Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three Words Can Change the World: A Banned-Book Review

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Although Guy Montag, the main character of
Fahrenheit 451, comes to loathe burning, I can tell you that this book, one of the first banned books I ever read, is truly a pleasure to read. In picking it up to review for... well, this review, I was struck by the beauty in the writing, in the power of the connections between characters. Since there are numerous reviews of this classic book out there, I thought I’d tell you about my connections to this book, to the clarity of purpose I found when, as a much younger person, I first met Clarisse McClellan.

“Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity.”


Guy Montag, a fireman in the somewhat distant future, whose purpose is to burn outlawed books, has never before met someone like Clarisse, someone who talks and thinks, who questions, who truly lives every moment rather than hiding behind meaningless distractions. He is in awe of her strangeness and moved by her, but never so truly as when she dares to ask him, “Are you happy?”


Three small words that change Montag’s future in both wonderful and horrible ways, for what could be worse than seeing the hollowness in a broken reality? And yet, without seeing the broken, how could Montag wake up, how could any of us wake up?


The power in this banned book is so clear, when looking around at our world, at the ways we don’t prioritize with any good sense. The ways we allow toys and distractions to keep us from conversations and awareness. If people were to answer honestly the question, “Are you happy?” I’d bet they’d answer, “I am busy.” Three small words that prove a lifetime of running from place to place, missing so much while the sand pools beneath the glass.


Do you breathe? Do you rest? Do you see? Do you smile? Do you read? Are you awake? Are you alive? Do you regret? Are you honest? Do you wonder? Will you try?


Are
you happy?

Clarisse is the catalyst for great change, for characters and the humans who love them. Read
Fahrenheit 451, the banned book that changed my life. Maybe it can change yours, too.

Be sure to check out the other blogs reviewing banned books. The master list is at Tehereh Mafi's blog. :)

Quote for the Day from
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“What do you do, go around trying everything once?” he asked.


“Sometimes twice.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Contest #1 Winner and Contest #2 Announcement

Congratulations to Carolina Valdez Miller, the winner of my first ever contest. She will soon be receiving the first three books in Alyson Noel’s Immortals Series. I wish her very happy reading.

But the contests aren’t over. Contest #2 starts now and ends at midnight on Sunday, October 3rd. The lucky winner will receive two very different books (both YA... go figure).


For a book you won’t be able to put down, I submit The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, and for a very sweet and imaginative book that will help you recover from the emotional exhaustion of your harrowing journey in the forest (yeah, there’s zombies in there), I submit The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry. How about that. :)

Same rules apply for this contest and include:


1 entry for commenting on this post
+2 for becoming a follower (+3 if you are already a follower)
+2 for tweeting about this contest
+2 for posting or linking to this contest on your blog/website/Facebook

Entries close at midnight Sunday, and I’ll randomly choose the winner. I’ll post the winner on Monday, October 4th, and email for the address. The contest is open to bloggers in the United States and Canada.

And check back on Thursday. I’m participating in the Banned Book Week Blogging Event by reviewing my favorite banned book. If you want to participate, get on over to
Tahereh Mafi’s blog and sign up on the master list. Gotta show those banned books some love this week (and every other week, if you ask me).

Quote for the Day from Groucho Marx

“I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment: Writing Compelling Characters

This event was just too tempting to resist. So, my strategy for writing compelling characters goes like this: Go All In. Go to the depths of your characters, seek out what they are hiding from you, the truths that excite their senses, the things they wish they had enough dare to achieve. My characters always surprise me with the simple moments, the ones where their cores are laid bare, and it is in those moments where they compel the heck out of me; that’s where the chance lives for them to connect with others.

Don’t miss out on my book giveaway below, or here.

Check out all the other participants in the The Great Blogging Experiment here.

Quote for the Day from Maria Robinson

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Isn't it about Time for a Contest?

My trusty blog is nearing its year anniversary, and I thought that we’d commemorate that momentous occasion by sharing some treasures, namely books. I’ve never had a contest/book giveaway, so this is very exciting... but I’m sure you’d love it if I cut to the chase and tell you what there is to win.

For this week, to one lucky winner, I’m giving away the first three books in Alyson Noel’s Immortals Series: Evermore, Shadowland, and Blue Moon. How’s that for a big score? And what could be better since the fourth book, Dark Flame, is in bookstores now? And Ms. Noel still wins for having the best main character name: Ever.


