Saturday, August 30, 2014

We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident

Poster by Mary Engelbreit. See her post and link
to purchase to help the family of Michael Brown.
"...That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

I really wanted to write about freedom as a writer. How scary it is for me, someone who struggles with focus and doesn’t see the obvious path in a story. When you have infinite choices, it can be a problem. But, because of what happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner and all the people whose names I don't know because we have no national reporting system for Police shootings in this country, I felt I needed to talk about Freedom in a bigger way.

I grew up in an urban area where there was a significant amount of diversity. It’s fair to say I was picked on because of my white skin, red hair and freckles. I was called, “goat, whitey, cracker, spots” and other fun things that made me feel different and isolated. However, when I left school every day and went into the larger world? I took my white skin with me. I knew that, even then.

When I was eight, a couple moved in next door. Tim and Carol. They were kind and laughed a lot and I don’t quite remember how I found my way over to their apartment. Tim taught me how to play dominoes and Carol taught me how to do the hustle. Then, they would both sit on the couch, endlessly, and cheer me on as I butchered the dance moves. They were also fond of Barbara Streisand and they played her records for me. Over and over and over. Carol dug out a microphone (actually, she probably went out and bought it), and plugged it in so I could sing “Evergreen” in stereo. Over and over and over. I’m sure the neighbors loved it. They fed me snacks and chased me with pillows and we watched silly television together. They own a piece of who I am as a writer because they offered a place for me to escape to.

As a kid, I always wondered why they left their door wide open while I was there.

Now I understand.

Perhaps any couple would have done that. Being alone with a child could open you up to all sorts of accusations. But I don’t think so.
They were black. And I was white.

I’ve thought about this often over the years. And I’ve wondered what my responsibility is. Is acknowledging my white privilege enough? What about raising my three daughters to be compassionate, to stand up for what they believe is right. Is that enough?

I don’t know.
Article from Vanity Fair talking about how they are to
retrain police after the killing of Eric Garner because of an
illegal choke hold.

But here is one small something we can do. While reading articles on the internet over the last few weeks, I discovered that we have no organization, federal or state, who oversees police shootings. No one is tracking it. Not the FBI or the CIA or anyone you might think would be responsible to follow such things. If this isn't an example of the ostrich with it's head deep in the sand, I don't know what is. How are we supposed to hold people accountable and fix what, obviously, isn't working, if we don't compile this data?

There is movement called Fatal Encounters, people who have come together to try and compile data on police shootings covering the years from 2011-2013. They are crowdsourcing, so we can all help. Go here for more information. You don't have to give anything but a small amount of time. One scary statistic reported by the Los Angeles Times said that almost 10% of gun deaths in Los Angeles County in 2011 were police shootings. The article is here.

When I see wrong in the world, it bothers me to know I can’t change it, or change people. I know I can’t fix racism or the amount of people who die in police shootings. But. I can do my part by not looking the other way. I can speak up. I can continue to support my kids when they speak up. I can be open to diversity in my stories and support others who do the same. I can honor the freedom I’ve been given instead of blending in, being invisible.

Too many people are invisible. Too many people do nothing. Let’s not be those people.

Let’s honor our freedom.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Tenth Requisite: Freedom by Jen Cervantes

Johann Woflgang von Goethe wrote:
“Nine requisites for contented living:
Health enough to make work a pleasure.
Wealth enough to support your needs.
Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them.
Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.
Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.
Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor.
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.
Faith enough to make real the things of God.
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.”
I add a tenth: and the absolute freedom to experience it all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ferguson and Freedom

Like many people this summer, I've been watching the events in Ferguson, MO and at U.S. detention centers with more dismay and grief than I can properly express in a blog post.  But since this month's theme is on freedom, I'd like to try to say something coherent here.

When we talk about freedom, we often talk about the freedoms we receive--and less often about the freedom that we give.

The most basic freedom that we give others is recognizing and honoring the fact that they are human just as we are.  Even when they look different.  Even when they talk in a language we don't understand.  Even when their history is different than ours.  Even when they have beliefs that we don't share.  Even when we are uncertain around them, even when we feel intimidated, and even when we are scared.

