Saturday, June 27, 2009

Intergenerational Wisdom

As my sons become adults, I still can’t help offering advice to them, invited or not. I sidle up to them and thrust it out like a slightly wilted bouquet, the remnant of a relationship that has changed forever.
Some of it is well-received, other suggestions are dropped into the dustbin without a second glance.
My older son tends to prickle when I offer up my wisdom. Somehow, it clamors in his ears like criticism. I don’t mean it to be.
My younger son receives advice graciously. Doesn’t mean he’s going to use it, but he smiles and nods as if he’s filing it away.
Recently, he began an internship at his dream employer, a video game design firm. “Do you have the right clothes?” I asked him. “Do we need to go shopping? You want to make a good impression.”
“It’s casual dress,” he said. “That’s what they said.”
“Don’t go in there in shorts and flip-flops on your first day,” I said. “Wear khakis and a collared shirt until you see what everybody else is wearing.”
He rolled his eyes but left the flip-flops at home. That first night, I called him to see how it went. “What were they wearing?” I asked.
“Normal clothes, Mom,” he said patiently.
“What do you mean by normal?” I asked.
“Shorts and flip-flops.”
My sons will likely never wear collared shirts. And maybe that’s fine.
I remember the summer I was married. I’d been living in an apartment with my sister for a year, but moved home with my parents just prior to the ceremony. There I was, lodged in my old room for a month, living out of a suitcase.
I think my father saw it as his last opportunity to prune and shape me in the direction he wanted me to grow. I remember him framed in the doorway of my room , telling me to clean it up.
“You’d better not keep house like this once you’re married,” he warned, shaking his finger at me. “Your husband won’t put up with it.”
This advice was not well received. It was out of date. It did not reflect what I saw as my new peer relationship with my father. It had nothing to do with how my soon-to-be husband and I planned to live our lives.
Looking back, I think it was offered out of love, and his own experience, and the pain of separation. It was all he knew how to give me at the time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Guilty Pleasure of Summer Reading

I was over on Kate Messner’s book blog, and she posted a commentary in favor of freedom from summer reading lists.
I totally agree.
Though summer reading list proponents are well-meaning, they seem to be saying that 1) teens won’t read unless forced to 2) at least this way, they’ll read SOMETHING 3) there are “good” books and “bad” books and we want them to read “good” books.
Adults choose to read or not; if they read, they choose what they read. Many of these same adults think that kids and teens should read “good” books all the time. As someone with a vested interest in creating pleasure readers, I would argue that what we want is to establish the habit of reading.
When my sister Linda was in kindergarten and first grade, she refused to eat anything but jelly sandwiches. My mother cajoled, scolded, and made her SIT there until she ate THREE BITES. Mom worried that Linda would eat that way all the rest of her life. If she survived multiple nutritional deficiencies.
These days, on her own now, my sister eats a wide variety of foods. It was the battle that mattered to her.
Fortunately, my mother didn’t take the same approach to reading. When I was a teen, I read Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew by the sackful. I also read James Bond books one after another and my aunt's True Confession magazines. I read in the breezeway, in the leafy branches of my grandmother’s tree, everywhere. My mother sometimes recommended books, but she never tried to edit or censor my reading choices.
My literary tastes have changed since then. But they were the right books for me at the time.
I know, I know, if you’re passionate about books, it’s hard to see children and teens reading the literary equivalent of fried pork rinds. But attempts to prune and shape teen reading habits can backfire. It’s like denying your children chocolate and forcing brown rice and kale on them. Good for them, sure, but enough to make them give up eating. No, wait. You can’t give up eating and live. But you can give up pleasure reading if you’ve never had a good experience with it. Reading should be something that we get to do—not that we have to do.
What’s the alternative to reading lists? Well, maybe schools could ask students to choose a book or two, read them over the summer, and booktalk their favorite in the fall.
A well-meaning parent brought her son and his friend to my book launch last summer. During the question and answer period, she asked, “Can you explain why these kids all seem to like fantasy?” She rolled her eyes. “I try to get my son to read nonfiction and biographies, but all he wants to read is wizards and fairies. His teacher says leave him alone, but I don’t know.”
I thought it was a peculiar question to ask me, but I turned to the boys in question and asked, Why do you like reading fantasy?
One said he likes to imagine himself in magical worlds and pretend he had magical powers. The other liked reading about weapons and armor.
Later, during the book signing, the woman’s son handed me his book to sign. As I scribbled my name across the page, he leaned in close and muttered, “Biographies are boring.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Note from the Beach

Body Language
A woman walks by in a teeny bikini with a body that has a history—a body that has delivered children. A body that maybe has seen better days. People mutter, She should take a look in the mirror! and I wouldn’t be caught dead in that. Often these muttering people are women. I have been guilty of these judgmental thoughts myself, though I usually don’t voice them.
Those remarks almost never are targeted at men, no matter how gut-heavy they are.
My question is, Who made those rules? Who decided what kind of bodies should be put on display? Who established these standards that almost nobody can meet?

