Monday, May 31, 2010


Also: my post on dystopian settings is up on the League blog.

Music Monday: Colbie Caillat's "Begin Again"

First: Be sure to check out the League blog to see if you won the signed swag prize pack and to see my thoughts on dystopian settings!

Today, I want to feature a single by Colbie Caillat, who's most famous for her song "Bubbly." This sound, "Begin Again" has the same bright feeling, but the song's lyrics aren't as light and fun--it's a song about the end (or perhaps the beginning) of a relationship.

I'm currently working on something with my own characters. Something bad happened, and they're trying to figure out how to move on after.

But it also reminded me to two things that I like when reading about characters. First, the opening lyrics say, "I can't get you out of the sunlight / I can't get you out of the rain." What I love about this is that it's basically saying you can't make a person's thoughts and feelings change. No matter how much you love someone, if they're in a dark place, you can't make them quit being depressed. If they're in love, you can't make them love someone else instead. A weaker aspect of some romance, in my opinion, is making love solve all the problems. Love isn't love because it solves all the problems simply by its existence. Love is love because it enables you to find the strength and courage to solve your problems.

Another thing I like about this song is found in the chorus: "Oh this is not the way it should end / This is the way it should begin."

This one's not just about love, although it can be. Which is the better romance--the one where the main characters fall instantly in love at first sight, or the one where the main characters have to fight to be together--and just when you think the story's going to end, they find happily ever after? The chorus represents that to me--that after the fighting and troubles, it shouldn't end, but go on.

But in looking at stories, the chorus has another meaning. My book is a dystopia--the world's a bit grim. So I start the story not at the beginning of the good stuff--but after, after everything's gone wrong, after all the problems have started, after everything looks like nothing can be good again.

And really--most good stories start that way. Start with the problem that should end the character's world--make that the beginning of the story, so the story focuses on the character's struggle toward making good again. Start with the bad, and make it good.

Lyrics found online here (here's a sample of the opening):
[deleted to avoid copyright infringement]

Thursday, May 27, 2010


If you only click one link today, click on The Bloggess. She's flipping hilarious. Somewhat NSFW.

Oh, wait. Wait. If you only click on one link today, click on The League of Extraordinary Writers. Because dude. It's already made of win, just by the awesome other contributors. Also: Elana Johnson keeps giving away stuff on her blog for it. So, there's that.

On to publishing and other relevant topics!

Who should you be following on Twitter?
  • Paulo Coelho. He's full of inspiring quotes that would be cheesy if not coming from him. He makes me want to be a better person, not just a better writer. 
  • If you're a fan of The Hunger Games (*snort* as if there's anyone who's not a fan), you should be following Scholastic, which tweeted photos of the Mockingjay presentation.
  • Finally: OMGFacts. Cause did you know the weight of all the ants in the world is about the same as all the people? I did. Cause I follow OMGFacts.




PS: I've said it before and I hate whiney "I can't blog now" posts, but...I'll be spotty on blogging for a bit during the end of the school year/beginning of the writing career thing. Which means that I'm not just being spotty on blogging here, but spotty on reading/commenting on your blogs. I still love you hardcore. I'll make it up to you! Possibly with cupcakes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cutting Libraries...

Recently on my SCBWI-Carolinas listserv, some members have been discussing the budget cuts local libraries are going through. I know that there have been many movements and discussions on the same topic on Twitter over the past few months.

And it worries me.

From what I can see, the vast majority of these budget cuts are a reflection of the recession. But when a recession hits a country, libraries are one of the most needed resources for those laid off, struggling through school, and who need access to information now outside their own financial means.

As BoingBoing put it:

One of the listserv members also pointed me in the direction of this interesting link, where Google Maps is used to show a nation without school libraries. This seems, to me, to be a blatent disregard for the importance of books to students. As the description lists it:
Although hundreds of studies show the impact that School Librarians have on student achievement, these school districts believe otherwise. 

