Sunday, September 30, 2007

Updates and Downloads

The SCBWI-NM retreat's coming up, October 4-7, at Hummingbird Music Camp in Jemez, NM. Mountain air, and the space and time to read, write, and talk about reading and writing. A dining room with the most amazing (or terrifying!) collection of clown paintings you ever saw. Home-cooked meals on time. Walks by the river. Cell phone dead zone. No Internet access. Bliss. My fellow critique group facilitators will be Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Betsy James, and Eleanor Schick. Betsy's fantasy novel, Listening at the Gate, is a Tiptree Honor Book.

My last manuscript workshop of the year through Writers.com is currently in session. No more online classes will be scheduled until 2008. Updates will be posted on the class listings page of the Writers.com web site, or you can sign up for their e-mail newsletter.

How Many Innings?

For some reason known only to the force of sheer cussedness in the universe that some people think of foolishly as "inspiration," a character in a book of mine currently on the great playing field called revision, decided to play baseball. In 1935. No, 1937. No, I'm not that old. It's when the story in the book takes place. When I started writing it, I didn't know the first thing about baseball. But she's playing, and I'm still revising, and learning, slowly and laboriously.

For some other reason I can't quite fathom, when people learn about my ignorance of the sport they say, "Ah, you must know all about cricket, then." Er-no. Yes, I know. I'm a disgrace to the countries of my birth and residence. The truth is, I was a blissfully unsporty kid and have grown into a sports-ignorant adult. This was never a problem, until this book came along. But here, for the record, is Justine Larbalestier who does know a duck from a tailender. And is the author of the Magic or Madness trilogy, all three books now available in the US.

So--two innings or nine? Take your pick, but don't expect answers from me. I'm only the writer, and in those baseball scenes, I'm in the outfield, running as hard as I can.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Why is Childhood Like a Third World Country?

A lot of people contact me wanting to learn how to write for children. (Must be the big bucks, you say?) The problem is that they have sentimental views of childhood, as a sort of warm-fuzzy place filled with magic and imagination. Add small fluffy animals who learn important life lessons and you get the picture. As a result, from time to time, I start questioning myself and my ability to get across exactly what I mean when I say I'm against those things. Against warm-fuzziness and magic? That makes me sound downright mean. So here's what I think.

Childhood in fact is a bit like a third world country, in the sense that it's mostly well-meaning people who don't live there who:
  1. give it that label
  2. find it charming and filled with innocence
  3. feel a great need to educate its denizens
  4. consider it a developmental stage, only theirs is better
  5. secretly long for a time when its inhabitants knew their place (or were seen and not heard, or both).
Perry Nodelman wrote an article on this subject some years ago that says something about this in a scholarly way. "The other: Orientalism, colonialism, and children's literature." Children's Literature Association Quarterly. 117:1, 29-35.

But my take is that we're not going to learn how to decolonize childhood until we're well and truly over colonizing countries. Which (look around you) isn't going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, consider discarding the warm-fluffy cloak and getting in touch with your inner child. Add a mean streak, or fangs, or a dollop of despair, a little longing. Does it feel like a punch in the gut? Much more like it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Romina's Rangoli, and celebrations of untold story

The places where cultures intersect are always rife with possible conflict, and because of that they're also rich with story. Read Pooja Makhijani's review of Romina's Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar, illustrated by Jennifer Wanardi, on Chicken Spaghetti. Rangoli meets papel picado in this picture book about a child from a bicultural family. From Shen's Books. Pooja's review also touches on little-known histories of the earliest South Asians to arrive in North America.

It seems as if we're finally seeing an awakening of interest in such untold stories. Japanese American stories from five Interior Western states will be showcased next year in an inspiring conference, "Whose America? Who's American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice."

Combining the commemoration of loss with the celebration of survival, and with the interrogation of larger principles of redress and justice are essential, if we're to learn anything from history. And the stories we tell in children's books reveal sharply the extent to which we're willing to shed the gloss of conventional history and tell kids the truth we owe them.