Sunday, December 16, 2012


This most recent shooting in Connecticut has our nation reeling with the unimaginable horror of it. How could anyone do that? How sick and evil can a person get? And why the hell did he have an assault rifle? 

The pro-gun lobby in this country is holding us hostage. Until our leadership grows spine enough to stand up to them, killings like this will continue. 

Nicholas Kristoff has written an excellent Op-Ed in the New York Times on the subject and puts forward some sobering statistics: "Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence." For the full article, click here:

Kristoff goes on to give some impressive examples of how other governments have curbed gun violence with some sensible laws: 

"Other countries offer a road map. In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands.

The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings.
In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.
Or we can look north to Canada. It now requires a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and it imposes a clever safeguard: gun buyers should have the support of two people vouching for them."
The horror of what happened to those poor, sweet little children and the incredibly brave men and women who tried to protect them is the last straw. It has to be. We've got to end this insanity. We've got to stop arming the maniacs and the criminals. The National Rifle Association and the people they work for have made enough money off the blood of innocents. It's time to take our country back. It's time to protect our babies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dear Teen Me is ALMOST HERE!

I am a contributor to the awesome anthology Dear Teen Me, in which authors of YA books write letters to their younger selves.

Check out the book trailer to see some of the fabulous authors who contributed!

To pre-order your copy, follow the links:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Conversation with Todd Mitchell: On Buddhism, Rejection, and Writing!

Today I present my friend and acclaimed author Todd Mitchell! Todd is the author of The Traitor King, which School Library Journal called "a must for fantasy readers," and The Secret to Lying, which won the coveted Colorado Book Award! He's also a contributor to a very cutting edge graphic novel anthology called Flight of Angels, along with an illustrious mix of other writers. We're all looking forward to his upcoming novel Backwards, which he'll tell us about in a minute, right after our conversation about rejection and how a writer can use it. 

A: When I first started off as a writer in my twenties, and I would tell people that's what I wanted to do for a living, I almost always got some warning like, "Being a writer involves lots of rejection..." Few people were particularly encouraging of my dream. Now that I think about it, this might have been my first taste of what was to come. I didn't sell anything at all in my twenties. I wrote short stories and poems and sent them off to very unrealistic places like The New Yorker, or The Paris Review. I don't think I was so naive as to think I'd be accepted. I always received those rejection letters with a grim kind of complacence. Probably deep down I knew that what I was sending off wasn't actually good enough, and so the rejection came as no surprise. It's when I started really getting serious, and trying my hardest, that the rejection started to hurt.

T: The New Yorker? Wow, you're bold. But I definitely sent out some similar, unrealistic submissions in my time, too. And writing, I think, is all about rejection. Not just the big manuscript rejections, but the countless little ones that happen when an idea, or character, or even a line gets "rejected" (yeah, I know, most people refer to that as criticism, but essentially it's the same as rejection. Or at least it feels the same, because for whatever reason, a reader isn't accepting a part of the story).

The thing I've come to understand is that there are different types of rejection/criticism. There's the "yeah, that probably wasn't ready to be published" (or "that line wasn't right") rejection that you mentioned. And ultimately that's a helpful rejection, because it's the world's way to push you to do better. When I think about what we do as writers, part of it depends upon believing in a fantasy (even if you're writing realistic fiction). After all, when you start writing a story, you start with a blank screen. With nothing. So you have to delude yourself into thinking that you can create something out of nothing. You have to believe the story, and characters, and all of it can exist. So much of the writing process at first is building on that belief, until writing the story isn't so much creating something, but discovering something, as if the book has always been there just waiting to be unearthed. I mean, aren't those the best books? The ones that you can't even imagine anyone writing, because they seem to exist so completely.

But... in order to revise a book, I think that belief in what you're creating (the writing delusion), needs to be shaken a bit. And that's where rejection comes in. It's like that old Zen saying (cliche as it is, it's a good one): First you see the mountain. Then you see no mountain. Then you see the mountain as truly a mountain. With writing, though, it's like first you believe in the story. Then you think the story is all crap. And then, if you're able to get past that point of doubt, you might discover the true story.

