Banned Books: One Parent's Perspective

Okay, so there's been a lot of talk this week about banned books, not only here on the League, but everywhere.

This is a hard topic for me, and I'll tell you why. I'm apathetic. I know, some of you are going to hammer me in the comments. How can you be an author and be apathetic about this? Don't you believe in having books available for everyone?

I do. I also believe that parents have the right to choose what media comes into their homes and is viewed by their minor children. I believe we live in a country where some people have louder voices than others, and sometimes those people get laws changed, or acts passed, or books banned.

Those people aren't horrible, awful people. They're people who believe they're doing what's right to protect their children.

Does it mean I support them?

Not really. I want to be able to choose for myself and for my children, so I automatically balk at someone telling me that a book is "bad" for whatever reason. I want to decide for myself.

Does it mean I don't support them?

Again, not really. I want to be able to ban anything from my house that I don't deem appropriate for me and my children.

Basically, I don't want anyone telling me what to like or not like, what to believe or not believe, and what to read or not read.

I know this is 2009's BBW poster. But it's my favorite one.
I support Banned Books Week as outlined in the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom: Banned Books Week (BBW) celebrates the freedom to choose and the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, stressing the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them. It is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores. It is endorsed by the Library of Congress' Center for the Book.

While some books I read I don't particularly like (for whatever reason) and I don't let my still-maturing children read, that doesn't mean I want to eliminate the choice for everyone.

I want everyone to have the ability to choose what they should read, and what they should provide for their children to read. To me, that's what Banned Books Week does.

I know not everyone thinks the way I do. They do ban books. To me, it's simply because they have a louder voice than I do, and need to be heard. Also--it's their right to exercise. If they don't want to read a book, so be it. If they don't want their children to be exposed to that book, that's their choice too.

But as a reader and a parent, I can still choose to read and provide books for my children.

What do you think? Have I missed the mark of Banned Books Week?

Banning Reality

The ALA lists of frequently challenged books fascinate me—as do the reasons people cite in their objections. Take the Top 10 Challenged Books for 2010:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; 
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; 
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; 
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins; 
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins;  
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend; 
  7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones; 
  8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich; 
  9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie; 
  10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Most of these have been challenged for violence, language, drug references, or sexuality. [ALA has graphs of challenges by year, reason, initiator, etc. for the last twenty years.]

However, the one that really surprised me was #8: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. This book is nonfiction—and about real life experiences of the working poor.  The author spends a year doing a series of minimum-to-low wage jobs. She starts from scratch with each experience, not using any of her own comfortably middle-class resources. Morgan Spurlock did the same thing on his show 30 Days—for 30 days. Ehrenreich did it for a year, and she worked in different areas of the country and at different types of jobs. She waited tables, cleaned hotel rooms, emptied bedpans at a nursing home, and worked at Walmart.   Nickel and Dimed is the story of her experience—and those of the people she meets along the way.

Many schools use this book in personal finance / getting ready for the real world kind of courses. So why has this been challenged? How could one object to the lives of waitresses and Walmart cashiers? Well, one of the challenges cited "book's profanity, offensive references to Christianity, and biased portrayal of capitalism."  Another complained that the book promoted socialism.  [Marshall University libraries did a nice breakdown of challenges for each book.]

I can understand objecting to profanity. (This book was intended for an adult audience, after all.) I don’t remember if/how she criticized Christianity in the book, so I can’t comment on that.  But a biased portrayal of capitalism? Promoting socialism?

What Nickel and Dimed promotes is empathy. The author finds out, for instance, that it’s nearly impossible on a diner waitress’ salary to save up enough for first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit (not to mention utilities). This is why most of her co-workers lived in a motel, something which she didn’t think made economic sense until she was in that situation.  Or, as the author writes on her blog:

A Florida woman wrote to tell me that, before reading it, she’d always been annoyed at the poor for what she saw as their self-inflicted obesity. Now she understood that a healthy diet wasn’t always an option.

This is one of those books (imho) that everyone should read, regardless of political viewpoint or economic status. Or age.

