Archive for July, 2009

Interview: Jeff Sharlet, Fundamentally AWESOME!!!

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Today, a treat!  An interview with Jeff Sharlet, longtime Buddha-killer, NYT Bestselling author of The Family, new father, and all-around awesome guy.

Though other interviewers (smarter than me) generally ask Jeff about the intersection of politics and religion (most often about the “Christian Mafia”), today, he’s agreed to talk about books for KIDS!  Because, as Jeff says, he’s “All into books for kids now.”

Me: I’d love to know what your favorite picture book was as a kid?

The amazing Jeff: Ferdinand the Bull. I had a sturdy hardcover pink edition, which I remember going through many times before I was able to read. My mother would read it to me, but the pictures did the work. Even now, that’s how I remember the story. I was big when I was very little, but shy in pre-school, afraid of the kids who already had the basics of baseball and roughhousing. Ferdinand seemed just right to me. I remember it as a small salvation.

Me:  Is there a new one you like, now that you’ve got a daughter?

The amazing Jeff: I’m ashamed to say we don’t have Ferdinand yet. We’re still putting together our library, which is mainly composed of gift books. So, of course, we have about half a dozen Good Night Moons. Our daughter is four months old, but one friend, worried about the predominance of boys in children’s stories, loaded us up with a great little library of chapter books starring girls. And I found myself pulled back into the book that made me a writer, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. But as for picture books, I’m so far mostly re-enchanted with the classics — In the Night Kitchen and The Lorax. Which, come to think of it, are both about boys. So it’s a good thing we have some great heroines ahead.

Me: Are there any you hate? (this is a theme I like)  Any you find revolting? Why?

The amazing Jeff: Madeline now seems to me to have a taint of Vichy France, though I know nothing about the author.

Me: What about novels or chapter books you liked or identified with?  Hated?

The amazing Jeff: Well, Harriet the Spy, obviously. And the Great Brain books, which were perfectly poised between ambition — your hope that you might be as smart as the Great Brain — and reality — the wonderful sequel about his little brother, Me and My Little Brain. And then there was The Thirteen Clocks, which you reminded me of when I first met you in person in Iowa City back in 2004. I resolved to revisit the book, but only if I could find it used. Not because I’m cheap, but because the book seemed magic like that, a discovery to be made in a dusty old bookstore. Only, it’s a difficult discovery — I think copies get snatched right up. So here I am, five years later, without a copy. Vacationing with my sister and her family this summer, I see that my 7-year-old nephew has a copy. It’s the same one I read! It was my sister’s. For a moment, I contemplate stealing a book from my nephew. Fortunately, he’s very strong, so I figure I wouldn’t even get away with it if I tried. These days, I’m excited about a fabulous little novel for young readers that you really need to check out, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains.

Me: <blush>

The amazing Jeff: “Hated” is too strong a word, but I remember being consistantly disappointed by the books that were bestsellers at the yearly school book sale — Bunnicula, How to Eat Fried Worms. They seemed condescending to kids. They were like watching bad children’s TV — even if kids don’t comprehend the shabbiness, they pick up on the cynicism of products manufactured by tired old hacks who long ago forgot what it was like to be children.

<Jeff appears to be finished, I appear to wrap up blog post, and then!>

Oh, wait, an addendum: The reason I write about religion and politics is because I started reading The Hobbit in first grade, and plowed, very slowly, through the whole Lord of the Rings. Those books are as important to me as Harriet. What’s funny about that, or, at least, ironic, is that so many of the fundamentalists I write about today had that same experience. When I was living in Ivanwald, the house for men being groomed for leadership in the right-wing religio-political sect that’s the subject of The Family, I took solace from a framed quote from Bilbo Baggins one of my “brothers” had hung by the door. And as I travel around the country talking to ordinary religious conservatives, I’m always struck by the fact that while Mel Gibson’s Passion may enjoy pride of place on their movie shelves, it’s the Lord of the Rings they watch over and over. My favorite fundamentalist, a regular guy known as Commander Tom for his role in the Royal Rangers, the fundamentalist equivalent of the Boy Scouts, pegged the now infamous Ted Haggard, his own pastor, before anyone else when he told me that Ted wanted to be an honest man, but he struggled with arrogance and power lust — said he was like Gandalf wrestling with the Balrog.

Wow! Wowee wowee wow.  You heard it here first, folks.  Maddow, Gross, Maher– eat your little hearts out!

