Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Side Swipes and Collateral Damage

If an an attempted ban doesn't succeed, can it really hurt the book/author?


To talk about why a challenge can be detrimental, I'm taking a page from Jennifer Hubbard, who has an amazing post on this topic.

Neil Gaiman, my hero (swoon), also weighed in on the same topic yesterday.

Mainly it's about fear and the market. Books are a risky business in the first place and the people in charge of acquiring them (particularly librarians) have ever dwindling resources with which to buy books. If a book seems like it might cause a big kerfuffle then it might run the risk of not being acquired, shelved, or sold in the first place. The question thus becomes not "should I pull this book," but "do I dare even acquire this book in the first place?"

Also hooray for Yvonne at The Organic Writer for another great Banned Books Week post and challenge! How many banned books have you read?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'd Like to Thank...

Brief interlude from Banned Books Week - I just received a prompt from Editor Jill that I need to send her my dedication and acknowledgments so they can be included in the ARCs.

I had to read that email several times before I could process it because it had dedication, acknowledgments and ARCs in it (and also something about how I wanted my name to appear on the cover).

Reality just smashed through my window to stand grinning me before me holding two dozen roses.

How can this really be happening!!!!

I don't know if other writers are like this, but the acknowledgments and dedication are something I've day dreamed about over and over. Now that I have to write them I'm terrified that I'll forget someone - I am so indebted to so many people. Family, friends, teachers, strangers who did funny things that gave me scene ideas... I love you all and THANK YOU!

As to the dedication, that is tip top secret and no one will know until the ARCs materialize.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Voice, Silence, History

Last night I had the pleasure of taking a group of students to see Jump at the Sun. A one-woman performance based on the life of Zora Neale Hurston. The piece is part of a Federal Writers' project education outreach program in partnership with the St. Paul Public Libraries and was performed at Central High School in St. Paul by the phenomenal actress, Regina Williams.

While narrating the trials and triumphs of Neale Hurston, it's also the poignant biography of a writer's life. The love, the work, the pain.

Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!

The play's title, Jump at the Sun, comes from something Hurston's mother told her when she was a child.

Jump at the sun, baby
Jump at the sun

You may not land at the sun

But if you jump you'll get off the ground

Jump is the story of a woman who created despite incredible odds - it's about the way life and truth weave into our stories. As she said "in the end, writers always get even."

Hurston's work was panned by many (mostly white and male) literati of her age; even her male peers in the Harlem Renaissance harshly critiqued her work. Despite her extraordinary craft, Hurston died in poverty in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God in AP English, my senior year of high school (hi Mrs. Heisler!!! Thanks for everything!)

Hearing passages from this book last night brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of her incredible gift for language.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.

What I truly loved about this performance was that it was targeted at high school students. They filled the black box theater, enraptured by the skill of the actress and the power of her words, Hurston's words. I hope they all left filled by that same electric buzz that pulsed through my veins - something I experience when I've been touched by humanity at its best. And I hope they all believed more in themselves because of her:

Those that don't got it, can't show it. Those that got it, can't hide it.

And just in case you were wondering - yes, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a banned book.

Speaking Out

Today's Banned Books Week post honors those authors/bloggers who are discussing the ways in which censorship affects their work. In a couple of days we'll hear directly from an author about her first encounter with school challenge to her book.

Ellen Hopkins - Crank took the book world by storm in 2004. Loosely based on her own daughter's addiction to meth and written fully in verse, Crank is beautiful, brutal, and deeply moving.

Ellen has gone on to write five more books, all of which deal with very difficult issues that affect teens. I had the good fortune of meeting Ellen at the San Francisco Writers' Conference last February and she is not only an amazing creative force, she is a kind and empathetic human being. She cares deeply about the lives of teens and has experienced first hand the hardships they face.

And Ellen is facing book challenges because of the risks she's taking in her writing.

Laurie Halse Anderson - Speak, Laurie's first novel and a National Book Award finalist, explores the trauma of rape in the life of an isolated teenage girl. Wintergirls sheds light on the darkness of teenage eating disorders. Because of their content, Laurie's books are also challenged.
Ellen and Laurie are two writers whose work I deeply admire, and their stories are representative of many, many more brave authors whose craft touches many lives and serves as a healing balm for readers who've dealt with the issues these writers examine. An argument made in challenges is frequently that parents should be the ones to address these issues rather than allowing difficult subject material to float freely on public library shelves.