What do you guys think? Are political and/or economic viewpoints valid reasons for challenging books? [Not that I think any reasons are truly valid. Maybe reasonable is the right word. Maybe.]

What Books Would I Ban?

People who want to ban books are a little hard for me to understand. I hear about them and I think "Are your personal beliefs really built on such shaky foundations that they can't be challenged? Are you really so scared of ideas?"

Detect a little self satisfaction in there? Yeah me too. I mean, surely I would never be so weak as to consider banning a book. Surely I'm better than these heathens. Right? Eager to pierce my own smug certainty, I decided that for Banned Book week I would try to find a scenario where things might not be so clear. 

There was a case in Fairfax, VA where a religious group tried to get works with an anti-gay message into libraries to counter what they felt was a pro-gay bias. They were rebuffed and quickly cried that their books were being banned. The exact details of the story don't quite fit the typical banning story. These were books that didn't fit the libraries inclusion guidelines for technical reasons like not having at least two positive reviews from reputable sources. Also, not being included in a library's collection is not quite the same as being in it and then being thrown out.

But, details aside, it made me think. Hypothetically speaking, if these anti-gay books did fit the libraries guidelines and were made a part of the collection how would I feel about that? What if I had a gay son or daughter and these were in their school?

Like most writers I'm viscerally against the banning or censoring of books. When the ideals that are being attacked are my own, I'm the first to call wannabe book banners cowards who are terrified of ideas. Repressive ideologues. 

But I'm also a huge supporter of gay, lesbian and transgender rights. Pro-gay marriage, pro gays in the military. All of that. I think the kind of crap these anti-gay groups pedal is repugnant and helps create an atmosphere that leads to bullying and self hatred and eventually the rash of suicides we've seen from gay teens.

It's tempting to tell myself that these anti-gay books are different in some essential way from the pro gay books my opposite numbers would like to ban. Anti-gay books abuse teens. They can help create real physical danger. I believe that. But the thing is, I know that people on the opposite side of the argument from me are just as sure that  "pro-gay" works irreparably harm kids as I am that "anti-gay" works do the same. Their desire to ban is motivated by feelings as intense and honestly felt as my own. I can disagree with them, I can say I'm right and they're wrong, but I can't deny the sincerity of their beliefs.

So, what to do? Would I work to kick these books out of libraries? 

When I think I wouldn't I feel like I'm betraying all those abused gay kids, people who are having a pretty rough time of things right now. When I think I would I feel like a complete hypocrite.

I guess on balance I'd rather feel like a hypocrite but no matter how many ways I work around the idea I just can't get comfortable with it.

What about you all? What would you do in this situation? Can you imagine a situation that would make you a book banner?

Banning books doesn't stop reading them.

By the time I was twelve, I'd read through most of the children's room books in our small library. I wanted to read Gone with the Wind. The head librarian actually called my grandmother to see if it was all right for me to check it out. (Of course, she said yes!) I don't recall it being particularly racy - but I did love it! And, even if I hadn't been allowed to check it out, I would've spent some time in the stacks reading it!

Banning books isn't going to stop them from being read. If you want to read a banned book, it would be nearly impossible to NOT find it. And, if you find it - you're going to read it!

Fear is the motivation behind book banning. With parents in particular - the fear of losing control over their children. Well... as a parent with grown children, I can categorically state - you will eventually lose control! And, those children will have their own ideas, they'll make up their own minds, and they will live their own lives. However, if you want to be a part of that process - reading these books alongside your children & discussing the ideas found within will do more to cultivate understanding and to forward the education and enlightenment of our kids.

Book banning - I'm agin' it!

Banned Books in a Dystopian World

There's a reason why there are so many banned books in dystopian worlds. In fact, if you look at dystopian lit, a lot of times one of the first things mentioned in world building is banned books.

FAHRENHEIT 451: Books of all kinds are banned--in fact, Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books are burned, hence the title.

DELIRIUM: Only approved works are allowed to be read--and often books are interpreted differently from how we look at them now, such as ROMEO AND JULIET, which in this world is considered a tale of warning about the madness love brings.