One of the Anonymous Commenters on BoingBoing said it the best:
This reminds me of a sign in my childhood public library: "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Music Monday: Stone Sour, "Through Glass" & Panic! At the Disco's "I Write Sins"

It's been awhile since I've done a Music Monday, hasn't it? Here is Stone Sour, and their song "Through  Glass."

You can read the lyrics here, but I highly recommend watching the video--both for the sound, and for the super-cool special effect where people turn into cardboard cut-outs.

In the song, the verses say: "So while you're outside looking in / Describing what you see / Remember what you're staring at is me."

Those lines really struck me. As writers, we must always strive to describe our characters not as characters but as real people with real identity. Even background characters need to have their own story, just one that's not necessarily told in the current work.

Maybe it's because I'm working on edits and writing and all that good stuff, but this song totally reminded me that I need to make my characters real. In the video, the band is the grungy, nasty gate-crashers at a high-class Hollywood party. But...these people are real, and the clean-cut nice looking Hollywood type are nothing more than card-board cut-outs.

One of the things I love about the really good spat of recent YAs is realistic characters. In, for example, Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely, the main good guy, Seth, has the appearance of an angry punk kid with piercings and an intimidating presence...but he's really a sweet, wonderful guy. (Thanks for Kiersten White for reminding me about Seth at the perfect time.) And what's more important: he's more realistic because of that.

I see this a lot now as a teacher. I'm not one of the teachers who cares about what kids look like, and so, very often, the Goth/scene/emo/fill-in-your-stereotype-here kind of kids tend to flock to me. While some of the (older and--let's be honest--more prejudiced) teachers are shocked by some of "the kids these days," they're really not that different from anyone else.

Just because the kid wears black doesn't mean he's a bad guy, no more than the cheerleader has to be a slut just because she's pretty.

Personally, I'm glad that in the past decade or so, YA has been breaking through the stereotypes surrounding kids. Let the hardcore punk be a softie, let the cheerleader be brilliant, let the "perfect" child be the bad kid and the wimpy kid be the hero.

And since this topic really inspires at me, let's celebrate with another video along the same lines. Here's Panic! At the Disco's song, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies." The lyrics (which do involve cussing, fair warning) are about not judging people and jumping to conclusions, but the video shows a wedding between "perfect" people and circus people...with an interesting twist at the end.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dancing Close to the BORDER(s)!!

Lyssa K. found this for me:

My book is available for pre-order at Borders!!!!





Elana has a book deal!


Here is the announcement from PM:

Elana Johnson's CONTROL ISSUES, set in a brainwashed society where those gifted with mind control best join the powers that be, but one rebel girl tries to beat them at their own game, to Anica Rissi at Simon Pulse, by Michelle Andelman at Lynn Franklin Associates (NA).

(and make sure you follow her! if you get her newsletter, you know that she is celebrating on her blog with a contest with AWESOME prizes that will be announced Monday!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Oh, wait? It's Friday?!?

Sorry I've not been around lately.


(Also: critiqueing a friend's mss., writing a killer new first chapter of Book 2--which required writing 9 sucky first chapters that I deleted after, distributing 700 yearbooks to students in school, editing and publishing the school's literary magazine, etc., etc., etc. Also, I feel it's bad form to apologize for not blogging, as blogging is the "fun" thing I do and not technically a part of either job I have, but there you have it.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010



I told you guys about the new blog I and other debut 2011 dystopian writers made called The League of Extraordinary Writers.

Yesterday, just before the launch, I emailed the other members. "If we get 100 followers by the end of the month, I'll be happy," I wrote.

You guys?

We got over 100 followers by the end of the day.



I seriously hardcore heart you guys.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Announcing: A New Dystopia Blog!

Confession time: I totally had a secret purpose for making last week Dystopia Week. Today, it is my pleasure to announce that I have joined forces with fellow 2011 Dystopian Debut writers to form a blog devoted exclusively to dystopian works!

