Monthly Archives: April 2010

New Digs and The Importance of Possessions

Since December, I have been living out of a suitcase. Okay, technically it’s been two suitcases: one full size piece of luggage, and one carry-on sized duffel bag. That’s 4 months of the following items: a week and a half’s worth of clothing, various toiletries, a half dozen books, my favorite pillow, two stuffed animals, and my laptop. Plus my winter coat, which was very useful for Michigan in December, but which hasn’t been worn since crossing the Missouri border in early January.

This past week, everything else finally got unpacked.

On the one hand– it’s just stuff. Clearly, the fact that I spent over four months without it proves that nothing of the 50+ boxes we moved into the new condo was “necessary”. On the other hand– OMG I AM SO EXCITED, I’VE MISSED IT ALL SO MUCH.

I don’t know whether absence makes the heart grow fonder. I know there were multiple times during the past several months where I actively though “Oh, I wish I had that book/eyeshadow/shirt but it’s in the storage box.” But there were also a lot of possessions that I did not realize how much I missed until I found them again. My scissors that cut patterns rather than a straight line, for instance. My favorite pair of boots. My ninja band-aids. These aren’t things I need. The amount of improvement they bring to my life is negligible. The amount of joy I get in their ownership, however, has been surprising in its fierceness. I did not know I was so materially minded.

Of course, there are the duds, too. The shirt I took out of the box and said “wow. That’s really hideous. When did I ever wear that? Certainly not for several moves now. So why do I still own it?” The piles and piles of sweaters, scarves, gloves, mittens, hats necessary to survive a yankee winter that now I have no idea what to do with, as I will never need them here in Texas. Finding where to put these things, whether to give them away or (in the case of the ugly shirt) simply throw them out, has been its own challenge.

Hopefully soon I will have my studio put together, and will be able to share some organizational porn with y’all. At the moment, though, it’s still just a small table surround by piles of boxes. There’s room to work, which in itself is exciting. But the overall space is still not the function retreat that I envision. Soon. I’ll get there. Right now, I’m just celebrating the return of my stuff.

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TxLA10

AKA: If I Go To Anymore Cons This Year, My Feet May Fall Off

The Backstory: This past Saturday I finally dusted myself off and talked myself out of the social phobias that had been plaguing me, and made my way to my first meeting of the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This month’s guest speaker, Janet Fox, gave an excellent talk covering both character and plot (how many books/lectures have I been to which only focused on one of those two issues, at the complete disregard of the other!) and I spent a long time talking with Debbie Gonzales during lunch about finding good critique groups in a new city, and comparing our MFA experiences. As I was leaving, the topic of the upcoming Texas Library Association Conference came up, and whether or not I would be attending. Gamely, I announced that if it didn’t involve driving to San Antonio alone, I would love to. “Talk to Stephanie Pellegrin” someone suggested, and, having dropped her a note over twitter, Thursday morning saw the two of us wandering the block around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, looking for parking.

The Event: The theme for this year’s conference may have been “Filtering Chaos from Information to Knowledge” but, having never been in the exhibit hall for a book conference, the first couple of hours of the event passed by me in an overwhelming blur. Several of the youth and YA publishers there I recognized on sight, and I spent a lot of time looking through their upcoming catalogs and drooling at their various titles on display. But there were many names that were new to me: not just the library furniture and local storyteller booths, but many smaller presses as well. What was particularly of interest to me, given the work I did with East River CREW last fall, was the number of publishers represented who deal exclusively in children’s nonfiction titles. While I guess there was a part of my brain that had always known those publishers were out there, my experience in New York had been so focused on fiction with nonfiction only mentioned in rare commercially viable circumstances, that my own experience picking up nonfiction titles as a child was all but forgotten. The “of course! why didn’t I think of that” moment when seeing all those vendors made me feel 17 different kinds of silly that I had jumped into this TxLA trip without doing proper research and planning beforehand. Despite not having time to think up intelligent questions to pose to the publishers there, though, I still made several mental notes about different styles/age specifications/subjects, and hope to follow up with some of these houses in the future.

The day was hardly all notes and study, however. I practically ran over to Margaret Clauder‘s booth when I saw her in her Mother Goose costume, making Stephanie face her fears of mascots to take a picture of the two (three?) of us together. “I remember you,” Goosey said, giving me a cross-eyed look. “You got big!”

A bit later I found myself in a fascinating conversation with Suzanne Bloom who was signing in the Boyds Mills Press booth. It started out simply enough, with her pointing out that despite the few simple words in A Splendid Friend, Indeed the emotional resonance of the story carried to a much older age range than I had anticipated at first glance. From there we discussed my own writing history, and her challenges and advice on “taking it up a notch”. I really appreciate her taking the time to chat with me about writing– it really made the whole drive down and back worthwhile just for that bit of conversation!

After a lunch with several of the Austin SCBWI members, I wandered alone for a bit, looking at more of the big name publishers, and picking up a number of Advanced Reader Copies for various notable 2010 releases (expect reviews soon!) that made my bags very heavy to carry around all afternoon– especially once I added to it the numerous titles that I purchased outright after glancing at them in the booth! Stopping by the Publishers Group West booth at 1pm, I joined in the Texas Sweethearts reception and quite enjoyed their merry conversation and delicious snacks. (Buried Editor has a fabulous picture of the madness here. Trust me, there was so much deliciousness to be had, it was amazing. And so much less scary looking than the giant blue-frosting cupcakes a few aisles over.) After desert, Stephanie and I rushed out to my car during a slow moment in the rain to drop off books, and then rushed back to make it in time for Maureen Johnson‘s signing in the Scholastic booth. We had joked about getting jars to have signed, but there was no time that morning– although I think Stephanie might have pulled it off during today’s signing. Stephanie did come with presents, however, being the only person at the event to gift Maureen with squirrel underpants.

