Twent Has Two Mommies…

March 27th, 2014

In 2010 I published a middle grade novel called Penny Dreadful. It was a fun book. Some people liked it. It went on to become an EB White Readaloud HONOR book. Huzzah!

But I get a lot of emails about it.  Because in the book there is a very minor character, a boy named Twent, who happens to have two mommies.

Last night I received one such email, and because I was having a very hard week, I ignored the email.  Typically I respond to these emails. I try to explain.  Because maybe (just maybe) the author of the letter is not only writing me a mean letter. MAYBE they are open to a response.  I don’t want to miss that chance, if it’s real. But last night I didn’t.

S0 I thought I could respond here, today. ANd then, in the future, when I get these emails, I can direct readers here…

***

Anastasia writes of Twent (among other things):

“How do you explain that? OUR FAMILY IS VERY AGAINST THAT.”

And I will answer her:

Ahhh, Anastasia, good question!  How do I explain it?  It’s really very simple.

The world is very full of people.  No two people are alike. They live many different kinds of lives. Some of them are nuns. Some of them are corporate lawyers. Some of them are the owners of magical chocolate factories.  But we cannot all be nuns, or magical chocolatiers.  For this reason, we have many different kinds of books. To reflect the many kinds of lives people live. In some cases, we expect people to SEE THEMSELVES in the pages of books. In other cases, we expect books to expand the way people see the world.  Maybe YOU have never met a magical chocolatier, but thanks to Roald Dahl, you can!

When someone writes a book, they cannot ask, “Who will I offend with this particular book?”  Because every book will offend someone.  A writer can only tell a story, and if they are fortunate enough to find a publisher, hope some people want to read it.

It makes me sad to hear you were offended by my book. I didn’t mean to do that. I wasn’t writing it for YOU. But I’m not sorry for Twent’s moms either.   I won’t apologize for them.

I wrote Penny Dreadful to reflect the world I live in. A world populated by many kinds of people, not just nuns and corporate lawyers and magical chocolatiers.  My neighborhood has many gay families in it, in addition to people who aren’t white, and Jews like me.  There are also some folks who have hearing loss, or are blind. My neighborhood has musicians in it, and artists, and world travelers, and gardeners, and women with very long hair, and people who like to make their own jam.  All of these people climbed into my book when I wrote it, because I wanted the book to reflect the world I inhabit.

Honestly the book has received criticism for being “unbelievably diverse.” People find this difficult to accept, especially since the book is set in the south.  I would argue that the people who make these complaints are not comparing my book to the actual world of humans, but to the very whitewashed landscape of traditional nuclear families in which most children’s books have been set. I would further argue that the people who argue that THE SOUTH is not diverse in this way should try visiting the actual south.  That is just another stereotype.

In any case, this is how I “EXPLAIN” Twent’s two moms.  Twent has two moms because many kids I know have two moms.  Twent is a minor character, a friend Penny meets along the way.  The same way that I, a girl with a mom and a dad, have friends with two moms or two dads. Should I not have written the world I love and inhabit?

I’m guessing what upset you most about the book was that you got no WARNING. There is no backmatter to inform readers that they might encounter diversity in this book.  You may feel that your daughter should have had a chance to choose for herself that she was about to encounter a few lines of text in which there were gay people.  I don’t know how this would work.  Should I have also included a warning label: WARNING: THIS BOOK HAS SOME JEWS IN IT?

Books are the best way I know for kids to encounter the world beyond their own experience. Books build empathy and understanding.  They get kids ready for what they’re going to stumble into when they take their first job, or open a copy of the New York Times (yeah, I know that’s unlikely, but I still get the paper myself, so play along).

I don’t expect your kid to turn gay. I don’t actually want your kid to turn gay, or Jewish, or into a magical chocolatier.  I’d just like to think that when she encounters magical chocolatiers in books, you won’t scare her away from them. I’d like to think that you, as her mother, will engage with her question. That you’ll explain that you understand her surprise, since she’s never met a chocolatier before. You can explain that YOUR family doesn’t make chocolate, personally. But yes, the world has chocolate in it, made by magical chocolatiers, and isn’t it nice that the world is such an amazing place, full of surprises and mysteries…

 

 

WRAD!!!

