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slayground August 22 2014, 13:02

Poetry Friday: An American Girl by Brander Matthews

She does not care for meditation;
Within her bonnet are no bees;
She has a gentle animation,
She joins in singing simple glees.

- from the poem An American Girl by Brander Matthews

Read the poem in its entirety.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

writerjenn August 22 2014, 01:15


The resurgence of the Ebola virus in Africa and the recent discovery of smallpox vials where they should not have been made me want to reread Randy Shilts's book, And the Band Played On. It's an in-depth account of the early years of AIDS in North America and Europe: the early cases, the discovery of the virus, the tragic losses, the mobilization of entire communities, the political battles for recognition and resources. Some of the medical researchers mentioned in And the Band Played On were involved in quashing an outbreak of Ebola, and in officially eradicating the smallpox virus. And strangely enough, this very year, stray vials of smallpox were discovered in an old government storeroom, and Ebola fever is raging again in Africa.

With all the technological progress we've made, we can still be undone by microorganisms.

And the Band Played On chronicles the beginning of the AIDS horror in the US, its exponential spread, and the extent to which it decimated communities. For me, one statistic illustrates the scale of this horror. As reported in The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience (Perry N. Halkitis), only 20% of those diagnosed before January 1, 1985, were still alive in 1990. 20% survival over five years: staggering.

Shilts's book was published in 1987, before the watershed year of 1996, when the protease inhibitors that have done so much to curb the deadliness of HIV became available. Sean Strub's book Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival is a personal account of the AIDS pandemic, but his account extends to the present. Protease inhibitors arrived in the nick of time for Strub, who was in the very late stages of AIDS (internal Kaposi's sarcoma) when the new medication brought him back from the brink. "I started to see events in my life as 'last times' ... When a postcard arrived to remind me of an upcoming dental checkup, I threw it away," Strub writes. And then he found himself not only alive but improving, reclaiming a future. Strub's book therefore covers a broader sweep of the American part of the pandemic. Sadly, Shilts could not write such an account himself: he died in 1994, of complications from AIDS.

I lived through these years myself, but I did not live inside this pandemic. I knew two people who died of AIDS in the early 1990s, but they were friendly acquaintances, not close friends. I was not going to funerals every week nor monitoring my own T-cell count. My view of AIDS was an outsider's view; the disease cast a long shadow, and for a while, everyone was afraid. And I well remember the panic caused by unhelpfully euphemistic terms like "body fluids."

AIDS is still a problem, although because of improvements in understanding and treating it, in the US, AIDS is now often seen through a sort of historical, rear-view mirror. David Levithan's novel, Two Boys Kissing, includes narration from the souls of gay men from the era most affected by AIDS, addressing the young gay men of today: "We were once like you, only our world wasn't like yours. You have no idea how close to death you came. A generation or two earlier, you might be here with us." Also: "If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well. ... We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore."

Our literature contains the records of this plague. Plagues have always been part of human experience, and right now a particularly devastating one is unfolding in West Africa. This story unfolds again and again; each time we hope for a better ending, a swifter resolution.
carriejones August 21 2014, 15:25

Why Revising a Novel is Like A Carwash Fundraiser

Why Revising a Novel is Like A Firefighter Carwash

No. Really it is.

So, usually when I start revising a book, I feel like this:

This is the person organizing the fundraiser, which was a bunch of firefighters washing cars to raise money for Dana Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Notice how she has money in her hand? That's sort of like an author after the publisher buys her book and gives her an advance. Also, notice how she is hunkering down with her hands raised? This is because she is totally overwhelmed because she now has to REVISE her book.

Okay... Which brings us to this stage... See this guy? He has started actually revising or as I like to call it SUDSING UP THE SUV.
He's working hard. He's lightly touching the handle of the door for balance or in case he needs to escape all the suds... Because, seriously? LOOK AT ALL THE SUDS! These are all the corrections and insertions that need to be done, all the track changes. It is the cleaning up of the dirt, eradicating the mistakes...