When I've sent manuscripts out during that first stage of delusional story love, and they've gotten rejected, it's ultimately been good. What's harder, though, is when I've thought I've discovered the true story, and the manuscript (or idea, or character, or line) has still gotten rejected. Like you, I think that's a different sort of rejection. Because maybe the problem isn't with the story. Maybe the story got rejected because it's so different, or unique, or brilliant, that people aren't getting it. Or maybe I'm just deluding myself again. And there's the rub —how do you tell the difference between the rejection/criticism you should listen to, and the rejection/criticism you should ignore? 

So what do you do, Amy? When do you listen to the voices of doubt, and when do you ignore them?

A: I like that idea of the helpful rejection. Hadn't thought of it that way before, but for the serious artist, rejection really is helpful as a way of pushing us to do better. I also love that Zen analogy. Writing a book sometimes feels a lot like climbing a mountain!

As far as knowing the difference between the rejection that helps and the rejection that means the reader "doesn't get it," I honestly think, for me, the only way to tell is to give it time. Most rejection stings quite a bit, and can feel frustrating. I've found, though, that the criticisms that really stay with me, that hurt beyond the initial barb, are the ones that are true. They're the ones I should be paying attention to. But truthfully, the ones that hurt are often the ones I want to deny completely so that I don't have to deal with the emotions of feeling that I've failed in my project. It has sometimes taken me months to accept a truth about a piece I was working on, to recognize that I needed to let it go. That adds up to a lot of wasted time, all in the name of protecting my ego.

Kind of brings us back to Buddhism, in a way. I'm no expert, but don't Buddhists try to clear ego and its wants out of the way so that they can reach a state of blissful acceptance? Do you see a parallel here with the writing process?

T: I definitely see a parallel. In fact, I often think of writing as a form of meditation, since it helps reveal to us truths about ourselves and the world. And often that path of revelation (or realization) is a difficult one. (Okay, now I'm sounding lofty, but while we're on the subject of Buddhism, I don't exactly see Buddhism as being about acceptance. Instead, the Buddhism I've practiced has been more about awareness, and relieving suffering in one's self and others. It's a subtle difference, but I think an important one).

Anyhow, back to writing — I really like what you said about how the criticisms that hurt the most are often the ones that on some level, are true. But it's a truth that we're often afraid to accept, or unable to accept. This is where the difference between acceptance and awareness comes in. Because I don't think it's necessarily good to accept the criticism. Instead, I find it's more helpful to try to become aware of the truth behind the criticism. Afterall, the criticism itself might not be helpful. It might be given by someone who doesn't get the vision of a piece, or is speaking more out of malice and insecurity rather than genuine insight. But if it sticks with is, it's a sign that there's probably some truth there to be discovered. To accept the criticism is in essence to accept some failure. To use the criticism to develop a deeper awareness of one's self or one's writing, though, is to turn something negative into a positive.

Admittedly, this is a challenge. And I agree, taking time to let the muddy waters settle is helpful. Here's another trick I sometimes use. Since I don't want to accept that a painful criticism is right (lest it cause me to give up on a story, or at least the way I've conceived of a story), I'll tell myself "Okay, let's pretend something about this is right. If so, what alternatives could I think of that will fix the problem?" Often, by asking myself that question, I'll come up with a different turn or layer to a story, that I might have missed before. And always this results in a better draft. It might not mean, though, that I've directly addressed the thing someone criticized. Because that's the thing I've learned about criticism and feedback — readers are pretty good at sensing problems. But they're not so good at sensing solutions. So a reader (or in some cases, even my editor) might comment that a certain line or action doesn't "ring true." But the solution might not be to change that line or action. Instead, it might be to change something that happens 20 pages before, or 20 pages after. And then, suddenly, the thing that stuck out like a sore thumb works great.

I completely agree with your thoughts on how it's ego that often gets in the way of making these realizations (or making them quickly). With revision, I've always found that the sooner I can let go of things and address the big issues, the sooner I can discover a better draft. But it's very hard to do that. Ego is tricky. It tries to talk me into keeping things the way that they are (so instead of restructuring the whole plot of a story, I might spend months trying to "justify" the structure I've written, until I get so frustrated, I give up and start over, and discover what I should have months ago). I've tried to make peace with that process, and enjoy the constant realizations and twists and turns that happen when I write. But I would like to become more efficient, and find the "right" story/character/voice sooner. Because right now, it takes me around twelve drafts to get things right.