In a perfect world that argument might fly, but many teens are without parents who are willing or able to discuss these topic. And many teens who've faced trauma might not know how to broach such subjects with adults - there may be no adults they trust in their lives. Ellen and Laurie, like other authors who deal with this material, offer safe spaces for teens to ponder and discuss the hardships they and their peers face in this world, their realities that are too frequently painful and frightening.

Thanks to Ellen, Laurie and others for your courage and craft!

I'd also like to give a shout out to fellow writer/blogger Tricia O'Brien at Talespinning who is doing an amazing Banned Books Week series of posts. Today - A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, one of my all time favorite books!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

Since we started Banned Books Week with a discussion of picture books I wanted to continue in the vein of children's lit.

Here's a big shout out to The Kids' Right to Read Project (KRRP). This group is on the front lines of the book banning war and they do amazing things. The best of which is advocating for the validity of children's brains - yes, indeed, kids read, kids think, kids learn!!! Let's help them!

KRRP offers wonderful resources on readers' rights and book censorship. I found this list particularly interesting and thought it would serve as a good segue into this week's posts:

Types of Objections against Books


Profanity. Books are often challenged for the language they contain, even though profanity is often used in literature to convey social or historical context, local dialect or simply to better depict reactions to real-life situations. Books such as Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut have been challenged or banned due to objections to profanity.

Sex. Books as varied as Judy Blume’s Forever, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, among many others, have been challenged by parents and school boards who deem certain sexual passages inappropriate for young people. Works such as It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, among others, face demands for removal for their frank discussion and focus on gay/lesbian issues.

Violence. Objections to violent content are often based on the idea that these works trivialize violence or desensitize readers to its effects. Books challenged on these grounds include One Fat Summer by Robert Lypsyte and Native Son by Richard Wright.

Religion. Religious grounds have long been cited as reasons for censoring books. Reading translations of the Bible was once forbidden. Today, parents and ministers often object to works which discuss topics such as sex, evolution, or witchcraft or occult themes.

I guess that means Profanity, Sex, Violence, and Religion are the four horsemen of the book apocalypse.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Little Books that Could...Despite All Attempts to Smoosh Them

Welcome to Banned Books Week at A Blurred History!

Each day of this week I'll be featuring a banned book (or a few) that shaped my own life and offer my two cents on the whys and wherefores of censorhip.

Today - Picture books!

It's still had for me to wrap my head around the idea that even picture books get banned - but considering that books written for children draw the most fire that makes picture books prime targets.

Two of my favorite banned picture books are:
Sendak's work made the list because of "nudity" in some illustrations. Sex and sexuality receive the most flak in terms of censorship, but even without going into that hornets' nest (don't worry, we'll get there later this week) nudity doesn't have to be about sex except for biological differentiation. We all have bodies and we should be comfortable in them.

Banned for "supernatural content." Witches can never catch a break. Not way back when, not today. I understand the source of anxiety about the occult but I've never been sympathetic to it. Not only because I love fantasy, but also - just as Harry Potter says Voldemort's name without fear - because not speaking about something gives it more power via ignorance and fear. Witch hunts always end badly, and not just for the witches. Oh wait - Harry Potter got banned too? Oops.

Friday, September 25, 2009

All Tomorrow's Parties

Start your freedom engines folks, it's time for Banned Books Week. Before tomorrow's discussion, I wanted to introduce you to this list:
  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
    Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
  2. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
    Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence
  3. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  4. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence
  5. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence
  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group
  7. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  8. Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen
    Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group
  9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  10. Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper
    Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group
What do the above titles have in common? They are the most challenged books of 2008! And while they made the top 10 list, 513 books were challenged last year. At the end of this week we'll hear from a 2009 author whose book has already been challenged and how she's handled objections to her work.

Will you be on next year's list?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Your Marks

Too many books have been slandered, maligned, and pulled from library shelves. Some aren't well known, others are infamous. As we head into Banned Books Week I wanted to do a little warm up for the discussions ahead. So here are the top ten banned books:
  1. Candide
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  3. Brave New World
  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four
  5. The Catcher in the Rye
  6. Lolita
  7. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
  8. The Anarchist Cookbook
  9. The Satanic Verses
  10. Harry Potter Series
Surprised? Already familiar with this list? Is there anything you see that brings these texts together? What makes a book "bannable"?


September 26 marks the beginning of Banned Books Week - to raise awareness, each of my posts will be devoted to a book that's been censored, and had a profound impact on my life. I'll also be highlighting programs or forums that other writers have created to fuel the discussion about books, censorship, and the rights of readers as well as writers.

