Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Books Week

In honor of intellectual freedom and ALA Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct 3), I'm making a plug for reading a banned book this week. You'd be astounded at some of the books on the ALA's banned list: Where the Wild Things Are, Speak, Harry Potter, Golden Compass, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bridge to Terabithia, Farenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, and the Gutenberg Bible, to name a few. Some of my favorite books have landed their authors in jail, including the wonderful Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. Call of the Wild was burned in Nazi bonfires.

I'm admittedly conservative about the books I'd personally hand to a young child; I believe, like Corrie Ten Boom's father (the Hiding Place), that some subjects are too heavy to ask young children to carry, just as a large suitcase might be. But that's a decision for individual caretakers to make for their own children, not for other people's. And I get angry when others try to make that choice for me. Often when people push for a book to be banned, they do it out of ignorance: they don't even know what's in it (Golden Compass, for instance), or don't understand it (Lord of the Rings, burned by a religious group for being satanic). Let me choose for my kid; you choose for yours. Once a child reaches his teens and is not so emotionally delicate, some books are simply too important to protect a child from, and when we ban books by authors like Huxley, Steinbeck, Hemingway and Faulkner, what we end up protecting most is supreme ignorance.

Growing up with a Russian professor father during the 1970s, I heard a lot about book banning issues and the fear of getting caught reading the wrong books in Soviet Russia. I knew my dad's Russian Bible was lovingly (and furtively) passed around the congregation when he brought it to an Orthodox church in Moscow, which only old people with little to lose dared attend. I always felt grateful American intellectuals didn't have to hide (except ironically during the insane anti-communist McCarthy era--funny how similar methods were used by both Communist governments and communist-fearing groups) or risk getting shipped off to Siberia, and I admired the Russian Intelligencia who wrote anyway, because they believed in speaking the truth, regardless of consequences.

So read a banned book this week and join librarians, writers and book people everywhere in speaking out for freedom to speak and write truth as we see it, and to make our own judgements and let others make theirs. Gotta love that first Amendment.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Thoughts and Updates

I collect happy thoughts in a file folder.


I stick things in there like the Mothers' Day card my daughter once made with a picture of an oversized version of me in my glasses and ugliest green sweats with a creepy grin on my face, and I'm standing on a mini version of earth like some sort of balancing super-sweat woman; the caption underneath my huge self says, "to Mom, the best person in the WORLD."

Wow. And you guys thought YOU were hot stuff. Think again--I'm better. The best. Arguably, according to this picture, the largest, as well.

Though she's the daughter who liked to balance my ego by shouting when she was mad at me that I was the WORST person in the whole world.

But I digress from happy.

Anything that makes me smile goes into that file in the drawer. And I like to take out my happy thoughts and read them sometimes. So here are just a few of mine this week, and not from the drawer:

*the Wasatch Mountains in the fall

*yellow cherry tomatoes from the garden

*blueberry-grapes every morning from the vines over the front porch

*falling asleep to scenes from my book

*letters from my son in Korea

*reading Over Sea Under Stone every night with my 10-year-old

*three teenage girls in the house as of this week (thanks to my daughter's 13th b-day): well, yeah--it can be a mixed bag, but kind of delightful, too. And ideal for perfecting my YA voice.

What are your happies?

Since I can write myself out of a depression, writing is a happy thought, too. Here's an update on my writing, and on a couple of other things, too.

On my fairytale-fantasy: Not allowed to talk about that here. Yet. Sorry.

On my work in progress (WIP): Revisions going well, mostly what I call up-writing--pages and pages of notes to myself on stuff like world-building and character details that have changed or needed clarification in my mind. I do up-writing until my brain is so full the story just dumps itself out. Kind of like doing imaginary research--when you get enough info packed into your head, it's hard NOT to write.

Started a YA poetry novel, kind of dark and edgy, because it's hard for me to write poetry that isn't a little dark, at least most of the time. For older teens, and it's prosier than the poems I usually write: 11 pages into it. Passed a test-reading by my picky almost-16-year-old. My question: should I bother continuing or should I stick with regular fiction? Her verdict: "Yes. I wanted to read more. Really liked it. And I hope there's a romance. There has to be romance." There will be--duh, it's YA. I always feel vaguely surprised that teens like poetry, until I think about myself as a teen. I loved poetry, the darker the better. Still do. It reaches into the crevices of the soul like no other writing.

On my Boy Story: Fantasy about a 12-year-old desert-dwelling slave boy. That's all I'm giving you now. Hard not to dump WIP and just go for it with this story, which teases me a lot, and so does my son, who feels gyped that all my books have female protagonists. But I think WIP deserves attention after a lot of time in the drawer.

On School Absence Excuse Notes: wrote one this week.

On triathlon training: attempting my first (possibly last) triathlon the beginning of November. My plantar fasciitis is clearing up, but I'm still not running, so I'll be able to for the race. So I'm doing mucho power-walking, and hitting the biking really hard, and plenty of yoga, which boosts my swimming somehow, which I always seem to put off. In other words, I'm going to choke in the swim and the run, and the bike will be only part where I don't die. Wish me luck. The best thing about it is that I'm getting lots of high-oxygen thinking time for my books.

On having a nice day: I can't tell anyone to have a good day without hearing, at least in some back corner of my mind, Harrison Ford as he stands on the deck of a boat in the movie Mosquito Coast and shouts, "Good-bye, America, and have a nice day!" his voice oozing with sarcasm. That does not mean I don't mean it when I say it. The sound just pops into my head, like a cynical brain-wave radio announcer. I can't help it. And I swear I'm not being sarcastic now when I say I wish you a happy day. Really.

I plan on having one :)

Playing High and Dry with Sourdough

Lately I've been playing with dough. It's become a sort of a compulsion. Maybe because I'm tired of driving all the way to som...