WFMAD Day 25 – great books to read & vote for

First – congrats to my friend David Macinnis Gill on the publication of his new book, BLACK HOLE SUN!!

I got to read an early copy and here is what I said about it: “Black Hole Sun grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go until the last page. In the best tradition of Heinlein and Firefly, Black Hole Sun is for readers who like their books fast-paced, intense, and relentless. Buy it, read it, pass it on!”

I hear Mockingjay is awesome, too.

Yesterday was the first day in a long time I was able to write for hours and hours and hours. It was heaven. Am trying to sneak in even more writing today!

But first, a short speech.

Teens! Parents! Teachers! Librarians! Friends! Romans! Lend me your ears! (no, wait…. wrong speech…)

(here it is)

The voting is now OPEN for the YALSA Teens’ Top Ten “teen choice” list! Click through and vote for up to three of your favorite titles! Voting is open Aug. 23 through Sept. 17, 2010. Winners will be announced in a webcast at www.ala.org/teenstopten during Teen Read Week, Oct. 17-23.

(And if one of those titles should happen to be, um, I don’t know, like maybe WINTERGIRLS, that sure would make my day!)

Ready… “I’ve been doing scriptwriting for 27 years and books for maybe 10 years now. I think I started the first Gregor book, Gregor the Overlander, when I was 38. I’d be clicking along through dialogue and action sequences. That’s fine, that’s like stage directions. But whenever I hit a descriptive passage, it was like running into a wall. I remember particularly there’s a moment early on when Gregor walks through this curtain of moths, and he gets his first look at the underground city of Regalia. So it’s this descriptive scene of the city. Wow, did that take me a long time to write! And I went back and looked at it. It’s just a couple of paragraphs. It killed me. It took forever.Suzanne Collins in an SLJ interview

Set…. Less than a week of WFMAD left – can you stick with it?

Today’s prompt: Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Which is easier for you – plot or character? Dialog or description? Writing about sound or writing about smell or taste? First person or third person POV? Skimming the action along quickly or slowing down to savor the smallest and most significant detail?

Once you have identified what you are good at and what you are not quite good at yet but will be soon, you are going to develop a scene. First pass, use only only your great tools. Revise it using only your soon-to-be-better tools.

Need a scene? How’s this: your teenage character comes home hours after curfew. Everyone is sleeping. Except the skunk that is eating the garbage in the kitchen.

Scribble…Scribble… Scribble!!!

Utah adventure

(Pre-post entertainment. Are you following the results of the Top 100 YA Novels poll over at Persnickety Snark? Check it out!)

What with all the new website hullaboo, things have been not quite as serene as normal, so I am way behind on telling you about the BYU Children’s Literature Symposium.

(Thank you, by the way, for all the kind comments about madwomanintheforest.com)

First things first – did I mention that the conference

was in Utah? Do you even know how gorgeous Utah is?

Not only is it gorgeous, but it is filled with some of the nicest people in the world.

like Kristen Chandler, author of WOLVES, BOYS AND OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL ME, who was my gracious host during the conference. She helped me track down a rather important cord that I forgot to pack, and also made sure I was able to sample regional cuisine:

fry sauce

and something called an iceberg shake.

I was at the conference with old friends Elizabeth Partridge and Kadir Nelson, and new friends, Brandon Mull and

David Shannon, who is a very funny man.

Elizabeth put together a great blog post about the whole conference, BTW.

One of my favorite activities was that we each had 4 30-minute sessions that were lightning round Q&A. I loved those. Only wished they could have each been an hour long.

On the last night we drove up even farther into the mountains and had a magnificent dinner in one of the most beautiful places in America.

Thank you to all of the teachers, librarians, and readers who came out to the conference. You were amazing.

If you ever get the chance to go to Utah – take it!!

Video Sunday

I’m thinking of making Sunday into video day on my blog. What do you think?

Here’s a video that was sent to me by Tony, who is a future English teacher (student teaching this fall) in Pennsylvania. He wrote this song based on SPEAK and the stories of some friends of his who were raped.


If you want to tell Tony what you think about this, go to his YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/fattloc

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 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/richiespicks/


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.

Friday Five Linkety Love for You

1. Thank you everyone for the kind words about my vloging* attempt. Based on the feedback, I’ll be doing  lot more of this. In fact, I’ll be taking questions on my Twitter feed this afternoon, so if you have something you want me to answer on camera, let me know. I will try to post the next vlog tonight or tomorrow. You should subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss a scintillating moment.

*blog + video = vlogging  I am still looking for a better word.

2. Many teachers and librarians wrote to say that Youtube is blocked at their schools. So I set up an account at TeacherTube. (If you are a member there, you’ll find me listed as lauriehalseanderson. I’m not terribly impressed with the site, I must say.)  I am in the process of setting up acounts at SchoolTube and EduBlogs.tv, too. (I hope they are more functional than TeacherTube.)

3. I finished recording all the PSAs for next month’s 25th anniversary of School Library Month, thank goodness.

4. Have you read my guest blog on TeachingBooks.net? Why not? It explains why I call myself the Mad Woman in the Forest. While you are at TeachingBook.net, listen to the very short audio clip of me explaining the correct pronunciation of my name.

5. Just in time for Women’s History Month, check out this wonderful librarian’s review of INDEPENDENT DAMES. Although the publisher put "grades 2-6" on the jacket, I have long argued that it is perfect for middle school classrooms that are studying the American Revolution. This teacher agrees with me. What do you think?