So, to enter this contest, here’s the specs:


1 entry for commenting on this post
+2 for becoming a follower (+3 if you are already a follower)
+2 for tweeting about this contest
+2 for posting or linking to this contest on your blog/website/Facebook


Entries close at midnight Sunday, and I’ll randomly choose the winner. I’ll post the winner on Monday, September 27, and email for the address. The contest is open to bloggers in the United States and Canada.


Check back soon, because in the coming weeks, I’ll be giving away other books, including a copy of Paranormalcy and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. :)


Quote for the Day from Anna Quindlen


“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Hope Patrol

That’s Hope Patrol, not Snow Patrol, but I understand why it might be fun to think of them too, and, honestly, I’d love it if Chasing Cars were the soundtrack to this little post. Anyway, it’s time to talk about my dream for the world. That’s right—I have a dream. And it is the creation of the Hope Patrol.

You see, I believe that in all the media flying at us, there is an absence of (you guessed it) hope. Nope, you won’t find it on the news or during cop shows or most reality TV, not in the lives of most celebrities, and lately not in books either. I’m seeing a trend toward the hopeless and I find it... well, rather discouraging (go figure).


And why is hope so important? Mostly because without it, life feels a bit hopeless. In a nation where “The number of Americans using antidepressants doubled in only a decade...” according to this
article, we really need to take a long, hard look at what we’re feeding out minds.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that we need a Hope Censorship program to root out all the hopeless in our midst, but I do believe we need to be aware of what we support and that our support does lead to programming and publishing decisions.


Recently, while reading a book from the hopeless section, I actually had the thought that, inside the world of the story, the annihilation of the human race appeared to be a good thing, because there was nothing good or worthy worth saving. That is NOT my belief about the world at all. I’m all happy and shiny and think people are fabulous (not all of them, but the significant majority), and in reading this book and another I read recently, I just have to wonder what the authors hope (that word seems wrong here) the readers take away from their work. Maybe they don’t care, but I really think they do. In creating hopelessness to share with others, are they serving their purpose? Does it make them happy to depress people? Now, don’t misunderstand; I’m as guilty as the next writer in having written some very sad stuff (friends still haven’t forgiven me), but what I’m talking about is not sadness or the realities of how hard human existence can be. I’m not saying we can’t write about the way life is or that we should shine it up into a fake sugar sweetness, but stories without hope, without any light, I just don’t get what good they serve.


The truth is I read a lot, and I really do wish there could be a Hope Patrol rating on books to save me from getting mired in hopeless fiction. It might seem silly to worry about such things, but in transitioning into a truly happy content person who is filled with acceptance for the world, I’ve found the need to eliminate the ugliness (where possible).


A friend of mine once took a positive thinking course, and the first guidance was to quit watching the news and quit feeding on the fear messages they dole out from their soft-serve machine of negativity (uh oh, now I’m thinking about soft-serve... yikes, but it’s a totally hopeful, happy thought all the same).


I’ve done that. No news for me (which is completely against what I’ve always believed). Television is another source of consistent negativity and hopelessness (after all, every episode seems to begin with someone being murdered or all the other ugliness inherent in man's inhumanity to man), and that had to go. The weird thing is that as soon as I quit watching television (fiction shows, not bull riding), the body image issues I’ve dealt with all my life faded and I suddenly could accept myself for exactly what I look like without any lingering self-loathing. Total score. Life changing.


And now, I’m doing the same thing with what I read, because I’m all about hope for all of us. For our planet. For all the people who live here. We are all connected, and it’s time we wake up and see that.


So, if you’d like to help out with the Hope Patrol, you can do the following things: a) write exquisite books with a heaping dose of hope inside (that I hereby promise to buy); b) let me know your favorite books that contain hope so that I don’t have to muck around in unnecessary hopelessness; and c) buy more balloons with unicorns on them so that when I see you carrying them, I’ll smile in hopeful glee.


Quote for the Day from a French Proverb


“Hope is the dream of a soul awake.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Accepting When Bad Things Come Calling

The past week or so has been a rough patch. And even though the outcome is mostly positive (at least in the short term), I’m still reeling a bit, figuring out, healing up, and considering the meaning of everything. Mostly, I’m still thinking about how powerful acceptance really is. Because it’s much more simple to find acceptance when things are just ducky. The un-ducky times are more of a challenge.

