Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Read Banned Books

It's important for writers, educators, and book lovers to make our voices heard not just during Banned Books Week, but anytime books are threatened; we're not just protecting books for ourselves, but for generations to come. There is so much danger in this world, and we shouldn't teach our children that books, that ideas and cultures and beliefs different than our own, are part of that.

I credit books for molding me into who I am today - not just a teacher and a writer, but someone in love with ideas, someone hungry for rich worlds not found outside my window, a person curious about ideas not normally championed by the masses. Who would I be if someone else had closed the curtains on the worlds I grew up with and silenced the voices that whispered to me when I felt alone?

I looked at the list of the top 100 books banned during the 90s. I was in school then and wondered what books I might have missed if book banning had been allowed to impact me. On the list were books that always are: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Wrinkle in Time. But there were two books on the list that had a profound impact on me when I first read them. One was Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. I read this book at a time when I wasn't sure it was okay to be me, when I was embarrassed about normal biological changes that were outside of my control. I read this at a time when the world said I should be ashamed. The book made me cringe, made me laugh, but above all, the book showed me that I was not alone in what I was feeling. I needed that more than anything.

Another was On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer. I was shocked to find this on the list because I felt that this book belonged just to me. I think I was in sixth grade when my grandmother gave me this book. It was the first signed book I ever owned, and the first time I realized that authors were real people, not larger-than-life immortals who lived on some distant mountain. The book is about a boy who watches his friend drown, and it was the first book I remember making me cry. I've read this book again and again, and I sobbed each and every time.

We need to prevent our children from embracing hatred and ignorance. We must teach them to ask questions, to listen to diverse voices, and to work for a better world. We can do this in part by allowing them to read that which speaks to them.

Let's not snatch books out of the hands of our children. Who knows what they'll pick up to replace them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Running on Empty

I am currently in between revisions and feeling a bit antsy without something to work on. I must do more research before I start revisions on my most current draft, so I’ve been reading and thinking and pacing and wallowing for the last week or so. And then on a whim, I picked up an old copy of The Southern Review and read a few poems.

And the words flowed. I grabbed the closest notebook I could find and started writing. Within ten minutes, I felt better than I have in weeks. I remembered why I love writing so much. My pen couldn’t fly across the paper fast enough. The words weren’t beautiful (yet), but they were quick and easy and focused. In ten minutes I had added depth to a character that had, at times, felt flat in my draft.

And I realized that during the last six months, I had completely emptied myself out during revisions and hadn’t devoted enough time to filling back up.

As a runner, I know better. During long runs I take in extra calories in order to replenish what is lost. If I don't, I crash and burn. I would never run eighteen miles or more without fueling properly before, during, and after.

The same should be true for my writing. Writing empties us. As we write, we pour ourselves onto the page, wringing out like a dishrag. After doing that for months, I was dry.

In order to create, to empty out our souls, and to do it continuously over a long period of time, we must fuel properly. Read. Don’t just read in your genre, either. Read outside your comfort zone. Read poetry and absorb its music. Listen to its cadence so that your prose will have rhythm and beauty. Get drunk on someone else’s words.

And observe. Sit in the silence and enjoy a sunset. Take a walk and notice that which you bustled past only the day before. Breathe the world in so you can exhale it onto the page at just the right moment.

Listen. Watch. Absorb. You can’t run on empty forever.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review of Jessica Spotswood's The Cahill Witch Chronicles

The Cahill Witch Chronicles

I don’t normally review books. I read the heck out of them, but it’s rare for me to do much other than fangirl over them on Twitter and bully random strangers into reading them. But I had to make an exception for the Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood. As a reader, I hope more publishers buy books like this; as a writer, I hope to create my own.

The Cahill Witch Chronicles (Born Wicked, Star Cursed, and Sisters’ Fate) tell the story of the Cahill sisters, Kate, Maura, and Tess. They live in an alternate New England where witchcraft is illegal and the Brotherhood oversee the moral lives of citizens. The sisters are, of course, witches. Their mother, also a witch, heard a prophecy prior to her death that said one of the sisters would be a great oracle and that one of the sisters would kill another one. The story deals with the three sisters trying to live in a world where their very existence is forbidden while also trying not to kill each other.

The portrayal of strong women is what makes these books so wonderful. All three books are populated with amazing women who are independent in their own way. These girls are smart, brave, tough, cunning, and funny. Some love fashion and others don’t. Some are sweet and quiet while others are brazen. And yet no set of characteristics is treated as the “right one.” There is no “not like other girls” trope. The characters are flawed and fallible and still wonderfully strong and varied. There are amazing friendships between these women too. They support one another. They realize they are wrong about each other without requiring the other person to change. They relish their independence and allow others to do the same.

I know this is less a review and more of a fangirl flail, and I’m okay with that. Each book is satisfying on its own, but the story arc over the course of the trilogy is a thing of beauty. The writing is solid and the world-building is incredibly well-done. There is romance, of course, (and really swoony kisses), but the stories are so much more than that. The characters are so much more than that. Spotswood has crafted wonderful stories about strong, supportive women who take pride in who they are. They also have supportive love interests who share that pride. I adore Finn so very much, and I love that Cate and Finn can fall for each other while still allowing the other person to remain autonomous.

You need to read these books. If I were you, I’d just block a few days off on the calendar because I’m pretty sure you won’t get much done once you start. I didn’t.