There's Julia Karr, whose debut novel XVI is coming out from Speak/Penguin Books for Young Readers. Go to her website for more info about this futuristic novel which takes place in the year 2150. In this novel, turning sixteen isn't the birthday every girl dreams about--it's when you have to get a tattoo and your life begins to change, whether you want it to or not. Nina Oberon, however, has more things on her mind: her mother's murder, her father's reappearance, and a government that's a bit more than shady.

Also joining the group is Angie Smibert, whose book MEMENTO NORA is debuting from Marshall Cavendish. Her sci fi envisions a world where you can chose to erase your worst memories. In the near future, Nora witnesses a terrorist attack so horrible that she chooses to go to the Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic and forget all about it. Her mother's done it before--in fact, forgetting is fairly commonplace--but Nora decides to hold on to her memories.

You can read more about it here.

Finally, we have Jeff Hirsch, whose debut novel THE LONG WALK HOME coming from Scholastic has been described as a YA version of THE ROAD. Jeff's blog is here. In his novel, a boy, his father, and his grandfather walk a post-apocalyptic world. After deciding to help some strangers, their lives are complicated with injury and the discovery of a community trying desperately to hold onto the world before the wars.

DUDE! Isn't this freaking awesome?! I'm so hiding behind their awesomeness. So: if you're a fan of dystopia, want to support debut authors, or like thinking about what could happen in the sure to check out the new blog LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY WRITERS!


Because HECKYEAH we're giving stuff away!!! This month, it's all about the SIGNED SWAG.

SO...if you want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and a SIGNED copy of Printz Honor Award winning MONTRUMOLOGIST by Ricky Yancey and signed bookmarks by PJ Hoover and Maria Snyder and a signed magnet from Stacey Jay...come on over to THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY WRITERS and sign up!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why Now?

I think I've pretty much covered the question "Why dystopia?" :)

But there's another question to ask: why now?

Personally, I think it stems all the way back to the acceptance of fantasy among teen readers. I don't know about you, but when I was in high school and college, it was sort of looked down on to read fantasy, especially MG/YA fantasy, which was considered "kids' books." I remember book shopping with my college roomie--she whispered to me, almost like it was a dark, personal secret, that sometimes she liked to read books from over there in the "juvenile" section. I'm not saying people were picked on or reviled for reading fantasy or "kids'" books--but that if you wanted to be "cool," you didn't.

That idea's changed. It started with Harry Potter and progressed through Twilight. Suddenly--overnight, seemingly--it became not only acceptable, but cool to read in the YA section, particularly reading the fantasy and paranormal books. When I told that same college roomie that I'd found Harry Potter and loved it, she playfully poked fun at me reading "kids" books. Not too long ago, she confessed her undying love for Twilight.

So, there's a lack of stigma over reading YA books now that didn't exist before--and specifically YA books that are, at least to some degree, speculative.

But then, why dystopia in particular? Personally, I think this tends to stem from what we're seeing in society today.

Look, it's a scary world out there. There are a lot of things to stress out about, and a lot of things to worry over. And for teens, much of that is outside of their control.

According to the Publishers Weekly article "Apocalypse Now":
Why now? Newspaper headlines about swine flu, terrorism, global warming, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are inspiring authors-and making kids feel uneasy.

Dystopia works exaggerate the future, whether it's a future world of tomorrow or a thousand years from now. And, usually, the main characters are characters who don't control their world. The government or the environment or just plain bad luck controls the situations the protagonist is in. Even so, the protagonist rises above.

It's a classic hero story. And who doesn't want to be the hero?

So, why do you think dystopia is so popular right now?

Picture credit.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This Just Made My Day

[Sorry to interrupt Dystopia Week, but...]

SQUEE!!! And it's true: UK pre-order; Canada pre-order. Isn't Tez awesome?

Modern Dystopia

Dystopian literature is certainly on the rise today. While certainly one reason for that could be our society, another is because dystopian has changed and shifted with the times.