How the heck is he ever going to manage this?
No. Seriously. HOW?

Because it isn't just about the suds it is about GETTING RID OF ALL THE SUDS, which I call the HOSING OFF! This is where the author is like, "Holy cannoli, I used the word, LOOK, 847 times in an 87,000 word manuscript. Whimper.

 But the HOSING OFF stage is okay. I promise, because it makes us better writers with better vocabularies. It makes us rethink the moments where we use weak words, our go-to words, and we hose them the heck out of there to make a cleaner, stronger SUV... I mean book.

Plus, it defines our forearms as evidenced by the above firefighter. Managing a hose (or a vocabulary) is hard work. It builds up muscle.

And it's also about the next stage, REFINING, paying attention to detail or as I like to call it CLEANING THE RIMS OF YOUR TIRE THINGIES... Hubcaps? Those are hubcaps, right? Obviously, my vocabulary skills still need some work.
This stage of revising is that part where you go through the manuscript all over again and again, look for plot holes, repetition, emotional depth, inconsistencies in logic, all that arch stuff (internal, physical, emotional), and more. This is the nitty-gritty part. It requires bending and a soft, bright blue cloth.

And it seems overwhelming, right? It seems almost impossible? But it's not. And do you know why it's not? Because you are not alone.


Just like these firefighters working on a policeman's car, washing it clean, aren't alone, YOU the writer aren't alone either. There is an editor, a copy editor, sometimes beta readers, sometimes teachers, sometimes agents, readers, your check-out clerk at the grocery store, publicists, marketing people, random friends with ideas, women at bars, random blogs with suggestions, all sorts of people out there at the computer with you, helping your brain to gather all the things you have ever learned to make the right choices, the strongest choices to get the cleanest car story that you can have.

That's so cool, isn't it?

So, often writers go into revision feeling like we are all alone. But we never are. There is a community of people present, and learning past, that is right there with us, hosing off, detailing, worrying, and cleaning. At least that's what I tell myself when I start to feel lonely and worry and get scared.

I get scared all the time. That's okay. We all do.

*These pictures are all from the Bar Harbor (Maine) Fire Department's Car Wash this Spring where firefighters cleaned cars to raise money to support Dana-Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Our past fire chief, David Rand, died of cancer yesterday. He was a great loss, a hero, a man who served. The entire community will miss him. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends.
debbierfischer August 21 2014, 12:10

My tweets

megancrewe August 20 2014, 21:11

Bookmarks have arrived!

My Earth & Sky bookmarks have arrived! Behold the loveliness:

(The back, if you’re curious, has a brief excerpt from the book.)

I will be giving these out to readers at all events and signings I attend. I’m also happen to send some to any librarians, booksellers, bloggers, or other bookish folk who would like to hand them out to their patrons/customers/readers/etc. If you’d like to get your hands on some, please drop me a line!

Originally published at another world, not quite ours - Megan Crewe's blog. You can comment here or there.

debbierfischer August 20 2014, 12:11

My tweets

carriejones August 19 2014, 12:06

My tweets

  • Mon, 17:09: RT @malie129: @carriejonesbook Hi, nice to meet you. I'm trying to turn collab writing into a fun game. Playful, challenges creativity. pls…
  • Mon, 18:54: Overheard quote - people think I am so serious, but I just made up four songs changing the word heart for shart.
  • Mon, 18:54: RT @NYTArchives: 94 years ago today, with ratification of 19th amendment, US women gained federal right to vote http://t.co/dsIrpNlcPZ http…
writerjenn August 19 2014, 00:52

In obscurity, butterflies

"Not even the splendor of the Nobel Prize made a lasting difference. My royalty checks fattened surprisingly for one payment period following the prize and then returned to the under-$10 payments they had always been. In Stockholm, I had asked Karl Otto Bonnier about the next Oe book he was planning to publish and was surprised when he told me his company had no further plans for Oe. 'This Nobel excitement is just a blip, it won't last long,' he explained, and he was right."

