Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Thanks to author/bloggers Carleen Brice and Tayari Jones for leading me to, a terrific resource for young women in New York City who love to write. According to Tayari, GWN “matches teen girls with writing mentors and provides a safe space for girls to find their voices, explore their options, and learn what the future may hold for them.” In a city where about half of high school girls don’t graduate, Tayari notes, all those who participate in GWN graduate from high school, with most going on to college.

Kudos and thanks to Tayari for offering to match donations to GWN, one of her favorite charities. And Kudos to all the NYC-based volunteers who participate in this important program. To support GirlsWriteNow whenever you shop on-line, check out or

Here’s to a New Year full of more writing time, guidance, and success for all who yearn for it! What a difference we can make through our ideas, actions, and words.

Welcome, 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Beyond THE FUTURE: ONE SISTER’S SONG Now a Kindle E-Book

It’s always fun to have news to report about my first novel, especially since my second novel seems to be in a perpetual revisions stage. One of my recent projects with Pearl Street Publishing has been to transfer One Sister’s Song to a file that could be uploaded as an e-book to Amazon’s Kindle. After some considerable effort on the part of my notably non-techy brain, today the digital version of One Sister’s Song went live on the Kindle store site, where it now can be purchased for a whopping eight dollars.

Despite the lower price point of e-books versus print copies, the lack of costs associated with producing e-books will make digital sales ultimately more profitable for small publishers and their authors as well as for self-published authors. Some day the cost of the Kindle itself will go down so more folks with any interest can enter the era of the e-book and benefit from the device’s nifty quick downloading and comprehensive search capabilities. For now, Amazon has run out of Kindles following a holiday rush. I find the fact that more than a few happy book lovers received a Kindle this holiday season encouraging, not only for the potential future of my own book but for the future of self-published and small indie press titles of all sorts, titles that deserve more chances to be read than the traditional business model for publishing and selling books can possibly provide.

Electronic books will never replace old-fashioned books for me (especially those in my small collection of signed first editions…I cherish the memories of having some of those books signed as much as I cherish the books themselves). I love everything about reading books (including the ability to toss one across the room when I’ve had enough of it...somehow I don’t think that would work so well with a Kindle). But I also remember working at a huge book distributor in a previous life before kids and e-mail and the Internet, back when no one imagined or wished e-books would ever take off. And yet, here we are. Will digital completely replace print publications some day? I certainly hope not, but it’s exciting to finally be directly involved in this techy version of book publishing we’ve all been hemming and hawing about for so long. Meanwhile as an author, I love knowing a certain book that’s been near and dear to my heart for the last 15 years (my book! woohoo!) can now be shared with more readers than ever. Simply put, that feels pretty good.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beyond FELIZ NAVIDAD: My Girls on Christmas Eve

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Beyond FICTION: SO Many Books

Lisa at Eudaemonia (pictured at left with some of her mile-high piles of books) recently struck up a lively conversation regarding Carleen’s video and her own desire to read books by authors of varied backgrounds. She subsequently also compelled me to finally write a post on books I read this fall. But first, the debate over whether suggesting white folks read books by black folks can be construed as condescending or even insulting. Here’s my take from portions of a comment I just posted at Eudaemonia:

“Regardless of a reader’s heritage, he/she should not hesitate to explore books by people of other backgrounds if he/she is interested in doing so. While many readers are fully aware of the wide range of fantastic contemporary authors, some do not even consider them for multiple reasons, most of which are not discriminatory. Perhaps they assume they wouldn’t enjoy reading about the experience of a young black girl whose mother was an investigator in the Atlanta child murders of the 1970s. Perhaps they assume they wouldn’t relate to a young Chinese woman who lived and died hundreds of years ago and returned to her world as a troubled ghost. But good writing is good writing, and authors of all backgrounds who eloquently portray strong characters and their life-changing conflicts produce stories that touch all of us simply because we’re all human. THAT’s the message of Carleen’s video and of Lisa’s post, I believe. The goal is not to insult anyone or to imply that awareness of different writers’ racial and/or cultural backgrounds is necessary to the reading and enjoyment of their work. But I think to remain blind to the forces that compelled a writer to write a stunning book is to miss out on intriguing aspects of the book’s creation that may make it even more enjoyable to read, even more fascinating to contemplate, and even more memorable.”