One of the good things about dystopian literature is that it envisions the future. And the future could hold anything. As we explore the possibilities, newer and more ingenious books are being written.

THE HUNGER GAMES has probably had the most influence on the rise in popularity. It's twist is inventive--in the future, the world is split into different districts, and once a year, the districts must offer children to fight in an arena. The future in this novel is based on survival and politics.

But THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH is no less a dystopia--but it's more about zombies than politics. Although many would classify this as just a "zombie novel," it's actually a dystopian--only in this world, instead of district factions and child arenas, the world fell to a zombie plague. It's still survival, but a much different kind.

At the same time, THE CITY OF EMBER is a dystopia. The world isn't overrun by zombies or split into factions--instead, it's tightly contained in a secret underground world, awaiting a time when they can re-emerge on the surface. THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO doesn't even take place on our world, and there's fantasy elements involved in the linguistics of the world, but it's still a dystopia--a future that didn't quite go as planned. LIFE AS WE KNEW IT, on the other hand, takes place in a world that could be tomorrow. There's no repressive government, no Big Brother, no monsters or apocalypse. Just the moon--knocked too close to Earth, and the environmental damages that causes. Likeswise, LITTLE BROTHER takes place in a world that could be tomorrow--but one that's reacted in an extreme way to the threat of terrorism.

Dystopian lit encompasses all of these plots: a society on a new planet with talking dogs to a place extraordinarily like the world we live in, with just one element changed or exaggerated. As time moves on, dystopian lit changes, too: we are constantly re-visioning the future and developing new worlds to fit it.

So--what dystopian world do you want to see?

PS: Looking for a great dystopian to read? Check out this comprehensive and amazing list!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Measuring Stick

There are certain books that I consider to be a measuring stick of the genre. The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series are my measuring sticks for children's books; THE HERO AND THE CROWN is my measuring stick for fantasy; ENDER'S GAME is my measuring stick for science fiction.

In thinking about dystopia, I realize I have two measuring stick: one for children's/YA dystopia, and one for adult dystopia.

For younger dystopia, my measure is Lois Lowry's THE GIVER. Although now a common middle school selection for required reading, THE GIVER hasn't always been this popular, despite the shiny sticker of approval on the cover.

THE GIVER is a much quieter book than I usually prefer, but it's still what I consider to be the ideal model of young dystopian literature. The government isn't a powerhouse Big Brother, but it is still controlling and selective about the information it releases to the public. The hero isn't a fighter--but he's still a rebel.

And the end of the novel is that mix of triumph and hardship: the hero wins, but the battle's not entirely over.

Any time I read dystopia, I compare it unconsciously to THE GIVER. Not so much in style and plot, but in the feeling I get when reading it. THE GIVER reminds me to question the world, and that's what I seek in dystopian lit.

In adult dystopian lit, I lean towards Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD. It, too, has a shiny sticker seal of approval, but my reason for liking THE ROAD and comparing other adult dystopia to it is the same as with THE GIVER: the end leaves triumph and battle.

[Spoilers ahead--not too spoilery, but still: highlight to read]

At the end of THE ROAD, there's a scene that people tend to either love or hate, where the author describes flashing fish in a river. It's an odd little end--we still have questions about the future for the boy, and we want to know what else will happen--but here's a short page and a half about fish.

But--in my opinion--this is McCarthy's way of leaving us with hope. Just like the fire the boy and his father mention over and over, the fish (which represent all of nature) are something that's true and permanent. No matter how bleak the world is, love and hope remain in the world. The world itself is the carrier of the love and hope.

So there you have it: my measuring sticks for dystopia. What are yours?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010's depressing!

I've given up telling people I don't know that my novel is dystopic, even though it is. Invariably, they ask what dystopia is.

"It's like a utopia," I say, "but opposite."

*blank stares*

Eventually they get it. And then they ask, "But why? Why would you want to write something so depressing?"'s not. Not really. At its heart, dystopian literature is anything but depressing.

