They Said It Couldn’t Be Done!

For the first time ever in my life, I was ahead of a cultural trend.

You know how some people are early adopters? Those who are super early to things are called beta testers. Traditionally I have been an omega adopter. I find out about a trend or new music or slang a year or two AFTER it jumps the shark.

I am happy to announce that for the first time – and quite possibly for the last – I have been oh-so-slightly-ahead of a cultural phenomena.

Namely, in being a rabidly assertive advocate for libraries.

The linked article, written by Linda Holmes, lists the following points (and a few more) explaining why supporting libraries is the next “big pop-culture wave”:

1. “Libraries get in fights. Everybody likes a scrapper, and between the funding battles they’re often found fighting and the body-checking involved in their periodic struggles over sharing information, there’s a certain … pleasantly plucky quality to the current perception of libraries and librarians.”

2. “Librarians know stuff. You know how the words “geek” and “nerd” have gone from actual insults to words used to lovingly describe enthusiasts? Well, if we haven’t gotten past venerating people who don’t know anything, we’ve certainly reduced, I’d argue, the degree to which we stigmatize people for knowing a lot. “

3. “Libraries are green and local…. You can pretty easily position a library as environmentally friendly (your accumulation of books and magazines you are not reading is fewer trees for the rest of us, you know), not to mention economical (obvious) and part of your local culture.”

4. “Libraries will give you things for free. Hi, have you noticed how much hardcover books cost? Not a Netflix person? They will hand you things for free. That’s not an especially hard concept to sell.”

5. “There seems to be a preposterous level of goodwill. Quite honestly, I feel like you can go on YouTube and act like a complete goof (in the best way), and if it’s for libraries, people have that same rush of warmth that they used to get about people who had sextuplets, before … well, you know. Before.”

So thank you, Linda Holmes, for defining this trend and putting all of us book nerds on the map. Love your library? MAKE SOME NOISE!!!

(What does any of this have to do with a picture of a pretty fern? Nothing. I shot the pic at camp recently and love it. Maybe ferns will be the Next Hot Thing, after libraries.)

Chicken update – cute predator alert

This was going to be an update about my chickens.

I was going to tell you all about the Chicken Palace.

I was going to point out how the coop itself has two levels. The girls stay in the upper level (it comes complete with nesting boxes and roosts) at night because it is the most protected part of the compound. And how there is a trap door and gangplank that leads from the upper level to the fenced-in terrace level underneath it.

How the terrace leads to the courtyard, where the girls like to sun themselves.

And how the courtyard opens into the roofed playpen, complete with old dog kennel filled with shavings for dust baths, roost made from an old pipe, and feeding stations where we drop off beetles, grubs, worms, and greens in addition to their regular food.

I was going to tell you about all of these things, but then we found these paw prints in the Forest.

So BH baited a Havaheart trap. Lo and behold…

We found a critter, a young raccoon who had hoped to put chicken on the menu.

Want to see what happens next? Let’s go to the video….

First review of FORGE is in!!!

I know many of you have been wondering about the contents of FORGE. Sadly, you’ll have to wait 101 days until the 10/19 publication date to really sink your teeth into it.

But Richie Partington of Richie’s Pick’s has posted the first review of it, for those who want an early taste.

07 July 2010 FORGE by Laurie Halse Anderson, Atheneum, October 2010, 304p., ISBN: 978-1-4169-6144-5

“How many years can some people exist

before they’re allowed to be free?”

— Bob Dylan

“‘Stop there! the boy yelled.

“The redcoat glanced behind him, caught his foot on a half-buried root, and fell hard.  His musket flew from his hand, but he quickly crawled to it. “‘You are my prisoner, sir,’ the boy declared in a shaky voice.  ‘Lay down your musket.

‘”The redcoat had no intention of becoming a prisoner.  He pulled out a gunpowder cartridge, ripped it open with his teeth, and poured powder into his firing pan.  His hands were shaking so violently that most of the powder fell to the ground.”

