Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pre-dawn writings and Melina Marchetta books

Sunrise at 7:52, sunset at 5:53.

Can't sleep, don't want to read, only now after days of staying away from my computer want to write. Keep walking from room to room, picking stuff up, putting it down, forgetting why I picked it up in the first place. Sad , sad, sad. Finally ready to put that aside and get on with making things better.

I don't often feel sad for myself so it's felt really indulgent to actually want to wallow in it. I couldn't even talk to D about it because I didn't want to be jollied into a different emotion. Time to push it aside and go on.

The best thing about not being able to sleep is actually getting up instead of just turning and turning and turning trying to get back to sleep. I love watching what's going on out in the world at this time of day. The sky is clear and the stars are brilliant, even from inside. While I sit and watch the few cars go by on I-90, wondering where they've been and where they're going, the sky begins to cloud up, wind moving them south and over Beacon Hill as the earth begins to warm.

I sit in the dark, I drink my coffee, the cat sits in the window, her ears and head flicking from branch to leaf as they bounce in the wind. Trains sound their horns, planes depart from Boeing and SeaTac, trucks use their big brakes and the sound bounces across the valley.

I wait for the first lightening of the sky, the very first light as it hits the windows of the buildings on Beacon Hill, and, if the sky is clear, the windows will flame. It is the most exquisite color, and it is gone so soon.

Just finished reading Melina Marchetta's newest book, a companion volume to Saving Francesca, The Piper's Son. I have loved every one of her books and she only gets better and better.

The Piper's Son takes place 5 years after Francesca, and our main character, Tom, is in a seriously downward spiral. So is his family. Beloved uncle, brother, son Joe died in a London train bombing a couple of years before and the grieving's never ended. Dad, Dom, has left the family because of his alcoholism, Aunt Georgie is pregnant at 42 by her ex-boyfriend, someone she can't forgive, and Tom's run his only true love away because he is in continual mourning for his family and can't or won't talk about it.

All these things come to a head when Grandfather Tom's remains, he was killed in Vietnam, may have been discovered and coming home. Guilt, grief, love, joy, massive loneliness, all make for a glorious stew in which The Piper's Son makes horrible mistakes and finally gets a chance to redeem himself.

It is laugh out loud funny but I found myself with tears in my eyes a lot of the time (hmmm. This was the last book I read before I got sad. Hmm.). I love how realistic her characters are and how believable the dialogue is. Her adults are flawed and horrible and I really like that the adults' stories are entwined with Tom's, Tara's, and Francesca's. It's nice to have access to books for teens that show how hard it is to ever grow up, that we (the adults) are inventing the present and the future as we go-that the basic map we think we follow often leads us into "here there be dragons" territory.

The Piper's Son will be available in March, 2011, and you will have plenty of time to read Saving Francesca, Searching for Alibrandi, Jellicoe Road, and Finnikin of the Rock by then!

(Nice interview with Melina here. I can call her Melina, like I feel I can call J K Rowling "Jo", because we shared a meal. Once. Thank you to all those amazing publisher's reps who make these pre-publication dinners possible. And their publishers, duh. )

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trouble with May Amelia!

Sunrise was at 7:36, not that long ago, and sunset will be at 6:12. Foggy now, clear earlier. The fog is tinted a very faint yellow, at least around my house, because of the banana skin yellow leaves on the trees. The street trees across the valley are the most extraordinary colors: carmine at the tops, chartreuse at the bottoms, more red, less green every day as the air grows colder. Just exquisite.

The raccoons were busy in the fountain yesterday, big splashes of water over the patio, chewed up plastic plant pots, potting soil stones in the basin. And something chewed a hole in the bird feeder, a big hunk chewed right out of the corner of the plastic wall that holds the feed in the feeder. You can tell the animals are getting ready to hunker down when activity in the area picks up like this.

Blue jays dominate the feeder but the little chickadees get their fair share, eventually. The feeder is set over the blackberry bushes so they sit and wait for the jays to slip off the metal pole that holds it. The jays hold the pole in their claws and push the feeder with their beaks until it gets close enough to grab. They hold the pole with one claw and the feeder with the other and straddle the space while they clean it out of their favorites, throwing everything else to the ground that the dark brown birds, juncos, maybe? eat.