OK, sure. The society is depressing. The environment. The government. But dystopian literature isn't about those things. Not really.

It's about the individuals.

Think of THE HUNGER GAMES, arguably the most famous dystopic work out right now. The world is empty, dark, dreary. Government not only lets people die of hardship--it actually holds competitions in which children fight to the death for the entertainment of the rich.

OK, yeah. That's a bit depressing.

But then think of Katniss. Not how her father died, or her mother was depressed, or her sister was nearly selected. Don't think about how she left Gale, or how she entered the Games. The blood and pain and hunger and hardship.

Because that's not what the story is about.

The story is about how a girl, in that world, with that pain, can still be human. Can still love.

That's why dystopic literature isn't really depressing. Because it's about the strength of humanity beyond the cruelty of the world.

If the characters were always happy, always good, and never had to worry--what would be the point of the story? How is it a triumph when two people fall in love when they live in a world where love is lauded? If you don't have to fight for the basics of humanity, is it little wonder we don't appreciate them?

Dystopic literature is a dark frame around a beautiful picture.

It's not the dark, bleak, black; it's the spark of light flickering within it.

And just in case the topic still depresses you, here, have a video:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dystopia Week!

A utopia is a perfect world.

Perfect peace.

Perfect environment.

Perfectly happy, content people.

No conflict. No ugly. No discontent.

How boring.

This week we're going to be discussing dystopias. Wikipedia defines dystopia as:
A dystopia (from Ancient Greekδυσ-: bad-, ill- and Ancient Greekτόπος: place, landscape) (alternatively, cacotopia,[1] or anti-utopia) is a vision of an often futuristic society, which has developed into a negative version of Utopia. A dystopia is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. It often features different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and a state of constant warfare or violence.
There are plenty of great books on dystopia, and from all appearances, dystopic literature is on the rise, especially in teen literature. This article from Publishers Weekly indicates that dystopia's popularity is, at least in part, a response to our current world situation. With the THE HUNGER GAMES, THE MAZE RUNNER, THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, and many more, it's easy to see that dystopic literature isn't going away any time soon.

Before we get started, let's share opinions! 

  1. Do you like to read dystopian literature?
  2. What's your favorite dystopic work?
  3. Why do you think dystopian literature is so popular in YA today?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things My Mother Told Me

(Angela Cerrito originally posted things her mother told her, and I thought the idea was so good, I'm copying it for Mother's Day!)

For at least one second today, just be quiet!

Tell the truth.

Quit crying, you're not really hurt.

It's OK to cry.

Wait till your father gets home.

It's OK, we don't have to tell him.

It's doesn't matter if you didn't do it, the teacher says you did it, and you're going to get it when we get home.

I know that isn't fair. Life isn't fair.

Is that really the best you can do?

It's OK that you didn't win. You worked hard. You tried your best.

I don't care if you don't want to do your chores. You're doing them anyway.

I don't have to pay you to do chores. You're doing them anyway.

Don't try to go to your father. You're going to do your chores one way or the other.

Clean your plate.

I don't care if it's broccoli, clean your plate.

I don't care if it's okra, clean your plate.

Quit whining.

You know I love you, right?

When you're on the trip, don't just take a bunch of pictures of your friends, take pictures of everything you see around you.

Whatever you want to do, you can do it.

But I'm not paying for it.

Go to church.

Watch your weight.

You are not leaving the house like that.

Don't compare yourself to your brother.

You'll regret doing that when you're older.

You'll regret not doing that when you're older.

I miss him, too.

Quit yelling, I'm just trying to help.

I'm sorry.

I don't know why they don't want to publish you. Your book is awesome!

One day, you're going to be published and I'll be first in line to get your book.

I believe in you.

I love you.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spreading the Awesome: Doing the Write Thing

I was going to continue my "Spread the Awesome" week with a cool music video, but yanno? That's kinda weak compared to what I'm going to post about today.