March 6th, 2014

Okay, I’ll admit, so when I signed up for World Read Aloud Day again this year, it was with a sense of “doing something nice for the kids” and “giving back a little.”  I was patting myself on the back.  Taking time from my busy week to read to children (besides Mose and Lew).

But here’s the thing… WRAD isn’t just for them. It’s for us too.

I remember, a few years back at AWP, my amazing sister was on a panel with Richard Ford, about writers in the schools, and how wonderful it is to work with kids.  And my sister made a point I’d never heard someone make. She said.  ”People see it as service. But they should be begging to volunteer their time in a school. If they knew how wonderful it was, they would.”  (or something like that. I didn’t write down exactly what she said.)

Her point was that writers work alone, and they use up a lot of their energy writing. They get drained. They tap out.  They forget why they began writing in the first place. They focus on the work of it. They lose their joy.

But kids? Kids are FULL of joy and eagerness and energy. They  fill you back up! They might tire you in other ways, but you can’t spend an hour with a bunch of excited kids, full of awesome questions, and awe and admiration for the fact that you MAKE BOOKS, and not come away reinvigorated.  You can’t work with kids and writing, and not remember why you started writing.

So today I skyped with eleven schools.  Eleven!  Oh, the wonders of technology.  Schools from all over the country. I read the kids picture books (my next book, Charlie & Mouse, as well as my old favorite, Rain Makes Applesauce, by Julian Scheer) and novels (both Seven Stories Up and my WIP, The Orphan Island). I answered questions, and I told them about my day. I introduced them to Lucy (my assistant, who works for carrot-bits and chew toys).

And now? I feel so ready to write. I feel so IN LOVE with The Orphan Island. I feel so… connected. Re-dedicated.

So now, while I have that boost,  I need to take a little time away,  to crank out a draft.  (I’m shooting for April).  I’m putting a moratorium on new skypes for the spring.  But I’ll be back in the fall. I promise.

And I will always always always do WRAD.

You should too.

Boys Will Be Boys, and Girls Will Be Accomodating…

February 15th, 2014

When we assume that boys won’t read books with girls on the cover, and then institutionalize that assumption by leaving the “girlie” books out of award nominations (as well as school wide reads, story times, etc.), we insult them. By suggesting that on the whole our boys have a limited capacity for empathy, an inability to imagine a world beyond their own most obvious understanding, and an unwillingness to stretch.

In the same stroke, we neglect our girls. Not because they can’t read “boy books” (they do and will). But because when they see those awards, they also learn something —to accept a world in which they are rarely the central players. They learn, at a formative age, that the “best” books are the ones about boys. (Or dogs, as previously mentioned. Dogs are good.)

It’s a problem. And when we play into it, when we accept it as THE TRUTH, we’re reaching for the simplest solution, not the best one. Because the best solution would require us to push against the gender bias in the world, and in ourselves. It’s easier to say, “Boys naturally gravitate to these things, and we want them to read, don’t we?”

But when a kid likes candy and French fries, we do not feed them candy and French fries

 
(Follow my collection, over at Medium, for more kidlit-related rants)

 

It’s a book, a book, a book!!!

January 28th, 2014

Today is the day. It’s PUB DAY!

After three years of researching and writing and revising and tweaking and starting over, and beginning again, and tearing my hair out…

SEVEN STORIES UP IS A BOOK!

If you want to know more about how I wrote the book, and what inspired it, you can read here. (warning, it’s a bit sad)

If you’d like to read the first chapter of the book, and see a picture of my grandmother, you can do that here.

If you want to listen to a podcast in which I talk about how this book taught me (finally!) how to enjoy research, you can tune in here!

And if you want to see some old pictures that I used to keep my in the world of 1937, you can take a peek at my Pinterest page for the book!

I’d love to think that you might also go and purchase a copy of the book, or maybe request it from your local library!  You can add it to your Goodreads list or tell your kid’s teacher about it too!