And we owe this to everyone because just as we are the protagonists of our own life story, they are the protagonists of theirs--which means we don't get to treat them like throwaway characters or extras or red shirts.  We treat them like the people that they are, and we hope they treat us like people too.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monthly Theme: Right To Write vs. Write To Right by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

In last year's anthology BREAK THESE RULES, I wrote about listening as something active that can move one toward justice, as a preparation, giving oneself a chance to let things simmer, breathe, and be transformed. In a sort of Part Two to that piece, I had the opportunity to contribute to IMAGINE IT BETTER: Visions of What School Might Be ((also edited by the wonderful Luke Reynolds -- read his fabulous A CALL TO CREATIVITY, it's great stuff.) This time I wrote about writing instruction in schools; going beyond rubrics and formulas and formats to also give young writers freedom and space explore, to explain, to wonder, to wrestle. Writing instruction can be an authentic invitation to "Say what you mean and mean what you say," to own one's work in myriad ways. Perhaps an emphasis on writing for empowerment will encourage students to trust their voices and tell their stories, to write for analysis, agency, and empathy. To stretch their imaginations into the beyond (Wang 2009). I believe that by transforming writing instruction, we can nurture learners who ask questions -- learners who never stop learning. If we want to nurture thinkers, makers, collaborators, and leaders...let's write.
The other essays in the collection are amazing -- even if you're not a classroom teacher, I urge you to check it out and spend some time thinking about education (of all kinds) in American culture, what it is, and what it could be. Can you tell how honoured I was to be included in this group!

Monday, August 25, 2014


My dog Jake on a walk: what freedom looks like.
When I got my master’s, my mom encouraged me to stay home and devote full-time attention to my writing.  Chalk it up to the fact that I was only 24—or to the fact that I was a straight-A, never-failed-at-anything-before type-A kind of gal—or to the fact that I’d already published a few short pieces—but I honestly thought I’d have no problems publishing a novel.  I was green and a bit full of myself, probably.  And I was 100% confident it’d take a year to so to write a novel, it’d sell, and I’d be off and running.

Try seven and a half.  Seven and a half long years to get my first yes.  (And a horrible time, about four years into it, when I questioned everything, and nearly gave up my pursuit of becoming a novelist completely.)

When I landed that first deal, I was green and a bit full of myself, probably.  I was “in” the publishing world, I thought, and was 100% confident that my struggles would be behind me.

Since then, I’ve gotten good reviews and crummy reviews.  I’ve sold work and struggled to sell work.  I’ve been excited by sales numbers and disappointed by sales numbers.  I’ve won awards and lost awards.  Those close to me have been excited by book releases and have also, in some cases, refused to read my books.  I’ve been offered author events and refused author events.  

I’m not so green anymore, and I do not expect any of that to stop anytime soon.

So often, as an author, it feels as though I’m constantly seeking others’ permission: permission to publish, permission to advertise, etc.  I’ve finally realized that one of the best things I can do for myself is give myself permission—and the same kind of no-holds-barred freedom my mom gave me when I got out of school.  Freedom to muck up a draft, toss it in the trash, and start again.  Freedom to try a new promo idea that may or may not work.  Freedom, most importantly, from the ridiculous notion that at some point in my career, everything will become smooth sailing.  It isn’t—it won’t—it’s writing.  It may very well be the hardest gig going—and the most exciting—and the only thing that makes me feel like me.  

I don’t know that the next book I write will be well received.  I don’t know that anyone will buy it.  Rather than a sure thing, publishing now feels to me like going to a party that I know could either be an utter disaster or the night of my life.  

But isn’t the thrill of the unknown really one of the most exhilarating parts of the whole process?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Smack-Dab-in-the-Classroom: AVATAR--Using Middle Grade Books in the Classroom by author Dia Calhoun

Why did I devour books in middle school? Because I loved to imagine I was the book's hero/heroine--or sometimes another character. What fun it would be to have students adopt a character they admire as an Avatar, or secret identity, a character they want to emulate. For a day or a week, students could weigh their own actions/responses by thinking about what their chosen character might do in a similar situation. Here are a few examples:
  • A student must think her way out of a situation: He/she could ask: What would Violet do? (A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, Lemony Snicket)
  • A student needs to save someone he cares about who is feeling trapped. He/she could ask: What would Ivan do? (THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, Katherine Applegate)
  • A student needs courage. He/she could ask: What would Eckhart do? (AFTER THE RIVER THE SUN, Dia Calhoun)
  • A student must figure out something mysterious. He/she could ask: What would Zoomy do? (THE DANGER BOX, Blue Balliett)
  • A student is faced with a great temptation. He/she could ask what would Winnie do? (TUCK EVERLASTING Natalie Babbit) 
The student could then write an essay about his/her experience of living in the world from his/her admired character's point of view. I would have loved an assignment like this!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Freedom—Yikes! by Laurie Calkhoven

I have an active career as a freelance children’s book writer. As much as I enjoy that, I’m known to grumble a bit about the fact that I don’t have time to write “my” books. I finished Michael at the Invasion of France (the last of my Boys of Wartime novels) three years ago. Since then, I’ve been too busy to do more than think about writing anything of mine. Not that I’m complaining.