That is John Nathan, a translator of Kenzaburo Oe's work, writing in Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere about the effect of Oe's Nobel Prize on book sales. Or rather, the lack of effect. This passage came to mind again recently because I've requested one of Oe's books from the library. Not only is it proving scarce and difficult to find, but the librarian who helped me with my request didn't seem to be familiar with Oe.

Writers know how hard it is to find and keep a readership, let alone any sort of longevity, but one would think that at least a Nobel Prize for literature ought to ensure some measure of fame, at least within literary communities. It has only been twenty years since Oe's moment in the Stockholm sun. I suppose this brings home the reality that the audience for literary fiction is small, and in the US, the audience for translated fiction appears to be even smaller.

One could find this disheartening, in a we're-all-destined-for-obscurity sort of way, or strangely heartening, in a well-if-greater-writers-can't-stay-in-the-limelight-that-sure-takes-the-pressure-off-me way. On Twitter, Anne Lamott often comments that we and our works will be quickly forgotten. A glance at the bestseller lists of yesteryear shows us that--how few books from even five years ago are still widely read and discussed, let alone twenty years, or fifty.

Most of us will have an indirect effect on the wider world of literature. We will not be read by everyone at once. We will be read by, and perhaps influence in some small way, a few people who will in turn influence other people, and these multiple influences will ripple through the community. We flap our butterfly wings and never know exactly how far the resulting breezes reach.
robinellen August 18 2014, 21:16

Weekend Roundup...

...D had a great campout with his four closest friends. It rained a bit, but I think that just added to the fun. :) It was a nice 'good-bye' as they move on to middle school.

...DH took the kiddos to our neighborhood's 'Turtle Fest' (there's a green turtle in one of the neighborhood parks). I got to stay home and relax, and they got to eat tons of good food, listen to music, and play frisbee. ;)

...my FIL came over yesterday afternoon. He went to Spain recently, so he shared his pictures. Sounds like he had a wonderful time! (Almost makes me want to travel...ha.)

...I just heard today that my cousins' dad is in a coma (and is expected to die soon). :( Apparently, he has dementia, which is something I didn't know. He and my aunt were divorced when I was in high school, so I've only seen him at my cousins' weddings since then. He was always one of those people who brimmed with life...my thoughts and prayers go out to my cousins today!

Hope things are good in your neck of the woods!
aprilhenry August 18 2014, 20:38

Everyone needs a pair of a toeless hose - or Stewart O'Nan

Last week, we had our floors redone. Behind a built-in drawer, Mark, one of the floor guys, found a cache of toeless hose, which brought back a lot of memories.

In May 2000
I went to Washington, DC, to attend a fan conference called Malice Domestic and to find out if my first book, Circles of Confusion, had one of the big mystery awards, the Agatha Award.

CirclesThat year, Circles of Confusion was also short-listed for the Agatha Award and the Oregon Book Award. Both the Agatha and the Anthony were for best first novels. It's a lot easier to get on those award lists, because there are probably fewer than 200 first mysteries published each year. After that, there are no "best second mystery" contests. Instead, you are competing against everyone else for "best mystery" - and the competition is much stiffer.

That year about 700 mystery fans, as well as about 100 authors, attended. Every hour there were two or three panels, where four or five authors talked about "Mystery's Bad Girls," or "Humor in the Mystery." And you could also mingle in the bar with your favorite authors and buy them drinks. (I drank more in three days than I have in probably a whole year - that's what happens when you're neither driving or paying.)