So what say you, Amy? Any tips on how to get beyond ego, and let go of things, and unearth the "true" story quicker? Please — I need them!

A: The only short cut I can think of is to have a fellow writer read your work, someone you trust, who is smart and perceptive, and has a writer's sensibilities. I don't see this as criticism so much as plain old help. I've always thought that the central problem with written language is that it doesn't have all the "fail safes" that a face to face conversation can have. When you're talking to a person, you've got body language, expression, and tone of voice to convey meaning. If you're still unclear, your listener can ask questions to clarify meaning. But in writing, it ALL has to be on the page. I see a critique partner's role as similar to the fellow conversationalist --one who asks the questions that clarify to help uncover meaning. Sometimes those questions might hurt, but if you've got a good critique partner, those questions are meant to help, not wound.

To wrap things up, what are you working on now?

T: I completely agree about the importance of working with a good critique partner (or two). Makes me think I should get together with my group again sometime soon (hint hint).

Right now, I've just finished the third (and final) round of editor requested revisions for my new book, BACKWARDS, which will be coming out with Candlewick Press in Fall 2013. I think of it as my happy suicide book, because I wanted to tackle some tough issues like suicide and bullying, but I didn't want it to be depressing. The only way I could think of to make the story uplifting, though, was to have it be narrated by a consciousness who's traveling backwards through time. It's a very odd book, and I'm eager to release it into the wild to see what people think. 

And now that I'm pretty much done with that project, I'm diving back into a paranormal romance hybrid-text project that I've been working on for five years, called THE HIDDEN. I'm literally rewriting this book for the tenth time, but I think I've finally figured out the right story, because all the elements are falling into place, and I can't stop writing it. Sometimes it goes that way, I suppose. I stumble about in the dark for awhile, but when I find the right story, it seems so obvious, I wonder how I didn't see it before. That's the joy of writing for ya.

Thanks for talking with me, Amy. You rock.

A: Thanks Todd. I can hardly wait to read Backwards! Rocketh on, my man.

Todd's Website:

Where to find his books:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Conversation with Carolyn MacCullough

For a nice change of pace, here is a conversation with my friend, acclaimed writer Carolyn MacCullough, author of two fantasy books: Once a Witch and Always a Witch, as well as three contemporary YA novels Falling Through Darkness, Stealing Henry, and Drawing the Ocean. All Carolyn’s novels have received much deserved critical praise, and I can’t wait to see what else she has on the drawing board!

Since Carolyn and I are both parents of very young children, we’re discussing the challenges of being a writer who parents, and a parent who writes. Enjoy the read!

A: Hi Carolyn, and welcome! Life got in the way for me even before I had kids. For the longest time I had to work a day job to pay the rent, and would have to spend my off-time writing. Once I could leave the day job permanently, there were a few years of blissful writing time when I had all day to write. But then life got in the way once more when I started my family. I love being a mommy more than anything, but it sure does compete with my writing time! I know your situation is similar. I'm wondering how you carve time out to write, and when you do have that time, how do you clear your mind so that you can really focus on your work?

C: Focus?  What exactly is that again?  I had a great response ready on focus and then my 18 month old wandered by trying to shove a grape in his ear and I lost track of what I was saying. 

Anyway, carving out the actual writing time itself is hard enough--but doable--with my extremely supportive husband always willing to jump in.  But....for me, I miss the 'dreaming time' that I had (pre kids).  That's when I had hours and days and weeks to just /eat/sleep/think/dwell in the universe of my book and its characters.  That's when I got to listen to the characters’ voices in my head and let the story slowly develop.  I feel like plot elements that were tricky and/or unresolved suddenly got resolved as long as I had enough time to unwind them.  Now, my head is so crammed full of baby world details (I fear that Wheels on the Bus is permanently stuck in my head) that I have very little time and head space for myself.  That's the challenge that I'm currently working on.  Keeping a journal before bed every night seems to be helping.

What about you?  Do you have any magic rituals that help you to focus?  (Please tell me you do so I can copy them!)

