Parenting v. Censoring

I work with kids and books. Like a lot. I work for a childhood literacy nonprofit and I volunteer basically all my during-school-hours free time at my sons’ school library. I also write children’s literature, dabbling in everything from the occasional picture book to can’t-stop-addict-levels of YA. Oh, and I am raising a herd of wild bookivores, constantly saving all our pennies for our next raid on the used bookshop.

Pretty much everyone knows I am That Mom, so I understandably get asked for book recommendations a lot. And I got one last week that stuck with me a bit more than usual.

Probably because it annoyed me.

The mom wanted a time travel middle grade book, preferably part of a series. So I started rattling out whatever floated to the top of my head. As we proceeded, I offered yet another series title and then hemmed and hawed a little at whether it was more sciencey time travel or more magical time travel. You know, just to explain the flavor.

That was a no-go. She didn’t want anything fantasy. Not even remotely. In fact, she was looking for this series as a way to ween her child off of this dumb fantasy kick he’d been on.

The conversation ended pretty quick after that.

Now, I am not the most perfect laissez-faire parent on the planet. As my sons’ school librarian can witness, there are some books the children will not be bringing into my home. (Except during banned book week. Then there is so much Captain Underpants around this place. *claws at eyes* SO MUCH CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS.) But shuttling a child away from an entire genre of books because—what? they have magic? they’re made up? Seriously, after this kid’s been successfully weened off fantasy, is the rest of fiction at large under the gun?

Now there is a lot of stuff that I personally choose not to read. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want the rest of the world reading it. As a general rule, censorship is for military-uniformed evil overlords cackling in their plushily-appointed offices. I don’t like. Honestly, I don’t really understand anybody who thinks hard censorship in any form of media is a good idea.

However, the game changes a little bit when the little absorby-brains belong to children. I mean, I don’t let my kids watch movies that I sometimes want to watch. (I mean, the Iron Giant and Star vs. The Forces of Evil proved to be just too terrifying. Nobody sleeps for like a week after the kids watch a ‘scary’ show. Can you imagine if I let them watch Invader Zim???) There are lots of books, music, and movies that I don’t necessarily want the kids ingesting for lots of reasons. Am I required to defend those reasons?

(That said, a small clarification on why I don’t like Captain Underpants books: I think they’re obnoxious. I don’t hate that the characters are disrespectful to authority figures or anything like that. The kids are free to read them anywhere I don’t have to see it. They can have their desks at school chock full of Captain Underpants books and that is fine. But if I hear so much as one tra-la-la…)

Part of a parent’s job is to shield their kids from bad stuff—‘bad’ usually being a somewhat subjective term. Another part of their job is to raise their kids up to be good people—‘good’ being another subjective term. Parents go at these objectives in different ways. Sometimes the routes don’t make a lot of sense from the outside looking in.

I don’t know what was going through this mom’s head when she decided to steer her kid away from the fantasy genre at large. My annoyance with her was a knee-jerk reaction, but maybe she has really good reasons that I just don’t know about. Maybe I’m a judgmental monster. Parenting is tough and there will always be someone there to deem your best effort not good enough. If I don’t feel like I need to defend all my own reasons for not letting my kids read something I object to, why do I feel entitled to this other mom’s reasons?

I wish I had a clearer conclusion, but this is murky stuff. I can’t make the call on what is appropriate or inappropriate reading for another person’s family. It could be that forcing someone to allow what they don’t agree with is a problem right along with removing other things that they might want access to. I suppose that’s a thing each parent has to decide for their own home.

What do you think? What’s the line between thumbs-up-you-are-an-involved-parent and boo-on-you-you-censoring-dictator? Does that line change over time as a child grows? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below! And until next week, happy reading!

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All the Recaps

Hello, friends! I’ve got about three ultra-mini posts here, so I decided to mash them all together so that I don’t have to drag any of it out for you. I’m sure you all have better things to do. So here are a few recaps of the things I’ve been working on lately, and a sneak peak of what’s to come.

