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Moving On...

Too many changes has left me a spread a bit thin, so my LJ account has been sorely neglected. To add to the confusion, LJ has been far too fickle lately, so perhaps it is time to streamline my writing life a little.

Any of you who would like to catch up, please follow me over to my other blog Haunting the Broken Tree. I hope to see you all there!

~Mary Ann
Well in southwest Georgia, Spring has arrived.  I gripe a lot about living here, but this is one lovely perk...spring in February.  But March has somehow hopped right in here and I have a lot to get done.  So I will definitely be a mad hare as I dash through my WIP (ha ha) and get it ready for my awesome agent.  I wish I could guarantee that my WIP will be so awesome, but it's a first draft and a bolder project than the last.

To keep me on the right track, I'm following a fabulous group of writers who are blogging to inspire.  Join me as I check in all month:

Denise Jaden (Mondays)
Shana Silver (Tuesdays)
Angelina Hansen (Wednesdays)
Shari Green (Thursdays)
Craig Pirrall (Fridays)

*I've been told there will be prizes as well as inspiration!  

Tattoo Me...Please!

Is it a mid-life crisis thing?  Or perhaps a need to rebel?  Or maybe just an urge to take control of some small part of my bod?  For whatever reason, I've been aching to get a tattoo.  The big question is, what do I want to etch into my ivory skin forever?  Of course a nice little celtic design would graft my love of Ireland to my shoulder for all eternity.  Maybe a spunky little fairy.  Of course horses are another passion, but I'm not sure I want just a horse-shaped stamped on my shoulder blade unless it's something really interesting.  What about something literary?  I considered a wonderful "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" or something like that, but I think an iconic image would be more up my alley for this purpose. Or maybe something ghosty.

Here's the gig:

  • I need a great idea.

  • It has to be small.  I don't want it to swarm across my back.  Just a small little accent on my shoulder blade.

  • It can be color or monochrome

  • I'm asking my blogging buddies for help...HELP!  

If you have a suggestion, post it in the comments along with a link to the image.  OR email me with your suggestion and paste the image right in the email.  I'm open to original work by any of my illustrator buddies as well.

Hit me with your best!  

Huck's Audience

 With all the flurry over the recent attempt to sanitize THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN for young audiences, one important element of the question seems to have gotten lost. Who was the intended audience? For that matter, consider the newly released film version of Jonathan Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. It is being marketed as a fun "family" film, but Swift's work was carefully crafted political satire aimed at adults.

Now look closely at Twain's book. Consider when he wrote it, not only in terms of the historical time period but also in terms of the stage of Twain's own life.  Though he may have envisioned a boy's adventure book when he began writing it, his novel became something very different by the end.  The end of Reconstruction, the introduction of Jim Crow, and a flood of lynchings as well as personal tragedy led Twain to put the half-finished manuscript on the shelf for seven years before he finally picked it back up. And when he did, he came at the novel from a very different place. There is far more darkness in his tale than today's young people would understand. Does that mean they shouldn't read it? No.

However, it does mean that we should treat it as what it is.  This book has been a point of contention on school reading lists for decades primarily because of the language, yet teachers want to share this eloquent indictment of Southern Honor and Post-Reconstruction realities with students of all ages. Why? What abiding truth resonates with the young reader? I think the problem is that many teachers don't really answer that question, if they ask it all all, before they plunge in with a group of unsuspecting 8th-graders.  Does a popsicle-stick raft really demonstrate an important theme in the book?

I'm not saying we shouldn't include this in our school reading list or ban people from teaching it.  I'm just saying don't be careless with it because you think it was meant for kids to read and learn a lesson about racism and don't let a sanitized version of the text lure you into a complacence that fails to address the true issues in the book.  An adolescent main character does not always mean a book was written for kids.  Is THE LOVELY BONES a book for young readers?

You can look around and find a host of classics that have been turned into graphic novels or abbreviated versions for young readers and that is not a bad thing.  We teach books written for adults all the time.  But if you wish to teach a book like HUCK FINN, don't assume that because one offensive word has been extracted or painted a different color that it is somehow more relevant or more acceptable to a young audience.

Kids can learn a lot from HUCK FINN.  Don't boil it down to a single word and don't assume that it was written for kids.  Think about those abiding truths you want your students to glean and start there. After all, if we want them to learn how to think about the hard questions, we have to be good models and ask them ourselves.


 Yes, it's time for another round of literary sanitation in the name of political correctness.  If you haven't heard, an English professor at Auburn University is protecting us from ourselves in order to preserve a classic for generations to come.  How does he plan to do that?  He has replaced the word nigger with the word slave in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN.  All 243 times it appears.  His hope is to make the book more palatable and less taboo to parents, teachers, and young readers alike in order to preserve a classic.

While I understand his aim, I have mixed emotions about the ramifications of such a cleansing.  My guts tightened and my brain shuddered when I heard the news.  Who would dare?  But I'm sure many teachers have grown weary of explaining and testing the cultural climate before attempting to teach the text and have abandoned it altogether in the name of job security.  It's a delicate business and believe me, I understand. But there is something more to this issue beside censorship and the political conscience of a modern audience.  For me, it's as simple as integrity.

