Monday, February 28, 2011

What's Next?

Though the best of the Un-Real is destined to go on, I'm wondering if there will be a shift in the YA market soon. Will the saturation of vampires, werewolves, mermaids, and angels give way to reality-based fiction?

Scoot over, demons and faeries. Seems to me that while lots of young adult readers want to "escape" their lives, many of them, too, would like literature that's sympathetic to their situations. Divorced/abusive/addicted parents, friend disloyalty, drinking/drugs, bad romance, school pressure, high-stakes sports, body issues, comings-out, poverty, homelessness: Teens' reality is often grittier than fiction.

I'd like to see the market open up to books about families affected by the Iraq war, to teens trying to assimilate to cultures overseas, to teens trying to assimilate to culture right here.

While there will always be a fan base for The Chronicles of Narnia, where are the next Are You There God, It's Me, Margarets?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Dave's brother, Michael, the dad to three teen girls, is an avid reader. Every time I've talked to him in the last year, he's asked if I've read The Hunger Games yet.

Then there's my 11-year old daughter, Daney, who's read the whole series -- twice. Not to mention the entire YA community who has devoured these books.

Why did it take me so long? First, I am always reading, always editing: student papers, college admissions essays, research, the San Francisco Chronicle, writing group fabulosity. When I do get to read for fun, and I definitely should do more of it, I tend to go for adult fiction. The next book on my nightstand is Lisa Genova's Left Neglected. So there's all that, plus, I don't love dystopian.

It took me a month to get through The Hunger Games, mostly because, though I was blown away by Suzanne Collins' brilliant, unique premise, I wasn't super invested in Katniss. She was not warm. Callous, even. Superior. And though I told myself this had to do with her survivor's spirit, I didn't care if she lived or died.

Several chapters in, however, I appreciated Collins' integration of huge themes: sociology, war, government control, the confines of poverty. Maslowe's hierarchy drove the characters' actions: safety, survival, food. There was more, too: fusing the Greek Olympic Games with America's obsession of reality TV. Our focus on appearance (the mention of plastic surgery, even), with a deeper theme of Shakespeare's self-sacrifice through poison. Love: Our human strength (and weakness). DNA manipulation.

For me, the book picked up speed in the end. I had bought into Katniss' winning The Games through her care of Rue, a genius complication to the plot.

While I'd hoped to see more dialogue, at least internally, I accepted the plotty narrative, and thought over and over toward the conclusion that Collins is a Big Thinker, that the editor was lucky to find this one-of-a-kind, multifaceted story.

Will I read the other books? Probably not. But I'm glad I (finally) got to this one, and can see how it was an enormous success.

Based on Book One, I asked my daughter: Does Katniss marry Peeta in the end, and together they take down the Games, then have a baby? To keep the depth and twists, Prim must die somewhere, so that Katniss has nothing to lose. And there has to be some revisitation to a song.

Daney giggled at me, which means that at least some of these happen. Where Collins must excel, then, is at the telling of how. I admire and envy her craft.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Putting It In Writing

Dear Application Essay for National Endowment of the Humanities Fellowship,

You are one tough egg to crack.

I've obsessed over you for four months now: our coffee dates, our dinner dates. You control my dreams.

Why are you so hard?

I mean, I've written tons of essays. Tons. And yet, I don't know what to do with you.

You've got some serious standards.

Can I meet your expectations?

Should I stop overthinking and just embrace you?

What do you want from me?



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What We're Doing in Writing 121

Because my class is about critical thinking, today I am changing the room around. So my dedicated students never forget to see things a different way.

Today's lesson is "Corn." Yes. As in "on-the-cob."

I will show these eager learners a big spider-y brainstorm on how to integrate implications. Like: "What is the political perspective on corn?" and "How is corn related to anthropology?"

And while we're thinking and writing, we'll be eating Doritos and drinking Coke. Breakfast of Champions. To taste our content.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

This Is How Much I Love My Writing Group

On Wednesday night, I brought the worst piece of writing to Starbucks.

While I sipped my salted caramel hot chocolate, Christy, Anjie, and Julie's pens went to work, crossing out circling and adding arrows and inserts.

It was an essay I've had in my head for four months, an application for a National Endowment of the Humanities fellowship.

The thing was, my creative juices just weren't flowing. At all. I ended up pretty much writing two opposite things and trying to mash them together.


And then, there were the beginnings, all twelve of them:anecdotes, imagery, question, setting, thesis.

It. Was. A. Mess.

But after a few minutes, er, an hour, thanks to my WG, I had ideas!!! And since Wednesday, I've let them sit and stew and get all juicy and yummy.

Today is the day I will take Christy's suggestion to really plug the need for diversity in Southern Oregon. I'll add Julie's argument that our current composition topic, "Terrorism," only fuels the fear our students already have. And I'll answer Anjie's questions about how my past experience will enrich the program.

And that will make a way better four pages than I've got right now.

And I promise. Next week, I'll bring my A game to edit for them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let Your Light Shine

Before Dave and I pruned our peach tree last weekend, we did a little Internet digging on the how-to, and found that 50% of the growth had to go.

As we Sawz-all-ed big branches out of the middle, half of me cried over all the progress that was taken away, just like that. But the other half of me saw the potential for new growth. Now, there's a lot of room in the center where the sun will shine down, where juicy fruit will bloom in July.

While my students revise their analysis essays today, I will remind them of this. That is takes some heavy pruning to let in the light, the potential, the good stuff.

I wish I had time to grab some canned peaches, so that we could taste the labor of our efforts.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Nicest Words I've Ever Heard

"Mommy, you can take a rotten watermelon and some charcoal and turn it into a five star dinner!"

--Dominic, 13

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What Do You Make While You're Waiting?

We've heard it a billion times: while we're waiting to "hear," we're supposed to be writing something new.

Can you do it? I can't do it, am not focused enough. I want to do other things, things that bring quicker gratification.

So I turn my efforts toward cooking and crafting. Today, I sewed a lovely curtain from Italian fabric to go over the laundry closet my husband took the door off ten years ago.

I've decided that while I wait to "hear," while I wait for Dave to finish our decade-long remodel, I'll fix up some things.

Next, I am going to reattach some new weatherstripping to the windows. I know. But it's better than waiting.

In between my house projects, I've been creating silk flower pins with my girl. We cut and burn and glue, then stick a sparkly little something in the center. We have baskets and baskets of these.

Maybe I should have a give-away. Because I haven't yet. Because they're fun. Because the flowers are really pretty, and would go well with a nice book and some Oregon Dagoba chocolate.

Because that would be something super gratifying, for me, and for you, too!