WFMAD Day 23 – right to speak, right to read, right to write

Saturday’s post on the censorship issues surrounding the Teen Lit Fest In Humble, TX led to a wonderful series of comments and ongoing discussion. Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in.

One reader wrote in with a link to a censorship lesson plan for 3rd – 5th graders.

Janni Lee Simner wrote about the difference between a boycott and a strike and came to the conclusion that the authors who pulled out of the book festival were closer to workers striking because of working conditions instead of participating in a boycott. I agree; it’s an important distinction.

This strike would have the most impact if the financial loss suffered by the festival organizers put a severe hurt on the decision maker(s). Or if they decided never to hold the festival again because of the hullabaloo. This would be awful for the readers in the Humble, TX, but I really doubt it would affect the decision makers. Their full-time job is supported by tax payers.

Unless and until the citizens of Humble rise up and holler about the decision to cancel Ellen’s appearance, and the subsequent pulling-out of the other authors, I don’t see how this strike can affect change within the festival or community at the heart of it.

However, Matt de la Peña made an excellent point in his comment to my post on Saturday. Matt wrote:

“If all the other authors (myself included) had chosen to attend the festival it could certainly have lead to a healthy discussion about censorship within the context of one group of people.

But by NOT attending the festival (creating awareness) my hope is that it prompts this same conversation among MANY groups of people.”

That seems to be working, at least in the blogosphere. The crusty, cynical part of me worries that a discussion of intellectual freedom on blogs written by and read by lovers of YA fiction is a classic example of preaching to the choir. How do we engage in conversation with the people who disagree with us?

Striking workers can refuse to do their jobs until working conditions change. As Janni points out in her post, censorship qualifies as a working condition for writers.

One of my concerns is that a strike like this forces the decision makers underground. Instead of inviting someone who might be controversial at all, they simply won’t issue the invitation in the first place. They’ll stick to authors who write books that deal with situations that don’t make censors break out in hives. And the censors will win again and the readers will lose.

But doing nothing isn’t exactly an option either, is it?

Perhaps our community should start talking with regional and national groups of school superintendents. Maybe with the help of NCAC? (If you haven’t checked out their Kids Right to Read Project yet, do it today.)

What do you think?

Ready… “One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject… How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand!” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Set… turn off the phone and Internet. Put on some music, if you want. Loud or soft; your call.

Today’s prompt: Have you drawn a map for your story? Do you know what the layout is of your character’s neighborhood? House? School? Mall? Draw what you know first….THEN (brace yourself, here comes the fun part) fill in things that you don’t know. Like, what three uses is the guest bedroom put to? What happens in the basement? Above the garage? Who lives past the bus stop? Who works in the store next to the theater? What impact do these folks have on the life of your character?

If you are responding to prompts from your own life, draw a map of your world when your were 5, or 10, or 15. As you draw, keep a notebook to scribble in, and write down memories of the places. Seek the most precise details that you can remember. If you can’t remember, make it up. You are a writer, after all.

Scribble… Scribble…Scribble!!!

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?


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 13 – Alone Together

Such a strange thing writing is, don’t you think?

Visions of other people and other worlds swim in your head until you have no choice but to write them down. Then you have the burning need to have someone else read what you’ve written, so you embark on the rocky path to publication.

The writing life is at once filled with companionship – all those characters in your head – and often quite lonely, because you are essentially alone for nearly all of your working hours. (I’m talking about the creating part, not things like book tour.)

For many people, this is lonely. Not for me.

I love the solitude, but even for people like me, its good to make time to be in the company of other writers. Creativity expands exponentially when creative people hang out with each other.

If you haven’t joined networks or support groups for writers like SCBWI, do it today. Look for writing conferences or retreats or workshops in your area. Find yourself some writing buddies who share your commitment to your dream and make time to work together.

Not just manuscript critiquing or meeting for coffee so you can trade news about which editor has moved where. Set up time with your writing friends so you can write together.

It helps to come up with a couple of guidelines before you start; how much talking is allowed, how long will the writing go on, will you share what you’ve written after the quiet time or just go straight to the gossip and pastry portion of your get-together.

Who can you write with this weekend?


“WRITE. FINISH THINGS. KEEP WRITING.” Neil Gaiman’s advice for aspiring writers.

Set…. After you make this weekend’s writing date, find a quiet spot and make the world go away.

Today’s prompt: Your character finds a box hidden at the back of her closet. Inside it are things from her childhood that someone saved for her. What is in the box? (Hint – focus on the way things smell.) OR If you found a box of items from your childhood, what would it contain?

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble!!!


My writer’s group & WFMAD approacheth

Are you ready?

Pencils sharpened, pens lined up, fingers nimble?

The Third Annual LHA Write Fifteen Minutes a Day challenge starts on Sunday, August 1st!

::cue roaring crowd and bawking chickens::

WFMAD is a bit like NaNoWriMo, but better. Because writing the draft of a novel in one month (which is the goal of NaNoWriMo) is a great challenge, but overwhelming for a lot of people. My approach is smaller and often, more effective. It simply requires that you write for fifteen minutes every day during the month of August.

Can you do that? Of course you can. Do you want to? That’s sort of up to you, isn’t it?

I will be posting every day during the month. My posts will be part writing prompt, part cheerleading, part gentle kick in your backside. (You don’t have to use the prompts if you don’t want to.  They are just to help stir your creative pot a bit.)

In a way, this blog can become your writer’s group for the next month. If you already have a writer’s group, no worry. You are not being unfaithful to them, you are expanding your circle.

My writer’s group met on Tuesday. We were missing Bruce Coville. I think he was off gallivanting with unicorns. One of our members, MJ Auch, was recovering from surgery, so she beamed into the meeting on Skype.







This is what MJ looked like on the computer sitting on the end of the kitchen table. (Note her cat lounging in the background.)







Suzanne Bloom is pointing the camera down at her latest amazing artwork so that MJ can see it. Standing with her back to the camera is author, cook, and amazing writer’s group hostess, Ellen Yeomans.







And this is what we looked like on MJ’s computer!!


Distance and circumstance need not stop anyone who has the writing dream in their heart. I’ll be reworking the rules for this year’s WFMAD challenge a bit – details on Sunday. But the general guidelines are the same that they’ve been for the last two years. New this year will be prizes – tee-shirts and maybe an ARC of FORGE (or two) for the people who write the funniest or most moving comment each week.

Any questions??

One more thing…. I have shifted blog hosting sites. The Mad Woman in the Forest blog is now found at WordPress. The blog will continue to feed to FaceBook, LiveJournal, and a bunch of other sites, but if you want to make comments that I can guarantee you I will read (and will make you eligible for prizes), you need to make them on the WordPress version of the blog.

OK, now for real… any questions??