Why isn't this in the news more? I--like most of you, I'm sure--was aware of the Do the Write Thing charity YA authors have set up to raise funds for Nashville after a devastating flood in early May. But, to be honest, I wasn't that chuffed about it. A flood in Nashville? I heard about it, heard it was bad, but didn't really think it was that bad.

Then I saw this video:

And I realized: we need to not brush this aside. We need to face it--and do something.

So today's Awesome? Spreading the news about Nashville. If you haven't yet, please post something. And go to the Do the Write Thing auction, going on now, that's nearly raised $9,000 so far and is still offering some kick-butt prizes that include agent crits, signed books, cool swag, and more. (And be sure to check this out: THE Miss Snark is in on the voting, and Killer Yapp's looking for a win!)

So: bid! Donate! Post about it! Because today's Spread the Awesome is about spreading how awesome our community is--and we're pretty darn awesome.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Relevant to Today's Awesome

Found here.

Spreading the Awesome: Doctor Who

I was so inspired by Elana's idea to spread the joy of awesome new books that I decided to spread the awesome all week long. This week, I'm going to feature my recent most favorite movie, poem, song, and television show. Yay for spreading the awesome!

Today I'm featuring one of my most favoritest TV shows: Doctor Who.

Now, it's possible that you've not seen Doctor Who yet. But if you're a writer--you SO should. Whether you like Brit TV or not, whether you like sci fi or not, whether you're afraid of jumping into a show mid-series or not--just watch Doctor Who. I think every writer needs to at least see the brilliant writing that goes into Doctor Who.

Doctor Who is an old show--there have been eleven Doctors so far, and several Doctors lasted more than one season. Don't worry about that. You can start an episode anywhere and pick up the story as you go. Trust me.

This is a fun show--with lots of drama and comedy and plot twists and mystery. But that's not the reason why I'm recommending it to you today. Today I'm recommending Doctor Who to you because Doctor Who has brilliant writing.

I can't even begin to mention Doctor Who writing without mentioning first that one of the greatest assets to a writer is that not only do you have a show with brilliant story-telling to give you an example of what works, there's also a book written by the former main writer of the show who writes about the process. DOCTOR WHO: THE WRITER'S TALE is an almost journalistic account of where, how, and why stories developed on the show. Reading it while watching the show gives you a great idea of how a successful writer develops a successful story. So, basically, you get to see a great story, and then see how that great story was written--a goldmine for writers.

Whenever I'm stuck on a certain aspect of writing, I turn to Doctor Who marathons. Can't figure out a character? Doctor Who is brilliant at characters--showing the different dynamics in the ultimate multi-cultural setting (you can't get much more multi-cultural than aliens). Need to find a better twist to a story? Doctor Who develops the best twists and unexpected turns--not just in an episode but across whole series. Trouble with pacing? Watch Doctor Who run through an attack or save the world.

If you want to see story telling done right, check this series out!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spreading the Awesome: Neil Gaiman's "Instructions"

I was so inspired by Elana's idea to spread the joy of awesome new books that I decided to spread the awesome all week long. This week, I'm going to feature my recent most favorite movie, poem, song, and television show. Yay for spreading the awesome!

Today, I'm featuring a poem. Long time readers will know my favorite poem of all time is Ted Kooser's "Tattoo."

But today I'm going to go a slightly different route. Today I'm going to feature a poem that I've only just heard of (thanks, Heather!), by an author/poet more well known for his novels than his poetry.

You might have heard of him before. Neil Gaiman.

His recently published poem, "Instructions" speaks to the part of me that love fairy tales not for the happily ever after, but for the danger.

It's important to remember that bit, I think. That fairy tales are dangerous. That the happily ever after only comes sometimes, and then, only after the dragon.

This poem isn't beautiful in the way, say, a sonnet is beautiful. The rhyme and rhythm don't sing. It's not beautiful in the way Ted Kooser's poetry is beautiful--it doesn't make my skin tingle, it doesn't make me feel as if an emotion is a universal cry of the world.