People have said very very nice things about Seven Stories Up already, which makes this day much nicer.  It was selected as #4 on the Indienext List for winter!  And look:

“Time travel is the least of the magic in the sublime Seven Stories Up, which gently and lovingly demonstrates how the right friend at the right time can heal a heart and even change a life. Like Judy Blume before her, Laurel Snyder writes characters that feel like your best friend. I wish I’d had this book when I was a kid; I would have read it a hundred times and slept with it under my pillow.” –Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy

“Friendship, connection, and understanding are at the heart of this warm, introspective story about the events that shape a person.” Publishers Weekly

The perfectly paced time-travel conundrum is well balanced within the larger plot, and the entire book is imbued with the same sort of forward-driving adventure as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (2009) or Laurel Snyder’s Bigger Than a Bread Box (2011, both Random). A wide variety of readers will find this book wonderfully satisfying and hard to put down.” –SLJ

“Snyder infuses her novel with a touch of magical realism (and, of course, time travel), and many readers will wonder what the grown-ups in their lives were like as kids. Filled with historical facts that weave seamlessly with the narrative, this is a heartwarming story about knowing, and truly understanding, your family.” –Booklist

EEEEEP!

 

And then this happened…

January 21st, 2014

It’s the new year of the trees!!!

January 19th, 2014

 

This week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat.

So here in Atlanta, we got dirty…

Here’s a snapshot, and a silly little ditty to go with it.

Trees, trees, glorious trees,
Full of raccoons and beetles and bees,
Full of red robins and woodpeckers too,
And if you’ve a tree house, perhaps full of YOU!

It isn’t just meant for the bark and the leaves,
The roots and the branches that wave in the breeze.
Tu B’shevat means you should stop for a minute,
In front of a tree, and think of what’s IN IT!

 

What you want to think happens to your books…

January 15th, 2014

There are good reviews and bad reviews.  Not every book can be a bestseller or award winner.

But we don’t write for reviews. We write for kids, readers…

And when you see a picture like this, how can you help but feel gloriously happy?

A big birthday…

January 5th, 2014

So… I just realized I have exactly one week left in my thirties.  One last little week.

This means, of course, that I’ve actually just finished living my fortieth year. Wow. Forty years seems like a lot.  But the last decade has flown, and it has been, without a doubt, my favorite.

On January 12, it will have been exactly ten years since the day I got hitched. Shortly after that, we moved to Atlanta.  A year later, Mose was born, and then Lew.  Somewhere in there I published my first book, and then another 13. It’s more than I would have dared ask for or expect.

There have been some hard, sad moments. I’m older. I can feel it in my bones, and see it in the mirror.  I have RA and crowns on a few teeth. A few gray hairs. I don’t take exotic trips abroad anymore or close down the bars. But I’m glad to be forty. No part of me is scared of the number.

At the same time, I think back to what I thought of FORTY as a kid, and I’m pretty sure I thought that forty was boring and wrinkly.  I don’t feel boring and wrinkly. Though I wouldn’t object to an exotic trip abroad.

But tonight, for the first time, Mose asked me to help him pick a book to read to himself, and it felt truly momentous.  Like a gift he was giving me.  I’ve spent this decade building books and people, and now the two are coming together, and I don’t know why, but… it’s a big deal to me.  Magical, in fact.  Like I could see the last decade of my life right there in front of my face.

All this to say… whatever happens in this next decade, I feel very very very very  lucky to be living my particular life. It’s good.

Thank you, everyone, for being part of it.  Nobody constructs their own world. It’s made up of tiny bricks from other people. I’m grateful.

 

Thinking about the new year… and the old…

December 23rd, 2013

So… I’m up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep.  Thinking about how 2013 is somehow already ending.  How did that happen?

One weird thing about being a blogger is that I have archives of my thoughts, so I get to leapfrog back to past resolutions each year, to see if I’ve accomplished my goals. It’s a funny kind of time travel.  Tonight I’m looking back at where I was a year ago.

I’ve been a little worried about this moment.   I haven’t been feeling terribly focused lately.   But it’s okay!  Last year I said I had only two goals.

#1 was “I want this to be the year I start taking better care of myself physically.”

And #2 was “I want to try very very hard not to think about selling the books I write.”

Honestly,  I only half tackled the first goal. I did NOT go back to dance class.  I did NOT start running.  So I’ll roll all that exercise over to next year.  AND I MEAN THAT, REALLY, THIS TIME I WILL.  THIS TIME NEXT YEAR I’LL BE IN AMAZING SHAPE.  (Ahem)  But I DID do a much better job with other kinds of health stuff.  I’ve been taking my vitamins, and my teeth are in much better shape!  Ta da!  So that’s fine.  We’ll round up.