The books I refer to in this (long-winded) comment are Kim Reid’s No Place Safe and Lisa See’s Peony in Love, both of which I’ve featured in earlier posts. A few books I read earlier this year (I’m currently entrenched in Orhan Pamuk’s Snow and have loads of new titles from Lisa’s and Carleen’s blogs to add to my TBR list. Will the madness never end?!) and have been meaning to feature for a long while are Bonnie Glover’s Going Down South, Tayari Jones’ Leaving Atlanta, Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, and Robert Rummel-Hudson’s Schuyler’s Monster. I’ve no idea why I read all these books during a certain time period, but I was interested to find they all feature shifts of child-parent/parent-child relationships.

In Going Down South, hardships and discoveries bring a grandmother, mother, and daughter together in ways they never would have experienced otherwise. While the plot is compelling and the characters drawn with piercing precision, I most enjoyed the turns that gave the three strong main characters increased depth as they humbly realized and eventually acknowledged their own weaknesses and struggled to overcome them. By the end of this book, the hierarchy of grandmother-mother-daughter shifts to allow each woman not only the ability but the willingness to care for each other and to allow herself to be cared for. Meanwhile, they each earned (through blood, sweat, and many tears) a heart-felt appreciation for their close-knit living arrangement, an arrangement each at first dreaded and possibly even feared.

Another novel but one based on the author’s experience growing up during the Atlanta child murders of 1979, Leaving Atlanta explores the points of views of three different children whose classmates turn up missing and eventually murdered. Tasha leads the way in a section devoted to her family’s break up and eventual, but tenuous, reconciliation fueled ironically by the child murders that have just begun to terrorize her community. Before her father returns, she speaks with him on the phone about her mother’s concern that she (Tasha) refuses to eat, something Tasha is doing in protest of her father’s leaving:

“The timbre of his voice masked an undercurrent of pleading, as if her refusal to eat dinner made an adult difference.”

I love that line. A little mature for a 10-year-old? Maybe. I still struggle with the balance between using language a child would use to describe what that child is doing. The narrator’s not necessarily a child if the story’s in third person, correct? So why should all descriptions be appropriate to the child’s point of view. But I digress.

The contrasts between childhood perspectives and adult realities and the struggles of 10-year-olds to reconcile the sometimes harsh truths of what they understand, what they don’t yet understand, and what they wish they could pretend to not yet understand fueled this book for me. Especially in difficult times, the shattered image of the adults fully qualified and equipped to protect a child can lead to complete disillusionment and/or to the premature assumption of adult attitudes and responsibilities long before a child is ready for them. Jones handles this with a unique take on shifting viewpoints.

Jeannette Walls’ well-known memoir, The Glass Castle, ran for me along similar lines as the early part of John Elder Robison’s Look Me In the Eye (released in paperback earlier this year) simply due to the mental illnesses of the parents and the tremendous impact of disturbing or missing parents on each author’s childhood. Before long at all, Jeannette and her siblings assume responsibility for their own survival, and as an adult Jeannette cannot help but offer her parents aide when they follow her to New York and live as squatters fifteen minutes away. But when she offers help, her mother insists she and Jeannette’s father don’t need any. Instead, she says she’s worried about Jeannette. “Look at the way you live,” she says. “You’ve sold out. Next thing you know you’ll become a Republican. … Where are the values I raised you with?” Instead of allowing a complete shift in this parent-child relationship, Walls’ mother insists on acting like the competent parent she’s never been. Jeannette manages to come to terms with that without erupting in anger over the unfairness of her childhood and the many ways her mother could’ve helped their whole family. And she leaves a simple comment by one of her step-daughters to stand on it own merit and impact when, after first meeting Jeannette’s mother, the girl notes that while she’s very different, Jeannette’s mother laughs just like Jeannette does.

Another memoir, Robert Rummel-Hudson’s Schuyler’s Monster (due out in paperback in January) explores the ups and downs of parenting a child with special needs. But Hudson’s daughter, Schuyler, isn’t a typical child with special needs. As Hudson puts it, she is “simply wordless” due to a very rare neurological disorder. This book not only chronicles the Hudson family’s early struggles to attain a diagnosis for Schuyler and to learn to help her learn despite her inability to speak, it’s a study of one parent’s life-long challenge to overcome self doubt and to become the “right” parent for his daughter. While Schuyler eventually makes it clear—in her own inspiring, unique way—that her father is doing a pretty terrific job just by being himself, Hudson continues to call his daughter “an enigma, the most daunting one of my life,” the source of his joy and his sorrow. It’s been too long since I’ve visited Rob’s blog, but I suspect in the months since his memoir’s been published he’s discovered Schuyler is the source of more joy than he could’ve ever imagined.