MATCHED: While grandparents might recall some banned works fondly, the kids being raised in this society are kept sheltered from literature so much that there is a list of 100 approved poems...and those are the only ones acceptable to read.

And on and on and on. Sometimes, it's simply a matter that the characters don't have time to read--they're too busy fighting to save the world. But in many, many cases, books and literature of all kinds are targeted specifically by the government and banned...often times with the caveat that reading such banned literature will result in your death--or worse.

So why are banned books so often wearing a bright red-and-white target symbol on their covers in dystopian worlds?

Because books are dangerous.

Look at that pile of bound paper on your bookshelf. Every single page is a bullet, every cover a holster. Books are possibly the most dangerous weapon in the world.

Because books are ideas.

Every book--the ones you love, the ones you hate, the ones you love to hate--every book has ideas in it. Every word, every comma, every "the end." Ideas. Ideas. There are so many ideas that they leak off the page and right into your head. There are the ideas the author intends to write. There are the ideas that author didn't intend to write, but are still there. There are the ideas that the reader thinks of as he's reading. There are the ideas the reader thinks of for long afterwards, little seeds of ideas that plant themselves in the gray matter of your brain and grow and grow and grow and grow and never, ever quit.

And ideas are dangerous.

That--that--is why books are banned in dystopian worlds.

And honestly? It's why books are banned in the real world, too.

People--not all people, but some very narrow-minded, angry, scared people--they know that ideas are dangerous. And they don't want people thinking them. It might be because they disagree with that idea and don't want that idea to grow like a tree in other people's minds. It might be because they just don't like ideas at all. But either way, the simple fact remains. When book-banners attack books, they aren't attacking the paper or the ink. That would be silly. They are attacking the ideas. Book-banners are idea-banners. Thought-banners. Individuality-banners.


And that is why I fight them. That is why they are wrong. That is why I will never be in favor of banning books.

Because I love ideas.

Is Dystopia Too Bleak?

As an author of a dystopian novel, I've been thinking a lot about the genre, and the topics and content in post-apocalyptic novels.

Sometimes I see people talking about how bleak these types of novels are. Depressing, sometimes. Is this true?

Yes and no.

I find people fascinating. There are so many differences, from what books we like to what we find attractive, to what we believe. Difference is what makes each of us unique; it's what gives the world spice.

Because, really, one person’s idea of a perfect, ideal existence is often another person’s nightmare.

Dystopian novels examine these differences. They peer into what makes us different, and they peel back the layers of what we believe. Each person will get something different from each dystopian tale, because they have the opportunity to apply it to their own lives, in their own unique situation.

And to me, that's a very good thing.

Do you think dystopian novels are too bleak? What do you see in them?

Adaptations we've loved and loathed

Like everyone else in the world, I’m reading George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series right now. (I’m on number 3, Storm of Swords.)  You think I’m kidding about the everyone else part? I09  reported that Martin boosted August book sales pretty much by himself.  In my local library system, every single book of the series in every format (even on Overdrive) had a very long waiting period.  It’s not really a surprise: HBO series plus long-awaited 5th book = big sales of all books.  And now that the series got 13 nominations, and several Emmy wins, the wait at the library just got longer.

I’ve only seen 1.5 episodes of the HBO series, but it was enough to make me want to read the book. And now that I’ve read the first book, the series seems like a very good adaptation—which is a relief. I do plan to watch the rest once it hits Netflix.

On the other hand, I cannot watch True Blood. I’m a huge Charlaine Harris fan, but I hate how much Alan Ball has strayed from the books. I understand his rationale, but still. (And please, some of these new plots seem to come straight out of the bad arcs of Dark Shadows.)

So I hope some of the dystopian adaptations planned for the near future ( cough, Hunger Games) don’t stray too awfully from the originals.   I loved Jeanne Duprau’s Ember series but the movie, which bore only a passing resemblance to the first book, seriously sucked.

What are some of your favorite and/or least favorite adaptations of science fiction / fantasy books?

