Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hangin' Out - Peace and Love

OK, so I'm waiting for our son to get re-routed on his way home for Christmas and the computer isn't letting me do everything I want to - so our gain - here I am blogging. I was just reading Vacquero Girl's California Cowgirl blog and she was talking about Karma. Good karma - and peopling your world with positive folks. I agree, and she is such a warm, good presence herself that she'll find all sorts of good people. That's what I wish for you - good friends, a healthy family, meaningful (and continuing) work, a little fun and some time to treat yourself too.

I would usually review a book here - and promise I have two (at least) that I'm dying to talk about a little closer to their release dates and a pile of Advance Reader Copies waiting for me. My bookshelves are lined with well known and not so well known kids books. But tonight I am thinking of favorite stories of faith. Faith that God has even the most impossible situations well in hand. Faith in traditions and love. I am thinking of the Book of Ruth and the story of Noah. I often consider God's servant Job. There was Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his own son and Jesus whose whole life and death was an act of faith. So my recommendation today is the Bible - whether the Old Testament or the New. Whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, other, or none of the above. The outline is there for faith in hard times. For ordinary people doing extraordinary things. For looking outside yourself to a greater power - no matter what you call it. Peace this Christmas.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Two Good YA Reads

Well, it's been a while - two months. And this from a blogger who was going to blog twice a week. Promise. But blogging must be like diets. Easy to start, harder to keep up with. I've been wanting to post about two books I read in October since - well, October.

The first is The Lucky Place by Zu Vincent. Zu's book is gently written in the trusting voice of a child - beginning when Cassie is three years old and trying to make sense of her alchoholic father's behavior, the story spans ten years to her innocent acceptance of her step father, to her protectiveness and loyalty to her older brother, and to her accepting responsibilities beyond her years. Drunkeness, divorce, anger, and childish wishes seem all the more chillling seen through Cassie's young eyes. Zu grows her character in both age and emotion until Cassie is able, at twelve or thirteen to become the nurturer, the backbone of her shattered family. The prose is lovely and the story held my attention from page one to the end. It's not a happy book, but a satisfying one. There are some interesting takes on gender roles too - in both the adults and the children.

Second is Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe. Set in Carson City, Nevada, the main character, Kyle, shoots and kills his best friend in what seems like an accident, but Kyle can't remember any of it. As he goes through "the system" of juvenile justice, probation, counseling, and school oversight, he is haunted by the possibility that he killed his friend on purpose. Ayarbe writes a sharp, witty character who is enamoured with old movies and directors. The book is edgy, intellegent, and disturbing. It's an emotional ride through territory we all hope to avoid.

In both books I was taken by quirky secondary characters - by Vincent's Jaimie, Cassie's older brother, whose love of dancing and costumes stretches their manly step-father's idea of how a boy should be, and by Ayarbe's Kohana - a loner, a misfit photographer, a kid that no one pays any attention to because he's big and quiet and scary. These boys on the outside touched me, and are probably part of the reason the books did too. I remcommend them both.

INFORMATION: From the Children's Defense Fund website about gun deaths and injuries published in 2005: http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/gunreport2005.pdf?docID=590
data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 2,867 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States in 2002—one child about every three hours, nearly eight children every day, 55 children every week. In addition to this horrific child gun death toll, four to five times as many children and teens suffered non-fatal bullet wounds.

1,830 were homicide victims
828 committed suicide
209 died in accidental or undetermined circumstances
1,639 were White
1,112 were Black
581 were Latino
64 were Asian or Pacific Islander
52 were American Indian or Alaska Native
416 were under age 15
142 were under 10
71 were under 5

These statistics come from the CDC and are for the total population of the U.S. - also for 2005. in 2005 [there were] 32,691 poisoning deaths compared with 30,694 firearm deaths. Motor vehicle traffic (MVT) deaths were the leading cause of injury death from 1999-2005, accounting for 43,667 deaths in 2005. From 2004 to 2005, MVT deaths increased 1%, firearm deaths, 4% and poisoning deaths, 8%. (1,2) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/injury99-05/injury99-05.htm