The question that had come to me shortly after my beginning to read FORGE, and which continued to bug me was: How exactly does Laurie Halse Anderson write historical fiction so that it can be so easily read; so well enjoyed; and in such a manner that readers can connect so readily with characters who lived so long ago?

“Stop!’  The boy brought his musket up to fire.  ‘I swear I’ll shoot.’  He wiped his right hand on his breeches, then cocked the firelock and slipped his finger in the trigger guard.

“The redcoat fumbled in his shot bag for a lead musketball.

“The boy squeezed the trigger.  His flint hit the empty firing pan with a dull click. The musket didn’t fire.  He’d forgotten to prime his pan.

“The redcoat pulled out his ramrod.

“The boy grabbed the cork out of his powder horn.

“My palms were sweating, my eyes going back and forth trying to figger who would win the race to load and shoot.”

How does she do it?  It seems to come down to the employment of straightforward sentences of moderate length; details that provide a sense of the characters being young people just like the young people we know — for better or for worse — in our own lives; and a lot of great scenes, both tense ones and humorous ones.  Solid writing skills that synergize into page after page of exceptional and accessible story about the historic past.

That Laurie Halse Anderson’s award-winning historical fiction can be so easily read also permits readers to more readily comprehend how what happened a long time ago can still have such significance today.

Maybe these conclusions to which I’ve arrived are obvious things you already know, but that question had really been bugging me.  I have always been attracted to historical fiction, but the Revolutionary-era tales I read during my own young years always led me to feel that the characters encountered had a lot more in common with Early Man than they did with me.

In contrast, here in FORGE, every time Curzon violently (and endearingly) twists his own ear to remind himself to stop once again thinking about Isabel (our heroine from CHAINS who has saved his life at the end of the first book and with whom he loses contact), we realize that, deep down, this is just like us doing the boy-girl thing back in high school.

“I twisted my ear so often in the weeks that followed, it swelled like a puffball.  Did me no good; I still thought about Isabel.  Her face has poisoned my mind the way the cold had taken hold of my bones.”

FORGE is set amidst the 1777-8 winter encampment that Washington and his troops established at Valley Forge, northwest of Philadelphia.  As she did so effectively in CHAINS, Anderson again begins each chapter with intriguing quotations she has compiled while doing research for these books.  The writers of these quotes include unknown foot soldiers as well as a who’s who of interesting and important Revolutionary characters like Paine, Gates, Washington, Rush, Laurens, Morris, (Mrs.) Adams, and Lafayette.

“‘It would be useless for us to denounce the servitude to which the Parliament of Great Britain wishes to reduce us, while we continue to keep our fellow creatures in slavery just because their color is different from ours.’

Signer of the Declaration of Independence Dr. Benjamin Rush, who purchased William Grubber in 1776 and did not free him until 1794.

Of course, the underlying question FORGE prompts, as did CHAINS, is: Who was actually gaining freedom through this Declaration of Independence and subsequent war, and why was it not everyone?

“How many times can a man turn his head

pretending he just doesn’t see”

The failure of the Founders to provide the appropriate answers to these questions; their permitting the continued enslavement of humans somehow justified through a difference in skin color is, of course the number one cause of America’s failure to ever live up to its true potential.  The treachery that befalls Curzon here in FORGE is part of an ever-present thread that can be followed from the Revolutionary era right into our own lifetimes.  Those who held power amongst the revolutionaries, along with leaders and constituents who have come in the intervening generations since, all bear responsibility for the horrors with which I’ve spent my life living: the brutal memories I both witnessed in person as a little child, and viewed again and again on the nightly news.  These are the despicable and nightmarish things that have been said and done throughout our nation’s history to people of color and those of good conscience in retaliation for their standing up for what was and is fair and just.

“My head laid itself on the table and I was no longer master of my own body, of my head, of my heart and somewhere my father was angry and I did not know how to explain.  My eyes closed themselves.