Winner of Marianna Baer's FROST

Thanks so much to everyone for making Marianna feel so at home last week!  We got a great turn out for her post and now the random number generator has chosen a winner of a signed copy of FROST. And the winner is....

Catherine Stine!

Congrats Catherine! I'll send you an email through your websites contact form to get your details.

I know as Fall approaches I'm dying for a good scare. Reading Stephen King's It right now (maybe not his best but it's the one I find the most unsettling for some reason) and have Frost queued up and ready to go.

What about you all? Any horror fans out there? I love a good eerie scare and always appreciate recommendations!

Hidden venom

I get Real Simple's Daily Thought in my email every morning. This morning's thought was:

"The more hidden the venom, the more dangerous it is." ~ Marguerite De Valois

It made me think of villains. Some who come specifically to mind... Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons, Cousin Bette in the book of the same name by Balzac, and even Caroline Bingley in Pride & Prejudice (in her treatment of Jane) is a creature with hidden venom.

Villains who appear honorable on the surface are far more frightening than villains who are unquestionably evil (like Voldemort!)

Which do you prefer? The outright evil villain or the inner venomous one? Which one frightens you more? Which is easier to hate?

A Fate Worse Than Death

One day I'll quit talking about DOCTOR WHO. Today is not that day.

I'd forgotten that not all victories are about saving the universe. --Rory 
One of the main characters mentioned this in the latest episode, and it really struck a chord with me. It got me thinking about the things I find most memorable in books.

And it's not the big battle at the end. It's not slaying the dragon, or throwing the ring in Mordor, or defeating Voldemort.

It's the small things.

I felt more triumph, as a reader, when the father and son share a Coke in Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, than at any other moment in the book. Such a small detail--a small victory--but a meaningful one.  Harry's confession of love for Ginny--an action that terrified him--made me cheer more than his triumph over Voldemort. When Tris jumped onto the train for the first time, my heart was racing more than when she started the revolution in DIVERGENT.

I'm not sure why the little battles are sometimes so much more important to me than the big ones. Perhaps it's because I've got a fairly certain idea that the hero will win the big fight--but it's never for sure he'll win all the little ones. Or perhaps it has more to do with the fact that I will face the little battles myself much more than the big ones. I've felt the fear of confessing love, the desire to have something rare, the decision to do something stupid and dangerous just because I could. Maybe it's the little battles that remind me of me.

It's Great To Be Back!

Dude, so it turns out that organizing and attending WriteOnCon, starting back to school, and editing a 90,000 word book won't kill you.

It will, however, make you feel a bit absent from the blogosphere. While I've been off doing other stuff, I've had guest posters here on the League (and weren't they awesome??), but now I'm back!

So tell me. What did I miss? What's new in the science fiction and dystopian world? What are you reading or watching that I need to catch up on? (I did just finish the first and only season of Firefly. FAB! I even liked the movie, Serenity.)

Too Many Closets

In this week’s Genreville, authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith shared something very disturbing.  In a nutshell, these co-authors of a yet unpublished dystopia YA novel were offered representation for this novel—on the condition that they drop or make straight a gay character.   The post stirred up some mighty interesting discussion about how / if gatekeepers (agents, editors, etc.) may be straightening and whitening YA fiction.   (Go read their post. I09 also covered it. I love their title: "Top literary agent says it's not okay to be gay after the Apocalypse.")

By weird serendipity, I watched the Celluloid Closet this week. (It’s one of Current’s 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die).  And guess what it’s about.  Gatekeepers—this time in Hollywood—preventing open and honest depictions of gay and lesbian characters.

Here’s a clip:

One of my favorite parts of the doc is when Gore Vidal (screenwriter of Ben Hur and many other films) explains how Ben Hur was shot as a love story between Ben Hur and Masala.  The director and Steven Boyd (who played Masala) were in on it, but they didn’t tell Charlton Heston. ;)

Anyway, the important point many of the interviewees—such as Susie Bright, Armistead Maupin, and Harvey Fierstein—made is that everyone looks for themselves in movies.  When you don’t see yourself reflected on the screen—or what you are is made out to be evil or less than human—you feel invisible or even that something is wrong with you. 