There's a Siamese cat out there that spends a lot of time sitting in the middle of all that grounded bird food, I don't know who or where her parents are, and she's caught a few of the less observant birds over the years we've lived here. We chase her off and she'll be gone for a day or two, but then we'll see her slink back through the bushes, setting up her post, waiting and waiting while Gidget sits in the window, growling.

I had made breakfast and was looking for something to read so looked through a pile on the floor and kalloo, kallay! found the sequel to Our Only May Amelia in it! What a day, what a find! I LOVE Our Only May Amelia! I LOVE Jennifer Holm! I started it right away and, oh, that May Amelia. How hard it is to be the only girl on the Nasel River, how hard it is to have people expect you to be a girl and to only have boys as friends and family.

It picks up maybe a few months after the first book ends and May is hiding in a tree because her father is mad at her. He's mad at her because, while she was washing dishes, she accidentally washed the jar of yeast starter so now there won't be any bread.

May Amelia has 7 brothers and a sister who died. She has parents and a small group of adults and boys who really do love her. It's just unfortunate that she is the only girl in a settlement on the southern Washington coast where there are no roads but the river. Just across that river, on the corner of Oregon, is Astoria, the nearest city to Nasel, in the year 1900.

Our Only May Amelia was a Newbery Honor book and was made into a play by Seattle Children's Theater. My niece, Brittney, and two of her friends, read OOMA and loved it so we got tickets for them to come to the play and to get their books signed. I like to think that it might have been a defining moment for them-I know that Britt and Judy still remember the play and meeting Jenni on opening night. We have pictures and one day I will find them again.

Anyhoo- I am just thrilled that I found The Trouble With May Amelia in that pile of books and that I don't have to be at work until 11:30 today! (Ages 9 and up.)
(Atheneum. Due out April 5, 2011. $15.99.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reading on a Day Off

I finished reading Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen last night.

My day was pretty fractured. I didn't have any big house projects, no big boxes to haul, the weeds in the walkway were kinda small, so I spent the day trying to write book reviews and blogging but just didn't have the attention span for it. I watched 5 different bird species sharing, sort of, the fountain; I swept, looked for David Wiesner books to get signed, re-read the notes for the Washington Book Award speeches I was giving later in the evening. I don't know why I just didn't settle down to read. It was my day off sans husband, usually a day where I either read straight through or get stuff done. Just couldn't settle.

So, I decided to have breakfast at 1 or so. Boredom eating. Boredom reading. Try something new, only have to read it long enough to eat breakfast. It's usually a good enough length of time to judge whether to continue with something.

I've been picking at Leverage for a week. It's been on the kitchen table that long and I've been reading a page or two here, a short chapter there, during breakfast or during commercials. A thick, white advance reading copy, with a photo of a young man's forearm, long, muscled and veined, clenched in a fist. The title, LEVERAGE, in both black and red, the word RAGE in red. Leverage was different from the other books I start at meals. It was so good, I could only read a little bit at a time. I knew that once I started it, I was going to have to finish it, and my mind set this week was such that I wasn't going to be able to really give it the time and thought it truly deserves.

I finished my eggs and toast (if you accidentally eat moldy rye bread, is there a chance of having a psychedelic experience?) and still sat at the table reading. The sun moved into my eyes and I finally had to get up and move. I was sore from the truly uncomfortable chairs. Had to keep moving. So I decided to go to my FAVORITE place to read: Seward Park. I love walking around Seward Park while reading.

I wasn't finished with the book by the time I did one circle around so I sat in the car, warm, still able to hear the ducks and geese, and kept reading. Oh. What a story. What amazing writing. As horrible as this story is, the writing is so exquisite you have to keep reading. It's impossible not to tumble into the next paragraph, the next chapter.

I eventually had to leave the park. I had awards to present, and I still had to shower and dress. It was difficult to not read at the red lights. I got home and did the whole "oh, I can read a few more pages" until the light started to go and I was going to be seriously late for this event.

The Awards were good. I love Jim Lynch, the poetry was fabulous, Michael Harmon was shy and nervous, my heart stayed in my chest, and I remembered to breathe while speaking. But on my way home, I kept thinking about Leverage and that I didn't have to get up early-I could read through late night and into early morning. I could read until the first planes left Boeing Field if I wanted to.