I taught HUCKELBERRY FINN in the 90's and my students truly "got" it.  Now, keep in mind, I didn't just fling the book at them and dive into it without any context.  That would be ludicrous.  But then teaching any classic without context is not only asinine, but borderline criminal.  In his New York Times article, Michiko Kakutani sums up a crucial point here:

Never mind that today nigger is used by many rappers, who have reclaimed the word from its ugly past. Never mind that attaching the epithet slave to the character Jim — who has run away in a bid for freedom — effectively labels him as property, as the very thing he is trying to escape.

I was teaching high school juniors at the time, and when I announced our next project, several sighed and said, "We already read that in 8th grade."  These were gifted students, mind you, and they had little tolerance for repetition let alone something that has been dubbed a "kid's adventure story."  Yes, that is how it was presented to them the first time around.[shudder] Of course I set them straight and then presented the historical and cultural context, complete with disclaimers about language.  Also consider that the demographics of this school were 49% caucasian, 48% African American, and 3% other (Indian, Iranian, etc.) Moreover, the socio-economic scale reached from the poorest to the wealthiest (children of pro football players and heart surgeons, etc.) who made their own cliques to often surprising ends.  When we had finished, several students remarked that they had read a completely different book. They had no idea that that is what the book was about.  They loved it and each one of them took in the truth that they found there.  

Prof. Gribben hopes to introduce more young people to Huck by sterilizing part of the very social comment that Twain was addressing.  Of course we have seen the term pass through different usages and through its evolution, we have cringed and cursed at the sound of it.  But what is really at the heart of good literature?  Truth.  No matter how ugly, uncomfortable, or embarrassing, if we seek it earnestly, we shall find it.  As teachers, isn't that a large part of our job, to help our students discover their understanding of the world and its naked truth?  

The primary problem is not the text.  The problem is that so many teachers get it wrong.  If you think that boiling down a social commentary like HUCKLEBERRY FINN to nothing more than a jaunt on the Mississippi, than you should not be teaching it to anyone.  The rich, beautiful, harsh story says so much about Twain's understanding of a country that had just come through a firestorm, not unscathed, not instantly wiser, and certainly not romantically mussed up, but truly, brutally scarred.  This isn't a book about friendship and acceptance.  This is a book about honor and truth and clarity.  Where is the honor and truth and clarity in eviscerating the text and subjugating the context? 

In the end, Huck doesn't necessarily see all slaves as equals, but he does see Jim as a man—an honorable, brave man—and a friend.  Mark Twain simply asked that we look at him, that we look at ourselves, that we see this country as it was, warts and all and consider the truth.  Don't look away now because it makes you uncomfortable.  You'll miss the most important parts. 


 My first friend made it easy—a sort of halfbreed cross between Inspiration and Determination. With my lower lip clenched tightly in my teeth, my fingers warm and nimble, I launched into my WIP with a vigor I hadn't seen it quite a while. This was it. Time to bang out that novel in 30 days and then spend a few months making it over for the real world. She carried me high through the first week, nudging me closer to sun with little bursts of enthusiasm. Of course another mosher was constantly tugging at me from behind.

Hello, Guilt. Oh yes, this little friend was high-spirited and relentless. "Ghost Girl, you're neglecting your family!" he shouted. "The kids can't survive on frozen salisbury steak and applesauce forever!" I swear he even brainwashed the tater tots who glared up at me from their grease-stained paper plates and chanted "saturated fats...saturated fats...you're killing your children!" I covered my ears and pressed on, but that nasty little mosher rallied the rabid dust bunnies to revolt. But I just closed my eyes and flung myself deeper into the pit.

Aha...halfway through the month, I felt myself slipping, tumbling in a rock slide of dwindling word-counts. 200 one day, 150 the next. Suddenly, a toady little critter tugged at my pants leg. Fifty more stood arm-in-arm behind him, salivating through their smug grins. Yes, it was Defeat and his minions. Their triumphant taunts rang throughout cyberspace: "I hit 28k today!" "I'm almost done and I have 15 days left!" "I'm finished...time to revise!" Yes, there I was caught in the tightly clenched jaws of defeat, clutching my meager 12,000 words in my tiny fist. A new pile of ENG 1102 essays mocked me from the corner. Even the Thanksgiving turkey betrayed me! "Time to write...," they taunted. It wasn't their fault that others were more on the ball than I was.

But somewhere in the midst of my grading haze and my post Thanksgiving stupor, another voice sifted through the darkness. "Look what you did! You broke through! You taught your students, fed your kids, and broke through!" She grabbed me by the ear and pulled my face in close. "There..." She pointed her bony finger at the bottom of my laptop screen. Blinking back at me from a tiny grey box was a small but admirable figure. Perhaps a little lean, but very well-formed and even beautiful in places. 13,340, you're not so bad. I gave my tiny sense of Accomplishment a little pat and said, "Welcome to the moshpit, now let's go dance..."