A: Oh, boy, I wish I had wisdom there. Honestly my "ritual" is to leave my children in the capable hands of my fabulous nannies for about three hours every weekday, and I go to a coffee shop, or Whole Foods where I can have coffee AND do grocery shopping after I write. I begin each session with a little Facebook time, and I answer emails, (my hundreds and hundreds of fan emails... yuk, yuk,) and I also do a little professional web-based stuff like comment on blogs, that kind of thing. Then I settle into writing, after about thirty minutes, sometimes more like forty-five. When I'm drafting I have a quota of five pages, which I usually meet. When I'm revising I try to get about three chapters done. And then I rush back home. The truth is, some days I’m just not very focused, but having a daily goal helps me get the work done despite my shaky concentration.

You know what I miss the most from my pre-child writing life? Time to READ! God! I used to be able to stick with a book for hours and hours at a time! Now if I get about 45 minutes of reading a day, I'm lucky! How about you?

C: Yes, time to read!  I miss reading in bed in the morning--just waking up, reaching for my book, starting where I left off the night before.  Instead I wake up with two toddlers crawling all over me, burrowing under the covers, kicking me, and turning on the light.  And it's usually about 6:53 AM.  But the really nice thing is that my two kids like to start out their day with books, too--so I guess I am reading first thing in the morning--just not exactly my choice of reading material.  But fun all the same.

45 minutes a day!  I'm jealous.  I usually manage about 26 minutes if I'm lucky.  Right now I'm reading Mary and O'Neil by Justin Cronin--man, it's so good.  And amazing to read since it's a heartbreaking look at this couple and their entwined lives.  The same Justin Cronin who wrote that post apocalypse government created vampires in a science experiment gone horribly wrong book called The Passage (also really good in a different way).  What are you reading?  Oh, and do you find that you read differently now that you're a mom?

A: I'm in a slump with reading right now. Finished a Stephen King novel called Desperation recently, which was thought provoking and interesting, but kind of a downer. So I'm taking a break from reading and going to my second love: movies. I have to watch them with the volume turned down for fear of waking our kids, so they're not as much fun, but I do like the escapism they're offering. As far as whether I read differently? I think I’m far less willing to spend precious reading time on a book I only kind of like. If I’m not totally addicted to it within the first twenty pages or so, I throw it over my shoulder and move on to the next!

To finish up, care to tell us a little bit about your most recent novels, and what you're working on next?

C: I'm too scared to read Stephen King.  (But I think he's really good).  Whenever, I'm in a reading slump I start working my way through Foyle's War episodes--they're so good.  And written/created by young adult author Anthony Horowitz--I'm so impressed.

My latest two books were Once a Witch and Always a Witch--about a 17 year old girl, Tamsin, who comes from a long line of witches and yet she herself has no magical Talent--or so she thinks.  It's takes a sinister NYU professor, a hunt for a lost family heirloom through time, and a reunion with her childhood best friend/love interest to persuade her otherwise.  What I'm working on now would also be considered a YA paranormal set in a seaside city and the shadow city just beneath the waves.  (That's a bit vague, but it's all so new still).

A: I love the idea of a shadow city! Sounds wonderful! And thanks for the recommendation for Foyle’s War. Sounds like books that might get me reading again. I’m already getting bored with movies. Thanks for chatting, Carolyn, and good luck with the writing!

C: Thanks for chatting with me!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Post from Author Catherine Stine!

Today, we have YA and middle-grade author Catherine Stine presenting characters from Fireseed One, her YA futuristic thriller set in 2089. Varik and Marisa, archenemies at the onset duke it out in a Streamerazzi Interview!
First, here’s a novel summary:

What if only your very worst enemy could help you save the world?
 Fireseed One, a YA thriller, is set on a near-future earth with soaring heat, toxic waters, tricked-out amphibious vehicles, ice-themed dance clubs and fish that grow up on vines. Varik Teitur inherits a vast sea farm after the mysterious drowning of his marine biologist father. When Marisa Baron, a beautiful and shrewd terrorist, who knows way too much about Varik's father's work, tries to steal seed disks from the world's food bank, Varik is forced to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold and venture with her, into a hot zone teeming with treacherous nomads and a Fireseed cult who worships his dead father, in order to search for Fireseed, a seemingly magical hybrid plant that may not even exist. Illustrated by the author. Fans of Divergent and Under the Never Sky will likely enjoy this novel, as well as those who like a dash of romance with their page-turners. What book bloggers are saying: 5 stars from Parafantasy: “Amazing world-building and extremely clever plot! Fireseed One rejuvenated my interest in the sci-fi genre.” Electrifying Reviews: “An emotional thrill ride! There wasn’t a dull moment in this book, and when I wasn’t reading it, I wanted to be.” 5 stars from Writing from the Dark Places: “Marisa and Varik are the pioneers of a new frontier. And you want them to survive and succeed at all costs.” 5 stars from The Magick Pen: “Stine’s illustrations really helped put a picture to all the beautiful descriptions… the romance between Varik and Marisa was sweet.”

