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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Why Am I So Bad At Goals Whyyy

So this post was originally intended to be a halfway-into-the-year check in on my writing goals. Due to some scheduling issues, we’re a bit past the midpoint, but I’m doing it anyway. Because deadlines are for mortals, which is a response that probably will give you a lot of insight into the way my goals are going so far this year.

The short answer is that I’m doing awfully. At everything.

My reading goals were progressing beautifully until summer struck and then all bets were off. I didn’t read a single book over the entire summer that wasn’t for work, and it was difficult to squeeze even that much in. *claws at own face* I can’t live like this.

Giving myself more leeway on short story writing maaaay have been a mistake because I took that leeway as an excuse to do next to nothing. I have written two short stories so far this year. Two.

Editing is likewise a giant sinkhole so far this year. I just started editing Blood and Ebony about a week ago and have made it about halfway through the first chapter. And… that is all. Yikes. Zero down and three to go.

And I guess I started my one new draft of a novel, but realized about halfway in that it’s terrible and has some plot holes you could fly an Airbus A380 through and I have no interest in finishing it before the year is out. So… back to square one on that, I suppose.

My rejections goal for the year is currently sitting at fifteen of my forty-eight rejections, which is terrible in and of itself, but made exponentially more terrible by the fact that that is all. I have nothing more currently on submission right now that counts toward this goal. So unless I get my rear into gear, that number is going to stay at fifteen. At the beginning of the year, I had intended to have all the subs out that I needed for the entire year (plus a little extra under the assumption that some will be accepted) by the end of September, giving those rejections time to trickle in over the rest of the year. Yeah. Not happening. This goal is so far sitting at flaming-airplane-wreck-two-minutes-before-takeoff level of fail.

Soooo… yeah. That’s where I’m at.

But I have excuses. Do you wanna hear my excuses? Please?

My biggest excuse is that a few of those probable rejections turned out to be acceptances—and on pretty big projects, too. On top of my having normal day jobs, I’ve been working on these projects, steadily, daily, for about three months now and it’ll be at least another month before they’re all completed. It’s taking up nearly all of my free time.

Other excuses have been of the much less fun family emergency variety. Just this summer we had a string of chicken tragedies and three unique medical emergencies. (Unless we want to count each of my son’s complications as their own thing. Ah, dog bites. The emergency that keeps on emerging.) These things take time, and they also take brain power. I can’t work very effectively if I’m worried that my husband might need surgery (still a possibility) or that my son might lose an eye (off the table—whew!).

So, yeah. I’m still going to get myself as close to those goals as possible before the end of the year. I think I can catch up on the reading goal without too much fuss. Just two more short stories would put me above what I managed for last year, so that will have to be good enough. Editing might get trimmed back to just one book; if I really turn this thing around, maybe two. I’ll get about half of a first draft in November and try to finish the rest of it in December, so that one is still in the realm of possibility. But the rejections goal will definitely have to come down; I just won’t know exactly how much until I finish up these other projects. We’ll see.

All in all, I’m trying not to beat myself up too badly. I’m doing my best and I’m not just being lazy, so that’s a definite win in this game.

How about you fine readers? How are your literary endeavors going so far this year? Any wins to report? Any fails that could use some cheerleading? 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!

Reblog: How to Become a Successful Writer and Work-Full Time

Hi friends! As you well know, it’s a NaNo month, and that means reblogging my way to a murky victory by reserving every iota of brain power for spitting out garbage first drafts! Hooray!

One of those distracting brain power sinks is my job. I work two or three part time jobs in the winter, but in the summer, I work one part time and one full time, leaving me little time or thought for writing. This summer has had the added complication of doing freelance writing work for three different operations all at the same time. So while I don’t have the time to do any fiction work right now, I am still writing, with a bonus of contractually obligated deadlines (which for me is a very good thing).

That said, this week, I’ll be reblogging a guest article from The Creative Penn, Ron Vitale’s How to Become a Successful Writer and Work Full-Time at a Day Job, which is a really long title. Later in the month, I’ll probably post a snippet from one of my projects, which I’ll tell you more about then. Until then, happy writing, and enjoy the article!

How to Become a Successful Writer and Work Full-Time at a Day Job

Back in 2008, I made a decision that changed my life. I decided to write a novel.

Yes, I worked full-time at a day job and had two small children, but realized that if I wanted my life to change, I needed to either make a move, or let go of my dream. Having my big “four-oh” birthday on the horizon proved to be the kick in the pants that pushed me to act. I thought long and hard, but decided to take a leap of faith and try. I now have 7 novels on sale on various platforms and am working on my next.

I went from “wanting to be a novelist” to “being one.”

How? I did the following:

  • Made a public commitment to my family and friends, holding myself accountable.
  • Created a schedule that worked for my busy career.
  • Chunked the work into bite-sized pieces.

Believe in Yourself

All my life I had waited for someone to validate me as an author. To change that unhealthy behavior, I started doing. I wrote in the morning before work, read “how to” articles and started listening to podcasts on writing and publishing. I reframed my goals by choosing to invest in myself and my dream.