Our story begins a week ago Sunday. It was a mostly relaxing day and I was catching up with some correspondence with an old friend. In talking about old times and the stuff from in between, we shared stories of our losses. And we talked about our pets. I am blessed with a border collie/Samoyed mix who is the light of my world. While I was writing about him, he lay underneath my curtains, with his head mostly hidden except his eyes were always on me. Border collies are like that: attentive, aware, insightful. There has never been a time when I was sad, whether I showed any signs of emotion or not, when my Darby hasn’t been right there, trying to make everything better.


By the way, he hates my first book, because a sad event in the book always makes me cry. Every time. Reading it. Editing it. Thinking about it. Sobfest. Decidedly not border collie approved.


So, I was writing about Darby and the fact that he’s getting older, an event that is decidedly not
me approved. And in that moment, I knew something was wrong with Darby. Tears fluttered out, and then Darby knew there was something wrong with me. The rest of the day, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was coming. On Monday morning, I scheduled an appointment with my vet for that evening and I went there knowing I might be insane, but I wanted Darby checked out. His heart sounded good. Temp was fine. Lungs sounded great. They couldn’t find anything wrong. He’d had a cough a few weeks before that had been treated and had only coughed once or twice since, so maybe it was allergies. Nothing really wrong.


I admitted that I’d been putting off his dental visit because I was worried about him being anesthetized. The vet suggested we get that done and he would check for anything that might be wrong with Darby’s throat that might have caused the coughing. Okay. Blood work performed. Appointment set. And then the vet came back in wanting to take an x-ray, just to be sure that nothing was wrong before putting him under. I approved. Darby disappeared into the back, and a few minutes later, the vet returned wanting to take more films because it wasn’t looking good.


I didn’t panic, because I knew... I just didn’t know the specs of the badness.


I heard the vet clearing out all extraneous employees from the back, leaving only himself and a couple vet students, and Darby. They invited me back to look at x-rays that showed a very large mass in Darby’s right lung lobe. I love words, but I don’t remember many that were said, but I do remember Darby, right up in my space, his head forcing my hand to pet him, keeping me focused.


I had options, surgery amongst them. I do remember the vet complimenting me for bringing Darby in when he was alert, active, and symptom free. For that, I thank intuition.


The week that followed is a bit of a blur, but acceptance was the spice of every day. I couldn’t whine about this. I couldn’t rage against the world. Because that would negate the beauty, the absolute gift that Darby is in my life. For all the time I’ve been alone, I never really have been because Darby has always been with me. Acceptance, even of the bad things, is the only way to be truly grateful for what has been. And I can only feel gratitude every time I look at my pup.


Acceptance doesn’t mean there wasn’t sadness, but I really tried to keep the crying to a minimum, which meant only talking about all of this with a few people, and only when Darby was outside. I didn’t want him to think anything was wrong. He had a job to do, and border collies always do their best. And I had a job to do, give him every fighting chance of pulling through, with the best vets and a border collie approved positive attitude.


So, a week later on Wednesday, surgery happened. But not until I’d played with him, taken him to his favorite park, taken pictures of him and some video (in which his sister, a not terribly bright Ridgeback, showed off her inability to play ball, something that vexes Darby greatly), and hugged him and thanked him for every good day. Watching him walk out of my reach and into the back of the vet hospital, knowing there was a chance I wouldn’t see him again, was a struggle, but I did it... and then I cried and went to work.


Wednesday was the longest day of my life. All day, I thought about people who are parents whose children get sick. I can’t imagine what that is like. I love my dog, but I never expected him to go away to college, find a nice girl, settle down, and have a long life. I always knew the realities of puppy life spans. That doesn’t diminish the love, because love is love, but the expectations are so very different. The hurting and the loss are so much greater when children are involved. I still can’t even imagine what an old friend of mine is going through, having lost her twenty-two year-old son. The day, in some ways, was a lesson in compassion, with more than a tinge of empathy.