The same holds true for fiction—YA fiction, in particular.  If teens don't see themselves reflected in the worlds we create, what are they going to think about themselves? What are straight white kids going to think about people unlike them?  Just like Hollywood, the publishing industry influences how straight kids think about gay ones, and how gay ones think about themselves.

I should add that my experience with my editor and agent has been just the opposite of Brown and Smith's.  One of the main characters in Memento Nora is gay, and no one ever mentioned it let alone suggested that I change her in any way.

What do you guys think? Is there a YA Fiction Closet?

New addition: Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe refutes Brown and Smith's claims. Thanks, Charity for the link.

Win a Signed Copy of Marianna Baer's FROST!

Hi Everyone! I'd like you all to meet Marianna Baer, author of Frost. She was nice enough to stop by to answer some questions and giveaway a signed copy of her novel! 
Hi Marianna! First off tell us a little about the book.

Frost is the story of two 17-year old girls -- Leena Thomas and Celeste Lazar -- who are roommates in a potentially haunted dorm at a New England boarding school. I say "potentially," because the girls are definitely haunted, but I'm not going to tell you whether it's by the house itself, or by their own internal demons. It's a creepy, psychological, modern Gothic novel. 
Since you are now officially a ghost expert with the publication of this book give us the low down. Real or not? Have a good ghost story of your own you can share with us?
Unfortunately, I myself have never lived in a haunted house. But I've heard enough stories from credible sources that I do believe houses can contain certain energies, left by past (and passed) residents. All of my personal experiences with the paranormal have involved ESP, that sort of thing. For example, one time I had a dream that my roommate's friend (someone I'd never met, but had heard about) was in the hospital and we went to visit her. There was absolutely no reason I should have dreamt about this girl I'd never met, so I told my roommate about the dream in a, "Isn't this strange?" context. About an hour or two later my roommate got a phone call: her friend had been hit by a car and was in the hospital. I'm sure some people would say this was a random coincidence, but I don't think so. And I've had too many other experiences that make me think there are lots of things going on around us and in our brains that we don't understand.
Since you're the only person I've ever met who actually went to boarding school you're also an official expert on that now. It sounds so cool. What was that experience like and how did it  feed into the writing of Frost?

I absolutely loved it. Not that I didn't have my share of emotional trauma, but I had wonderful friends and (truly) incredible teachers, and immensely enjoyed the whole living-in-a-dorm thing. Most years I lived in medium-sized dorms, but my senior year I lived with several of my closest friends in the real Frost House, a quirky little Victorian house on the edge of campus. There was a faculty member with an apartment in the house, but she was pretty hands off, so it felt like we were living on our own most of the time. Once I started writing YA, I knew that I wanted to write about girls in a similar situation. It provides such natural tension, the fact that you don't go home from school at night. If things aren't going well, there's no escape. If things are going well, it's the most fun ever.
So you're a grad from Vermont College's writing program. Can you tell us a little about the experience. Any particular words or wisdom or key lessons you learned while you were there?

How long do you have, Jeff? :) Seriously, when I start talking about VCFA I can get a bit long-winded.  For those who don't know, it's a low-residency program, which means that I went to the campus in VT five times over two years, for 10-day residencies with the other students and faculty. The rest of the time, I was working from home with an advisor. I'd send monthly "packets" of critical and creative writing, and would get feedback in letter form and sometimes over the phone.

The experience was life-changing. Finding myself in a community of people who were as passionate about children's literature as I was was incredible. The residencies were intense -- non-stop lectures, readings, workshops, dance parties... And the faculty -- which includes many award-winning authors, like Rita Williams-Garcia, Kathi Appelt, and Martine Leavitt -- are so generous and supportive.  My graduating class of sixteen included wonderful writers such as Carol Lynch Williams (The Chosen One), Jandy Nelson (The Sky is Everywhere), and Trent Reedy (Words in the Dust).

I think one of the major skills I acquired was how to read like a writer. How to evaluate what about a book is pulling me in or pushing me out of the narrative. And how to read my own work in a similar way.

