Friday, September 24, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
This week, I had the honor of joining Saul Kaplan, Carmen Medina, Keith Yamashita, Tony Hsieh, Richard Saul Wurman, Rita King, and many others at Business Innovation Factory's 6th Collaborative Innovation Summit (BIF-6).
Monday, September 13, 2010
Today was my 6 year old's first day of first grade. And as it happened, it was only yesterday that we read Ruby Bridges Goes to School. It's not surprising, because it's one of her favorite books, and we read it at least once a week. But today, I couldn't help but be struck by the bravery of 6 year old Ruby Bridges, the first African American student at a newly integrated elementary school, whose first day of first grade those many years ago was so very different than ours today.
My daughter goes, again and again, to this slim nonfiction volume from Scholastic. She pours over the images, including racist "Whites Only" signs. Now that she can read, she struggles through the words too - including the word "segregation"... a word she pronounced clearly in her little, bell-like voice.
And yet, I cannot help my maternal instinct - the desire to protect my littlest one from the cruel realities of this life. Luckily my daughter's own fascination with the story of Ruby Bridges wins out every time - and we return to the brave 6 year old's story again and again.
Today, I cannot help wonder at the bravery of Ruby Bridges' mother - the woman who walked, head down, among those grim-faced Marshalls, through the jeering crowds of bigots, right behind her beautiful, pig-tailed child. Would I have had the courage to send my most precious baby into such a place - no matter how just or righteous the reason?
Ruby Bridges Goes to School is one of our favorite books to talk explicitly about race. Another is Jaqueline Woodson's Show Way. What are yours?
Saturday, September 11, 2010
I just read a powerful post on facebook by the YA author Ellen Hopkins. In it, she reminds all of us,
"In America, the First Amendment grants us the right to believe, to worship, to speak our minds as we please. There is a responsibility that comes with that, however. Responsible Americans do not burn books or flags or places of worship. Responsible Americans do not... use words to divide and make people hate each other simply because they’re different."
Writers have always known the power of words. Poets have been no less than lined up before firing squads for speaking the truth about their oppressive governments. Words of resistance have gotten authors banned, banished, killed, and fatwa-ed. Hear the words of Wole Soyinka who wrote that, "Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth.” Ask American poet and writer Audre Lorde, who, in her iconic “Cancer Journals” reminded us all that “silence has never brought us anything of worth.”
Or ask Salman Rushdie whose words earned him a whole worldwide fatwa, and who said that “A poet's work is to name the un-nameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep."
Words are powerful. And sometimes dangerous. Yes. Writers can say things with which we don't always agree. Absolutely. But when we as a society begin burning books - books of worship, or any other book - in the name of freedom, we commit a grave act that threatens that very freedom.
Let us remember those who died, and those who are still here, by promoting a more just and peaceful world. Let us use 9-11 to search for a world where words are sacred - words we agree with, words we don't agree with, words from holy books, and words from everyday books.
In fact, it makes me proud to be beginning my journey as a children's writer on a day like today. Because as we know, sometimes, the stories of children -- stories of equality, stories of peace, stories of justice -- are the most subversive ones of all.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Cyn: Well, it's in most major bookstores; nowadays it's difficult to get into Borders and Barnes and Noble because of all the YA books coming out (and limited shelf-space), but both of them are stocking SLEEPLESS. Your bookstore must just be lame! Hee. As for libraries, it is obvious that your librarian does not read School Library Journal which calls SLEEPLESS "a must for library collections" or something like that. I think you need to move somewhere else, why are you living in such a lame place? Really, I know so many libraries are drastically underfunded and can't purchase every book out there, but a librarian did tell me that if they receive a request for a certain book, they do try to go out an obtain it. So if your library doesn't have a certain book, just ask!
Q: Why are your books about supernatural boys? Aren't girls supposed to be endowed with all the "frilly" powers - like helping kids and sprinkling sleepdust and flying about on gossamer wings? I thought boys were only supposed to be brooding yet sexy vampires and werewolves!
Cyn: No, this is a common misconception. I think we need more guys running around with wings and girly powers like painting ladybugs and rainbows and taking teeth from under children's pillows. That is way more sexier than any stupid werewolf or vampire who just wants your blood. I mean, ew, gross.