No longer would I wait for someone to discover me, I would discover myself. 

Ready to read some more? Find the full article here!

I Miss Plastic, and Other Tales of Woe

seal paintI stood helplessly in the grocery store last Friday, wandering in bewilderment up and down what had to be miles of grocery aisles. Everything I could possibly put on my grocery list was right here, but I couldn’t seem to buy any of it. I stared at racks that soared over my head and thought, ‘I just… I just want to make rice krispie treats.’

A little background: each year, my family observes its own weird version of Lent. It’s not a part of our religion, but we’ve decided it builds character. And since we subscribe to Calvin’s Dad’s School of Character, calvin shovelingwhat it usually boils down to is forty days of making ourselves as miserable and deprived as possible. This year seems to be the granddaddy of denial and, guys, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.

My kids and I have been worrying a lot about penguins and baby turtles and dolphins and stuff, and so we decided to give up single use plastic. This wasn’t a completely naïve decision- I had been working at cutting back on plastics for several months going up to it- but holy guacamole, I don’t know if this is even possible in Fairbanks Alaska. We knew we would have to make exceptions for things like milk and medicine, but this is nuts.

Did you know that paper ice cream cartons are lined with plastic? And really any paper food container, such as shortening or my favorite almondmilk? As well as metal cans and aluminum soda cans? And the looks-like-metal-to-me twist off caps of glass bottles? The stickers on produce? Like everything ever? It makes me angry that I researched this at all because I thought things like glass bottles and fresh fruits and vegetables were safe. What the heck are we supposed to eat until Easter?

The thing is, the closer I look at my habits as a consumer, the more I notice all the ways I am a bad hippie (and, at least this year, a bad observer of Lent). Sometimes, when I’ve done everything I can do and it still doesn’t feel good enough, I just have to make a mental note and move on and hope that maybe, in a more perfect future, this will be fixable.

There’s a writing lesson here too. (I know you were waiting for it. [Although, really, I did just want to complain about plastic. Man, I would do some horrible things for a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips right now.]) Everybody knows that first drafts are pretty ugly little things, and that can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe the characters don’t feel real and layered, or maybe the plot got a little off course somewhere along the way. But one of my omnipresent reasons is the abundance of writing tics that slip in uninvited.

Writing tics vary from person to person. Some people find themselves using tons of brackets, or dropping necessary helper verbs, or writing in passive voice, or using the same three actions over and over. But the common thread is that these are the same sloppy little quirks that sneak into your writing over and over again, without your even noticing them. Drafting from scratch tends to dredge them up the most frequently because that’s when the ideas are first forming out of nothing, producing large streams of text for tics to sneak in with. Drafting is when we are most likely to write the way we speak, complete with all the hedges, repeats, and asides that are totally normal and acceptable in casual speech and informal writing, but less so in a finished piece.

Going back to edit is when I tend to notice my tics. And much like plastic in a grocery store, once I start looking, it’s everywhere. I swear, not a paragraph goes by without someone sighing. If I really want to shake it up, maybe they’ll roll their eyes instead. OR BOTH. But even knowing about the sorts of tics that I gravitate toward, I can’t seem to stifle them when I draft. They’re like dandelions.

Next month is Camp NaNoWriMo. I have been failing miserably at pretty much all of my goals so far this year, so I am determined to pick up the slack and get this thing back on track. I’m going to draft a brand-new story (a side story in-betweener novella in a series I’ve been working on forever), and I’m already anticipating all the funky little quirks that I won’t notice until the editing stage begins.

Your tics and mine are probably different, but just for fun, here are my most common writing tics. Maybe you’ll recognize a few from your own writing!

JUST, A LITTLE, SORT OF Okay, maybe I just like to hedge a lot. (I see you there, Just.) And on the other hand…

A LOT, VERY, SO Same issue, just bigger. (I can’t un-see all these ‘just’s. I’m not doing this on purpose.)

PET VERBS like sigh, pause, grin, and hesitate. Just these four words are probably a pretty good synopsis of most of my first draft stories. Look out for the pregnant pause. (Oh my gosh, there’s another ‘just’. Normally I would fix these, but I’m leaving them in for your benefit. You’re welcome.)

UNREASONABLY LONG SENTENCES It’s not editing unless I’m breaking behemoth sentences down into two, three, sometimes four much more digestible tidbits.

There are definitely more tics. Soooo many more. But at least I’m not quite as food obsessed as I used to be. I’d wedge in these Redwall-esque banquets and I swear, my characters did nothing and said nothing without a wad of food in their hands. Now they just fold their arms and slouch in doorways instead.

How about you guys? Any tics tend to crop up in your writing? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Oh Look I Got More Books Again

the-book-thief-1Book Fair is upon us.