 As promised, it's time to spill my guts about the whole NaNoWriMo whirlwind. First, there is a very specific kind of mental gymnastics you have to do to commit yourself to this process. I decided to do NaNoWriMo primarily to kick-start my new YA WIP and motivate myself passed whatever obstacle was keeping me from breaking through. I won't call it "writer's block" because I had a fair idea of what I was writing and where I wanted to go. It's more like a supra-sensory overload that left me spinning in neutral. Perhaps it was even one part fear of failure. After all, I had just written my best work yet and somehow it still didn't break out (not that it won't, soon). So I told myself that it didn't matter if I didn't finish the book in 30 days, just as long as I made some real forward progress.

Okay. All set, right? Not exactly. I had to stretch something else, a muscle that is strung so tightly it just might rip in two if I'm not careful. I'm talking about the meta-writer, the constant editor that lives in my head and refuses to let me just vomit on the page. But if you are going to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to let that baby fly! Ouch! Not so easy for this perfectionist.

Flexing. Stretching. Laying out the outline before Nov. 1st. Check. Hey, I even spewed some real stupidity on my awesome Scrivener note cards. All right! And then the righting began. Frozen dinners, too much TV, not necessarily bathed on time—that was my kids' side of the bargain. Ghost Hunk is rarely affected by these bouts of creative diarrhea, but he does eventually step in and man the standby parent booth when necessary.

And there I was, stoked and stretched and all warmed up. I spat out 1200 words the first day. Logged another 800 the second day. Stumbled through about 250 on day 3. Then I hit a 2K day and danced a rather conspicuous little jig at the café, though I saw very little of my family and spent the wee hours of the night preparing for class the next day. But my main concern was...is this crap? No matter how much I screwed up my courage and my resolve, I still could not fight the urge to spend 20 minutes searching for the right word or go back and add that certain something to the previous scene to connect the dots. But I did manage to throw down a few painfully nasty tidbits and move on just to keep the momentum going. I'll come back later! My mind couldn't help itself...it kept wandering off to the revision process already. Scratching that itch just enough to distract me from my forward motion. Back! Back, I say! (kkkaccchhhh!) And on I marched.

By the time I got to November 20th, I had more than 13,000 words down and the satisfaction that I had indeed broken through. By that time, however, I had also lost that sense of reckless momentum and had a new stack of papers to grade and a Thanksgiving dinner to prepare as well as a significant ghost kid crisis to diffuse. And 37,000 words to go?!! Oh the pressure! It was either vomit or take a long nap and sleep it off. I chose to sleep it off.

I'm all for NaNoWriMo and applaud those who whiz through it, some hitting 50k by Nov. 15th! I might do it again, but I don't think I can ever kill my meta-writer or even bind and gag her long enough to spit out 50k in 30 days. But the whole experience gave me two awesome gifts...a breakthrough and a new bit of writing software that kicks some butt.

Next: The emotional melée of NaNoWriMo...


Halloween and NaNoWriMo...Oh My!

Well it's here. NaNoWriMo, and I greeted it at 3:00am with a firm resolve and a bad case of insomnia. So what the heck! I wrote 500 words. Not my daily goal, but it's a start. More to come later.

Now what about the Ghost kids and Halloween? Ghost Son is officially a teenager, so no pictures could be had of him and his banana-toting buddies, but Ghost Daughter can safely say she was the only Falcon on the streets that night:

Countdown to Chaos

Less than 48 hours until NaNoWriMo begins and I'm not ready yet. Egads! I'm taking today and most likely tomorrow to get my plot straightened out and get myself poised for the attack. My students are doing poetry, which will make it a little easier on me as far as my reading and prep load.

I'm hosting a Write-In and believe or not, I think at least 3 people will actually be there! As far as I know, however, I'm the only kidlit writer in these parts. Anyway, ELEMENTS Coffe Co., crank up the expresso machine and the teapot and get ready for us!

Full disclosure, I am picking up my WIP for this one, but since I'm scarcely 4,000 words in, I'm taking it as a reboot. Lots of buddies are participating this year, so I hope they have their extra powerful motivational boots on so they can kick me in the pants with wild abandon! Now, if you haven't yet checked out Nathan Bransford's awesome advice for NaNoWriMo prep work, get your buns over to his blog and drink it in.

Write on, folks!


NaNoWriMo...Why Not?

I admit it. I'm a NaNoWriMo virgin. But I'm putting it out there this time around, hoping that the community and the deadline will give me a little extra momentum as I try to get this next YA banged out. I've resisted in the past primarily because I was already well into a project and making steady progress. This time, however, I could use a little pick-me-up. So here I go.

I'm looking to my writing buddies and acquaintances for further encouragement, and they never let me down. Many of the gals from The Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors have participated and they're good at spreading the fever.  Stephanie Ruble has also offered some helpful tips for newbies like me.

So stay tuned...the counter should be cranking at top speed in about 2 weeks!