Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thief of my Heart

Last year, I read a novel that stole my heart quicker than you can say mud.

Aptly so, because it's called The Book Thief. If you haven't read it, this is what it looks like:

And now, go buy it. (Or check it out at the library.)
I write coming-of-age stories, so the young age of the main character attracted me. There are many, many novels out there billed as coming-of-age stories, but not very many great ones. This is a great one.

Here's Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief:

(Also young, no?)

With that brief preface, let me share a short story of humanity and kindness with you today.
After reading The Book Thief in one whirlwind weekend (it's 550 pages, folks), I walked around in a stupor, wiping my tears and marveling at the power of the story. I decided to follow my nine-year-old son's great example and wrote a letter of thanks to Zusak.

I whipped off an email to him via Facebook, remembering how miraculous I feel when someone says something nice about my own book. (And also thinking, geez, I'll bet he gets so many thank you letters, he just gets exasperated by them.)

He wrote me back, and told me that he also cried when he wrote the scene that I cried over. I was stunned to get his response. What a kind gesture to personally answer a "fan mail." I noticed afterwards that he attempted to respond to EVERY SINGLE fan post on his page. What the what? This man deserves a medal with the word HUMANITY embossed on it...and an extra hour every day to write fiction.

A few days later, I decided to assign The Book Thief to my college students in the spring.

A few days after that, I found out that Markus Zusak was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Highland Park Literary Festival, the festival at which I teach a fiction workshop every year.

I love it when the world kind of comes together like that.

So, in a few weeks, Markus Zusak will arrive in Dallas, and he'll make his appearance at the opening night of the festival. Then the other workshop presenters and I will have dinner with the creator of Death himself (Zusak), at which I'll act very shy and nervous and clutch my worn out novel and ask him to sign my book (and apologize for all the marginal notes) after the dessert course. I know this will happen, because I behaved the same way at the dinners with Scott Simon and Russell Banks in previous years.

Last week, I met the author of The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker. At SMU, she read from her debut novel, a NYT Bestseller, and she was sweet and gracious and talented.

Sometimes, writing (and trying to live as a writer) is so hard, it seems inhumane. Writers like Zusak and Walker make the world of writing a little kinder. A little gentler. Warmer.

It's good to love what one does. I'm a lucky girl.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A missed opportunity

Just a short post here.
Kemble's drawing of Huckleberry Finn, from the original 1884 edition of the book.
My nine-year-old read the Illustrated Classics version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for a school book report. He enjoyed it so much that I decided to read aloud to him Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (I use the word "slave" instead of that infamous other word, which I just can't bring myself to say.) We read one chapter every evening before bed.

It's a nice time for the two of us, and I get to share some history with my son. I sometimes pause to explain Jim's dangerous situation, the Mississippi River, or the steamboats. Halfway through our chapter last night, I stopped yet again to explain the bend in the river, Cairo, and the concept of free and the slave states.

"So, did Mark Twain write this book when there were slaves?" he asked me.
"No. The setting is around the 1830s or 40s, before the Civil War," I said. "And Twain wrote the book many decades after the Civil War."
"Oh," he said. I started reading, and he stopped me again.
"Wait! You mean Mark Twain's not alive?"
"No, sweetheart."
He buried his face into my shoulder and cried, "Oh, no! Oh, no! I wanted to write him a thank you letter and tell him I love his books."
My heart melted a little.
We had to take a minute break so he could compose himself, and then I kept reading.

I think Mark Twain would have been pleased to know that his book, well into the 21st century, is still touching the hearts of kids. Well done, Mr. Twain.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year, Hello! (And the Next Big Thing)

All I've been reading lately are New Year's Resolutions. I feel a little guilty that I haven't publicly made any. I'll go for inclusiveness and say that I will make an effort to be a better human. Seems like a tall order for a New Year's Resolution, but I figure if I ask myself, "Will your response/action/thought contribute some goodness to other humans?" and proceed from there, it could be a worthwhile resolution.

I've been knee deep in another libretto, folks! This talented young composer was commissioned an opera in London, and he asked me to write the libretto, which I have recently delivered. I've been having a swell time--just bowled over by the joy that comes with writing lyrics. That doesn't mean it was without its challenges.  Writing rhyming lyrics is hard, folks.  Half the time, I was worrying about whether my lines were devolving into Mother Goose. But I'm enthusiastic about this opera, based on the tragic and fascinating life of Evariste Galois. I can't wait to hear the music. I might go mad with excitement when the production date draws nigh.

I've been kindly blog-tagged by a dear friend and writer, Gregory Allen, so I'd better jump on this now before another month flies by. Here's the gist of "The Next Big Thing," copied from Greg's site:

"Blog hops are a great way for people to find new authors. Perhaps read a genre they haven't thought of before. The Next Big Thing is an around-the-world blog hop where authors of all genres tell readers about their next/recent book release in the course of answering 10 questions.  Each author has been tagged by another author to write a blog, and the current author then tags new authors who blog the following week."

I've mentioned Greg's children's book, Chicken Boy, on my website before. He's written books for adults, too, all of which can be found here for your purchasing pleasure. Greg is simply an amazing person, and it's been an honor to know him. (Forgive my sentimental gushiness.)

I'll try to answer these questions to my work in progress, which is actually in revisions now. 

Begin fancy font.

1) What is the working title of your next book? 
I have a few completed manuscripts, but for today, I’ll talk about Invisible, a novel for Young Adults about a girl who turns…you guessed it.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book? 
Down here in North Texas, there’s been a fracas about the fracking of the Barnett Shale. (Did you see what I did there?) It’s caused some minor earthquakes, and there are rumors that natural gas is seeping up into houses and other scary places. I imagine, “What the frack?” is going to take over the “wtf” phrase soon. I wondered what other scary gases could be inadvertently unleashed, and what would happen if a previously unknown gas were jostled loose in an unprecedented earthquake in North Texas. And voila, my characters become invisible—and not the convenient kind of invisible. No floating through walls and doors in this story.

3) What genre does your book fall under? 
This is Young Adult science fiction with a twist of government conspiracy and a dash of first love.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 
I’m finding it difficult to imagine how this kind of plot could be adapted into a film. That would be one heck of a 3D film challenge, wouldn’t it? James Franco could appear in any adaptation of a book (it doesn’t even have to be mine), and I’d go see it.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

After an earthquake destroys Jordan’s hometown, she and her family wake up invisible, and must hide from the military pursuing them.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
This book is represented by my agent. Check her out.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 
I wrote this book over one summer. But I’m still tweaking. Tweaking, tweaking.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
Life as We Knew It for older teens.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to write something fantastical, but also include a love story that would be different from anything I’d ever read, but would have loved to read when I was a teenager. This is it.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
It’s about earthquakes! Invisible people! Family going all to pieces! First love! Kissing! (While invisible!) Annoying siblings! Almost dying! What more could one want?

Here are a few other authors I think you should check out. All of them are wonderful. Follow them!

Jessica Love, Young Adult writer and really entertaining blogger
Amy K. Nichols, another great writer/blogger I love to read
Sean Ferrell, weird and wonderful