You can’t tell how good a shell is by feeling it underwater with your toes. Like as not, when you dive under and bring it up, it’s a broken bit of a seapen or a wave-worn bit of a clamshell. Except for sand dollars, and you should leave those alone.

I love the sea, and I’m afraid of the sea, and maybe that’s the way it should be.

Our condo complex is nearly filled with an extended family that has been arriving in couples and quartets for the past two days. They caravan back and forth from the beach, carrying sand toys, umbrellas, and wriggling toddlers. Yesterday an enthusiastic young woman returned over the dunes from the beach to find a latecomer sitting out on his balcony. We’ll call them Ted and Jackie.
“Ted!” Jackie said. “I didn’t know you were here. We’re all down at the beach. Come on and join us!”
Ted said, “It’s buggy down there.”
Jackie frowned, perplexed. “I haven’t noticed any bugs, not down by the water. If you stay out of the dunes, it should be all right. I have some bug spray if you need it.”
“There’s a shark alert,” Ted said. “Lots of sharks out today.”
“What?” Jackie looked over her shoulder, then back at Ted. “How do you know?”
“I Googled it.”
“Ok, well, um, I guess I’m going back,” Jackie said. “Come on down if you want. If not, we’ll be back in a little while.” And she walked back toward the boardwalk, shoulders slumping.
I always make up backstory for scenes like this. Ted never wanted to come at all. Ted wanted to go to the mountains. Ted is the Debbie Downer of family vacations.
And I thought, Next time, leave Ted home.

Dragonflies like to hang out at the beach. I don’t know why.
As if there needs to be a reason to hang out at the beach.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen talking on their cell phones on the beach. I thought I was bad—I brought my work tools with me, but I leave my cell phone and my laptop in the condo. And it’s not just that I don’t want to get sand in the keyboard.
Still, people who know I’m at the beach will call me and say, “Did you get my email this morning?” and “Didn’t you get my voicemail?” And I say, well, no, I was at the beach all morning.
They always seem surprised.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Skype Author Chat at Discovery Middle School

Some of my author friends have already blogged about using Skype video conferencing software for author video chats. The software is downloadable for free here.
I was curious enough about it to download the software and do a couple of “trial runs” (video tour of my son’s apartment, video visit with my brother-in-law, who was ill in Atlanta). I was interested in giving it a try with an actual audience of readers, but could never seem to get around to it.
Then awesome librarian and Brain Lair book blogger Kathy Burnette asked me about the possibility of a video chat with her book club--middle school students from Discovery Middle School in Granger, IN. Most of the students had read one or more of my Heir fantasy books already.
See Kathy’s post about the Skype Chat from her perspective on her blog.

This was the perfect opportunity to give Skyping a whirl in low-stress circumstances. I wanted a system that would work for most schools and libraries with varying levels of technical expertise and equipment.
I wanted to use slides in my presentation—they are great for sharing book covers, art, and photographs, but I wanted to be visible to the students, too. And because I feed off the students’ enthusiasm, I wanted to be able to see them!
What Kathy needed: Two computers, two screens, two LCD projectors, Internet access and a webcam so I could see the students and they could see both me and my slides. I emailed Kathy my Powerpoint slides ahead of time.
What I needed: two computers, Internet access and a webcam so I could see what the kids were seeing and see them react to what I said. (I could have done with one computer using a split screen, with slides on one side and Skype showing on the other but I have both a Mac and a PC laptop on my desk.)
Here is how my setup looked:

A simple video chat would require only an LCD projector, screen, and computer with Webcam at the school or library, and a computer with Webcam at my end.
We scheduled our virtual visit for May. Kathy and I did a trial run earlier the same week. Kathy called me using the Skype system.
At first, I panicked, because when I turned on the video, this is what I saw:

The back of my display!
I soon realized that the video was feeding from the Webcam on my Macbook, behind my external monitor (which also has a Webcam). Once I made the switch, I saw this:

Much better! (I think!)
I went through a slightly abbreviated presentation, prompting Kathy to change the slides at her end. Our trial went very smoothly, except that Kathy realized she needed external speakers so that the book club could hear me.
The day of the chat arrived, and Kathy and I moved smoothly through my slides. Once I finished my presentation, it was their turn. They asked lots of good questions. I had a great time chatting with students at Discovery (except the visit was at lunchtime and I kept wishing they could share some virtual pizza with me!) The entire visit lasted about 45 minutes. The only problem that surfaced was that I sometimes had trouble hearing the students’ questions, so a microphone at their end would have been helpful, too!
Pros of Virtual Chats: This took only a few hours of my time, and would take less in the future, when I know what I’m doing! That is great for authors on deadline and those with day jobs who have trouble getting away for day-long school visits. This also enabled me to interact with a small but enthusiastic group as opposed to the auditorium sessions often scheduled at in-person school visits.
Authors should be able to offer them for a reduced fee, compared to in-person visits. And, of course, no travel expenses are involved.
Limitations of Virtual Chats: For me, in-person visits are like live theatre—they are lots of fun, even if they can be exhausting. I love meeting the kids one-on-one, and I often adapt my presentations on the fly, depending on the interests and needs of the audience. I also think it would be challenging to do a writing workshop via Skype.
Tips for Authors/Schools Considering Virtual Chats: I felt the need to trim down my usual presentation and rely more on question and answer. It just seemed longer over the Internet, and I wanted to make sure to hold the teens’ attention. Many authors will opt to choose the simpler path of a question and answer session, rather than using slides. But I love the visual punch of art!
Kathy's students had lots of questions because they had already read the books. Chats probably work best with an audience that is already familiar with the authors’ books, which will automatically generate questions and interest in the presentation. School personnel may need to do more prep work up front to make sure the students are engaged and everyone benefits from the experience.
Future Plans
Watch this blog and my Website for news about scheduling Skype visits with me in the future. If you are a school or library interested in pursuing a Skype visit, email me at cinda at cindachima dot com.
Other Links About Skype Visits:
Elizabeth Dulemba, an author-illustrator, described her trial-run Skype visit here