Writers Conference This last weekend was the annual Alaska Writers Guild fall conference and I gleefully attended. As always, I had a great time, got great info, and chatted with great people! The speakers were all excellent, plus I got to relive my younger years by holding a friend’s sleeping two-month-old in one arm while drafting on my knee with the other. Plus, I had the luxury of flying down to Anchorage this year. (Eight hours of driving distilled into a forty-minute flight. SO LUXURIOUS.) I’ll be posting some of my conference lessons and stories in the weeks to come.

Grant Review Board Related to the conference, I was on a small board reviewing grant proposals over the last couple weeks. We had quite a few more proposals than we had in previous years. There were so many strong submissions and it was a tough time winnowing it down to just two. I hope this year’s winners can do amazing things with their funds!

Snow White Deadline This Blood and Ebony deadline has been breathing down my neck for the last few weeks and so I am pleased and relieved to let you know that I met it juuuuust in time. Therefore, I was able to get the olive oil of my homeland and not have to watch any doofy song-and-dance nonsense. Huzzah! Blood and Ebony went out to alpha readers Friday night and I’m hoping to have it out to beta readers before the end of the year. Except maybe this time, I’ll manage my time in such a way that it doesn’t arrive in their inboxes in the wee hours of morning smelling like panic and poor life choices.

Gals Read The fall session of Gals Read is officially upon me. I’ve been prepping for the last few weeks and today marked the start of training week. Hooray! After training ends, I’ll spend my days reading Space Boy and Anne of Green Gables to the fantastic fourth grade girls of Fairbanks. The program has grown again this year, and we are now in every public elementary school in the district. That is awesome! I can’t think of a better use of my time than turning impressionable children into desperate book addicts who stay up way after bedtime with flashlights. *hero pose*

Also on the radar is NaNoWriMo, which is working hard to sneak up on me, but not this year, NaNo! This week is going to be crazy, like the one before it, but once I claw my way through Gals Read and out the other side, I’ll start thinking about what I want to draft out for this session and post a project soon. As I mentioned in the halfway check-in on my annual goals, this session is basically my last chance for the year to get my one first draft in. I don’t plan to squander it (yet).

How about you fine folks? What bookish pursuits have you been up to lately? Any exciting projects in the works? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Living in Alaska

Downtown Fairbanks. This is downtown, guys. SO CHILL.

I get to live in the best place in the world. Having grown up in the military, I got to experience a pretty significant chunk of the country and I can say with absolute certainty that Fairbanks Alaska is my all-time, no-runner-up-necessary, hands-down favorite. I will live here the rest of my life and scatter my ashes in its wind.

Alaska is glorious. It’s the biggest state by far, nearly a fifth of the US’ total area, but is home to about one five-hundredth of the US population (over half of which is concentrated in one town). Most of that area is wilderness and we’re fiercely proud of it. Alaska is home to seventeen of the country’s twenty tallest mountain peaks. We have over a hundred thousand glaciers. This place is giant, gorgeous, and you don’t have to deal with nearly as many pesky humans here. People are chill. Schedules are relaxed. Traffic is practically nonexistent. (Unless you live in Anchorage. Anchorage is basically a suburb of some Lower 48 town and doesn’t particularly count as Alaskan. *sticks tongue out at Mary*)

I got an interesting email last year from an ex-relative’s mother asking for some setting notes on living in Fairbanks Alaska. She was writing a story but hadn’t been able to visit, and wanted to make sure she got the light/dark thing right. I sent her an email and made a note to myself to do some setting notes on Alaska for the blog. So if you ever write an Alaskan story, here you go! (Free tip: come visit if you can manage it! You won’t be sorry!)

Population: Fairbanks Alaska is the largest town in the Interior, and the second largest in the state, with a population of a little over 30,000. This is a great, huge metropolis by Alaska standards, where most settlements have fewer than a thousand people. Fairbanks has most of the amenities you would expect in any American town, just less of them. There is one movie theater and three McDonalds’. We got a Walmart a few years ago and that was a pretty big deal. There’s at least one Taco Bell. So you can expect most of the same stuff you would see in a bigger town in the Lower 48, just less of it.