Fireseed One is available at Amazon, B&N & iTunes

And now, for the interview!

Nationality? Birthplace?
Eighteen year-old Varik: I live in Ocean Dominion, which used to be called the Arctic Circle, but is now a series of floating islands and farms. Our sea farm is Teitur Farm.
Seventeen year-old Marisa: I grew up in Land Dominion, which used to be Canada and Greenland way back in the dark ages. Now, Land Dominion and Ocean Dominion are rivals. (Sends Varik a wicked grin).

Fave food?
Varik: Flyfish with sautéed sea apples. My friend, Audun cooks this. He’s a gourmet cook.
Marisa: Restavik boar with Landlock peas. All products of Land Dominion!

What are your occupations?
Marisa I was a member of the ZWC, an activist group, helping out the climate refugees in the Hotzone… or (looks over at Varik) a terrorist organization. Depends who you ask.
Varik: I was hoping to go to college to be a doctor. I wanted to specialize in making prosthetic limbs like the flippers I made for my dolphin after his got eaten by toxic waters. But now that my father (swallows hard) drowned, I manage our sea farm.

What makes life worthwhile?
Varik: Living on the ocean, sailing my old Sea Tern, playing ball with my dolphin, Juko; going to nightclubs on SnowAngel with my friend Audun, meeting girls (laughs when Marisa elbows him).
Marisa: Exposing hypocrisy, helping the refugees—
Varik interrupts: Though she goes about it in the worst way!

What are you each most fixated on?
Marisa: Feeding the Refs. Finding Fireseed.
Varik: Finding out if Fireseed exists, if what Marisa told me has any basis in fact. 

Do you have a temper? How does it manifest?
(Both explode into uproarious laughter)
Marisa: Temper, me? Nooo! But Varik… he put a fish tracker in my neck for starters!
Varik: Um, because you broke into my father’s underwater vault, because you shot me with a stun gun. Because… (Exasperated sigh). Me? I’m pretty even-keeled.

Can you keep a secret?
Varik: (Reddening, dead silence. Thinking of all the secrets he’s kept from Marisa).
Marisa: (brushes her long, red hair back defiantly) It depends...

May we ask you each to describe how the other shows affection?
Varik: By breaking into my father’s secret underwater vault!
Marisa: By locking me up in his father’s airless meditation room.
Varik: It has one small porthole.
Marisa: Not even big enough for a water rat to squeeze through.
Varik: That was the point!

Who are your love interests?
Marisa: (Snorts) I have a fatal attraction to tall, blond guys, who own farms and have a horrid sense of politics!
Varik: I confess: I’ve developed a taste for stubborn, impulsive redheads, who join crazed cults simply to rebel against their megalomaniacal dads.

Catherine, where did you get the idea for this novel?
I’ve had versions of this novel on my mind for a long time. I developed it while drawing illustrations of floating ocean farms, an army of dolphins and a psychic scientist. I also read a lot about hybrid plants, and permutations of pharma crops. The story was always percolating, transforming, like the strange hybrids in Fireseed One.

Who is your favorite character in Fireseed One?
I’d choose Marisa, who starts out as a hard-core terrorist, but goes through major changes inspired by a series of shocking revelations. Plus, she gets to go on the trip of all trips with a smart, handsome guy who owns a floating island farm. The only problem is, he hates her guts. How’s that for a challenge? A close second is Shin Kaskade, the digital guru who fixes Varik’s hacked computer. Shin has a trendy hair-nest and a sparkling star embed on his wrist that takes credit card payments.