While that particular instance of madness was going on, I was chatting with Greg Rodgers and Tim Tingle about their contribution to the new graphic novel Trickster, which I had been excited about ever since seeing it at the Fulcrum Publishing booth earlier in the day. (Dear Fulcrum: you really should have had ARCs and/or sale copies. To have been so fascinated by your title and yet not been able to take a copy with me made me quite sad. If Greg & Tim hadn’t been selling it, I don’t know what I would have done. Cried, maybe. Possibly. A lot.) While speaking with them, the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the exhibit hall was closing, and I rushed back to the scene of Stephanie’s underpants gift giving. Managed to score a copy of the ARC for Linger, and crawled back to the car, my bag nearly as heavy with books as it had been on the first trip out.

There’s one more half day of madness at the convention center tomorrow, and I know that several of the vendors who were selling book titles are going to be giving deep discounts to avoid shipping things back to New York. Passes to the exhibit hall are $20.00 but if you look online, a few places have day coupons for free entry. More information, including info on the last few panels, can of course be found on the TxLA 2010 Conference website.

As for me, I’ll be sleeping in. I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me, and need to rest up.

Positivity in the Internet Age

Locker by John Steven Fernandez

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true. -James Branch Cabell

Today the Library of Congress announced its acquisition of the entire public twitter archive, billions of tweets covering the extraordinary (Barack Obama’s election victory tweet), the hyper-ordinary (that day last month when I tweeted about drinking tea), the sweet and encouraging (listen in to a Wednesday night #yalitchat to see what I’m talking about), and the bullying and cruel (including threats of rape and violence).

At the center of all this is important questions about Free Speech versus hate and slander, as well as other questions about what is “personal publishing” and what is “conversation between contributors”.

It seems clear from the tone of the LoC announcement that their primary purpose in archiving public tweets is to record pivotal moments in twitter’s “personal publishing” history. If there’s a purpose to this archival effort, it is so that future historians will be able to search the database for the quick soundbites that make up so much of modern society’s “important moments”. With that aim, it seems logical to just save it all, and let “history sort it out”– finding the important tweets among billions of announcements about tea and #amwatching television updates.

And yet part of what makes the twitter platform unique is the level of interaction that occurs between contributors, the @ function creating real-time chat rooms comprised of friends from both online and “real life”. The best of twitter is comprised of interaction that occurs in back-and-forth dialogue between users: conversations that become difficult to follow through reverse searches, conversations that can not be easily summed up into a 140 character quote of the thoughts exchanged. This is the interaction that keeps me tweeting, and I fear that the LoC, and as a result, future historians, will misunderstand the the importance of the medium as they attempt to preserve it in static “archival” form.

Meanwhile, what of the dreck? The spam, the hate, the digital bullying?

Digital bullying especially is a very tricky subject, and one that I think is fascinating to reflect on, as we embark on this great archiving of our collective 140 character soundbites.

One of the first things I hear when the subject of digital bullying comes up is people who claim that “you wouldn’t say that to my face”– the idea that the anonymity of the internet somehow inspires people to say things that they wouldn’t have the courage or rudeness to say directly. I disagree. I know that I have never said anything online that I wouldn’t say directly, and experience tells me that the people who do say things that are out of line– who threaten violence, or harass others for months on end– act the same way with those they interact with in their offline life. While internet interaction often lacks the subtlety of the real world (lack of facial expressions/tone of voice), a bully is often still a bully, regardless of medium.

What is true, however, is that the “law of the land” of internet interaction is heavily in favor of free speech. Prosecuting internet bullying is all but impossible. Insulting someone is protected. Mocking someone is fair game. Repeated unwanted communication is, by nature of how accounts are formed and accessed, impossible to prevent against, unless the victim chooses to cease having a web presence entirely.

Looking at the victim’s lack of recourse to hurtful internet behavior, it sometimes seems difficult to remember the positives (like important historical tweets, and the kind of encouraging dialogues that do occur) that twitter-style interaction gives us. What else can be done, though, other than placing the weight of responsibility on the victim, and telling them to “toughen up” against negative internet assaults? It is a question with no easy answer.

In my search for positivity (and yes, some days it’s definitely a “search” and not a “stumble-upon”), one of the things that I’ve found important to keep in mind is that the internet is very karmic. Things tend to escalate very quickly, and it is often quite difficult to change or deflect energy once it has been unleashed.

This is in direct contrast to many “real world” bullying situations, in which a powerful bully can silence all negative opinions. The internet has a particular way of giving back what is sent out into it: public denouncements are often quickly denounced themselves as being “out of line”, and bullies who are unable to let drama rest are often called out for “boring” their friends with their obsessive hate campaigns. Bullying, as a short term strategy, can be effective in making the victim feel bad. However, internet bullying, unlike real world power struggles, does little to win friends or influence people.

Is this any consolation to a victim of a cyber bully attack? Probably not. But as I reflect on all the hate and name-calling that is about to become part of the LoC’s national archive, it’s a small silver lining to know that those who spend their digital life picking on others are unlikely to be the web contributors that matter. Hate doesn’t work here, people. Revenge for “wrongs” is ineffective. Just because you can, just because you have the free speech “right” to be cruel to others– doesn’t make it morally okay, and, perhaps more importantly, doesn’t make it a smart plan of action. Want to be a voice that matters in the digital future? Promote love and encouragement. Give advice and ask questions. Share.