But I’d forgotten about the second goal, and I did tackle that one.  It’s been a really good thing for me.  Important.

Last spring I finished and turned in the book I was working on, SEVEN STORIES UP, which will be out next month.  (Yay!!)  But the revision process for that book was a tough one, and so when I was done, instead of trying to crank out a proposal for the next book,   I just let myself scribble all kinds of different things.  All spring I scribbled poems and picture books, and into the summer.  I wrote a lot of manuscripts nobody will ever see in that time, and I didn’t finish THE MAGICAL THAT  (mentioned in the post from a year ago), but I published some little essays, and in the end a few of the not-thinking-about-selling scribbles resulted in actual sales, namely  CHARLIE & MOUSE, and CHARLIE & MOUSE & GRUMPY.  Books I am deeply connected to. They’re so personal for me. I’m very happy about them.

But also– now I have a PILE of  new picture books to revise, and I have drafts of 2 totally different chapter books, (as well as several false starts I never finished, but might someday).  Also I have a very very clear outline, and the first chapters of a new novel, THE ORPHAN ISLAND.  Which I’m insanely excited about.

It was good, this letting-go-of-thinking-about-selling.  I didn’t stop making work.  Rather, I was hugely productive.  I only let go of my focus, my worry.  I let myself fiddle and poke,, taking my time and not thinking about what exactly I was producing. Just letting the words come, in bits and snippets. Sitting on the couch, lazily.  The way I used to journal, as a kid.  Or the way I wrote poems in college.  It felt different… and I feel much better.

Now,  here’s what I find fascinating…

When I made my resolution last year, I felt like I needed a new model.  A better way to work. I wasn’t in love with my ideas at that moment, and I was at the end of writing a novel, needing a break.  I felt a little uninspired. Burned out.  So I took some time.

But you know what’s funny? I just realized that was my  SHMITA.

You know shmita?

In Jewish tradition, farmers leave their fields to lie fallow every seven years, so that the earth has a chance to replenish. It’s a sabbatical year. They can water and nurture the land.  But they  aren’t supposed to farm it, to work it. They call that shmita.

2007 was the year I really began my career as a children’s author.  That was the year I revised UP AND DOWN THE SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS for Random House.  The year I learned about “marketing a book.” I was getting ready to become an author in 2007. I saw my first galleys and my first line edits. I had my first meetings in New York.  A door opened, and I walked through it. My life got INTENSE in a whole new way  It was thrilling. And for six years, I put my head down and WORKED.

For SIX YEARS.  Then I took a break, without exactly meaning to.

Now, obviously I haven’t been on vacation for a year. I’ve been watering and fertilizing.  But I really did let up on myself in a lot of ways.  I didn’t have a novel come out , so I traveled a lot less.  But the main thing was this shift in how I thought about my work.  I worked slow and sloppy.  I let myself wander.  in 2013 I let the fields lie fallow. I let my earth renew itself.   I took a sabbatical.  And it was good.

It never fails to amaze me how much wisdom there is in the Jewish tradition.  So often I find a metaphor there, an analogy to my own life, though I’m not terribly observant.  I’d been thinking until today that  this slow and sloppy way of working was just my new method.  That it was time to step away from the head-down word-count-a-day mode.

But maybe not. Now, thinking about shmita, I’m feeling the opposite.  Maybe it’s exactly the time to get back out there in the fields with my plough, reap the bountiful harvest this renewed earth is supposed to yield.

I’m not ready to make resolutions yet, but I’m thinking about them.

What about you?

 

A Rant on WHY YOU NEED Decent Health Insurance…

December 18th, 2013


This is the basic math of health care…

Let’s say you have a family of four, and you need to decide whether to pay for a dental plan, and the plan will cost an extra $150 a month.  Does that sound like a lot to you?

The plan will cover basic checkups twice a year, or about 85 percent of the cost for them. It will cover 50 percent of major dental work.  So… $150 a month is $1800 a year.  That’s a lot, yeah. And you still have to pay for some stuff. Ugh.