And for those of you living under a rock, this is Jeff’s incredible book, THE FAMILY:  The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

What I’m into…

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The Iowa City Press Citizen asked me…  “What are you into?”

I wonder if YOU can guess.  How well do you REALLY know me?  I don’t think even Emma Snyder can get all of these right.

What’s my favorite TV show?  Where do I love to eat in Iowa City? What book of poems is currently living in my purse?  The Iowa City Press Citizen knows.

And then I want to know… what about YOU?  What’re YOU “into?”

What I’m appreciating…

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Deb Wiles has a lovely post that makes me feel grateful to know her, and also reminds me to be grateful in general. I think maybe it’s a good time  for everyone to take stock of the little bits of grace that filter through their lives.

I’m feeling most grateful for:

8:00 in the morning. My boys have begun to “sleep in” sometimes, and it is a truly wonderful thing.

Real BBQ.  Daddy D’z in particular. Smoked turkey with the hot sauce, bleeding into a big pile of cole slaw. Nrm.

Transitions of all sorts.  I can’t begin to unpack that or provide an accurate visual aid, but I’m lucky for change.

My friend Sonya, who has been reminding me on a daily basis what friends/strength/family/life are all about.

An editor and an agent who really seem to defy all stereotypes.  Here we are, in the fourth draft of my  book, and they are both still upbeat.

Which brings us to work… for which I’m hugely thankful. How I manage to have meaningful work I enjoy, that also allows me to stay home with Mose and Lew…

I’m still baffled at that one.  But oh, so grateful.

Any Which Wall went to Connecticut!!!

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

The lovely Katie Davis went on TV in Connecticut this week, to share some books for “staycation” and she took Any Which Wall along!

Please go give a watch (it’s short!), and maybe leave a comment telling them how much you LOVE Katie?  It’s not easy to get airtime for books, much less kids’ books. Let’s make sure Katie keeps her gig!

What a Girl Wants…

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Join the conversation over at Colleen Mondor’s fabulous blog, Chasing Ray!

What DO we need to be writing YA books about?  What do we NOT need?  Do we really need YA books at all?  Is there a danger to setting limits/expectations?

A neat little interview…

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

At the Examiner!  Where I reveal perhaps too much about what my day looks like.

I wonder…

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

What will be happening this time next year…

If you could be anywhere, doing anything, a year from today, where/what would you be?

Another review!!!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Sorry to sound braggy, but I’m pleased as punch, and this is the best way I know to keep track of all my reviews.

Today, (thanks to Ellen Potter for pointing it out!) Any Which Wall gets a lovely review in the Sacramento Book Review, which is a really wonderful publication.   A book review section not embedded in a newspaper!


Any Which Wall is an adventure  that explores the possibility of “common” magic and begs the reader to imagine what he or she would do if suddenly faced with magical possibilities. This well-written and exciting story is a page-turner from the beginning and will leave the reader with the desire to seek out the “common” magic in his or her own life.

And I thought I invented the wall!!!

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Some friends of mine appear to have stumbled into the common-magical world of Any Which Wall.

Here they aresomewhere near (I suppose) Quiet Falls (though I *thought* they were vacationing in Maine!)  What do you think they’re wishing for?

And I wonder… do you suppose there’s any chance that the existance of such a wall might encourage cheap filmmakers to option the book?  A girl can dream…

Last question… if YOU stumbled onto a magic wishing wall, where would YOU wish to be transported?

Look! Look at THIS!!!

Monday, July 13th, 2009

I’m feeling very lucky to have laid eyes on this letter from Edward Eager to a young person named Kate, in response to her fan-letter. I cyber-stalked Kate, and she was kind enough to scan the letter for me, and send it in (with the brief explanation that follows.



I can’t remember how I found Edward Eager‘s books, or whether it was before or after I read Edith Nesbit. Maybe I got help from a librarian, or maybe I was just browsing the children’s section at the library – either way, thanks, Seaford Public Library. (I also remember looking at the stacks of adult books in that library and deciding that I’d stick with children’s books, which I thought were better. Of course I wasn’t right, but I wasn’t entirely wrong, either.)

My mother (who later became a librarian herself) must have encouraged me to write to Eager.  The letter he wrote back speaks for itself, I think. Such a nice man.

The books are wonderful, of course.


Thanks, KATE!