I have, as I'd imagine most writers do, very strong opinions about book banning. In my posts I'll try to favor reflection and thoughtful response over rants, because the banning of literature, especially children's literature, is a social problem that affects our community at large. To change attitudes our conversations must reach out and educate, rather than engage in a vengeful mudslinging. These are debates all writers should be deeply invested in and the way we present our arguments reflects how committed we are to opening the minds of others.

So before we jump in on this blog, I'd suggest you visit Laurie Halse Anderson's post about how to prepare for Banned Books Week. Our voices do make a difference, and it's time they're raised!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It's a day to stop and think about shifting cycles and time - Mabon, the autumn equinox. Today light and dark are in perfect balance, but tomorrow our descent into the long night of winter begins.

Autumn is my favorite season, but it's a challenging and volatile time of year. The quickening of day into night puts life into a frenzied pace, culminating that chaos that is the holiday season - which are never relaxing or restorative in the way it seems they should be.

As much as I know time will seem to speed up, carried by an unseen current that drives summer away, I still love this moment. It's the only time when I can in a space of minutes see the abundance of morning glories that still sing of languid summer and promise its return...

but feel twinges of anticipation at the discovery of pumpkinlings that whisper of harvest's bounty, bonfires, and the comfort of the hearth on chilly winter nights.
Today summer and autumn hold hands and dance, giving the world at chance to witness them in harmony before summer's fades away, still full of light and laughter, while autumn takes our hand to lead us along its darkening forest paths.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Master Craft

We all fall behind - it happens. Between our own writing, our lives, and the myriad of distractions that pop up like Whack-A-Moles we don't always accomplish what we meant to...

which is why it's 2009 and I only just finished reading Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty. This trilogy had been calling to me from the bookshelves for a long time. From the enticing cover, to the historical plus paranormal content, I was pretty sure it was the kind of book made for me.

But one thing after another came up and it sat on my shelf, waiting. Last week I finally picked the book up and devoured it in a matter of hours. I had two instant responses: 1) How is it possible that I haven't read this book until now? (see above) 2) Libba Bray is a master of this craft we call writing

What about Bray's book prompted me to adorn her with this mantle of admiration?
The voice in this book is amazing. It's written in first person, present tense - a tense I usually find off putting, but Bray pulls it off beautifully.

The characters are diverse and wonderful. I cared not only about the protagonist, but also was fascinated by the lives of the people that surround her.

She weaves history and contemporary interests in a way that is astounding. I love historical content, but often to serve a modern audience writers make stories or characters anachronistic. Bray creates a world that is very much 19th century Britain but manages to touch on sexuality, feminism, self-abuse, and gender politics in ways that engage the past and present.

And speaking of sexuality - this book is one of the loveliest and most sensual I've read. Bray is no stranger to the fact that Victorians were some of sexiest folk around (don't believe me - read Foucault it's called 'incitement to discourse': the less you're supposed to think or talk about something the more important it becomes to both individuals and society as a whole). The protagonist's sexual awakening is touching for its honesty and the depiction of a terrible, but passionate restraint that 19th century women had to bear.

Bray's writing is a wonderful teaching tool for other authors, she does so much so well. I finished A Great and Terrible Beauty, felt a pinch of sadness and then a surge of joy when I remembered there are two more books in the series! If you need me, I'll be reading...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let's All Breathe a Sigh of Relief

President Obama has a light saber, everything is going to be okay now.

Getting health care reformed and the finance industry fixed should be a piece of cake; he can just use Jedi mind tricks to defeat the Dark Side... except that I think Jabba the Hut might be heading up the opposition, along with Voldemort, Sauron, and the Woodland Critters from South Park.

Uh oh. May the force be with you, Mr. President!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Good, the Better, and the Best

The good: My fever finally broke, I am on the road to recovery!

The better: Great news from agent Charlie about the buzz the PW announcement has created for my novels. Exciting things in the works!!

The best: Editor Jill loves my revisions!!!! She is so wonderful, we make a great team. I can't wait to start working with her on the sequel to Nightshade.

Celebration time :)

Here's a fabu remix I love by one of my favorite bands, Shiny Toy Guns. And I love the video, an homage to the awesome Hubble telescope - I love Hubble!! I have so much love right now!!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Does This Happen to You?

Still sequestered with H1N1. This is a miserable virus, may none of you be struck down by its evil symptoms.

One thing I've noticed about myself is that in addition to physical symptoms, when I'm sick I become an emotional weakling. Self-esteem plummets, doubts arise, and I tear up at everything.

