WFMAD Day 21 – banning censorship

Censorship is in the news again. Start out your Saturday by reading  Pat Scales’ great article about Common Sense Media, Three Bombs, Two Lips, and a Martini Glass.

Then bring yourself up to speed on the censorship battle surrounding the Teen Lit Fest in Humble, TX. My friend, Ellen Hopkins, was disinvited to speak after complaints about her books. Ellen blogged about it . Several other YA authors who were scheduled to appear at the festival decided to boycott the event to show their support of her.  Take the time to read Tera Lynn Child’s letter to the superintendent, and Matt de la Peña’s explanation about why he joined the boycott, Melissa de la Cruz’s decision to do the same thing, and finally, Pete Hautman’s blog post about why he won’t be speaking in Humble, either.

I am furious that officials removed Ellen from line-up. I respect the decisions of the other authors to show solidarity with her by withdrawing from the event.

I’ve thought long and hard about my opinion about the boycott and if I should join the conversation. While I was running Thursday evening, I finally found the answers I’ve been waiting for.

I don’t think a boycott is the most effective way to deal with this issue.

Again – I have only respect and fondness for Ellen and mountains of appreciation for her work. She writes honest books about hard things – the kinds of hard things that kill our teenagers. Kids need her books. Her books save lives.

But this is one of those situations where friends have to agree to disagree. Because I think that the boycott removes the opportunity for the other authors to speak up.

Intellectual freedom thrives when there are conversations. Censors hate that kind of thing. They seek to deny intellectual freedom and cut off conversations. When a censor sees something that is scary, their response is to ban it, shut it down, take it off the table.

Teenagers particularly need the chance to talk about hard things because they are developing their moral codes and have to sort out their own sense of what is right and what is wrong. That’s why I am such a supporter of Ellen’s books. That’s why I write the kinds of books that I do.

My concern about the boycott is that it takes away the possibility for discussion. Not with the people who banned Ellen and her work. It’s clear that they are not interested in conversation of any kind. (Shame on them for their cowardice.) But by boycotting, the other authors lose the chance to speak up about censorship to the audience that deserves it the most – the teens in Humble, TX who have been denied the chance to talk to Ellen about her work.

That’s what I would have loved to see happen: turn the Teen Lit Fest into a day of talking about book banning, and censorship, and the precious right we have of intellectual freedom. It would be cool to hear how the teens of Humble TX think that censorship should be confronted. Todd Strasser has written about his decision not to join the boycott. I hope the kids who attend his sessions can have great conversations about the insidious evil that is censorship.

TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS!! You have a golden opportunity here!! Make this whole mess part of your discussions during Banned Book Week (Sept 25 – Oct 2) and Teen Read Week (Oct 17 – 23).

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments. (No name-calling, please.) Feel free to agree with me, too. But do your fifteen minutes of writing first, OK?

Ready… “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression they put their faith, for better or for worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from interference of a policeman’s intrusive thumb or a judge’s heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance. A book worthless to me may convey some value to my neighbor. In the free society to which our Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself.” Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

Set… turn down the shouting voices of opposition and take a few quiet moments to center yourself.

Today’s prompt: What things does your character believe in so strongly, that she is willing to fight for them? Write a scene in which this belief puts her at odds with someone she cares about. OR What are you willing to fight for? What are you secretly a supporter of, but you are looking for the courage to speak up about?


Mad Woman in the Forest tee-shirts, anyone?

Pretty soon I am going to be selling these tee-shirts.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be giving them away as prizes for the people who comment on WFMAD posts and whenever I feel like giving away prizes.

Do you like them? Would you wear them? Would you be interested in the logo on a sweatshirt or is this concept the height of absurdity?

Seriously. I want to know.

WFMAD Day 20 – Silliness

Sometimes you just have to push the silly button. Maybe that’s why it is time for the annual Pimp My Bookcart competition.

Last year’s winner was a Good Humor-themed cart created by welding students at Harlem High School.

If you need to smile, check out all of last year’s winners.

Two more smile makers come to you courtesy of  Jim Averbeck and Kristin Clark Venuti.  Jim interviews people at the American Library Association Annual conference every year. Then he and his minions go home and put together really fun videos.

Here is one of this year’s videos, with fashion statements by authors, which in itself is a hysterical concept because we spend our days in our pajamas, most of us.


And another, in which you can see how completely useless I am at game shows.

(More videos from this year’s ALA can be found on Jim and Kristin’s website.)


“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.” Oscar Wilde

Set… relax. It’s Friday. Summer is winding down. Life is good. Smile.

Today’s prompt: pure silliness. Your character wakes up and can no longer speak any human language. Can’t write either. But she can still understand what the people around her are saying. And she can understand everything said by any animal or insect within fifty feet of her.

Write a funny scene in which she tries to figure out what is going on. Build the absurdity of her situation by piling on misunderstandings and pratfalls. Make yourself chuckle.


WFMAD Day 19 – Focus & non-WFMAD news, including Frío

Summer is hurrying to a close. I saw geese migrating a few days ago and when we were running last night, we passed a huge flock of birds gathered on the phone wires; the equivalent of people flooding an airline terminal as they prepare to fly to Florida for the winter.

I’m bummed because I am so busy with writing and getting ready for October’s booktour, it doesn’t look like I’ll have time for any canning this year. ::pouts::

Good thing I made a lot of jam two years ago!