Instead, this poem is beautiful because it speaks the truth in a way only fairy tales can.

(I highly recommend you watch and listen to the poem below, but if you can't get the YouTube to work, I've reprinted it as well. You could also check out the illustrator's notes.)


by Neil Gaiman

Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never
saw before.
Say "please" before you open the latch,
go through,
walk down the path.
A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted
front door,
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.
Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat
However, if any creature tells you that it hungers,
feed it.
If it tells you that it is dirty,
clean it.
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain.

From the back garden you will be able to see the
wild wood.
The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.

Once through the garden you will be in the
The trees are old. Eyes peer from the under-
Beneath a twisted oak sits an old woman. She
may ask for something;
give it to her. She
will point the way to the castle.
Inside it are three princesses.
Do not trust the youngest. Walk on.
In the clearing beyond the castle the twelve
months sit about a fire,
warming their feet, exchanging tales.
They may do favors for you, if you are polite.
You may pick strawberries in December's frost.
Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where
you are going.
The river can be crossed by the ferry. The ferry-
man will take you.
(The answer to his question is this:
If he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to
leave the boat.
Only tell him this from a safe distance.)

If an eagle gives you a feather, keep it safe.
Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that
witches are often betrayed by their appetites;
dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always;
hearts can be well-hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.

Do not be jealous of your sister.
Know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble from
one's lips as toads and frogs:
colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.

Remember your name.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall).
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown).
Ride the grey wolf (hold tightly to his fur).

There is a worm at the heart of the tower; that is
why it will not stand.

When you reach the little house, the place your
journey started,
you will recognize it, although it will seem
much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden gate
you never saw before but once.
And then go home. Or make a home.
And rest.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spreading the Awesome: Dreamwork's HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

I was so inspired by Elana's idea to spread the joy of awesome new books that I decided to spread the awesome all week long. This week, I'm going to feature my recent most favorite movie, poem, song, and television show. Yay for spreading the awesome!

Today's Awesome Topic: Dreamwork's recent movie HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

(In case you live under a rock, here's the trailer.)

Here's why I didn't go see this movie. Look, a year ago, a movie in 3D was a big deal. I remember being able to convince my husband to see UP based on 3D alone. Now...not as big a deal. There have been too many movies (like UP) that relied more on 3D than on a good story to move the movie along. I thought the premise sounded cool...but I figured I'd wait for the DVD. Maybe.

Here's why I did go see this movie--at the last minute, and driving to the next town over to get there. Two of my students--the biggest, baddest, wrestling-team-captain, muscle-bound macho-guys--said they loved it. And more than half the class joined in.

I am so glad I went to see it.

Because it's brilliant.

You know how they say there's only something like five stories in the world, and we're constantly rewriting them? Well, this story is one of the five: outcast kid makes outcast friend and they save the world. Not that original.

But just like Harry Potter wasn't that original (Hero's Journey, anyone?) it's all about the execution. And the execution here--brilliant.

And I don't mean the execution of the CGI or animation. Because, let's be honest--most 3D films have been relying on the shiny outside to sell the movie. No--I mean the execution of the story.

Here's how I know a movie is brilliant: when I realize there's no way I could write the story, that the movie is the perfect medium for the story.

It's the little things: the way the dragon acts a little like a cat and a little like a dog and a little like something else. The way Astrid's eyes follow Hiccup's movements. The way Hiccup's father clenches his eyes and his teeth and his jaw when he thinks his son is dead.

And it's the big things: when Hiccup and Toothless face the huge monster of a dragon at the end, the camera pans down to the people on the ground, watching the battle in the clouds. And you can feel their helplessness, their hopelessness, and Hiccup's father's bitterness is something so real you can taste it. It's the way your heart leaps when Hiccup trains Toothless to fly again at the beginning of the movie, when you can feel the animal's longing for flight, and how the pain of the crash goes deeper than physical.

It's the end, when Hiccup isn't whole any more, because how can you be whole when you fight a dragon?