Holy crap! Barack Obama bought your book! What was it like for you when you saw that?

My reaction was total denial (I still don't believe it actually happened. Literally.) combined with, "Who cares if it actually happened??! My name is in an article about PRESIDENT OBAMA!!! My. Name. With. Obama's. Name. Together! As long as we both shall live!!!!!!!!" And I smiled a lot.
What's next for you? Is there a new book on the horizon we can look forward to?

I'm working on a new YA novel, unrelated to Frost, called Immaculate. It's about a 15-year old girl in Brooklyn who is pregnant, but says she's a virgin. It will be published by Balzer+Bray, as well, so I'm fortunate to be working with my editor Kristin Daly Rens again. Yay!
Lastly, can you tell us five things readers might not know about you?

1. I’m terrible with wheels. I haven’t driven a car for years, but when I did, I endangered everyone in a three-mile radius. When I try to ride a bike, my life flashes before my eyes. And don’t even ask what happened the one time I rode an ATV!
2. I’m a sucker for beautiful clothes. One of my favorite museums in NYC is the gallery at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
3. Despite being somewhat shy, I have no problem taking over the dance floor if the right music is playing.
4. Since childhood, many of my friends have called me Mair, meaning they also sometimes call me the extremely mature sounding “Mair Baer.” (Rhymes with Care Bear.)
5. I own a broken skateboard made of fried pork skin. I’ll let you wonder why.

Thanks for coming by Marianna!
To enter a drawing for a signed copy of Marianna's FROST, just leave us a comment below! If you have a good ghost story, share that too!

Cleverbot - Who'd a thunk?

Ummm... okay - this is quite interesting.

And, yes, you can have an actual conversation with Cleverbot. Not that all of it will make sense - and if you're not an adult, be sure to get parental permission and don't be surprised at what Cleverbot says. But... yeah... talking to a bot... not as cool as C3PO, but it's a step in that direction, right?

What do you think? Are you ready to spend conversation time with a robot? Do you find it odd, or slightly disturbing? Or super-cool?

Sci Fi: A New Golden Age

Sorry for the delay in posting this--I thought I'd scheduled it, but apparently goofed!

I recently read an article by author Sherwood Smith entitled "The Problem of Kids and Sci Fi." You should totally read it if you've not--she mentions a really neat sci fi book that I'm going to check out. But she also says that:
Fantasy was by far the biggest genre among those who were eager readers. When I’d prompt about why they didn’t read sf, I’d get the wrinkled nose, and it’s boring or it’s too hard.
Some digging led me to the conclusion that the old formula—the joy of a garage chemistry lab, or building a space ship in the back yard—had totally lost its appeal. That book is about kids doing science homework. Who cares?
Her point was the old school sci fi typically involved a group of teens who were actively pursuing science, and that led them to adventure. That formula is certainly rarer--when was the last time you read about a group of teens whose science project led to the plot of a sci fi novel? The only one that comes to mind for me is Bruce Coville's My Teacher is an Alien series--and that is both on the older side and a MG novel, not YA.

Sherwood Smith posits that YA sci fi is more often distinguished by romance--these days, you can't seem to have YA without at least a hint of romance, no matter what the subgenre. And--sadly--she had a valid point here. It is more typical than not that YA must involve some sort of romantic undertones at the very least.

But I don't think it's the romance that distinguishes YA sci fi these days. Instead, I think it's a shift in genre.

In adult sci fi--and in YA sci fi of the old days--science was the driving force of the plot. But in modern YA, science is a part of the setting, with some other element--romance, mystery, adventure--being the driving force of the plot.

What are some new YA sci fi titles that you're looking forward to? Do they use science as a setting or a driving force of the plot?

How To Survive the Edit Letter

Okay, my feathered friends, today we've got another guest blogger! Welcome Shari Arnold, who's here to help you curb your, manage your edit letter.


How To Survive the Edit Letter:

I know, I know. We're not supposed to talk about it. It's one of the mysteries of the publishing world, an essential part of how a book becomes a book. And everyone does it. I mean, without edits the libraries and bookstores would be empty. Books would not exist.