Light and dark: Fairbanks exists at an extreme latitude, and so the seasonal shifting of the earth’s orientation toward the sun is much more pronounced here. Therefore, the sun stays up nearly all summer, tapers down to equinox in the spring, and then wanes to hardly any presence in the winter. (Less so down in the southern parts of the state, but bonkers up on the north coast. In summer, the sun doesn’t set at all for over two months in Utqiaġvik, the northernmost town in the US.) Winter is dark nearly all the time. If you have a job or attend school during the day, odds are you will go weeks or months without ever seeing daylight. The converse is true of summer. Since most of us sleep at night, we can go most of summer without seeing the sun go down.

Cold: Yeah, it gets pretty cold here. Fairbanks is in the state’s interior so it can actually get pretty toasty in the summers too- sometimes into the 90’s, which is utterly miserable since nobody has air conditioning. Winters are extreme by Lower 48 standards, but have actually gotten a lot milder over the last few years. (Global warming is real, y’all. And it sucks. Ride your bikes and curb your plastic use. My glaciers thank you. *climbs off soapbox*) While years ago, it was very typical to spend most of winter at -20°F /-30°C with a cold snap or two of -40°F/°C, we’ve lately seen winters of -10°F/-25°C with two or three weeks at -20°F /-30°C. I haven’t seen it reach -50°F/-45°C in a decade. And while that sounds like a good thing on the surface, it’s not because of reasons I don’t have the space to get into here. Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you have questions. I love to rant.

Wildlife: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been unable to get my kids to school because we have moose hanging around in our yard. Critters are everywhere in Alaska. I constantly have foxes and ravens trying to get at my chickens and we get the occasional neighborhood warning of bears or, more rarely, wolves. Animals here are large, scrappy, and they go wherever the heck they want. It’s not as big a deal as it sounds like, though. Like more southerly people who have to deal with the small and venomous crawling into their shoes (*shudders*), you just get used to a set of precautions while living alongside wildlife. Fairbanks, especially where I live on the hills outside of town, lives in close quarters with nature. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just have to accept that animals that would happily stomp me flat or eat me get right of way during the stroll to school.

Tourists: I know this might not be true of everyone, but I can’t recall ever being annoyed with the tourists here. Honestly, I kind of adore them. They’re always so happy to be here and want to talk with locals and have loads of questions. Tourists are fun and nice, and I enjoy chatting with them about where they’re from and what they’ve seen so far. I regularly invite them to my house for dinner. (Just had another one last night!) My kids and I always wave at passing tour buses, which have never tried to run me over on my bike. (High praise–I cannot say that for any other kind of vehicle on the road.) Sometimes you playfully mess with tourists. (Naw, if my car freezes up, I just saddle up the family caribou to go to work. Oh, but you have to be careful because if you take a deep breath when it’s really cold, your lungs will freeze.) But you usually let them know you’re kidding before they leave. And you do occasionally find yourself in the weird position of protecting tourists from themselves. (No, no, no, ma’am, you do not want to get close to the bear cub for a picture. Yes, sir, that thousand pound moose is an herbivore, but it will certainly still kill you.) But all in all, I like the tourists just fine. Even if they do ask about the currency exchange rate between Alaskan money and American money. ❤

PS- Did you enjoy this? Then go read CM Schofield’s brilliant Living By the Sea. And watch out for the seagulls!

NaNo Recap: Fiction v. Nonfiction

Okay, I know that I whine about how hard it was basically every session of NaNoWriMo, but for reals, guys, this one was hard. I was really worried I wasn’t going to make it there toward the end. I spent a significant chunk of the month feeling supremely uninspired and had to start counting words that maaaaaybe really shouldn’t count, but they counted enough and I was scared. But this month’s scrappy desperation felt a little different because, for the most part, I was writing nonfiction. I’ve never tried that before. And let me tell you, it was hard.

I went into this maybe a little underinformed. The closest I’ve come to writing nonfiction before was a creative nonfiction short story of which I ended up having to completely rewrite the ending—the ending where the guy is executed for that murder he was found guilty of—because it turns out the guy’s execution was stayed at the last minute and he was released and spent his final days as a barber in upstate New York or something. Truth is stranger than fiction, I guess. The point is, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. And that never ends well for me. (Except for in marriage. Happy anniversary, babe!)

As it turns out, writing nonfiction is a totally different beast than writing fiction. Here are just a few of the differences that made my life difficult last month:

Nonfiction requires citations and stuff. You can’t just claim that the magic crystal pumps out thirty kilosparkles per minute under a full moon. You gotta annotate that junk.