I will kill Bellingham.

All that I will say about the last section of the book (in the spring when the privies filled by ten thousand soldiers start to melt, causing the birds to start flying around the encampment instead of over it) is that the story really cranks into overdrive and that I finished up FORGE with a huge smile on my face.

Are any of you still wondering whether there is some let-down in this middle book of the trilogy?

Ha!  With Laurie Halse Anderson in command?  Not on your life!”

What I love about Richie’s reviews is the way he weaves together quotes from the text, plot summary, and his own reaction. You can subscribe to his reviews by joinging the Richie’s Picks group at

Be sure to take a look at his review about Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s new book, THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK: THE BIRTH OF AN AMERICAN TERRORIST GROUP.  You also might be interested in the Picture Books For Older Readers list put together by some of Richie’s Library Science students.

Wintergirls coming to the UK!!

Lots of people ask me how much influence authors have on their covers. The truth is (at least for me) not a lot. I have raised a few objections now and then and have always been patted gently on the head and told to leave these things to the experts and while I’m at it, go home and write another book.

I have arrived at a place of zen surrender with The Cover Issue (tho’ I still voice my objections, to the amusement of the Powers That Be). Now when the publisher sends me a cover image, I can look at it with a little more detachment than I used to.

Unless I adore it. Then I get very, very excited.

Like I am right now.

WINTERGIRLS will be published in the United Kingdom by Marion Lloyd Books of Scholastic UK in January 2011. Here is the cover.

What do you think?

You know what would be cool?

That’s a key question in The Forest. When my husband or I start out a conversation with "You know what would be cool?" it generally means that something fairly cool is about to happen.

Like…. a writing cottage will be built.

Or we take up chicken farming. You get the picture.

So when we were planning for our son’s graduation celebration and my husband said "You know what would be cool?" I knew the fun was about to begin.

He took a deep breath.

"It would be cool to have a real pig roast," he said. "In the backyard."

"With a pig," I said.

"That’s sort of the point," he said.

"How do we do that?" I asked.

"I have no idea," he said, "but we’ll figure it out."

("We’ll figure it out" is our family motto.)

***NOTE – Vegetarians and vegans probably want to stop reading now. ***

After clearing out some space with a skid-steer, he set up this, the basic foundation for the pig-roasting device.

  Then he built some more stuff. I’m sure there is a more technical term than "stuff" but I don’t know what it is.

OK, turn your head to the side to see this. It’s the motor and some other stuff.  The info BH found said we would need a quarter-horsepower motor. ::cues the Tim the Toolman Taylor theme music:: BH used a full one-horsepower motor. MORE POWER!!!!

He knew a guy who knew a guy who hooked us up with a six-foot long steel pole, sharpened at one end, and some sharp pointy things, in exchange for beer.

  Turn your head again. See that big gear wheel at the top that is attached to the coupling (like that technical term?)? It used to turn the clothing rack in a dry cleaning shop. BH knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who helped take apart the dry-cleaning shop. We got the gear wheel. In exchange for beer, I’m fairly certain.

  So here it is, a redneck rotisserie that we dubbed FRANKENSPIT. The motor was wired up to the electrical panel in the house. The juice turned up the motor, the motor turned the gear wheel which in turn spun the spit upon which was placed

**** Vegetarians – I TOLD you to stop reading!!***

  Sixty pounds of pork.

(I TOLD you!!)

  The cooking process required constant observation by a team of Frankenspit experts.

Who decided that the salt potatoes would taste best if boiled over the blast furnace better known as a turkey-fryer.

Frankenspit kept turning and cooking.

Until it was time to feast. Which we did. In abundance, because this is the fourth and final kid of ours to graduate high school and go off to college. (The Rochester Institute of Technology, if you are interested.)

And then, of course, came the moment that, with hindsight, might have been the reason BH cooked up this scheme in the first place.

  He got to act out a few pages from "Lord of the Flies."