Case in point, throughout my quarantine I've been comforting myself by watching Buffy. Ah, Buffy how you sustain in times of trial. I don't know if it's being sick, or simply sentimental but watching Buffy triumph over evil and her own personal demons has had me wiping tears away on several occasions. I was going to post a sappy moment to share, but then I found this and its awesomeness knocked my socks off (only tears of laughter here):

Angsty Edward vs. classic Buffy sass, it doesn't get better. But hilarious vid remix notwithstanding, Buffy has been bringing me to total sap tears. Now I love Buffy and have been devoted to Joss Whedon's oeuvre for many years, but even I recognize that such tearful episodes indicate that I'm not exactly myself.

Does this happen to you when illness strikes? Other weird non-physical results of a weakened immune system?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The New Vampires

Once again Maggie Stiefvater helps fellow YA authors to not take their angsty romances too seriously.

And I love fey lit, but at heart I'm a werewolf girl. Go werewolves!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Like Having Your Name in Lights

Wow, I was too ill this week to even find my own announcement on Publishers Weekly.

Philomel Gets 'Shady'

Richard Pine and Charlie Olsen of Inkwell sold North American rights to the first book in a new supernatural series by debut author Andrea Cremer. Michael Green and Jill Santopolo at Philomel pre-empted Nightshade and plan on publishing the book, about a female teen wolf, in fall 2010. According to Inkwell, the book blends “supernatural action, drama, and a subtle dose of dangerous magic.” Cremer, who has a Ph.D. in history, lives in Minneapolis and teaches at Macalester College

If it weren't for the fever and body aches I'd be doing my best Bring It On moves right now.

You Know You're a Writer When...

You're part of a pandemic and the first thing on your mind is how it might be worked into a future story.

So I went to the doctor on Tuesday. The reason: I could barely walk because in my knees and ankles and was so tired that I woke up in the morning thinking it was 6 a.m. and it was actually noon. Having checked my symptoms on the Mayo Clinic's web site, I waited for my appointment thinking I had rheumatoid arthritis and wondering how I could have rheumatoid arthritis at 31.

But it turns out I have H1N1. That's right - I have swine flu. I am now a statistic in the pandemic, under flu house arrest until my fever goes away.

The good news - I finished my edits! They are now in my editor's hands (don't worry she received a Word attachment, I'm not mailing my germs to anyone).

Since my brain is too fuzzy for cleverness, I'm leaving you with a conspiracy theory. The source of my misery may be from intergalactic bio-terrorists:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Autumn Leaves...Are on Fire!!

So you've seen me mention Maggie Stiefvater and her utter awesomeness on this blog before (she's written the best nookie guide I've yet seen for YA). She's made the splashiest spalsh on the NYT bestseller list with Shiver and now she's handing us the follow-up to her first novel, Lament.

Ballad will be out in a few short weeks (actually the wait is too long!!) and Maggie just posted this teaser:

He turned towards me. For a long moment, he stood facing me. I was held, anchored to the ground – not by his music, which still called and pushed against the music already in my head and said grow rise follow – but by his strangeness. By his fingers, spread over the ground, holding something into the earth, by his shoulders, squared in a way that spoke of strength and unknowability, and most of all, by the great, thorny antlers that grew from his head, spanning the sky like branches. Then he was gone, and I missed his going in the instant that the sun fell off the edge of the hill, abandoning the world to twilight.

October can't come soon enough.

Okay, back to edits...nearly there. I love my editor! Nightshade rocks my world!!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We Interrupt this Scheduled Blog Pause...

To tell you that you must take the time to see Adam.

I'll confess I went to this film thinking it would be good, but mostly due to my crush on Hugh Dancy (sigh).
But Adam is a film with so much to offer. It's about a young man with Asperger's Syndrome - a mild form of autism, but the narrative is much more a deconstruction of communication, honesty, and deceit in human relationships. Though there are tear-jerker moments, the film avoids sappiness in favor of bitersweet truths.

Get thee to the movies!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


That's my head popping out from beneath this massive pile of revisions, which are going swimmingly.

My editor at Philomel, Jill Santopolo, is amazing. She is so amazing that she is truly outrageous a la Jem (I think we need more rocker chick super heroes, don't you?)

Her eye is sharp as a hawk's, her suggestions brilliant, and she still manages to be incredibly sweet. She also very kindly tolerated my hysterics when she told me what they're planning for the cover, which sounds beautiful and haunting and perfect.


Ooooh and...I can reveal the title of Book 1:


Back after more edits.