But as a parent I assume you plan to go for visits twice a year, right? Because you know that good dental care is something kids need to develop, right?  And modeling that care yourself is the best way to teach them? And you also know that preventative care of your teeth can help with things like heart disease?

So now let’s figure 8 visits (4 people twice a year) for basic exams and teeth cleaning.  And figure the exams and cleanings, even without X-rays and scaling and stuff, are $150 each.  So that’s roughly $1200 you’re “saving.”  (and I’m doing this rough and dirty, not calculating the co-pays, but that’s cheap for dental work, and you WILL need X-rays and so on, so this is conservative, trust me)

Now– all you have to do is have one procedure a year among the four of you that costs $600, and your dental coverage has paid for itself.  Right? One kid with a cracked tooth. One root canal.  Maybe two and a half small fillings on regular teeth.  Or an irrigation for gum issues.

But these numbers are actually looking pretty close. So maybe I’m wrong, and you’d do just as well to pay out of pocket, right? Especially in years when you don’t need any fillings? Maybe you’re better off skipping the dental insurance, after all…

WRONG!

Because the kicker is that you WOULD NOT. You would NOT go to the dentist twice a year if you had to pay $150 bucks just for the visit. You would NOT opt for the X-rays, if you had to pay extra for them. Maybe you’d take the kids in on schedule, because you feel bad not doing it, and the pediatrician might ask, but you’d TOTALLY skip your own visits.  You’d save the $150 and spend it on something else.  You would suffer a tooth ache, and hope it goes away. You would wait… and wait… and wait. You’d wait years.

And then, one day, you would find yourself at the ER in the night, because of sudden intolerable pain.  And the doc at the ER would say, “Wow, this is serious. You’ve got a major infection in there. We need to take out these two teeth and you might have a malignancy in the bone.  I SURE HOPE YOU HAVE INSURANCE!”

And in that moment you will cringe.  Because what you’re about to have done to your teeth–the surgery that could have been prevented with a $150 visit twice a year–it will  cost thousands and thousands of dollars.  (and be painful, and mean you’ll miss work too, which is another cost, actually, that we aren’t averaging in)

And once you’ve taken out a special medical credit card to pay for the abscess and the extraction, you’ll have to decide whether you want to get a tooth implant too, which will be another couple thousand.   Ouch.

So you’ll look back, at that moment, and think, “Why does stuff like this always happen to ME?”  And the answer will be, “Because you didn’t have health insurance.”

I know how obnoxious this sounds. I know I seem priggish. But this is so so so so important. It really is. And trust me, I’VE BEEN THERE.

And you know what else?  The other stuff, the non-teeth stuff? It’s all exactly like the teeth-stuff.  Only way scarier. I’ve been there too.

ANd unfortunately, you’ll be there one day yourself.  You will.  Because  you are a human being.  A soft machine, made of bone and tissue, and you WILL break down. It’s only a matter of time.    And when that happens, it will seem unfair, and unpredictable. WHO COULD HAVE EXPECTED SUCH A THING???

You could have.

When we  avoid the actual math, or we try not to think about the long game, I think it has to do with our basic fear of mortality. We want to believe we WON’T get sick. We want to believe our kids won’t break bones, or (God forbid) anything worse.  We prefer to be shocked and horrified when someone gets really sick or hurt.  ”How could this happen to such a nice young man?”

But it’s not shocking at all.  It’s inevitable. Every human being alive WILL GET SICK.  Every human being alive WILL LOSE TEETH.  Every human being alive WILL NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR.   ANd then we’ll ALL DIE.  In fact, about 40% of us will get cancer.  Probably more, as we live longer and longer.   Nobody wants to think about these things, but they are FACTS.

And the only thing you can do is floss your teeth and eat your kale and go see the doctor regularly. Get tests run  periodically. Do your best. Preventative care makes life cheaper in the long run, and gives us the best chance of living a longer, less painful life.  Preventative care.

Which you are (statistically) far more likely to bother with…  if you have reliable comprehensive insurance.

(and for the record… I am NOT AN EXPERT.  Unless you regularly turn to children’s book authors for help with your finances and heath issues.  I have no reason to be ranting about this, and you have no reason to listen to me.  But sometimes, a girl’s just got to yell)