It was also a day of feeling very alone. I got tripped up on some expectations (I know, I rail against them constantly but still fall prey). I expected the friends I’d told about the surgery to do something, say something, text, email, something, just so I’d know they were with me in this fight, that I wasn’t alone. And other than one friend’s text, there was only silence from the other three. Nothing... from some of the people closest to me in my life, two of whom had known Darby as long as I had. Expectations are things to be fought. I know life is busy. I know people don’t always know what to say and when to say it. It took me over three months to find the words to say to my old friend who lost her son, and I felt like a coward for that fact. And one day doesn’t diminish the extreme value of these friendships. I will accept them for who they are and what they have to give, but in being honest about the day, I needed to admit that silence wasn’t easy company.


And then the call came in: the tumor was too large to get out laparoscopically, and they were going to need to go in through his ribs. I’d get a call in fifteen or twenty minutes. An hour and a half of stomach-clenching lock down followed. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’d accepted that I might not see him again, but the not knowing was agony.


Another call: he was awake and raising his head, but everything sounded wrong. His stats had gone all wonky under anesthesia and they’d almost lost him. His temperature was too low. He’d lost blood. And a bunch of other things leading to the words: critical condition. I was supposed to be there in an hour and a half to see him, and I wondered if he’d still be there when I got there. Driving to the clinic felt like one of those movies where they need to cut the blue wire before the seconds wind down and everybody dies.


The vet talked to me, but his words faded after he said that Darby was doing well. After asking me if I was the squeamish type, the vet excitedly showed me his big score: the tumor. I’m not the squeamish type and found the
show and tell to be pretty fascinating, as were the before and after x-rays. Now you see a tumor; now you don’t.


The vet said that Darby didn’t know I was there. Darby’s whining proved otherwise. The vet clinic staff had put a chair next to Darby’s recovery cage, but I shoved that out of the way and asked if I could just get on the floor. Darby was so excited to see me, his tail went slightly drugged-out crazy and he tried to stand, which I quickly advised against. Getting to rub his ears (my absolute favorite of his many charming attributes) was one of the best moments of my life. I knew we had a long way to go, but I accepted that and just lived in the glory of this good outcome.


Now, he’s home, wrapped up in bandages, still waging his tail every time I talk to him. He waits for me to carry him down the stairs, eats a little when I ask him to, and rests a lot (a very un-border collie thing to do). We go today to get his bandages changed.


I still don’t know what the lab work will say about the tumor and what the months ahead look like, or how many more days I get with my Darby, but I’m grateful to get to rub his ears as much as I like today. I’m grateful that my parents helped out with some of the vet bills (I did mention to the office staff at the vet clinic that I was going to have to tattoo my parents' names on Darby’s behind, like the sponsors on a car in NASCAR). And I'm grateful that a week after discovery, a team of seven trained professionals worked hard to keep Darby alive and make him tumor free (what human patient could ever dream of such a quick turnaround within our medical system?).


And more than anything else, I’m glad I was able to keep the sense of acceptance, even when the bad things came. Life is a beautiful thing, and hardships inspire gratitude and appreciation for all that
is, even when the is nots lurk nearby. A battle or a blessing, life is the thing we all share, and thanks for letting me share this story.


Quote for the Day from me and my vet


Me: “There’s my gladiator puppy.”


Vet: “Yes, he is a gladiator.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Acceptance

After a weekend spent with a dear friend whom I’d lost contact with for more than a decade, the concept of change has been playing around in my mind. And maybe change is the wrong word; maybe evolution would be better. Either way, as years pass and events affect us, we do change, hopefully (though not always) for the better.

When I last saw my friend, I was living in the “stuck” years. And in our conversations, it was difficult to even wrap my brain around how that felt, how I’d come to be so stuck, and why getting unstuck seemed so insurmountable. To be stuck seems like a lifetime from the fluid and free I feel now. But the freedom of now took a very long time to get here, over many tiny changes and different paths. And honestly, I had to endure some of the darkest days to find the place I now inhabit.


Reminiscing weekends can be many things, depending on whether the glory days are behind or in front of us. What I found is that the glory days aren’t behind or in front, or they are behind and in front, because every time in life has something to glory about, even if it was so treacherous as to fuel needed change. The power to get unstuck seems to be easier from a truly yucky point than from a
less than stellar, but not truly great spot. For me, right now, the glory days are every day that I write, every day I serve my purpose, every day I take care of my body, relax, listen, learn.


