stuff about me
April 1st, 2014 by admin
January 8th, 2014 by admin
A couple of years ago, I had a remarkable student named Erin Chack who wrote about skateboarding, among other things, for my class at BU. During the semester, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, and she left school for treatment, but returned, funny and feisty as ever. When I think about how graciously she took on the battle (her mother was diagnosed with cancer around the same time), I am still amazed. She’s a Buzzfeed staffer, now and she’s written about her first days back on campus after treatment. It’s funny, hopeful, and beautiful.
Here’s a taste:
I found myself walking past a building I had almost had the pleasure of forgetting: Student Health Services. There, only nine months prior, I had heard the words “Hodgkin’s lymphoma” for the first time from a ginger doctor wearing a bow tie. I remembered how I laughed when he said it. I figured as a glorified campus condom dispenser, he was tired of wasting his medical degree on diagnosing garden-variety venereal diseases and threw in the cancer diagnosis at the first sign of a measly neck lump as a way to spice things up. It took about a month of X-rays, blood tests, PET scans, and finally biopsies to confirm his prediction. I had so much time to think about it that when my parents finally told me I did, in fact, have cancer, I didn’t get upset. I just laid facedown between them on their bed and asked into a pillow whether they were OK.
January 7th, 2014 by admin
January 7. Cold air that normally sticks around the North Pole has slipped its moorings, heading south, today in a polar vortex. Ice quakes are shaking the earth in the midwest. Milder here, but with the wind, 13 degrees still feels like negative one. All extreme weather–wind driving rain at an angle nearly parallel to the ground, thick fog that off-gassed from snow banks, or even a night blacker than any due to low clouds–makes me think about her. So, for sure I would connect the polar vortex to the missing girl, the one who cut through the playing fields of her high school on the way to a path through the woods still covered in mostly green leaves, 89 days ago. That was when she disappeared.
She was wearing yoga pants and a baggy sweater in the school security photo that offers the last picture of her. So, to me, how could she not be under-dressed during a polar vortex–at least in my imagining? Her cell phone was in one hand and the other hand was covered down to the fingertips by her sleeve. I do that sometimes, too, pull my cuff over my thumb and hold it there, like a street urchin, when I’m feeling nervous. (Was she nervous as she headed toward the door?) She was wearing boots that were black or brown, depending on which FBI Missing Person poster you read, and carrying a large, slouchy bag. In the security photo, the shoulder bag seems to be made of cloth, large enough to haul the mail around the neighborhood. She was about to step away from the first four weeks of her freshman year of high school and into something else.
The reason I know about this girl (who disappeared, by the way, three days before her fifteenth birthday) was that the week before another girl disappeared, a little closer to my home. I discovered the news of the other girl on Twitter, as I also discovered just twenty hours later, already gone, that they found her deep in the woods near a statue she liked as kid–a secret spot in the magical forest of her childhood, maybe, to her. She left a goodbye note to someone, left her keys in her car. So, when an almost identical child, just a couple years younger, disappeared a short while later, it seemed like an epidemic: missing girls in leggings, long dark hair and darker eyes who have an obligatory but slight smile in one or two selfies they leave behind on Facebook. Two girls with sad, wan smiles. I’m not saying that’s a reason to become obsessed with missing teenagers, I’m just setting up my way of thinking about the still-missing girl in bad weather, during scary dark nights, almost all the time when I am near the woods. My first thought was that girls sometimes walk into the forest to kill themselves–why is that? Whatever draws them there?
But suicidal thoughts don’t seem to be the case with the girl who’s been gone for 89 days as of today. From everything I’ve meticulously gathered in the past 89 days, on crime websites and chat rooms and all the news reports, is that she was probably going to meet someone–walking into the woods alone like that–she left her friends behind on the bus and even texted one of them a <3. A last heart–signifying everything or nothing?–just before she strolled off the path toward something else. These were two different girls, walking into trees that were starting to turn golden, leaving little notes behind like breadcrumbs, for different reasons–or so it seems.
I don’t think I’ve missed a single thing–not one of the series of daily press conferences with the attorney general and the FBI agents flanking the tearful mother in the first three weeks as October wound down, not the handwritten letters the mother posts on facebook talking directly to the girl or the pictures of the girl’s pugs wearing reindeer antlers as Christmas approached, not puzzling the news that the mother had received a letter from the girl a month after she disappeared. I know only what police have released about this missing girl–maybe more than the average person, but still not much. With just that to go on, you could say there are two choices, that either this girl is warm and safe from the polar vortex or that it no longer matters what the weather outside is. Or you could think what I am, now, as I watch the naked branches outside my window rock back and forth and back and forth: you could think about how there is a world of shadows in between these black and white choices–life and death. You could wonder about the exact moment–that split second when “walking away” becomes “missing endangered.” You could think whatever led up to that moment started a long time before 89 days ago, and the arctic pole moved south. Girls don’t go missing for nothing.
January 2nd, 2014 by admin
In a twist on Emily Dickinson’s “tell the truth, but tell it slant,” NPR has this recommendation for editing your life story so it’s happy (if it isn’t happy already, I guess is implied).
January 1st, 2014 by admin
Yes, that’s right, word play on “revolving door.” The story of my writing life: me stuck in a revolving door going around in circles. But hey, it’s January 1,2014 and this new year, I’m going to make myself accountable for my writing life, or at least I’m going to walk into the resolving door and hopefully out into the lobby of a new project. Day one: blog for the first time in. . . ages.