 It was strange being a demi-celebrity, and having trembling strangers ask if it were okay to take my picture. (Now that everyone carries a phone that doubles as a camera, I hardly ever get asked if it's okay, but this was back in the days of actual film cameras.)

toelessHow toeless hose helped me make friends

Since Malice Domestic is always held on the east coast, I knew no one at the conference. And everyone already seemed to be friends, standing in little groups, laughing and joking.

But I had a secret weapon that I wore to the big banquet where they announced the awards. It was the latest thing - toeless pantyhose. My friend Vicki had seen them on Good Morning America, and she said I absolutely had to have a pair to wear with my silver sandals. That way my legs would look smooth (the pantyhose) and I would still have toe cleavage (the toeless part).

I ordered them off the Internet (they were not yet in stores), only to learn they would ship in six to eight weeks - well after the banquet.

 I figured it didn't hurt to ask, so I called up and explained what it was for. A team of people at the company Fed-Exed me three pair in a range of shades the day before I left.

At the banquet, I made a point of going up to little clumps of people and showing off my pantyhose and my silver toenails (I still have some polish permanently imbedded on my bathroom floor all these years later). The hose made a great icebreaker.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.36.39 PMFind your own toeless hose
I've since realized that most gatherings of people look so intimidating to outsiders. Everyone else appears to be friends and having fun, and you're standing there all alone.

So what you need is a good icebreaker, like toeless hose.

At Wordstock one year, I really wanted to meet the author Stewart O'Nan, because I love his books. There was a party at Weiden & Kennedy for the authors, and I showed up primarily for that purpose. I had googled a photo of him, but he was wearing a baseball cap. So I would go up to groups of people and ask if they had seen Stewart O'Nan.

Everyone said no, but we still ended up talking. I met the most interesting people, ranging from a French guy who had just made a documentary to another author named Stuart to the people who were providing the beer and had no idea what the event was even about.

It worked so well that I've thought of searching for Stewart O'Nan (who actually never came) at every big event.

Or if you are at an event you've attended before, one where you already know people, try reaching out to a few people holding their glasses and smiling uncertainly.  You might just make a new friend.
debbierfischer August 18 2014, 12:11

My tweets

carriejones August 18 2014, 01:38

The Ice Bucket Challenge is Not Evil or Why I'm Not Cool With People Calling Other People Sheeple

Okay, here's the thing.

I was totally going to write about revising, but I am tired of people judging other people when they don't know their stories.

For example, there is a lot of judging about the ALS ice-bucket challenge, where people are called out to give $100 to support efforts to negate ALS. Instead, they can dump ice water over their heads and give $10 instead, while calling out other people to do the challenge, thus spreading it all around social media.

And now there are a bunch of people saying that the challenge is:

1. Ridiculous (They use stronger words usually)
2. Doing nothing to raise money or awareness of ALS despite news reports to the contrary
3. Just a bunch of sheeple, which means people who are followers, people who are sheep, people who are doing something just because they think it's cool or because all their friends are doing it. Hashtag activism means nothing they say, because trends come and go.

So, yeah, basically something that involves caring and awareness is cool so now we have to deride it. The thing is that humans are followers and leaders. We are all sorts of things mushed into bodies and communities. That's the key. This challenge, even for the people who don't send $10 to ALS, builds community. People reach out to one another. They post. They think for a second. Maybe some don't. But a lot do.

If even one person thinks a little about ALS, or sends in $10, or inspires, or motivates? Isn't that better than nobody doing it? Maybe half of the people doing the ice bucket challenge aren't sending in money, maybe it's more than half. But, it is still raising awareness and money if it gets anyone to volunteer, to care, to donate.

And the other aspect of the derision that I find unhelpful is the concept that people are being called sheep for doing this one thing, this one potentially positive thing (despite its waste of water, a precious resource). How can a random viewer possibly judge another person's sheep status because they were involved in one social-media, celebrity-endorsed fundraiser?

So, I looked at my newsfeed on Facebook and scrolled down. The first ice bucket video I saw tonight was of a fire chief and his bonus daughter.