But for those of you wondering how to get from point A (the revision you finished a month ago) to point B (the re-revision you need to finish a month from now) here are a few suggestions:

1. Read the letter and then take some time to ignore it.
Seriously. Banish it. Hide it in a dark corner where you can't see its beady little eyes berating you and your tell-not-show self. It's important to let your editor's suggestions, questions, and comments sink in before you write her that email that explains how you JUST CAN'T MAKE IT ANY BETTER!

2. Don't Send The Email.
I know you want to write it. I know you've probably saved the draft and you'll continue to add a new excuse every few minutes (the excuses get better the longer you sit at the computer). I can even tell you exactly what your opening lines will be: I DO TOO KNOW MY CHARACTERS! Ask me anything! I could even tell you what song my MC is listening to AT THIS VERY MINUTE!

3. Do the character study.
Believe me. You don't always know the answers. And when you finally do, your characters will come alive, jump off the page and dance around your room. And it's okay to dance with them. They're just as excited to be alive.

4. Plotting and Pacing aren't here to hurt you.
You may think you've got it all figured out because your mom, best friend, and your two amazing critique partners love your book and tell you you're fabulous, but it's your editor's job to make your book better. And you want it to be better. You do. If you don't believe me, go ask Goodreads.

5. New scenes are like rainbows and unicorns.
Now that you know your characters, and you've been told exactly where the readers are going to drop off like flies, it's time to write some new stuff.

And that's the fun part. Remember this. It's very important.

Writing is what you love. You love to write.

Because you do. If you didn't you wouldn't be sitting all alone at a computer, making stuff up in your head, while the rest of the world is living and breathing reality.

So go write.

Oh. And chocolate helps. I recommend Junior Mints.

Shari Arnold is the author of MYSTIQUE coming Fall 2012 from Chronicle Books. Check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.


Thanks, Shari! Those of you who've done major revisions, is she right or what? Don't we often just need a few days away from a critique in order to incorporate it? My vote is yes.

Back-to-School Reading

Okay, Labor Day (and summer) has come and gone, and the kids are back at school.  And you know what that means? New books.

Me, I've got Goliath by Scott Westerfeld pre-ordered.

Amazon blurb:
Alek and Deryn are on the last leg of their round-the-world quest to end World War I, reclaim Alek’s throne as prince of Austria, and finally fall in love. The first two objectives are complicated by the fact that their ship, the Leviathan, continues to detour farther away from the heart of the war (and crown). And the love thing would be a lot easier if Alek knew Deryn was a girl. (She has to pose as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service.) And if they weren’t technically enemies. 

The tension thickens as the Leviathan steams toward New York City with a homicidal lunatic on board: secrets suddenly unravel, characters reappear, and nothing is at it seems in this thunderous conclusion to Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant trilogy.

So what are you looking forward to this fall?  (You have, of course, already bought The Eleventh Plague, right?)

Eleventh Plague Giveaway Winners!!

Hi all!

Thanks again for making my launch week so fantastic! I was just thrilled with the response to the big signed Eleventh Plague giveaway.  Speaking of which....

The winners are...

Safari Poet


Jill of the O.W.L 

Congrats guys and thanks for entering! Jill if you could comment with your email I'll contact you and get your mailing address to send the book. Safari, I saw your email and will be in touch soon.

So how's everyone doing post Labor Day weekend? Mourning the end of summer? Grudgingly re-entering the real world? 

A bit on writing through the rough patches

"The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it." ~Jules Renard, "Diary," February 1895

I'm working on a new novel - which is a good thing. At this moment, however, it's not motoring along lickety-split and flowing out of my fingertips. So - what's a girl to do?

I have found, that in writing, as in life - the best thing to do is "keep on, keepin' on." (Thank you Gladys & Pips!)

What that means for me is to keep on writing even when it's far from perfect and I don't think I'll ever find my way back to the story. But, you know what? Eventually I see what's NOT working and am able to noodle out what IS working.