What children teach us! And what books from so many parents and children reveal about the complexities of seemingly straightforward relationships. But nothing’s simple in really good books, is it?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Beyond FUN: Buy A Book by A Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month

Fellow Denver novelist and blogger Carleen Brice recently added master book marketer to her list of achievements with her new blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors. Designed to encourage readers of works by black authors to help spread the word about the gems tucked away in African-American sections of certain chain bookstores, White Readers Meet Black Authors links to articles and essays on cross-selling books by black authors and to blogs and sites of interest to those in love with—or just discovering—books by black authors. WRMBA is so trendy it was listed as a December 8 “Brilliant High-Brow” pick on the New York Magazine Approval Matrix. Talk about a nifty plug!

I’ve got a slew of new titles to add to my to-read list from discussions generated by WRMBA. Aside from Toni Morrison books, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God, and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are among my all-time favorite classics. The fact they were written by black authors relegates them and many other notable titles to a certain section of some bookstores, however, limiting their appeal and availability to some readers. I agree with Carleen that such readers are MISSING OUT. And I look forward to taking up her challenge of buying books by black authors and giving them as gifts to non-black readers. Carleen’s Orange Mint & Honey has already been enjoyed by my neighborhood book club, but I have a certain sister or two (or three or four, come to think of it) who’d love it, too.

But wait, there’s more! Carleen has also teamed up with a few other local creative types to produce a video that STARS (!!!!) (ok, I have three lines) yours truly!! I’m the grinning-like-a-fool white-white lady pictured next to Naomi Horii (founding editor and publisher of the fantabulous Boulder-based literary journal Many Mountains Moving) on the static cover frame (see it here) of the YouTube video entitled Buy A Book by A Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black. The video was produced by Carleen in honor of National Buy A Book by A Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month. Catchy, huh?

While Carleen notes on her WRMBA post regarding the recently launched/sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated video that no non-black people were hurt during the filming, I have to say I did pull a muscle from laughing so hard when Kieran Nelson rehearsed her part. The last shot of Carleen, Naomi, Kieran, and Denver book promotion specialist Bella Stander cracking up is my favorite. Since all my fans will surely wonder where the heck I was at that point, suffice to say I had to skip out early for a pressing engagement. If you’re guessing I had to meet with my agent to work out a deal with a pesky Hollywood director, feel free.

Meanwhile, if you’re running out of original gift-giving ideas, feel free to follow Carleen’s lead. Buy A Book by a Black Author and Give it To Someone Not Black. If you’re unsure how such an inspired gift will be received, send along a link to Carleen’s video. They’ll soon agree with everyone’s favorite Black Book Section Lady: Unity tastes good!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Beyond FUNDRAISING: Cups of Kindness

Debra, a blogger and talented potter over at FromSkilledHands, has helped organize a benefit for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank in northeast Ohio. Looking for a unique gift that’s got a special purpose? Check out Debra’s description of this very special fundraiser and the terrific community resource it’s designed to support:

Cups of Kindness has been on my mind for a long time. This year, we are pleased to join with the Peninsula Art Academy, the Peninsula Area Chamber of Commerce, local, regional and national artists and a group of dedicated volunteers to support the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

“The Foodbank uses its resources well: each dollar that is donated purchases seven nutritious meals. Meals that provide sustenance to people who are already stressed. No questions asked. When I recently toured the facility, I was amazed by the quantity of food that was ready to distribute to agencies large and small. The facility was immaculate; the people, both volunteers and paid staff, passionate about their purpose.

“We are reaching out to others by giving hope. There is, I think, joy and intrinsic satisfaction in helping people who will never know who we are. As members of a world community, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to share our resources and to preserve dignity.

“This show and sale of small-scale art will showcase artists’ interpretations of a Cup of Kindness, and will include both two- and three-dimensional artwork. All proceeds from the show will benefit the Foodbank. For information about this event, please go to Cups of Kindess.”

The Cups of Kindness show officially kicks off this weekend at an art academy and an art gallery in Debra’s town of Peninsula, OH, and is scheduled to run through January 10. On-line sales of Cups of Kindness artwork will begin Monday, December 8. Happy shopping!

Nifty Cup of Kindness artwork by Boston artist, writer, teacher, and blogger Cat Bennett