Author-teacher Kate Messner described her experience hosting YA author/goddess Laurie Halse Anderson for a Skype question-and-answer session here.

Laurie shared her insights on her blog as well.

Author Mona Kirby and Library Media Specialist Sarah Chauncey have founded a site for authors who Skype. I have a brand new page there! Visit me here!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Upcoming Events Northern Ohio

Summer is here and the time is ripe for…
Author Events!

Hope to see you at one of the following events:

Northwest Akron Branch Library
Teen Writing Workshop
Tuesday, June 23, 2009, 3-5 p.m.
1720 Shatto Avenue, Akron, Ohio 44313

Way Library, Perrysburg, OH
Teen Writing Workshop
Friday, June 26, 2009, 2 p.m.
101 E Indiana Ave
Perrysburg, OH 43551

Wadsworth Public Library, Wadsworth, OH
Introductory Spellcasting--Writing and Publishing Young Adult Fantasy
Tuesday, July 7, 7 to 9 p.m.
132 Broad St., Wadsworth, OH 44281-1897
For more information, visit

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Visit to Taos Pueblo

While in Taos, New Mexico, for the Kindling Words West writing retreat, I took an afternoon away from writing to visit Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously-occupied community in the United States. The pueblo was built nearly a thousand years ago by the Taos Pueblo people, thought to be descendants of the extinct Anasazi Tribes from the Four Corners area.
According to the official Website, about 150 people live in the pueblo full time, while about 1900 live on pueblo land in Taos. The entire holding comprises about 99,000 acres, and the elevation of the pueblo is 7200 feet.
Six of us writers arrived at the pueblo in two cars, but Mary Beth and I soon fell behind the others. As we walked in, we were met by an entrepreneurial young girl clutching a fistful of silver bracelets. “How much?” we said. “Five dollars,” she said. And the bargain was struck.
I was enthralled by the architecture, the shadow-blue mountain backdrop, and the crystal clear Red Willow Creek that divides the pueblo into north and south. Splashes of faded color on wooden doors stood out against the adobe browns and golds, contrasting with creamy whitewashed walls.

There were dogs everywhere, too, in weathered pueblo colors—white and brown and tan.
St. Jerome’s Church is a focal point of the pueblo. It was built about 1850 after the U.S. Army destroyed the previous church. Everywhere I looked, Catholicism jostled up against the original kiva religion, but after more than five hundred years, they seem to coexist comfortably.
Some of you may know that I am fascinated by graveyards. The pueblo graveyard was built in and around the ruins of the old church. The burying ground is prickly with wooden crosses decorated with bright plastic flowers and dried corn amulets. A scattering of modern granite tombstones seems out of place. Old clamored against new, creating a delicious tension.

In the shops, we stopped and chatted with painters, leatherworkers, silversmiths, candle and soap makers. Children off school for summer vacation sat in the shade, stringing beads. Some were already sounding the lament of late childhood—I’m BORED. It’s SLOW. Can I go get a DRINK?
Mary Beth immediately bought a drum, which she was forced to carry the rest of our visit. I was tempted by smaller, lighter-weight, more portable items—the silver and turquoise jewelry on display everywhere. We visited Robert Mirabal’s flute and music store, where Mary Beth bought a lovely flute and I bought a CD.

I felt warmly welcomed everywhere I went, and I tried to slow my natural frenetic pace, to settle into chatting and visiting and taking my time. We bought flatbread pastry with prune filling and dodged a few sprinkles that splattered into the dust. One storekeeper peered out of his doorway and said, “This happens every afternoon, and the tourists scatter. It never lasts more than a few minutes.”
Eventually I made my choices—a grandmother storyteller doll ornament from Thelma Lujan; a silver eagle-feather pendant set with turquoise from silversmith Arthur Lujan, and a necklace of turquoise and silver beads from Arthur’s niece, Redhill Flower.
Sometimes the juxtaposition of ancient and modern, tourist and indigenous peoples seems jarring and exploitative. But I came away from Taos Pueblo with the impression that this was a people with a strong identity, a respect for the past, and a plan for going forward.

You’ll find more information about Taos Pueblo at the official Web site.