Over and over in my conversations with my friend, I found writing as the source for the positive changes in my life. The highway marker where perceptions shifted. Where unhealthy friendships ended. Where fights occurred to re-establish boundaries. Where, after many years in absence, self-love happened. All of these changes led to the one major event that has happened just lately, the state of acceptance.


There is such peace in acceptance. So much so that I am in awe of it. It doesn’t mean that life becomes easy, because there are some events in my life right now that are very hard, but acceptance helps to put things in perspective, to be grateful for all the things that are easily forgotten, and to truly take the bad with the good. And a side effect of true acceptance of self is the sudden and seemingly inexplicable acceptance of everybody else (which honestly just feels weird). Really, not getting irritated with other people and accepting them for where they are at feels stranger than waving fingers around in traffic. But it just happened.


However, for as much as I love this acceptance of all things, I know from all that I’ve learned that this, like every other evolutionary stage in our development, is not a fixed point. There will be days of greater or lesser acceptance, days when sniping at the lady with the cart full of food that she wants rung up separately will be necessary for balancing the cosmic scales. There will be days when gratitude goes on the fritz, and acceptance of the difficult and painful events in life will be hard to come by. But even with the wavering nature of the human experience, I’m grateful for the glory of today.


Quote for the Day from “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds


“To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Three Entries for Kiersten White's Paranormalcy Contest

For those of you who haven't heard, and if you haven't then please let me share, that the lovely Kiersten White's first YA novel Paranormalcy came out on Tuesday. That's right, it's in the world. The real question is: is it in your house? If not, a disturbance in the Force is likely. Protect yourself and your loved ones; go get Paranormalcy at all possible speed (but don't actually speed, cause that's dangerous).

Kiersten's having a little contest over at her blog, and I don't normally get into contests (chronically the anti-lucky), but this one was too zany to ignore. Also, Kiersten's warmth and fun, even in the midst of the struggles of life and the publishing industry, just make her the kind of person it's fun to root for. And boy have I been rooting! Friends are being given demerits for slow book procurement (and I'm pretty handy with the guilt too). Oh, and I've been accused of being sadistic as well because when one friend didn't get herself to the store, I told her I'd kill off her favorite character in one of my books. So, maybe I have power issues too, but ah well, the world of blogging has created some amazing friendships for me and in the case of Kiersten, some powerful loyalty and admiration! :)

Okay, the contest: show Paranormalcy out in the world doing new things.

Well, here you go.

Entry One: Paranormalcy Fighting the Good Fight... Against Evil Dentists (okay, my dentist is much too sweet to be evil... but really, look at the size of that needle!)

As much as Paranormalcy tried to stop the impending pain and agony, we eventually did rally our courage and allow dentistry to happen. But Paranormalcy was really with me in my hour of need, and I'll never forget that. (I'll never quit you, Paranormalcy!) :)

Something to understand before scrolling down:

Discerning Border Collies Choose Paranormalcy.

Just look...

Entry Two: (and yes, Darby forced me to buy him a copy so that we wouldn't have to share. He still says he's giving it to his girlfriend, even though I keep telling him that she's not a border collie and consequently can't read. He answered that she's a hot momma and he can read it to her... slowly, while she whispers adoring little things in his ears).

Darby and Paranormalcy are checking out the Bookshelf of Honor for Paranormalcy's new home. Hmm... next to Twilight? The Summoning? City of Bones? Ohhhh... there's Shiver... maybe there...

Entry Three: During a recent video chatting session, Darby told my mother's border collie, Jennie Mae Little Bit, how amazing Paranormalcy is, and she had to get in on the action. Read her review below.

"Next to herding sheep (which is the definition of all that is good and worthy in the world), Paranormalcy rocks... like two border collies taking on a pack of wolves while herding a bunch of brainless sheep. Really rocks, like the laser pointer or the sprinkler... or even herding flies. And don't get me started on agility class. I'm telling all you border collies out there, get with the program. Paranormalcy will change your life. Oh, bleep, it's time for me to help old ladies cross the street and tutor honor students... and maybe remind my mom that it's time for my belly rub and a few extra kibbles... gotta go."

Well, there you have it.

Quote for the Day from Jennie Mae Little Bit

"
Paranormalcy will change your life." Enough said. :)