Thursday, June 30, 2016

Beauty in the Ordinary

I mowed the lawn today.  It's a small thing, but I'm absurdly proud of it.  Last year, I was recovering from surgery and for several years prior to that, I was too sick to be able to work much in the garden.  But not this year.  This year, I start most days working outside. 

It's a small victory, but I celebrate it. 

Living with a chronic illness and with special needs children teaches you that our lives are made up of the small moments we normally ignore.  Moments like mowing the lawn.  Or weeding the garden. 

As a child, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy.  I loved big stories set in unfamiliar places (and I still do).  So when I started writing, I assumed I would write novels of magic and battles between good and evil.  But those stories never got off the ground.  I read and loved other people's science fiction and fantasy, but I couldn't write my own. 

Then I became a mother.  And I got sick.  And I adopted five special needs children from China.  My epic battles were not against evil, but against the seizures that shook my daughter or the isolation my son felt as he sat in his wheelchair watching other children run through the grass.   

I found myself writing about mothers and children.  About families and the small moments in our lives.  It's these small times when we're just sitting on the porch with our children, listening to the birds sing in the maple trees, that are the beautiful times in our lives.  As a writer, I want to capture those moments. 

I've spent a lot of time in the ICU.  My family has been told to come in and say goodbye to me several times.  I know what you think about when you're about to die. 

It's the people in your life.  Your spouse.  Your children.  Your parents.  The people you love.  That's what makes up a life. 

I'm lucky in that I get to write for a living.  Books were my first love and publishing a novel has been a dream come true.  I remember sitting in Arby's with my husband (who was then just my boyfriend), when we were both 18 and telling him I wanted to be a writer. I'll be 46 when my book hits the shelf.  That's a long time to wait for a dream to come true. 

But at no point during my stays in the ICU was I worrying that my dream of being a writer wouldn't come true.  Instead, I was thinking of the people I would leave behind.  I was missing them.  Not the things I wanted to accomplish in my life. 

And it was in those moments, that time in the ICU and during the other hard times in my life, that I found my voice as a writer.  I'm a writer of small things.  A writer of small novels with big hearts. 

As a culture, we're always looking for the Next Big Thing.  But I think we're missing out.  By always looking for something else, we miss what's happening in front of us right now.  It's those moments I hope to capture.  Our lives are so short and so unbelievably beautiful.  We just need to slow down and notice it. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ALA 2016 and the Importance of Libraries

I'm home from Orlando and what was the very first stop on the book tour for The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin.  I'm still trying to digest my experience so that I can share it with you.  It will probably come out in bits here and there as I wrap my brain about the whole thing. 

It was a fantastic experience.  The team at Algonquin took care of everything.  Seriously, I couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with.  They care passionately about books and do everything in their power to help their authors.  Some writers can't say that about their publishers.  I feel fortunate that I can. 

Sunday was full of events.  I filled a short piece on why libraries are important to me.  I participated in a debut author panel.  I had a book signing.  And the day wrapped up with another filming where I read Mary Oliver poems in support of the victims of the Orlando shooting.  Those of you who know me, know how much I love Mary Oliver.  Being able to read from her work in support of the shooting victims was a great honor. 

Reading from Mary Oliver in support of the Orlando shooting victims
It's fitting that the conference was held in Orlando, where just a few weeks ago someone tried to silence the voices of an entire community. 

I sometimes teach creative writing at Northern Kentucky University and on the first day of class I always ask my students this question: "What's one of the first things a dictator does when he comes to power?"

Answer:  They destroy libraries.  They burn books. 

Dictators know that in order to hold on to power they must silence any voice that is different than their own. 

One of the most important things a writer must do is to find their voice.  Writing is an intimate thing.  Voice comes from somewhere deep inside, the place most people hide from the world.  Every writer's voice is unique.  Give two writers the same plot, the same setting, and the same characters and each story will still be unique.  That's voice.  It's the one thing we have to share with the world.  And it's powerful. 

Dictators know this.  The Orlando shooter also knew this.  That's why he tried to silence the voices of an entire community. 

And yet in that same city, librarians and writers came together to celebrate the power of the written word.  To celebrate a multitude of voices, and to add new voices to the American cannon.  This is proof that the shooter failed. 

We know that true strength comes, not from silencing others, but from helping them stand and be heard.  Our diversity is our strength. 

E Pluribus Unum is on our currency.  It is Latin for "Out of many, one."  We are Americans.  We are many voices.  Yet we are also one.  We recognize the power of our many voices, and we steadfastly stand against anyone who tries to silence our brothers and sisters. 

The shooter took lives, but he failed to take voices.  We will speak for them. We will not let the dead stay silent.   

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Some Dreams Come True

I love libraries.  When I was a child, they seemed magical.  A place that that existed solely to house books that people could take home for free?  Nothing was better than that.  I felt at home among the books and other readers.  At a young age I internalized this important truth: if someone was a "book person" I could pretty much bet that they were a my kind of person. 

I'm 45 now and both things still hold true.  Libraries are still magical, and Book People are still my people.  That's why I'm excited to be going to Orlando this weekend to speak to the American Library Association on their First Author, First Book panel

This is my first appearance as a "published author".  I'm both excited and terrified.  I want to be all cool and be like, "That's right.  I'm flying to Orlando to talk about my Book."  (In this case book has to be capitalized because you know, it's That Important.)  Instead, I'm like, "Oh My Goodness!  I have to talk about this thing I wrote.  It's hundreds of pages but suddenly I don't even know what the book is about!"

Then I remember who I'm talking to.  Librarians.  Fellow bibliophiles.  And I relax.  Because this is my tribe.  I wasn't the cool kid in school.  I wasn't a cheer leader or jock.  (I laugh even thinking about the possibility.)  I was the kid who got hit in the face in dodge ball.  I was the kid who carried around thick novels and got to class early so I could read.  I was the kid who read encyclopedias for fun.  That's right.  I was (and am) a Geek.  That's okay.  I own it.  In books I found my home, and through writing I discovered my voice.

We didn't have much money when I was a kid.  Sometimes, the only meal my brother and I ate was the lunch at school.  But thanks to my mother (who was an avid reader) and to our local library, we had books.  Every week my mom would take us to the library.  My brother and I would bring home a stack of books which my mom would read to us.  This is where I discovered that books were magic.  No matter my what my life looked like, I could open a book and disappear into a new world. 

Libraries are special places.  Especially for kids who grew up like I did--in need.  I felt rich every time I opened a book I hadn't read yet.  (I still do.)  I might have spent some days with my stomach empty, but thanks to the library, my mind was always full.

My love of literature was born in a library.  It's only fitting that the first event promoting The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin begins with librarians.