Then, I hit a freelance drought in the spring. I was busy with speaking engagements so I didn’t really notice at first. But suddenly this summer I had a lot of time on my hands.  And no paid work.

I’ve been asking for this for years, right? You’d think I’d be grateful (aside from the freaking out about money part). But like others who posted this month, and I’m quoting Bob Krech here, “the kind of freedom that was in front of me was a little scary.”

I sold the Boys of Wartime series in 2007. Ever since, everything I’ve written has been under contract. Not only was I facing a blank page. I was facing a blank page with no guarantee of income.

What was I going to write? What if nobody bought it? What if it turned out to be a big waste of time? Gradually, with lots of deep breaths and meditation, I pushed those questions and doubts aside and made a start. I tried to find the joy I had when I started my first novel, when simply the act of creating characters and story and putting words down on paper made me giddy with happiness. A time when I wasn’t dependent upon my writing for income.

It was a slow start. I had an idea, but not a lot of confidence. I tried to go through all the usual steps I take to start a novel, to get to know my characters. It wasn’t working. My process for this book turned out to be different from that for all of my other novels. I had to stop trying to force things and simply let it come. By the middle of the draft, once I got out of my own way, I found myself laughing at the things my character was getting up to. I found the joy in discovery.

Two weeks ago I turned over a complete first draft of Roosevelt Banks, Good-Boy-in-Training to my critique group. Tonight, with their help, I’ll start thinking about how to revise it.

Yay, freedom. But also, yikes!  And now I’m ready for a new freelance job.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I grew up with more freedom than most kids.  I was a product of benign neglect, a middle child with divorced and absent parents.  If there was something urgent that we needed, my older sister was the "parent" obliged to get it done.  Beyond that slightly-older sibling, I was more-or-less alone out in the world.

Recently, I ran into a man I’d barely known as a kid.  In 1970, we’d gone to the same grade school, and now forty-some years later, he regaled me with stories of how he, and his creepy eighth-grade buddies, used to window-peep at my old house.  That boy, who grew up to be a lawyer, didn’t seem to have a clue how offensive that confession was to his once-victim, the child inside that house unaware that she was watched.   If he had, he wouldn’t have told it as a joke.     

When he’d finally finished laughing, he asked with odd sincerity: “So what happened to your parents?  Why didn’t you have parents?”

I didn’t ask if he had parents.  Of course, I knew that he had parents, and apparently HIS parents let him window-peep at night.

Here’s what he really meant to say when he’d finished his strange story, (I’m a writer; I know subtext):  If your parents had been home, we wouldn’t have lurked outside your house.  In other words, three girls without their parents attracted adolescent voyeurs. Somehow it was a violation we deserved.      
I’d like to think that things have changed, that we’re a more enlightened, compassionate species than we were in 1970, and yet kids surviving on their own are often suspect. We act as if a child unattended is at fault.  We blame them in our neighborhoods and schools, I know we do.  There are kids across this country waking up alone each morning, dressing younger siblings, desperate for clean clothes.  There are kids without a parent to help them with their homework, kids without a grown-up to see that they eat supper, and yet somehow these strong, young ones must survive.  They go to school, they hand in math and spelling, they take state tests with little sleep.  They do everything we’re asking, despite a terrible freedom they’d gladly trade for love.   

In my good dream, every child born would be fed and clothed and cared for, they’d be safely carried from their first breath to their last.  But I know that that’s a dream, just like I know that curse of freedom, and I know that kind of freedom isn’t any child’s fault.  If you come across that child, don’t ask if they have parents.   Drop off a plate of cookies; leave a meal at their door.   Take time to acknowledge the good things that they’ve done.  And by all means, teach your sons and daughters to respect those brave young spirits.  However odd they seem, they’re not a freak show.

They’re strong, and young, and worthy.

Say that.  That’s what should be said.           


Author Kimberley Griffiths Little and Holly Schindler chat about Kimberley's latest MG release, THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES:
What was the inspiration?  Where did the idea for this book come from?

