Monday, September 29, 2008

Waiting for the Redeye

I'm at the Portland (Oregon) Airport, waiting for the redeye--heading home after yesterday's Kidlitosphere Blogging Conference. Wow! I learned a lot. Every single presentation was focused and full of practical, inspiring ideas; everyone was wonderfully friendly; and my suitcase is loaded with books by YA bloggers that I can't wait to read. (I'd list them, but they're in my checked suitcase, and I'm too brain-dead to remember names and titles at the moment.)

Today my friend (and former high school student/future blogger) Dan Patterson and his wonderful daughter Kate took me on a book tour of Portland. We visited Annie Bloom's Books, where the very excellent people on duty pulled up Everything You Want and Wish You Were Here on the computer. and ordered them on the spot. We also found some cool sticker books for Kate, who's five. We visited Broadway Books, 23rd Street Books, Powell's Books (where I signed two copies of Wish You Were Here) and A Children's Place Book Store (where we found even cooler stickers, glittery cats). We rewarded Kate--who was quite a trouper--with a pastry treat, then hit Murder by the Book just for fun.

I can't believe I packed so much into one weekend and really hope I'll be able to sleep on the plane!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blog On

About this time last year:

Andrew Karre (my fabulous editor at Flux): You really need to blog.

Me: I’m too old to blog. I don’t even know what a blog is.

Andrew: You should go to the Kidlitosphere Blogging Conference. It’s in Chicago. You can drive.

Me: Okay, I guess.

So I went to last year’s Kidlitosphere Blogging Conference in Chicago. It was fabulous—well worth the $80 ticket I got for going through an electronic tollbooth without paying, probably when I inadvertently found myself off the toll road and entering, then exiting O’Hare Airport. I have a vague memory of it. There was no attendant, I had no change. What was I supposed to do?

Anyway. Like I said, the conference was fabulous. I wrote a post about it for the Flux blog, setting myself up for the conversation that follows:

Andrew: Now that you know what blogging is and you’ve actually blogged, you need to start your own blog.

Me: (whining) But I have no clue how to do that.

Fifteen minutes after this conversation:

Andrew: I just made your blog. Blog!

Me: Thanks. I think.

I’ve been blogging ever since. I love doing it. Being a novelist, I get so dead-set on Getting the Novel Done that I rarely take time to do explore other ideas that occur to me along the way. It turns out, what I’m mostly writing on my blog are little 500-700 page essays I’d never have taken the time to write if it weren’t for the little voice in my head saying (among many other bossy things) “It’s time to do a post for the blog.” Over the not-quite-a-year that I’ve been blogging, I’ve also enjoyed writing about some books I love—most recently, My Tiki Girl, by Jennifer McMahon. I interviewed one of my favorite authors, Peter Cameron, about Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful to You for The Edge of the Forest, and I’m looking forward to doing some reviewing for The Well-Read Child in the future.

I can’t say I have the widest audience in the world; it’s not uncommon to get as few as 16 hits a week—most of which (any week, for that matter) are likely to be my family and friends.

(Cool. Just checked Site Meter (which Andrew also set up for me). Thirty-three this week—and it’s only Thursday. Who aaaarrrreeee you?)

In any case, I’m on my way to the Second Kitlitosphere Blogging Conference in Portland, Oregon tomorrow morning. I can’t wait. I look forward to seeing some of the bloggers I met last year, meeting new bloggers, and learning all I can about how to be a better blogger myself.

See you there?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin's Hair

Yesterday my friend Candace e-mailed me this picture with a note: “This could be the answer to Sarah’s hair problems.” Of course, I had to send it to practically everyone I know—that is, everyone I know who’s supporting Obama. GP replied with a link to “What If Sarah Palin Was Your Mom?”(, a site that offers you the opportunity to type in your name and find out what it would have been if Sarah Pail had been your mother.

I am Slap Spear Palin which I think is pretty cool—though I have to admit I’m really jealous of my friend of S.J. who turned out to be Chisel Dustup Palin. She was very kind I when confessed this, and told me she thought Slap Spear was a swell name. But I know she thinks Chisel Dustup is way cooler. I mean, don’t you?