Will there be a sequel?
I’m at work on it. It takes place 8 years later, and the main character is the girl from the Fireseed cult with the three missing fingers! You’ll have to read Fireseed to know who this is. J

Where can we find you on the web?
 On my Goodreads author page, Fireseed One on Facebook, Amazon author page and my website. I welcome all visitors to my Idea City blog.

Thanks, Amy, and for all who stop by! This was fun,


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thank you bloggers!

Please check out this interview with me on author Catherine Stine's awesome blog, Idea City:

Thank you Catherine, for the interesting conversation! In the coming weeks, look for a guest post from Catherine Stine right here! Catherine is, herself, an accomplished author. Fans of dystopia should check out her highly imaginative novel, Fireseed One

I also want to recognize the many bloggers who have been kind enough to review SPARK. Below I'm listing my favorites of the reviews I've run across in the blogosphere. THANK YOU ALL!

Bananas for Books:

Candace's Book Blog:

The Teen Bookworm:

The Book Swarm:

Genre Go Round:

Friday, July 20, 2012

On guns.

Like most everyone who has heard about it, I am broken hearted that yet another mass murder has occurred in Colorado, my home state. A young man, aged 24, walked into a movie theater and opened fire on a group of fun loving people who just wanted to watch a good movie. Naturally the endless gun control debate will resurface, and will likely be tamped down once more by the National Rifle Association and their incredibly effective stable of lobbyists.

Some people think that guns are really cool. I do not really see the appeal, but I'm willing to concede that most people who own guns are decent, responsible citizens who would never engage in such senseless violence. They're not the ones I'm worried about. I'm worried about the nut-jobs.

A dozen people are dead now because some total lunatic got his hands on four guns and decided to externalize his angst in a public place. One of the dead is a little six year old kid.

I am tired of this. I want stricter gun control. If it were up to me, and I wish it were, we as a nation would take every gun we own, melt them down, and use them to make useful things that don't kill people. How many more people have to die before our "leaders" stand up to the NRA and create some legislation that at least tries to keep assault weapons away from the mad men? I for one am tired of our kids dying violent, painful, terrifying deaths, and I'm tired of our politicians doing nothing about it just because some people think that guns are cool.

Other blog entries/Op eds worth reading:

Jason Alexander's brilliant rant:

Roger Ebert:

Hardcore Zen:

NY Times:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On redemption.

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.”
~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787

Thomas Jefferson, quoted above, was the draftsman and the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which at once declared war on the country that engendered ours, and established the ethos of our nation. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

Beautiful, inspired words, yet in Jefferson's America, owning slaves was the norm. He himself owned slaves, and even carried on a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave who worked in his house. Can their relationship ever be considered truly consensual on her part, considering Jefferson owned her? He could do anything he wanted to her, and she must have been painfully aware of this. We forgive Jefferson by saying things like, "He set Hemings and her children free when he died." We do not think overmuch about how he kept them in bondage while he lived. Admittedly, it was a different time, and one that is difficult for us to imagine. The complexities of those relationships must have been very fraught indeed. Still, one thing is clear: Jefferson was a brilliant statesman, and a forward thinking president, but he was far from perfect.

Indeed, he was a slave owner declaring the inalienable rights of all men. This is a contradiction of a particularly American flavor. Our country is filled with contradictions. That's what comes of being a culturally pluralistic nation founded, not upon the history of an unbroken line of peoples, but upon an idea: Freedom -- a word that has great resonance in the ears of Americans. In the above quote, Jefferson, the man who set our nation free with his pen, tells us that people should feel free to question even the existence of God, for it was God who gave us reason, so he must delight in our use of it. 

I think this is a lovely idea, but there are those who would disagree. The Texas Republican Party seems to feel that critical thinking is a dangerous skill to teach children. In their words, "We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority." Clearly, the Texas GOP does not believe that the "fixed beliefs" (read religion) of their constituents can stand up to critical thought, and so this skill should be abolished from our nation's public classrooms. I think Mr. Jefferson must be spinning in his grave.

For a democracy to function well, it must have an informed populace. For people to be well informed in this age of a fragmented, commercially motivated media, people absolutely must have the ability to think critically about what is packaged as "news" these days. More and more we hear incomplete statistics and vitriolic sound-bytes that are crafted by experts to obscure, to confuse, to deflect. BOTH sides of the congressional aisle are guilty of this, by the way. I'm not naive. The middle class electorate is being led around by the nose, often talked into voting against our own interest, soothed into accepting unnecessary warfare while we are impoverished by an outdated healthcare system and a lopsided tax code that favors the wealthy, all the while being represented by a congress that has been bought and paid for by corporate America. The only way for this trend to continue is to keep the electorate from really thinking about the spoonfuls of crap being coaxed down our gullets.