The review I would write for Leverage will never reveal how truly good this book is. Let me just say that it's between two boys, Danny, a gymnast, and Kurt, a football player. Kurt has serious, serious issues in his life. He's smart, loyal, has a stutter and is seriously good at what he does. He is also a ward of the state and has been abused, physically and emotionally, most of his life. He has finally, after some horrific things happen to him and his best friend, come to a safer place: a home where he's not beaten, a team that accepts him, mostly, a coach who seems to care for him. He is rare: sensitive, thoughtful, careful, wary.

Danny's lost his mom, his dad is seldom home, he's hoping to win a gymnastics scholarship to college, and his team of small but strong boys ends up on the wrong side of the football team when their coach insists that the gymnasts get to use the weight room.

The book is told in alternating chapters, Danny's and Kurt's, and we see how their friendship evolves and becomes something they both need in order to survive.

There's football and gymnastics, steroid use, friendship, smart girls, smart boys, clueless adults, horror. There's guilt, love, hope, heroism, and joy. It's not for the faint of heart. There is a graphic scene in the locker room where 3 really huge boys hold down and abuse the smallest of the gymnasts and it will stay with you for a long while. That said, it's an important book, I think, and I know it will be a difficult book for school librarians to stock. Come and buy one. It should get the recognition it deserves for peeling back the politics that run high school sports.

Leverage is for ages 14 and up and will be available in February, 2011. 17.99. Dutton.

P.S. One of my favorite lines in the book is when the girls arrive at a party with the team. They float down the steps, his eyes stick to cutoff jeans and bare tummies: "Curvy beauties...fill the room with a scent that makes me want to lick the air."

Patrick Ness and The Chaos Walking Tour

Sunrise was at 7:20, sunset will be 6:30.

The author Patrick Ness (The Chaos Walking Trilogy) was in town last week and Third Place Books got to be his host for two days. After weeks, nay, months, of back and forths between his publicist, teachers, and me, we got two high schools organized, price sheets sent out, advanced reading copies distributed and many of the people on the staff completely caught up in Todd Hewitt's life with Viola and war with the Mayor of Prentisstown.

Patrick is one of the best school presenters I think I've had the pleasure to host (Eoin Colfer is another). He was clear, funny, succinct, had great ideas for writing, used the words poo and fart (very important in a room of juniors and seniors, mostly boys), and kept control over his audiences of 100 or so. He made it clear that the few disruptive students were being rude without completely embarrassing them and then went on with his business.

The hardest thing to do with and for high school students is to get money out of them for books. They don't remember the day or the price sheet, they may not care about the books (it's often hard to get high school boys to read, period); this is just another day in the life of a student, just another hour to get through before football practice or work. But, that changes when you have someone like Patrick, passionate about his work, serious about showing kids that they all have stories to tell, and let's not forget FUNNY (and fun to look at, thank you very much!) standing at the front of the room, striding back and forth, making the connection between kid and book.

I got a note from one of the librarians the next day who said that every teacher in the room was thoroughly rapt and thanked her for making this event happen. The English teacher said that he is going to incorporate Patrick's writing ideas in his own classroom and the librarian said that a boy came up to here and said, "Do you have that book?" and she knew exactly which book it was. All the copies she had were spoken for by lunch and there was a long reserve list for them. A woman brought her son to the store to meet Patrick later because her husband, who is a teacher at one of the schools, said she had to; he really wanted his son to meet Patrick, buy a book, and then read it. That's really cool.

Now, at the schools, one book was sold to one student. More were purchased by the librarians. But it still feels like such a success! The residual sales will be larger later. But I have to say that when you can get high school boys to ask for a book to read, on their own time, one they may have never heard of, that's true success. And it happens when a connection is made like this, one author who is thoughtful about what he does, his books, and group of people in a room together.

Thanks, Patrick! Come again, any time!

(Patrick is the author of two adult books, only available in the UK, and The Chaos Walking Trilogy which is made up of The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men. Published by Candlewick Press and good for ages 13 and up. You grown ups out there should read them.)