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back Again - Home Again

Well, I thought I'd blog twice a week and I did that for awhile and then, like all of you, I got busy. A whole month's worth of busy. My excuse? I was working on a new manuscript and we hosted the Nevada SCBWI Novel Immersion Retreat at Lake Tahoe. And I need to mow the lawn in the summer. And we updated my website. Check it out at www.suzannemorganwilliams.com It has a new look and some cool photos. But here's what's on my mind:

I picked up a book at the SCBWI Conference in LA in August that I really liked. It was this year's Golden Kite Winning novel, but honestly, it was the topic that intrigued me - an African refugee boy who resettled in Minnesota. Having hosted a Bolivian exchange student for a year, I do know what kind of cold that character would have experienced. I wanted to read the book - Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate - and I loved it. It is a gentle story, told in verse, that moves along carrying the reader with Kek as he discovers snow, takes comfort from a cow, must adjust to a foreign culture, and hopes to reconnect with his lost mother. If you've ever worked with foreign students or immigrant children, ever known a kid who was sunny dispite the most difficult circumstances, if you just want a good, hopeful book, I'd read this one.

Information:There were more than 2,000 Sudanese refugees in Maine in 2006. San Diego claims 3,500. Omaha Nebraska has 9,000 Sudanese refugees. Check out this link

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Conversation with Obama

OK, since I imagine many of my writer friends coming to this blog I might want to keep it a little less personal and more professional. That works for a while. But life always seems to show up and mine, these days, is so very pro Barack Obama. We are in a hell of a pickle and we weren't in 1999. We are now. We have lost the respect of the world community. We've invaded a country without real provokation, we've had our own civil and individual rights suspended, our government gives breaks to big corporations while ignoring the needs of working people. I have to drive half as much as I used to and oil companies are pocketing record profits. For a while this confused me. And then I learned to follow the money. I am a Christian, although I don't agree with most "Christian" right wing political goals. I see people being duped into believing the Republicans are pro family and pro morality. I believe they are pro money - their own. I am proud to be an American and long for my country to act the way it ought to - protecting the rights of common people the world over and working for equality, justice, and the ability to earn an honorable living here at home. I wasn't seeing a lot of that since the arrival of George W. Bush.

Then here comes Barack Obama. He's smart, thoughtful, practical. And he's following his conscience, not the dollar. I was thrilled and honored to be invited to a conversation with him in Reno last Sunday. I was not disappointed. He spoke of his plan for the economy (cut taxes to all earning less than $150,000), health care (make health care available to all Americans who care to participate through a plan as good as what he receives in Congress), renewable energy (wow this one blew me away - convert unused factories to produce wind turbines and solar panels using the skilled laborers who are now working low pay service jobs. Then send those solar and wind units out to rural America where they can supplement incomes and produce clean energy!), veterans (take care of them - screen all returning middle east vets for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental difficulties) and so on. I was blown away.

The Obamacampaign depends on volunteers and donations (however small) from regular people like you and me. Click on the photo - taken by Patrick at www.imajinimages.com for more information. Or stop by an Obama headquarters. Remember what YOUR life was like in 1999. Our nations life. How is it better? Worse? Now imagine it with Obama as President. If you are a supporter already, please volunteer. If you are undecided, ask hard questions. Then ask more questions. But find out about this man. Together we can change our nation.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vets and Horses

No, not doctor vets, but veterans. It's been a very interesting weekend. Rather than write a tome, I'll say that I met three veterans this weekend and all were moved by the premise of Bull Rider - a kid coping with his brother's serious war injury sustained in Iraq and the way that effects the whole family. I think vets will make an audience for my book. I would be honored if they'd share it with their younger family members. I also watched a lot of horse girls, young and old, interact with Terri Farley about her Phantom Stalliion series. Has she got some FANS. People long to connect - whether with their own stories or with their dreams. On either level, they are thrilled when someone out there "gets it" and writes a book that touches them. Then they want to know that person.

