I'm only 50-odd pages in, but I'm already very invested in Ida Mae's story, and I hope it continues to make me happy.

'Cause really, all that matters is MY happiness, right?

From what I can tell at the moment, it will be about a black girl passing as white to fulfill her dream of flying - taking her only chance to do that by joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP - anyone else find that ironic?) during WWII.

(This is me, trying to microblog and keep this blog alive. Let me know what you think.)

'Course I outta put it down in favor of Steinbeck's Ghost since I'll be having dinner with the author Lewis Buzbee on Thursday, along with uber-fan Colleen & the so-awesome-I'm-a-little-scared-of-him Philip Lee.

Blog the Vote

The hardest task in living in a democracy is respecting the viewpoints of someone who believes in everything you despise. To stand next to them - or sit across a table from them - and allow them their voice, and consider their point of view, is a challenge to any normal human being. But it is the tenet of our First Amendment, and the foundation of my chosen career. It is something that I believe the next president must be capable of doing before he has any hope of fixing any of our nation's problems. It is something I can not do my job without (though possibly not to those extremes).

For the great majority of my life, I lived in communities where I was among the political minority. That's changed in the last eight months, however it, that underdog mentality, carries over. It is almost surreal to be surrounded by people who, by large, agree with me. It insulates me from the opposing viewpoint, and I feel disconnected from the perspective I've always had - the easy knowledge of the opposition from simply being surrounded by people who espouse that with which I disagree. I believe that being in the political minority for so long made me better understand my own viewpoints - if it was simply knowing where I differ. To better know your rival is to better know yourself, your surroundings, and your community. To understand that, in America, the goal is the same - the methods are merely different. Everyone wants health care. Everyone wants students to succeed, their families to thrive. Everyone wants to live in a clean environment. No one wants to worry about the next paycheck. Everyone wants peace.

So what we are voting for is methodology - the HOW not so much the WHAT. I have been decidedly partisan in most election cycles since before I could vote. But this said, and get ready for it, those of you who know me - I have never in my life voted a straight ticket. And I will not today. I believe that many people feel this way, regardless of the party they may feel kin to. I vote for the candidate I think will go about their job in the method I think appropriate for that position. I vote for the HOW they want to fix things, and the attitude they bring to the problem. You can not discount those who disagree with you simply because they disagree. Right and good knows no party - neither do wrong and bad. If you start off thinking less of an opinion before the opinion is even stated, you won't be truly open to solutions - but in order to get your opinion across you must put forth your vote.

In the millions of votes cast in elections, it is hard to see the significance in one vote. One vote is the one small gesture that everyone can make to demonstrate their investment in their country and community. Four years ago the state I currently live in elected a governor by 129 votes. I can't really get my head around millions of votes, but I personally know more than 129 people. I can get my head around that number. The millions came down to a mere handful, and everyone who didn't vote could see how much each one of their ballots would have mattered. Every vote is one more affirmation toward the methodology you believe in - and one more reason for both politicians to respect your point of view - to recognize that there are passionate opinions on all sides.

One person. One voice. One vote. Your voice is never alone, and your vote will be amplified by the multitude. Millions will agree with you - millions will not, but they are not your enemy. It's your turn to speak and your turn to be listened to with respect and consideration with an absolutely even ratio for every voter.

The things that are hardest are oftentimes the most worthwhile. The things that are hardest are oftentimes the most important. I'm voting because I want you to be able to say things that irritate me, and I want to be able to find information that personally offends me when my patrons ask for it. I'm voting because I want to have my voice heard - even when MY questions irritate and challenge people. I'm voting because I'm invested in the future of my country. I'm voting because if our democracy was easy, we'd be doing it wrong.

Vote. Just vote. Blog the vote.

For more non-partisan Blog the Vote posts, see Colleen Mondor's post.

To hear to why others vote, listen to this 5-minute clip on NPR.