I believe that if there is a God, and if he gave us a brain, he must have intended for us to use it and to use it well. What better way to show him our thanks than to use the gifts he bestowed upon us? Much has been made of this gaff by the Texas GOP, and it should be held up to scrutiny. When people in your government want to keep you from thinking, look out. 

There are still good men in government. I believe Barack Obama is one of them. He's made mistakes, but he's trying his hardest under very difficult circumstances. Another man with great integrity who cares about his electorate is John McCain, a republican who I dearly wish had been sworn in as president of our nation in the year 2001 instead of who we got instead. Both these men are wading uphill through piles of excrement trying to do what is right for their country. Neither of them is perfect. Obama was overconfident and naive when he took office, and the nation has paid for it with a sluggish economy and a congress in chaos. McCain made mistakes too. In his presidential campaign, after years of taking a back seat to lesser men, McCain finally decided to try pandering to see what it got him, and chose a disastrous running mate that made him look like a garden variety power seeker. Do these mistakes undo the greatness of these men?

In answer, I give you this to ponder: Here is a letter written in 1787 by Thomas Jefferson to Edward Rutledge, a legislator from South Carolina: "I congratulate you, my dear friend, on the law of your state [South Carolina] for suspending the importation of slaves, and for the glory you have justly acquired by endeavoring to prevent it for ever. This abomination must have an end, and there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it." Another American contradiction: Jefferson, a slave owner, was in his heart an abolitionist. Why, then, did he keep Hemings and the children he fathered by her in bondage? I give you a letter to Edward Bancroft in 1789: "As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made, to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children." From this we can conjecture that he was trying to protect them. Does this redeem him? It's up for debate. I'm not sure it does, but I do like him a little better now that I know this. 

Some of our leaders, like Obama and McCain, are good men with integrity, and they try their hardest. If history shows us nothing else, it is that people are fallible, and they do their best with the circumstances they are given. To tell the charlatans from the good men, we the people need to be free to think about the puppet show they put on for us. 

The long and short of it is: believe in whatever you want. Believe there's a God, or don't. It's up to you. But for the love of God, never stop thinking!

(For a full text article about the Texas GOP go here:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

It is too hot.

Too hot for gardening. Too hot for walking dogs. Too hot for playing outside. Too hot for firefighters trying to kill a wildfire. It is too hot.

My garden soil is cracking. The worms are baking dry. The more I water my plants the more they wilt. I stepped outside to spread some mulch, and after ten minutes I looked at my shoulders to discover they had aged 50 years. My skin is wrinkling and sagging, scaling and blowing away in the wind. It is too hot.

I saw a butterfly land on the hood of my car and vaporize, so I mashed up butter in a bowl. I added sugar, flour, spices, and chocolate chips. I spread the dough out on my dashboard to make cookies. They burned. Now my car smells like the Keebler Elves (TM) torched their tree for the insurance money. It is too hot.

I saw a small child step from the shade into the sun and a fine trail of smoke rose from her feathery hair. I called out to her, "It is too hot!" She ran back to the shade, leaving smoking footsteps in the grass behind her. I called the police. They sent a rescue squad. Four strong men in protective clothing wrapped her in non-combustible blankets and rushed her to the ER. She is recovering but the freckles on her nose have joined into a chain that spells out: "It is too hot."

The trees are burning. The grass is burning. The cabins are burning. They were beginning to take the High Park fire in hand, but now...

It is too hot.

Friday, June 22, 2012


I'm getting excited for the release of SPARK, coming up on July 17th! It's always daunting writing a sequel, so I was very relieved when my editor told me she thought it was even better than GLOW. That sentiment has been reiterated again and again, by readers, bloggers, reviewers, and my staunchest critic: my brother. As an 'artiste', I should be above such gratification, but I freely admit I am not. With all this approval flowing in, massaging my fragile writer's ego, I'm feeling pretty good about this book.