It occurred to me that my favorite books when I was between nine and twelve were horse books. I read many by Margarite Henry, Mary O'Hara, Black Beauty, etc. I think we need a list of horse books we've loved - old and new. This one will be long. Waiting to see Vaquerogirl and Terri F.'s list. Let's try to include some contemporary ones too. More later about this weekend.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Those Aha Moments

I'm speaking on Friday to Washoe County School teachers who are on their way back to work after the summer. The event is called "Fresh Start" and I'm starting them off! I'm more than a little nervous about filling an hour with my thoughts on starting fresh, teaching eager and not so eager students. I do remember the nightmares I had before every year that I taught. They always centered around being totally unprepared - missing the school bus, wearing entirely the wrong thing, having no lesson plans, not remembering how to speak. And then there was the stomach ache that did not stop until I met my class. Then it all went away and I was teaching again.

With no particular topic to speak to but "inspire and share something fun - we love authors" I wracked my brain for what to say. I've not taught everyday for many years, so although I still spend a lot of time with kids and teachers, I wouldn't want to take "teaching" as my topic. So I'm talking about Those Aha Moments, about stories, changing lives, connecting with kids. That's what I do and that's what they do. In preparing for this talk, I've had the great joy of remembering teachers, books, and moments that changed me, and of recalling a few looks on children's faces when I knew something had changed for them.

We have an ongoing list of books that changed you. What about teachers? Is there a teacher who changed your life? Your year? Share the story before Friday and it may make it into my speech. (credited of course.) Share it anyway. It's good to remember the people who shaped our lives. Cheers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Into Every Life

A little whipped cream must fall. Honestly, if I'm ordering a mocha or a frappachino, then I think the whipped cream is a given. I'm already WAY past thinking about calories or cardiac health. Now that I can't eat wheat, which is another story, whipped cream is high on my list of treats. And it doubles as a nice metaphor too. What little extra can you add to your day that just makes you smile, maybe a little guiltily? Go ahead, do it.

I just went to the SCBWI Conference in LA. That whole event is like a banana split with all the toppings - one friend after another, one interesting speaker after another, and lots and lots of people who like to talk about books. Aahhh. Here's a challenge for you - what's the best advice you have gotten about writing (or life, or whipped cream) - that can be shared in one or two sentences. Try it. (And attribute it if possible.) We'll make a new list.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Swimming Upstream

And enjoying it. That's what novelists do - right. Get in the thick of problems, enjoy them to the fullest, pull out all the pathos and humor and then, in the best, most satisfying way, solve them. I finished the first draft of my new novel which might be titled, Inukshuk, Like a Human, Sky Hunter, or Icing. Hmmm. In any case, it feels downright delicious to have all the raw material arranged and ready for revision, cut and polishing. Like a diamond. Or something.

Meanwhile, we bought three new little koi for our pond in which there was, until yesterday, only one huge gold fish. One of the koi has yet to show himself this morning. The gold fish is in her usual hangout (don't ask how I know it's a she - I just feel it.) And two of the koi swam upstream, challenging ripples and waterfalls to appear in our small, still, upper pond. Why did they do that? Perhaps it's material for their upcoming novels. And, while we are on the subject, here's a little treat for you novelists out there. Highly recommended :

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Little Whine

Hi there from blog land. Smoke is gone. I'm tired. Way too much coming at me from way too many directions. On the professional front, this was a good writing day and I hope some of you are cheering me on. I'm totally involved in this new book and thank goodness. I just have to be brutal about getting time to write.

Info #5 In one of my other lives, we are poised for the Nevada SCBWI Novel Immersion Retreat at Lake Tahoe September 19-21 and we have opened applications for our Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program for 2009. Both of these should be fabulous programs. If you are a writer or you have writer friends, check them out at http://www.nevadascbwi.org/.

Opinion #5 As for opinions I have only one. It is hard to set priorities when you are committed to interesting or important things that you are doing. I'm trying, but I'm getting really, really tired.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bulls and Roses

The smoke cleared out today and we got one of the summer evenings that makes it all worth it. I just spent an hour trimming roses. It was blissful. I feel good. There is nothing like quiet and a cool breeze to lessen my tension. This is the same place where we've battled wild fires, snow drifts, and rising flood waters. Tonight it was heaven. The goats loved it too, since they got all the trimmings in a big pile to munch on.

Intro #4: The Rose Queen - that would be my neighbor who has the most glorious roses around. Mine look spindly and wild next to hers which are lush and tropical. She loves those roses and I'm so glad. We get to enjoy them too. Thanks to good neighbors who keep flowers that we can enjoy from across the fence.