What’s been happening? I was kind of kicked to the curb when I found out Emily’s Dress isn’t going into paperback. Okay, I cried. It was surprising. It was discouraging.
So what I have been doing for five months? Following crime blogs compulsively. I tell people “I’m working on a missing person’s case” and yeah, they think I’m nuts. Truth is it’s been a way to avoid the scary, scary stuff of writing again, getting rejected again. I’ve been allowing myself this break–allowing myself to wander away from writing–not out of anger or self-pity so much as self-preservation. Can you live without it, kiddo? That’s what I’ve allowed myself to think about. Now that I know it’s okay to live without it, I’m going to come back to the writing life. I have a different way of thinking about publishing. My debut book came out last year, and it was an intense year of learning the business, promoting myself, buying all the advice about what you have to do to get your book “out there.” I feel like I understand how possible (or not) it is for one person to get her book out there. I’ll tell you a little more of that in some blogs later.
I’m back. I made the decision to come back–not a resolution.
April 26th, 2013 by admin
November 18th, 2012 by admin
Yesterday, I had the chance to bring Emily’s Dress home. Amherst Books and the Emily Dickinson Museum teamed up and invited me to read in Amherst. I can’t quite find the words to describe the feeling of reading a scene that takes place on the street right outside the door from where I was standing. It was one of those moments on the time-space-imagination-reality continuum that makes you keep saying, “Is this really happening or am I imaging this, too?”
My friends David, Deborah, and Julia came, and five beautiful women from Smith College sat right in the front row. After the reading the staff at the Dickinson house–Jane Wald, Cindy Dickinson, and Valerie Gramling presented me with a swatch of fabric they had woven in England that’s the exact replica of the fabric in Emily Dickinson’s white dress. Everyone should feel some of the wonderful I did yesterday.
October 29th, 2012 by admin
I’m going to post the little speech I got to give iat the Boston Books Festival–on the topic–why write YA? why read YA?
I have a friend who likes to give me a hard time about YA.
Last Spring, my friend sent an opinion piece from the NYTimes, The piece was by Joel Stein and it was titled, “Adults should read adult books”—and this is a little bit of what he said:
“The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.”
Joel, Joel, Joel.
When people ask about my book and I tell them it’s YA, sometimes they say—in the more or less dismissive way some people think about YA—“Like vampires?”
No. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with vampires. But I try to explain about contemporary realistic YA novels. That they exist. My book does have a murder, a suicide, and grand theft of an iconic national treasure. BUT it’s really a quiet story—Okay, it’s complicated, so often I wind up explaining more succinctly: it’s really a story about love.
I know what’s coming next. The eye roll. The knowing nod.
“Oh, proms and shopping then?”
I want to clarify, I really do. It’s important to me as a reader and writer of YA fiction to defend the books as well as the characters in the books, all the other writers of YA fiction, and of course, every teen in the world. Many of the people who left comments on the NY TIMES blog felt the same way. Some of them wanted to do violence. We all wanted to say is YA fiction is not trivial.
YA fiction can be as transformative and artful and thoughtful as any great adult fiction. I keep thinking of ways to explain all this to Joel Stein. But, I also have to admit the adversity in these stories is different from that in adult books. It’s true.
When I think about what it means to be a teen—to be between things, on the verge of adulthood—with some of the responsibilities, but none of the benefits—being on the verge—when I think of what teens have to overcome in fiction as well as in their real lives—defeating personal demons, understanding who they are, imagining who they could be—all the while being vulnerable to things adults are not–—the first thing I think of is WHAT GREAT MATERIAL FOR STORIES! What I want to ask is why would you want to cut yourself—or anybody–off from those stories, Joel Stein?
Here is a world where the characters, like many of their readers, feel keenly how essential love is in their lives—arguably, you young people in the audience understand this better than adults—That love is as important as air or food. I’m going to say that again, that I believe teens, understand a basic truth about love—that it’s as important as air or food—better than adults do.
Their problems—about what they have to do to feel worthy of love, what kinds of bargains they strike to keep the love of others, what they’ll do to help the people they love, these are distinct and central to the genre.
There are other distinct conflicts for teens in fiction—and in real life.
YA characters balance their own quest for love with their need for the adults in their lives.
Because of this, often they struggle to understand how Love—the best and most necessary thing in the world—could also be a burden.
Because of this, they often have to keep deep, heavy secrets.
Since they are still close enough to childhood, they can still love unconditionally—and they do. They have best friends who share with them this unconditional love. You don’t often find this element in adult stories.
I’m a teacher and I work with young adults every day, and I can say this with some certainty: They love and hurt and heal. . . bigger. There’s nothing trivial about that.
The next time somebody asks me why I write YA, or for that matter why I, an adult, read YA, I’m not going to tell them all this. Instead what I’m going to say is the best stories don’t omit any readers. A whole genre doesn’t, that’s for sure–The best stories speak to everybody.
So. Here’s a bit of dialogue I found—It’s one character speaking to another. This could come from any story——any story.
“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
This could be from YA—perhaps a young person in love with someone for the first time, or a best friend talking to another best friend. Or it could be from “adult fiction”–a mother talking to her child, or two very old folks at the end of life. It could be in any kind of story—adult or YA, but it’s not from either of those. It’s Christopher Robin talking to Pooh. Just a little story about a boy and his toy bear.
October 29th, 2012 by admin
I won’t forget my amazing experience being on a YA panel at the Boston Book Festival, Oct. 27, 2012. I’ll tell you the story in pictures.