I’ve had a couple of tabs open that need to be closed. First, a review of the Spanish version of WINTERGIRLS, Frío. The author of the post loved the book, saying “Me ha encantado. Me ha emocionado. Me ha hecho llorar…. Frío es una historia dura y real.” She also has the following to say about the publisher’s decision to change the title:

“Puedo entender que cambien los títulos al traducir los libros porque en la lengua origen puede sonar genial pero no en la lengua meta, pero ¿tan mal sonaría “Chicas de hielo”? El libro se titula Wintergirls, lo que en realidad sería Chicas de invierno (vale, ése no suena tan bien), pero si durante toda la novela Wintergirls ha sido traducido como Chicas de hielo, ¿por qué no lo han hecho también en el título? Frío me gusta, pero, a mi modo de ver, ese título no dice nada de la novela, no tiene nada que ver con la historia. Chicas de hielo, por el contrario, es, simplemente perfecto y precioso. Pero bueno, aparte de esto, recomiendo esta novela al 100%.”

I agree!

Next, the poem I wrote about reader’s reactions to SPEAK was featured on the website for Grrl Power! Girls Studies at UCF.

And last, BUT NOT LEAST AT ALL, FORGE made the Autumn 2010 Children’s Indie Next List!


“This is the moment when faith is called for. Faith in the creative spirit within me, which is part of what I’ve been given by God; faith in the process, faith in my intelligence and my imagination… I suit up and show up. I sit down at the computer and I do the work, moving it forward a sentance at a time, which is ultimately the only way there is to write a book.” Elizabeth George

Set… dig a hole in the ground and bury your doubts. Cover them with salt and then spit on them. Now that you have put your doubts where they belong, you can write.

Today’s prompt:

I had an interesting Twitter exchange with a reader yesterday about book pirating. She had tweeted about an illegal download site where her friends could get stolen copies of my books. I wrote to her and asked her to direct her friends instead to the library where they could read free books that had been purchased, not stolen. She wrote back:

“I don’t steal books, just that one.”

That, my friends, is an awesome line. (Even though it frustrates the hell out of me.) And it sparked today’s prompt.

Which rules (big or small) does your character break when no one is watching her? Which rules would she break if she knew she would never be caught? OR which rules would YOU break if there were no consequence?

Write a scene in which your character breaks those rules. Extra points – write another scene in which she gets caught anyway. How will she react? What is so important to her, she is willing to risk something for it?

Scribble… Scribble…. Scribble!!!

WFMAD Day 18 – You Ask, I Answer

(I didn’t give the whole story on the exercise thing yesterday. I’m feeling guilty about it so I will now come clean.

Aside from the future-marathon running, I have a five-week book tour coming up, starting in mid-October. My doctor said if I packed on some muscle it would improve my chances of not being a total wreck by Thanksgiving. So I hired Angelika, a trainer at my gym. I pay her to kick my butt once a week. We’re calling it Operation Booktour Beast.

I have this fantasy that if I can achieve Booktour Beastdom, I will have arms that fall somewhere between Madonna’s and Michelle Obama’s. Angelika is doubtful this will happen, but she is using my unrealistic fantasy as an excuse to pump up the pain.

After yesterday’s session, I can’t exactly lift my arms. I am typing this with my nose. All of which is a long way of saying that if today’s entry rambles more than usual or has an offensive number of typos, I’m sorry. You try typing with your nose.)

Elaine wrote:

“The main one floating across my brain that won’t go away is…what if you’re at the point of getting “good” rejections (aka feedback, compliments on writing, invitations to submit other future material to them, etc.) but they just “didn’t fall in love with it”? How do you keep going or improve your writing in those vague circumstances?

I suppose getting good rejections is better than getting the form ones, but it also means I’m not seeing what I can improve. It’s just a matter of “it’s not for them.” Have you ever encountered this, or what would be your advice to writers who are?”

We call those “quality rejections” at my house. They are a good excuse to break out the champagne. Seriously. Editors don’t have to take the time to send that to you. They don’t have enough time to go to the bathroom most days. So if one of them gave you feedback and asked you to send more you are ….. almost …… there.

But it doesn’t feel that way, does it?

Few things are quite as painful or devastating as a rejection letter, even a nice one. I’ve heard rumors that there are a couple authors out there who have never been rejected. I hate them.


I have an enormous file of rejections letters, including the one sent to me about SPEAK and the several sent about FEVER 1793. Those books earned lots of quality rejections. It was maddening.

The tough part is that sometimes a book can be completely awesome, but it is truly not for that particular editor. OR it could be that the book just isn’t good enough yet, but the editor sees some talent in your pages and wants to encourage you.

How can you tell the difference?

You can’t.

So what should you do?

First, do some homework. What were the last ten books that the editor who rejected you edited? Have you sent a historical to someone best known for editing sci-fi? (Make a habit of paying addition when an author thanks her editor in the acknowledgements of a book. You can learn a lot!)

If you come to the painful conclusion that your story just wasn’t good enough, do not despair. Put it away for three months and get to work on another project. Right now. In three months, pull the rejected story out and see if you can figure out how to revise it to make it stronger. If it still looks perfect to you, stick it back in the drawer. If you let it simmer undisturbed long enough, all of the awkward plot points and clunky phrases will magically float to the surface and you will fix them. But it takes time.

Here is a critical point: make sure your next project has a deep connection to you. If you are writing stories just because you think they are trendy, you are severely reducing your chances of being published.

It takes most people about ten years to break into children’s publishing. If you are getting quality rejection letters, your ticket will soon be punched, I swear.

Have a writing question for me? Put it in the Comments section, pretty please!


“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell.” rejection letter for Carrie, by Stephen King

Set… file your rejections and turn your eyes to the future.

Today’s prompt:

1. Pick a color.

2. Write down its name then list ten things that the name or the color itself make you think of.

3. Here’s the tricky part. Write ten verbs that spring to mind when you look at that color or its name.

4. Choose the verbs and nouns that resonate the most with you. Write a scene that uses those things and verbs OR go off on an extended riff about what associations those words create for you.

5. Bonus points: Do the exercise again with a different color. This time, combine the nouns from Color One with the verbs from Color Two.