Info #4: The simple life, the roses and breezes are best enjoyed from on foot. I saw this cool website today where you can test the "walkability" of your neighborhood - http://walkscore.com/ Of course I didn't even try ours. We live in the country and need to hike eight miles to get to any store except the trailer dealership and a defunct western wear store. But you may be more citified, so give it a try.

Opinion #4: I'm guessing we will all have to figure out how to walk more, bike more, ride a horse, take a bus. It's late in coming, but it's good for us in so many ways. Imagine the neighbors you'll meet and the stories you'll have. Remind me when I complain about gas prices.

Book #4: Ranch life isn't simple and it isn't always idyllic but it's traditional and close to the land. I have to say that my book, Bull Rider, from Margaret K. McElderry, will be available February 24, 2009 according to the Simon and Schuster website http://www.simonsays.com/ You can go there now, search Bull Rider and preorder it. That would be really cool. If you do, let me know and I'll thank you right here. It's a good book - for kids 10 to 14 - but I try my best to write books adults will be interested in too. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sonatas and Smoke

It's all about expectations. I expect Nevada skies to be blue in the summer. Okay, it can be 101. In the shade. But the sky is blue - right? Not now. We have smoke. Days and days of thick smoke followed by mornings of haze followed by peeks at blue sky, a wind change and more smoke. It's like winter here. No one goes out except for necessities. And just when I'm feeling particularly whiny, I think of the hundreds of thousands of trees that are burning across the mountains creating the smoke. The trees are getting the worst of this. I think of Bambi and how sad it was when he lost his mother. In the summer I expect blue skies, not thoughts of Bambi.

Good stories tie your emotions inextricably to your experiences. Like good music. I can't hear Beethoven's Appassionata without wanting to cry. It's just too beautiful. Get me thinking about that sonata and I prepare to melt. Smoke, sonatas, the feelings that well up unexpectedly, they make me know I'm alive. I don't expect these same feelings from politics.

Intro #3 Clinton Supporter: I went to a meeting for Obama tonight and a woman I've not met before was trying to explain her sadness at Hillary Clinton losing the Democratic Primary. She spoke of her three daughters, her hope and excitement, her devastation that Clinton lost. Obama, she said, did not excite her. No sonatas, no goose bumps. She'll vote for him, but can't smile about it yet. She expects a candidate to move her.

Info #3 Science Daily for July 3, 2008 reports that two California researchers, Fowler and Dawes, have identified genes that affect expectations of voting behavior. People with certain types of the two genes are more likely to be sociable, to trust the system, and to vote. They are also more likely to donate to campaigns, attend rallies, and go to church. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080701083517.htm

Opinion #3 I guess I'm one of those optimists. I believe in things. I believe my actions matter. I generally like people. Listening to Obama gives me goosebumps.

Books #3 I can't think of any children's books that are specifally about politics although there are many that reflect the politics of the times they address. How about making a list of books you read, say before age twenty, that changed or definitely shifted your view of the world? Any current ones you think must change kids' point of view after they've read them? My number one book on this list is Tistou of the Green Thumbs by Maurice Druon - a book translated from the French that I received as a gift when I was about ten. The story is lovely. A boy uses his gift for growing flowers for social good. This is my hope. To use my gifts for good. See, I'm a melty optomist. If you can find a copy of Tistou, read it. I'll start this new list now, so add your nominations!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dancing and Disneyland

Last week I went to Disneyland with a writer friend. I hadn't planned to do it. I'd planned to save my money and stay professionally focused at the American Library Association Conference in Anaheim. But Disneyland was just across the street and my cousin and my daughter and her baby met me. The baby and I danced around a fountain. Later, he chased birds. They went home at a sane hour and friend, Fran, and I looked at each other and said, "Let's go." We went to Disneyland at six at night and rode rollercoasters, watched fireworks, ate ice cream, and found some clones of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. The weather was perfect and we had the best time. Now this is entirely out of character for me (ok no one out there say cheap - I heard you - or self-sacrificing, not me) but I did it. I smiled at the man in the ticket booth and happily accepted his assessment that I was a senior. Silver hair is good for something. I let myself loose to play. Fred made me do it. He went and died and I remembered that life is short and you might as well play, and jump for joy while you can.