Larissa Renaud, the scarred girl from my novel, Circle of Secrets, only got a couple of very small scenes with Shelby Jayne, the main character. But those scenes were crucial because of her accident and because of her connection to the antique doll owned by her mother. The scene also contained a twist that tied Gwen, the girl from the past who drowned in the bayou, and her beloved doll to the present

I found myself wanting to know more about Larissa, how she got the scar and why her family is living in an antique store. The question of where the doll originally came from was never answered, either. My daydreaming evolved and suddenly there was a curse in the history of this family from 1912 to the present, and Larissa needed to break the curse to prevent the 5 generations of tragedy from repeating once again by saving her mother and baby sister. Once I had that premise, the story contained high stakes and a ticking clock. 

My family’s been involved in the antique business for years—are members of your own family—or are you—a big collector? 

How cool that your family is surrounded by antiques and all that history on a full-time basis! Nope, nobody in my family has ever been in the antique business, but I adore antique stores and I own several antiques, including my dining room table and chairs, plus my gorgeous entryway table that was the first *big* item I ever bought with one of my first writing sales—a story in Family Circle eons ago. I love anything old and dusty and musty with a story behind it!

How did you come to choose Louisiana as the setting?

My first three novels with Scholastic are all set in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana (and I’ve traveled there so much it’s practically my second home now.) Oh, the mystery of that setting! The spooky aura! And the darling, friendly people I’ve grown to love and call friends. I created a fictional town in The Healing Spell and found myself returning to Bayou Bridge for Circle of Secrets and When the Butterflies Came, each from a different viewpoint character, and each a completely different story and character arc. But all four books have little *connections* to the others which the discerning reader will discover and enjoy—and my fan mail certainly proves that, which gives me great pleasure to see readers latching on to those connections.

I loved the way you jump straight into the “creepy” on page one.  That first phone call is bound to hook readers immediately.  Did you already know where your book was going when you drafted the first page?  Do you outline, or is drafting a process of discovery?

I was experimenting to see how fast I could get to the big story question, or mystery, and still ground it in character and setting – all in just a few pages. Plus end the first chapter with a great cliffhanger, of course! 

I did know the basics of where the story was going—I work better that way—but it’s usually just the bare bones of an outline I jot down using 3x5 cards. (If you go to my Youtube channel under my name there’s a video I created explaining my 3x5 Card Plotting.) I only scribble a couple of lines or ideas for each scene or chapter, but I know the direction I’m headed—like seeing a goal far away in a tunnel—and it keeps me from getting stuck or going off on tangents. But drafting is still a surprise as far as specific dialogue and character details, the story growing and developing, often twisting and turning as I write. 

Larissa finds herself traveling back in time, to 1912.  What kind of research did you have to do on this time period?

I’ve always been a huge historical fiction reader, ever since I was a kid. During elementary school my best friend, Starr, and I dressed up in old clothes almost every afternoon after school and played what we called the “Olden Days”. We made up characters and stories and hardships for ourselves. 

I love nonfiction historical reading and reading about other cultures as well as watching movies set in various time periods. One of my all-time favorite movies, Somewhere in Time, is set in 1912. Of course, Fireflies is partially set in an old plantation home and my oodles of research the last ten years came in very handy. After three contemporary novels I just had to set a book in the past.

Family Bibles were once a family’s reference books, and included family trees.  My own great-grandmother treasured such a Bible.  Does your own family have such a historical treasure?

I do not and always wished our family did. Sometimes we put our wishes in our books! All four of my grandparents as well as my father died either before I was born or when I was young, but my mother has a few Army mementos of her father when he was in the cavalry during World War I in England. I adore seeing old things and picturing what it was like to have lived then. Museums are fascinating and I’m one of those patrons that has to read all the little cards with the history and details for each display.

What is your own writing schedule?  Are you an early bird?  Night owl?  Do you write each day? 

I’m an early bird in that I take a 3-mile walk first thing each morning before 7:00, although it’s really hard to get up if I stay up late reading! After a bit of breakfast and a shower, I tend to get sucked down the rabbit hole of the internet, responding to emails, fan mail, business stuff, current marketing projects for the upcoming book or workshops to write, school visits, etc. (I create my own bookmarks, book trailers, teacher’s guides, mother-daughter book club guides, book-based jewelry, and I’m currently experimenting with brownie recipes from The Time of the Fireflies for my book launch party next week). I still love to read blogs about writing and keep up with the online friends I’ve made over the years, plus I love Facebook and Twitter, and I’m a news junkie, too. I’m also the co-founder of the YA Series Insiders ( cross-promotion for my upcoming YA trilogy, Forbidden, with Harpercollins.