Q: You once told me that there was another book before Fairy Tale that you had a hard time selling. What did you learn in between that book and Fairy Tale?
Cyn: I don't know if I learned anything about writing in that time. I did learn that it's much easier to sell a book if you have a one-sentence hook that makes everyone go "AH!" than if you need five rambling paragraphs to explain it.
Q: You also once told me that you were sure that Fairy Tale would sell once you had the idea of a boy who's a fairy - any other, uh, ideas like that? (Not that I'll use them or anything)
Cyn: Yes, actually, I just came up with one right now. It's a play on the shapeshifter thing, and it's going to be a mid-grade. My agent has been wondering if I could write mid-grade, since the genre is hot, but I never had an idea before, but now I do. Excuse me while I go add it to my idea file.
Seriously, I keep getting asked if I will ever write a series or a sequel, and my answer to that is "When I run out of new ideas." Which I never do. I am like a kid in an idea candy shop; shiny sparkly things distract me.
Q: How do you strike the balance between appropriate romance for a YA and going over the line? Is there a line any more?
Cyn: Supposedly there isn't a line anymore. I've heard that all of the supposed taboos have been crossed at one time or another, so anything goes. Not for me, though. I feel a sense of responsibility to handle things in a certain way. Now it's supposedly silly to think that teens are so stupid that they'll read my book and get certain ideas in their heads that weren't there before, but when you're constantly told that "everyone's doing it" by every TV show and book out there, you start to believe it. So I'm happy to be in the minority and say, "Hey, you know what? Everyone's NOT doing it." And I think a romance can be tasteful and yet still evoke the same emotions without being explicit.
Q: What's your favorite paranormal/fantasy book from childhoood? Now?
Cyn: I loved THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl when I was growing up. It was so much fun. Now I love the HUNGER GAMES books. Okay, I have a secret dream of being a dystopian author because I love dystopians. The only problem is that I am horrible at writing them (I have made several attempts).
Q: After writing the Great and Terrible Beauty series, Libba Bray switched directions entirely and hit it out of the park with Going Bovine. Is it possible for a children's writer to be pigeonholed (ie. as only writing supernatural, or picture books, or what have you) and how can one break out of the pigeonhole?
Cyn: Yes, while writing my third book, which started out as a contemporary romance, I was told by my editor that they really only wanted paranormal romances from me, so I added the paranormal romance later (STARSTRUCK comes out in Summer 2011). Now I am happily writing paranormal romances and seem to be on a one-a-year schedule with them. But there are ways to break out and write other things. First you can write other genres under a pen name. Or you don't even need to use a pen name, if your editor is okay with that. I think if you can write in more than one genre, great... doesn't matter who you are, a good book is a good book and will find a market, no matter who wrote it.
Q: What is your advice to budding fantasy writers? Not that I know any...
Cyn: It's not new advice... but just read everything you can get your hands on and don't ever give up. People will tell you it's impossible but from where I stand, it's probable as long as you keep working at it. Keep writing, keep learning everything you can from other writers, and keep submitting.
Q: Are your stories good medicine? (I think so but I'd love your answer!)
Cyn: Sure, I think that's true of anything that can take you away from the normal grind for a couple hours and help you relax a little!
Although I didn't know any of this when I interviewed her, here are some additional facts about Cyn, gleaned from her website cynbalog.com
Thursday, September 9, 2010
All my fellow writers out there: listen up. Let me amend that: All my fellow writers, parents, pediatricians, urban planners, social workers, activists, teachers, fellow human beings -- listen up!
o Jasmine Bailey, "Sickle Cell":
o Devin Murphy, "Tourettes"
o Brittany Wilson. “Fish, Gritz & Buttermilk Biscuits.”
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
For the past two years, I've been organizing Narrative Medicine Rounds at Columbia, a lecture series (usually) the first Wednesday of every month where writers, scholars, and clinicians come to read from and discuss their work at the interstices of humanities and health care. In the past, I've had Oliver Sacks, Sharon Olds, Alex Kates Shulman, Perri Klass, Julie Salamon, Michael Greenberg and many others.