It might seem like wasted time - but, I guarantee, no writing is wasted. It might not be used in a story, but it's like being on a path that suddenly disappears. You have your direction - you keep on moving towards it - and eventually you find the path again. The steps you took on the pathless ground were just as important in getting to your destination as the ones on the path.

Now I must beat a path to the day job!
What sort of tools do you have in your writing box to get through rough patches? I'd love to know!

Who Would You Be?

One of the first things you'll notice about Atlanta is the upswing of strangely dressed people walking everywhere. Dragon*Con is famous for the costumes, and it is no wonder--I've never seen such amazingly well done costumes before!

Which leads me to ask: who would YOU dress up as?

Steampunk definitely ruled the con!
Can't go wrong with a classic Wolverine and Rogue

You don't actually have to BE a character--a space suit and blaster is more than enough!

There was a surprising number of Disney Princesses (and Princess Friends) this year.

That Dalek? IS the costume. There's a person in there, making it move!

And, of course, anime! Here's Inuyasha, my fave anime character ever.

This is just a SMALL sample of all the fantastic costumes I saw at Dragon*Con! I, unfortunately didn't end up dressing up..but I'm starting to think it might be fun to do that next year!

So guys: what would YOU dress up for a day as? Or, if you've been to Dragon*Con (or any con) what was the best costume you saw someone else dressed as?

The Eleventh Plague: Giveaway and Video!

Regular blog post didn't seem quite fitting so I did a little video to express my thanks to all you awesome Leaguers!

If you didn't get a chance to watch the video, here's the upshot. Leave me a little comment below for a chance to won 1 of 2 signed hardcovers of The Eleventh Plague!

And if you don't get a book on the giveaway, don't forget you can always order here, here, or for the more indie minded here.

Eleventh Plague: How to Survive the Collapse

The Eleventh Plague takes place a generation after the Collapse.  This happened after the Chinese released P11 (aka the Eleventh Plague) which killed a significant portion of the world's population.   There weren't enough people left to keep basic services going.  Power grid: gone. Communication: gone. Government: gone.

In Jeff's fantastic book, the main character's family has survived by becoming roving scavengers, while others have done so by banding together into communities. Both groups, though, have to make do with what they find (or grow).

Let's say the Collapse happened tomorrow. What would you use to survive? There are many, many lists on the internet about stocking up on food and emergency supplies. (And weapons.) But, most of us aren't going to do that.  We're going to make do with what's around us.  And, I don't know about you, but I live in city neighborhood with a natural foods co-op, a cupcake store, coffee shop, old theater, and a hybrid car on every block. So I looked for some ingenious survival tips that kind of fit a more modern urban-hipster (or suburban) lifestyle. (Not that I'm modern, urban, or hip, mind you.)

1. Turn your Prius into a generator .  During one of our recent snowmaggedon's, an intrepid guy ran his refrigerator, freezer, woodstove fan, and lights for three days on five gallons of gas.  (For some reason, blogger doesn't like this link. The address is )

2. Make survival gear out of Ikea products The Ikea Hackers show you have to make a firestarter out of a coathanger, a wine rack, and some ornamental doo-dads.

3. Use Craig's List to Barter for Future Currency Items  Think cigarettes, chocolate, booze, and other things that will be scarce. (Obviously do this before the sh*t hits the fan.) Your bartering skills will also useful after the Collapse when you'll be using cash for kindling your Ikea product fire.

4. Build a shelter out of a gas or oil truck.  After you steal it for the last of the fuel to run your Prius generator, you can clean this puppy out and build an apartment inside. Which might be useful if you need to flee the city.

5. Buy a Survival Ball.  If you think the above are too much trouble--and you have the cash, why not spring for this comfy looking survival suit / home to weather the Collapse?

Ok, you got me. The last one isn't real. (But this one is.) The Survival Ball is a product of the Yes Men.  Here's a clip from the documentary Yes Men Fix the World where they try to sell the idea to Halliburton:

btw, Halliburton took it totally seriously.

Your turn. Any ingenious survival tips you'd like to share? What would you use to survive the Collapse?