Intro #2 The Puppeteer: I can't go to Disneyland without thinking of my other daughter who loves puppets and politics equally. When she was little she was so scared of those big puppets in Pirates of the Caribbean that she tried to jump out of the boat. Since she moved to Wisconsin she is scared of thunderstorms.

Info #2 Thunderstorms: In the Midwest they really do look like black walls of clouds. My daughter, the puppeteer, says the ones that create tornados look green. I didn't see any green storms when we drove across Michigan this month, but we did meet a lot of hail. I also read once that you can set your TV to channel 13 and a tornado will make static on that channel. I'd check with better sources before depending on either of these as cues to take cover.

Opinion #2: I generally prefer puppets to politicians.

Books #2: I say let's stick with dogs for the moment. I have a couple more suggestions to add to the list from the comments. Anyone read a new dog book, as in this year's pub date? And what about that Dorothy in Wizard of Oz? Was she your favorite? I preferred Toto. I can't pick a favorite from the three sidekicks and the flying monkeys scared me. Did you have nightmares about tornados after reading that book?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Off and Running

Well, hopefully not running off. First post, first introductions. I am a storyteller, a collector of stories and oral histories, a novelist. I love long pauses before a punch line and white spaces on the page, but get me comfortable and you may get too much information. And opinions. Mine, which of course are well founded, intelligent, and insightful. That's what you'll find on this blog. Stories, opinions, random information and snippets, and news of books. I love books and am on a mission to read more and write more. I think I will accomplish this by playing less computer solitaire. Check back and I'll tell you how that's going. That plan may end up being something like my idea of losing weight by cutting back on chocolate. Now really, who ever thought of that?

INTRO # 1: Fred. Fred was a spectacular two year old golden who chewed up my sweatshirt and licked my face when I cried. He chased our dog, Ralph, just enough to give the old boy his exercise and barked just enough to make you laugh at the display because, after all, he was a golden.

INFO #1: Fred died suddenly about a month ago and this is the info. He died from eating blue green algae. Yes, it's the same stuff that you can take in capsules for your health and it lives in lots of ponds and lakes and is generally benign. But, turns out that at some points in its bloom cycle, blue green algae produces a neurotoxin that is about 99.9 percent deadly to dogs. We had never heard of this. When Fred's back legs collapsed we took him to the emergency vet (of course it was midnight) and he sent us home to look for possible poisons that Fred may have eaten. I was thrilled to discover he'd just gotten into a bucket of algae we'd skimmed from our pond and hadn't yet dumped. "It's just algae," I said happily over the phone. The vet said that was probably good but there was one bad kind, "But we've never seen a case in our town." Well, Fred got into that bad kind and he was dead within three hours. No pain, apparently, but he stopped breathing. That beautiful yellow dog looked the same one minute as the next, but he was gone. It was the saddest thing.

OPINION #1: What you don't know can hurt you - or kill your dog. I think everyone should know about blue green algae and then tell their friends. I think everyone should know about a lot of things that can hurt you. What about those drug adds that say, "Side effects may include greasy runny stools," appealing, yes? Or maybe, "In rare instances serious side effects may occur including shortness of breath, stroke, or death." Death? That's a side effect? Who decided that and how much are you willing to gamble that that's not YOUR side effect? More in the next post, intro, and opinion. Enough today or we'll get into that realm of TMO.

BOOKS#1: OK, we started out with the idea of reading and writing more, and since this is a blog and you all may be writers - at least on line - let's launch a chat about reading. This week it's dog books, in honor of Fred. Here are a few I've read: Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Sounder by William H. Armstrong, Where the Red Fern Grows by Tara McCarthy, Old Yeller by Fred Gipson - now revealing my age. A big difference between Winn Dixie and the others is that in the last three the dog dies, and in the first one it's the mother who's gone. Dead dogs are very, very sad. I'd recommend Winn-Dixie. It's not as heartbreaking as the others. It's a little light - a fun, character read. The others I loved too. Interesting they all take place in the south. Is there something that makes southerners more attached to their dogs? Or do southern dogs just make good stories? Next post - more about dogs - dead and alive.