FYI: John McCain is Steam Fango Palin; Cindy is Crop Schooner Palin. George W. Bush is Jeep Pike Palin; Dick Cheney is Wood Corps Palin; Rush Limbaugh is Crank Widow Palin; Vladimir Putin is Can Lightning Palin.

I could go on and on. (I did, actually. Britney Spears is Spine Breeder Palin, for example. There’s no end to the pleasure in this addictive exploration.)

Sarah herself, renamed,which is only fair,is Flack Gobbler Palin.

Serves her right.

I've been laughing my head off about all sorts of stuff like this since McCain gave us Palin as his running mate. The internet's been buzzing with it. God knows, she's fodder for humor. And I need the laughter to balance the sense of dread that washes over me when I consider the real possibility that Sarah Palin could end up being our president.

I'm no Hillary fan. But there's no comparison between the two women in terms of their intelligence, education, and experience. If McCain really believes that Hillary supporters will be just as happy with one woman as another, he doesn't think much about women, generally. If women--Hillary supporters or not--vote for Palin just because she's a women, they apparently don't care much about women's issues either. By which I mean, the issues that I think most women, Republicans or Democrats, would probably agree most directly affect their lives and the lives--among them, equal pay for equal work, affordable health care, and a foreign policy committed to searching for peaceful solutions before sending our children off to war.

We Democrats have delighted in Palin's gaffes, like revelation that she didn't know what the Bush Doctrine was, in her interview with Charles Gibson. My own daughter does a fabulous impression of Sarah saying, "Ooh, gosh, Charlie. I can see Canada from my window."

But we're not going to be laughing if she's the one picking Ruth Bader Ginsberg's replacement on the Supreme Court. We're not going to be laughing when she employs her secretive,mean-spirited management style to banish anyone who crosses her in any way and replaces them with cronies from high school whose main qualification is loyalty, no matter what she does. (Been there, done that.)

Last night I went to a meeting of "Wiser Older Women for Obama." The young, wonderfully idealistic Obama volunteer in charge of women's issues who spoke to us said, "We have every confidence that Democratic women will come out for Obama. They're insulted by Palin; she's not Hillary.

"You're not worried at all?" I asked.
She said, no.
"Well, I am," I said. "I'm really scared McCain might win.
Some of the other Wiser Older Women agreed.

The Obama campaign has registered 750,000 new voters in Indiana alone, the volunteer told us. The polls don't reflect voters who use only cell phones, most of whom are young. If Obama gets wins all the states Kerry won, plus Iowa--which he has a good shot at, he'll just need eleven electoral votes to win the election. Indiana has eleven electoral votes.

"We can do it," she said.

I hope she's right. I'm going to do all I can do to make it happen.

I'm not going to stop worrying, though, until it's a done deal.

Meanwhile, may Sarah continue to make bigger and more alarming gaffes so that it will be clear to anyone who's really looking that she is the wrong woman for the job.

Signing off,
Slap Spear

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Tiki Girl

“Maggie Keller used to be a lot of things. She used to be popular. She used to be normal. But that was before the accident—the one she thinks she caused. The car accident that killed her mother. Now Maggie is a Frankenstein girl held together with screws and rods—a freak with a limp and a scar. Maybe that’s why she is drawn to Dahlia Wainwright, the new girl at school who is as brainy as she is bizarre…"

I picked up an ARC of My Tiki Girl, by Jennifer McMahon, at PLA last spring, and just got around to reading it over the weekend. It begins, “All the girls in tenth grade hate Dahlia Wainwright.” Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

The girls hate Dahlia for the usual reasons—she’s prettier than they are and, worse, she doesn’t care what they think. She wears clothes from the Salvation Army, army boots, and “pinup girl lipstick.” She hangs out alone, sneaking off to the soccer field to smoke clove cigarettes and read poetry whenever she gets a chance. Still grieving for her mom, abandoned by her popular friends, Maggie longs for a new friend who’s able understand who she’s become. She’s been watching Dahlia since school started, “long enough to think that maybe she’s the one.”