That fire chief? Hardly a sheep. This ice-bucket challenge? Hardly the hardest thing he's done for this community. He coaches kids' football. He helps raise funds for Dana Farber, his very job is about putting his life on the line for people when he fights fires, responds to accidents or mass casualty incidents. And those are only a few things I know about him.

His bonus daughter? She's still in high school, but she helps her mom raise money for cancer. She cares about kids, volunteers for things all the time, and has empathy up the wazoo.

They aren't sheep.

They are people who care.

I'm actually not sure the fire chief knows what a hashtag is; let alone hashtag activism.

But their activism isn't just about ALS. Their activism is a part of their lives. They don't yell it out on bullhorns. There are some things that they expend more energy on, but they give and they give and they give.

The next ice bucket challenge on my feed was another local guy, a Rotarian, carpenter, and real estate agent. A guy who loves the Marvel Universe and his community and who can strike a pose whenever the camera is nearby. I think he's maybe 30? 35?  In the year I've known him, I've seen him dress up like Prince Charming to help raise money for a wheelchair project in Panama, spearhead a mini-golf tournament to help raise money for local health agencies, cash-out tourists eating lobsters at a seafood festival, feed bicyclists who were riding to raise money for another incurable disease.

But yeah. He's a sheep, right? A hashtag activist? Just giving up his nights and his Saturdays while scraping together a living because he's all in it for show? Hardly.

And these are just the big things those people do, the obvious volunteering. I'm not even talking about the countless times they smiled, or cared, or offered a ride, or a hug, or a job. These are the tiny moments of activism that never get shouted about. They just are.

That's the point. Don't judge someone's level of caring or action from one tiny video on the internet. Don't judge their intentions when you aren't in their brains. Instead, maybe search your own heart and be grateful that they did anything. Instead, maybe hope that they did more than that video or profile picture change or tweet. Or even better? Don't judge them at all. Instead realize that we all have our own levels of caring, of ability, of time.

Yes, it can be annoying to watch everyone you know dump ice over their heads. But here's another thing: You don't actually have to watch. You can ignore it if you want to. And, yes, you can even deride it and mock it and say that it isn't doing enough. That's your choice. However, I hope that you choose to look at people (with all their issues) with love instead of with snark. I hope that you choose to be an example with your own life rather than a naysayer about others.

Remember, we don't know everyone's stories, not all of the scenes and chapters. That's why we should be grateful for the things that try, the people that try, no matter how imperfect their execution, or how 'sheepish' it seems.

Because here's the final point. You're sort of right. None of us can ever do enough. But that should never be an excuse to not do anything, or judge others for what they can do and have done.

robinellen August 17 2014, 17:42

Book Reports (79-80)...

For those of you who happened to Google your title and ended up here, please know that one star is not a bad thing in Robin's world -- just the fact that I picked up your book and started it means that somewhere it's getting good buzz (or that your blurb was really cool).

If you'd like to see my recent four+- and five-star YA recommendations, visit Robin ReadsnWrites.

* I didn't make it beyond the first 20 pages.
** I made it to the end, but I either skimmed or skipped large sections.
*** I might have skipped/skimmed, but I liked it and might read it again.
**** I read at least 95% of the book and it was good -- probably will be reread.
***** I read every word, and I loved it! A favorite and definite reread.

This year, I'm only going to list the stars and a brief recommendation for the type of readers I think will enjoy the book [(R) means it's a re-read; * means it's an ARC].

Site Meter

buzzkill ****
Buzz Kill, by Beth Fantaskey -- recommended for those who enjoy humor, mystery, and a bit of romance -- Houghton Mifflin, 5/14

youngworld ***
The Young World, by Chris Weitz -- recommended for those who like dystopic ideas, adventure, shifting POV, and mild romance -- Little Brown, 7/14

Currently Reading:...well, I have piles, but I haven't actually gotten into any books that much, *sigh*

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