Do yourself a favor. Watch this movie. Then watch it again and again.

And if you still doubt me, know this: even my cartoon-hating, kid-movie-detesting husband thought it was all right.

So: Have you seen it yet? What are your thoughts?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Today in Class: Global Warming, Internet Invention, and Hell

We're getting ready to start reading Dante's Inferno. 

Me: What's an allegory?

Kid 1: Does it have something to do with Global Warming?

Me: What?! No!

Kid 2: does have something to with Global Warming. And...the internet?

Me: WHAT?! What are you guys talking about?

Kid 3: That's AL GORE, stupids, not allegory.

Me: *facepalm*

Spreading the Awesome: Sharon Creech's LOVE THAT DOG

You guys know Elana, right? How could you not...she's a blogging rockstar. Anyway, Elana came up with an awesome idea to link together a series of blog posts on author's favorite books, books they would give 10 out of 5 stars to. There's a whole chain of us doing this. So, if you came from Nichole's blog then keep clicking on through to Julia's blog next...and keep going through the chain, since many bloggers are also giving away copies of their favs!

So, the premise is to feature a book that we loved, that, in Elana's words, "a book you wish you could shout from your rooftop, 'This book is so $&%*# good it deserves 10 stars!'" A few books popped immediately into my mind--and if you've been reading this blog for a bit, you could probably pinpoint some of the usual suspects. 


There's this other book. One that I don't think gets enough attention. One that really moved me--I laughed and cried, and I've been thinking about it for months--nearly a year--after I first read it.

It's not my normal book that I love. It's a bit younger than my typical YA--I can see an elementary student easily reading this. It doesn't have kissing or bombs or explosions or new worlds or fairies or aliens or cussing or zombies or anything like that.


It's nothing like what I should like. It's not like any other book at all on my shelf, it's not the kind of book I could write...


It's a novel of poetry--a kid's experiment in journaling stemming from his teacher's assignment. The kid, Jack, doesn't really believe in poetry...and in a lot of ways, neither do I. Don't get me wrong--I appreciate good poetry. But whether it's a result of having taken too many stuffed-shirt college courses on the subject, or from drowning in ceaseless cliched teen angst poetry from my students, I'm often skeptical of any novels in verse.


The book centers around a particular poem that I hate. It's William Carlos William's poem about the wheelbarrow--a poem that one of those stuffed-shirt college professors loved, but that I always thought was stupid. And even though the narrator, Jack, also thinks the poem is a bit silly at first, there's no denying that this poem--perhaps my most hated poem of all poems ever--is the center and heart of this book.

It's a quiet book. A short read. Simple. There's depth to it, certainly--a twist at the end that ties all the poetic strings together. And there's emotion. You guys know I hate to cry. I hate to cry so much that when I hurt my foot and cried, my husband was willing to carry me to the ER--he'd never seen me cry before, and thought it was something really serious. And this book made me cry.
I should have hated it.

But the words.

Oh, how they are beautiful.

I can't help it. When I think back of all the books I've read recently, if I had to pick just one that really moved would be this one.

Perhaps the only thing that made me pick this one off the shelf was that it was about a dog, and I love dogs. Everything else--the verse, the tone, the age level, the style, the plot, the premise, even the final twist--all that was stuff that I normally hate in a book. Stuff that I avoid, that I roll my eyes at, that I warn people from reading.

But not this one.

This is the one book that I would hand to you no matter who you are. 

Because I know you'll love it, too.

Spread the awesome! Keep the recommendation chain going: go to Julia's blog next!
So...what's the ONE book that you want to shout about from the rooftops?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Poetry Weekend: Blackbirds by Julie Cadwallader

I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air

and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn't know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.

How do they do that?

Oh if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be

but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,

and can think to ourselves:

ah yes, this is how it's meant to be.

"Blackbirds" by Julie Cadwallader-Staub. © Julie Cadwallader-Staub. Reprinted from The Writer's Almanac