The connection is instant. Dahlia reads her a poem, offers her some licorice, and invites her to be in a band. From that day forward, the girls are inseparable, and Maggie is drawn increasingly into the world of Dahlia’s unstable, but compelling family. Dahlia’s mom, Leah, christens her “LaSamba.” Dahlia is “Tiki Girl;” and Dahlia’s brother, Jonah, is “Zamboni.” Leah, herself, is “Birdwoman,” named for a doll given to her by a friend in the mental institution where she’d been committed. McMahon does a great job of creating the instability of this family on the page, cranking the tension subtly as Leah goes deeper into schizophrenic behavior and the adventures she concocts grow more and more dangerous.

But the real tension, also beautifully crafted, is that Maggie is attracted to Dahlia and doesn’t know what to do about it. Does Dahlia feel the same way? Sometimes it seems she does; but Maggie just can’t be sure. And to make things more confusing, Troy Farnham, one of the most popular guys in school, auditions for their band. When Dahlia lets him in he develops a big crush on her, and she starts to act as if she might feel the same way.

So, who does Dahlia love? I won’t tell you the answer or how it plays out, just that it was believable, heartbreaking, hopeful…and true.

Like the best YA novels, My Tiki Girl deals with typical teen-age challenges: the pleasures and insecurities of friendship, the delicious and frightening intensity of first love, the often painful growth that comes with greater independence. What I loved best about the book, though, was the way it showed that love is love. The love one teenage girl has for another girl not only feels like heterosexual love, but can play out in exactly the same way.

If you know a girl struggling with her sexuality or one who knows exactly who she is—but hasn’t quite figured out what to do about it yet—give her My Tiki Girl. She’ll love it!

Sunday, September 7, 2008


ME: So, what’s the best thing about the second grade?

HEIDI (my granddaughter): Tickets.

ME: Tickets?

HEIDI: You get tickets for being good, and then you get to spend them on stuff.

ME: Like what?

It works this way:

5 tickets: You get to have a stuffed animal on your desk for one whole day. Said stuffed animals are stored in the teacher's closet, and include Mike Wozinski and Randall, from Monsters, Inc.; an alien from Toy Story; and various neo-pets (whatever those are).

10 tickets: You get to have lunch in the cafeteria with the friend of your choice, even if that person is not in your class, or you get to chose something from the Prize Box. Things in the Prize Box include rings, rulers, bracelets, small skateboarder action figures.

15 tickets: You get to be excused from half of your homework.

20 tickets: You get to have lunch with your teacher and a friend of your choice, even if that friend is not in your class, or you get to choose something from the Treasure Box. The Treasure Box includes...better stuff.

There are also class tickets given for exemplary group behavior, like lining up in a straight line, walking quietly through the hall, not talking to members of other classes who may or may not be lined up straight next to your straight line in the cafeteria, smooth (and quiet) transitions from one area in the classroom to another, and speedy restroom visits. Ms Purcell, the teacher, sets a goal for the class—say, winning 25 tickets in a week. If they meet the goal, they vote (heads on desk, eyes closed so they don’t just vote the way their friends vote) for a class party, popsicles for everyone, an extra recess—or various other perks. NOTE: Tickets can be taken away, in the case of really, really bad behavior.

As an extra added bonus, if you get a sticker or stamp (designating perfection) on one paper every day of the week, you get to choose something from the prize box on Friday.

In her cousin Jake's first grade classroom, things are a little less baroque.

In Ms Bailey's class, you have magnetic sticks that are in play on a daily basis. If you’re good in a regular way, your stick stays in place. If you’re really, really good, you get to put your stick in the special section reserved for members of the Compliment Club. If you’re bad, you have to put your magnet on The Can. (A real can, but I don’t know how big it is or what it looks like, though I have to say it sounds alarmingly like a trash can to me.) At the end of the day, you get a smiley face on the calendar in your loose-leaf notebook if you’ve been good, a frowny face if you’ve been bad.

ME: Does the teacher draw it?

JAKE: We draw it. That’s how we learn.

ME: Okay, then.

Ah, to live in a world where everything so clear-cut, rewards and consequences are immediate, and you get to start over every single week!