After shelving all the books and making sure the repairs cabinet was still in hand, I clocked out and did a bit of shopping with my kiddos. There were too many to just carry around, so we started stacking the books we wanted up on a side table until- much tallying and quarter counting later- we were satisfied we had everything together. As I was heaping them up, a little girl stared with wide eyes up at the pile higher than her head and asked in awe, “Are you buying them all?” I assured her I was. Then I staggered over to the circulation desk and whomped down the latest additions to the home library. The librarian (aka my boss) looked at the stack, looked at me, and then laughed in my face.

She knows I have a problem. I know I have a problem. My husband who has to keep building me bookshelves knows I have a problem. Anyone who has ever set foot in my house knows I have a problem. We also all know that it’s a problem I intend to keep.

I might joke about it, but I wouldn’t say I’m a true hoarder in any seriousness, because my compulsive book collecting doesn’t significantly impair my life (although it does impair my ability to get through certain doorways- sorry hubby, I’ll get to those ones soon, I swear). Sad to say, I procure a bit more books than I can actually read each year, although I definitely and whole-heartedly intend to read each and every one of them before I die.

The trouble is the acquisition. There I am, standing in a book shop, and then I look along a shelf and –wham!– there it is. A beautiful cover, a catchy title, a fascinating premise… before I know it, I’m hooked. I hardly know what I’m doing before it’s off the shelf and in my arms. I am euphoric buying books, just giddy about taking them home and stacking them on my desk and admiring them before putting them up on the shelves. I don’t care about clothes. I don’t care about movies. I don’t care about rocks or coins or vintage buttons or Pokémon cards or antique keys. I care about books.

Once they’re acquired, there’s no getting rid of them. That love at first sight never goes away. And despite owning thousands of books, I can tell you exactly how I procured every one of them- which shop it came from, or who gave it to me for what occasion. (Seriously. I have been quizzed on this by my friends.)

Honestly, I worry about it a little bit sometimes. My husband brought up the possibility of moving once and I kept it together until I realized I would have to get rid of some of my books, and then I went completely to pieces. I cannot get rid of books. I own a book that I hate that I cannot bear to toss out. I will never inflict it on another person and I cannot bring myself to destroy it or throw it away. It lives hidden in a closet where I never have to look at it and has been there for eleven years.

What’s going to happen when I die? How long is it going to take my kids to go through my scads of books, all carefully cataloged and neatly arranged (except for those stacks lurking around doorposts and the boxes shoved under benches and beds because I ran out of room)?

It is a problem. I know that. But I keep getting more books. Books delight me in a way that no other possession does. I love the way they feel in my hands and I love the paper-and-ink smell when I open them and I love the way they line up all straight and lovely on the bookcases, like soldiers in a thousand motley uniforms. Putting them in order calms my cluttered mind and reading them soothes all my stupid first world problems. Sometimes I just run my fingers along their spines, paper and skin, and it feels good.

Maybe some day it will tip over from being a problem to being a disorder. I’m not quite there yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. But for now, I just try to stay out of bookshops as much as possible. If I don’t see them, I won’t bring more home.

Probably.

Farewell

A couple weeks ago, my favorite bookshop announced that they were downsizing and moving to a new location much farther from my house. And while I was more than happy to lead the raiding party that came to take advantage of their clearance sale (twice *coughs*), it wasn’t with pure bliss that I placed this latest batch of acquisitions in yet another of the neat little stacks clustered around my writing desk.

Gulliver’s is going away. I know they’ll still be around in a smaller incarnation across town, but I also know that I won’t go there as often, and the selection won’t be as good. They will no longer have that one corner that is my favorite to wedge myself into while deciding if a microhistory is coming home with me or not. There won’t be that one spot where I always crouch down, scanning B for Butcher or Brooks. They will no longer have my absolute favorite- that one claustrophobic corner where I always have to whisper ‘excuse me’ and scoot myself sideways past some other reader, and then turn and see all those books for my babies spread like a bank of shy dreams, spines out and half hidden.

It won’t be the same.

I’ve known for months that I wanted to do a sentimental blog post about favorite book shops, and the odd feeling of a store stealing a heart (as well as a paycheck), but that was before Gulliver’s announced it was for sale. That was before they downsized and moved. That was before I realized how melancholy that would leave me. You must forgive an old lady her rambling.

As I reached out to other avid readers on the web, I’ve found that my old-lady-ramblings aren’t all that uncommon. I asked my buddies about their favorite books shops and, of the ten responses I got, the shops of only three of them were still around, and one of those was sheepishly admitted to be a chain store. The others had all gone out of business.

I know that the fate of indie bookstores isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, if Google is telling me the truth, the market share of independent book stores is actually on the rise. But my fair city (and my fair state in general) is in an economic slump and, according to the Gulliver’s employee I grilled about it, people just aren’t spending as much money in book shops as they used to, at least not here in Fairbanks. And so I clear out Gulliver’s bookshelves and fill up my own, and wonder with mixed feelings if maybe now I will get through the TBR list faster than I accumulate new titles.

It’s not all bad, I know. Gulliver’s will still be around, although different. And I still have a few other shops around town that I darken the doorways of every now and then. I’ll never run out of books to read. There are places that have far less than this.

But still. I’ll miss that one corner.