The short answer is “no” I do not write every day. But I’m doing research or promotion or revision work or book planning/brainstorming of some kind every single day. 

The business side of writing takes at least 50% of my time so I usually end up drafting in the afternoons. If I’m under a super tight deadline I write in the evenings as well, and almost every Saturday—but never Sundays. I definitely need a day of rest! I squeeze in my pleasure reading whenever I can, before bed, on long car trips, Sundays, etc.

What do your own kids read?  Does that influence what you write?  

I have three sons and they tend to love action stories, high fantasy, science fiction, etc. Also a bit of mystery like The Bourne Identity or other spy thrillers—at least the middle son, who is my biggest reader (and a fantastic brainstormer for me when I need him!)

My own childhood reading influences me more since I was a huge historical fiction reader, who also adored mysteries and read them by the dozens.

Larissa is an outsider, having attended several different schools and moved frequently.  (Her best friend is also off in Paris during her adventurous summer.)  Have you ever experienced being an outsider?  How did that affect your depiction of Larissa?

I didn’t have to move around as a child, thankfully (although I have as an adult), but I was horribly shy. I rarely spoke (my parents were worried about me!) and kept very much in the background at school. I was often part of a threesome friendship—and sometimes felt like a third wheel, left out and alone since the other two girls were more the BFF’s. So I was a loner in many ways and a total, addicted bookworm. I often lived vicariously through books—which greatly worried my 5th grade teacher who wrote a note home to my parents expressing his concern. “But books are better than real life!” (And that’s a direct quote I heard the famous Richard Peck say once many, many years ago at my very first writer’s conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico).

Grandma Kat says that scars inside and out fade with time.  Do you think kids of today believe this to be true?  Or do you think this is a message most people come to believe as they age?  (Younger people are more apt to believe that what is in the mirror will never change?)

Heck, I often think my mirror image will never change—and now it keeps changing much faster than I want it to! Where are those gray hairs coming from? Banish!

I don’t believe kids of today believe scars, either emotional or physical, will ever fade. . . and that’s one of the painful things about growing up. We fear we will be this skinny, or short, or tall, or zit-faced, or suffer weird hair with cowlicks, or whatever. I have a lot of scars that took decades to heal and I wish I hadn’t worried so much about them.

How’d you come up with the doll’s curse?  

I kept thinking about Gwen’s doll from Circle of Secrets in the back of my mind and wondering about the phenomenon of a doll being passed down through the generations of a family—and stolen to boot. A few years ago I heard about a place called the Island of the Dolls in Mexico – extremely creepy – with very disturbing stories of people visiting the island and seeing the dolls move. It didn’t take more than that to weave my story . . .

The title seems to have several different meanings, as the book progresses.  What does it mean to you?

That’s actually kind of funny since the title didn’t come to me until I was finished writing the book and I was doing revisions with my editor. And then, when I sent her the potential title, I worried it was silly or boring. She loved it immediately. Time, of course, plays a huge role in the story. The past, the present, and the future, all intertwined.

Finally, have you ever wished you could reach back in time and talk to your younger self?  If so, what would you say?

I’d say, “Chillax”! Have more fun. Laugh more. Go places. Try new things. Join clubs and groups, reach out and make friends. That’s probably good advice no matter what our age! We often let our fears, frustration, and perceptions about our short-comings and inhibitions prevent us from enjoying this big beautiful world and the intriguing people who inhabit it.


Kimberley Griffiths Little is the critically acclaimed author of several MG novels with Scholastic and an upcoming YA trilogy, FORBIDDEN, with Harpercollins in 2014. She has won the Southwest Book Award, the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2011, starred choice on the Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2014, a Crystal Kit runner-up, and a New Mexico Book Award Finalist. Her books have sold several hundred thousand copies in the Scholastic Book Fairs and have been chosen for several state reading lists. She makes super cool book trailers and her first one for The Healing Spell garnered over 8,000 views despite the fact that she was/is a total unknown. Kimberley lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer, and their three sons.

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Kimberley's hosting an amazing giveaway!  One lucky winner will receive a
signed hardcover of FIREFLIES, a firefly necklace that glows in the dark and Book Club Cards with a fun Book Club Guide.  5 additional winners will receive a set of Book Club Cards with the Guide. a Rafflecopter giveaway