I guess I agree that in some ways SPARK is better than GLOW, if only because with the second novel I had room to really get into the characters' minds. I'm especially proud of the work Seth's character does to improve himself. He's not a good guy in GLOW, but now he recognizes his mistakes and flaws, and he wants to try harder to be the kind of man who would deserve Waverly. Kieran, on the other hand, finds himself in increasingly difficult situations as the leader of the Empyrean, and I love how his pure heart gets twisted by the pressure. In SPARK, though, no one is more twisted than Waverly. She's still recovering from what happened on the New Horizon, and her experiences left a mark on her. She's a bit of a loose cannon, and though she always thinks she has good reasons for doing what she does, by the end of the book she has begun to seriously compromise herself. Spark is dark, it's fiery, and it's fun. At least, I had fun writing it and I hope my readers will have fun reading it!

So raise your figurative glass and toast the coming arrival of SPARK! May you read! May you enjoy! May you tell your friends! May they read it and enjoy it too! And may it sell well so my kids can go to college! Hurray for SPARK!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

REPOST from November 3, 2008

I just finished a great book called The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson. Reading good writing always makes me want to write. There's something inspiring about finding a fresh use of language, savoring it, and trying to use it for my own purposes. Some writers fear influence, but this has never made sense to me. Language flows through individual people like tributaries, each of us contributing to the great river of thoughts and sounds that make up the very grand, very adaptable English Language. This is how language changes. Writers should never fear influence from other great writers. I believe reading excellent work is what improves us as craftsmen.

Vibes certainly had many influences. I pulled the device of telepathy as a means of exploring the human condition from the brilliant Ray Bradbury. His work in The Martian Chroniclesuses telepathy to reveal how faulty are our constructions of reality, how individual, how fragile. Emma, by Jane Austen, was also a big influence on Vibes. Emma, just like Kristi, starts out thinking she's got everyone's number, but ends up learning that she is much more deceived and confused than anyone. I think Kristi's caustic wit was also borrowed from Austen, who can be every bit as caustic as any modern teenager. I very purposefully madeVibes a comedy in the Shakespearean sense, for the plot follows the basic outline of Taming of the Shrew in many ways. Kristi is a lot like Katherina, a strong, independent woman who is so protective of herself that she pushes everyone away. Ultimately it takes a man who is equally strong to make her admit that she needs love just as much as she needs independence. Because I allowed myself to be influenced by writers much greater than myself, I believe that my own writing was elevated above what it could have been if I had eschewed all influence.

But what about originality? With so many stories already written, and written better, how is it possible for any writer to really contribute something new? Some say it isn't possible, but I think that originality comes in a continuum. The truly original writers are those who change everything that comes after them. These are the geniuses. Shakespeare, Cervantes, Austen, Hemingway, among others, could be considered the literary lions of their respective centuries. I cannot hope for this level of originality. But I can be original in my own small way. Vibesborrows ideas and devices from great writing that has come before, and combines it to make something that is fresh, even if it isn't wholly new.

Originality doesn't only come in print form. In truth, we are all artists with language because we all speak in our own individualistic way. Everyone has little quirks, odd ways of speaking that help to make people the "characters" they are. These individual characteristics are why every human on earth contributes to the evolution of language. I wonder how many anonymous geniuses coined phrases that rode the waves of our verbiage, changing the way people express themselves. Who was the first person to use the word "dillweed?" How did "tight" replace "cool?" Why did people seize upon the change? What makes the new word feel so fresh and crisp? What makes one person describe a beautiful woman as "phat" and another describe her as "built?" Why are some guys "dawgs" and some "bros?" There are oral Shakespeare's changing our language every day, but few of them get any credit.

I'm reminded of that saying from Heraclitus: "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." Our language changes every time we use it. Perhaps it changes us, too. I might once has been described as a "bird," but now I think I'd be lucky to be called a "betty." Very lucky. I may someday turn into a "cougar," but only if I make a radical lifestyle change and start lifting weights. I used to go around exclaiming, "Man alive!" Now I say "Holy cannoli!" for some reason. I like how it rhymes. I also like how no one else says it. Maybe someday I'll overhear it said on a subway platform or in an airport, and I'll know that a goofy phrase I once uttered entered the English lexicon. I can dream, can't I?