Nonfiction sticks to the facts. Can I prove it? No? Then get that corn outta my face. It doesn’t matter that I like to make things up when I have no idea what’s going on. I have to figure out what’s going on. Even if it takes forever. That said…

Nonfiction is way slower to write. Yeah, that not making things up thing? That means that I have to look up anything I don’t know. Not just look it up, but find it (preferably in two or three places), weigh the merit of the publication, reference it, and add it to my bibliography. Every ten words takes about thirty minutes. It burns us.

Nonfiction requires research. Again related to the above point, but seriously, if I don’t know it, I have to figure it out. And if someone hasn’t already done that research, then I have to. Doing the research takes even more time than compiling the research, which takes even more time than writing about the research. And a thirty-one day writing sprint is definitely not the time to be conducting research. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And I’m sure there are way more issues out there. This is just what I managed to uncover in a month of dabbling. (Did you know there are people who write nonfiction all the time? For a living? Willingly? It’s true!)

That said, there are advantages to writing nonfiction as well (and probably way more than I’m listing because augh, it hurt so badlyyy).

Fiction is more elaborate than nonfiction. There is something very straightforward and clean about writing nonfiction. Is it a verifiable fact? Then yes, that can go in. If not, save it for the alternate history fanfic. Probably nobody wants to know what the butter’s thinking as it melts in the fry pan anyway. (Probably.)

Nonfiction takes less concentration. For me, at least. When writing fiction, I need absolute silence, stillness, twenty minutes of meditation, and a sacrificial unicorn heart. Since nonfiction only deals with what really exists, though, and I don’t have to go into that zen creative brain space reserved for crafting universes out of what ifs and bat farts.

Nonfiction teaches. You could argue that fiction can do that, too, but mostly fiction is for entertainment. Nonfiction imparts knowledge, and that’s really cool to think about. Rare is the situation in which more facts and truth is a bad thing. Knowledge is power, y’all.

All that said, I’d like to keep dabbling in nonfiction, but I don’t think I’ll try it again during a NaNo month. Most of my difficulty can probably be attributed to trying to rush a project that would have benefitted from more thought. Despite the grind, I still want to finish both of the nonfiction projects I was working on last month. But I’m enjoying the work more now that I’m not tallying every word that I write as I nervously watch the clock winding down. (I really wouldn’t have won at all if I hadn’t paused in my nonfiction to draft out a fictional short story and notes, which ended up being nearly a quarter of my total wordcount for the month. I justified it because I was already working on multiple projects during the month, so what’s one more? Yeah, rules get a little bendy when you’re thirty percent behind schedule and things are looking grim.)

How about you guys? Any of my fine readers work in nonfiction? What are some of the pros and cons I may have missed in my quick splash in the shallow end? Let me know in the comments and, until next week, happy writing!

Incomplete Sketch: Intercession

Boy, I thought I was sooooo clever when I realized that the cord that connects my wacom tablet to my laptop could also allow me to charge my phone in the car. I was feeling a little less clever when the cord disappeared completely and I realized no other cord in the world was going to fit my tablet. Yep.

So I found it eventually, but I spent all that time in panicky desperate searching instead of finishing the sketch. So have an incomplete sketch! It is a bird. I love birds. Pick up your litter, y’all.

Matthew 10: 31
I cannot guarantee the anatomical correctness of my little sparrow friend here.
That leg. That leg needs work.

Miss Frizzle, Colored at Last!

Thank you for your patience last week. And look, I finally colored the thing! Whee!

And just a heads up- today is the first day of another session of Camp Nanowrimo, so this month I will be lazy and stupid while I direct my brain power in other directions. We’ll have lame art and reblogs and who knows what else. Should be fun times!

Happy writing!

Excuses, Excuses

My last three four days have included:

  • Three four doctor visits
  • Two three ER visits
  • Two family members on exciting new medications
  • No sleep whatsoever
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding
  • More pus than I ever thought possible
  • Hey, look, we hit our deductible!
  • And now with facial scarring- maybe plastic surgery to come?? The fun never ends!

As such, there will be no update this week. Check back next week for some long overdue art. Thanks for your understanding!