Friday, March 30, 2012

What I am Reading

This is the heart of it, yes? What we read, what touches us, what inspires us. I read like a writer most of the time. It's both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I long for the book that doesn't beg me to analyze it, doesn't even leave me wondering, how did she do it? and force me to figure it out. Sometimes I just want to immerse myself in a good story, like I did when I was 12, and get lost with a few people I love and  a story I care about. Too often these days, though, the quality of the writing gets in the way and I spend more time thinking about the book than experiencing it. Sigh. It's a writer's affliction. We love books so much we want to write them and when we do, part of the magic is lost for far too many of the books we read.

Enter John Green's latest (is it his latest?) The Fault in Our Stars. I'm not going to show you the cover or link to it or anything. It's selling like hotcakes, to cop a cliche. John Green does not need my help in marketing so I just want to weigh in, briefly.

Confession: I did not love Looking for Alaska. It was good, competent, clever even, but I did not love it. I won a promotional copy of The Fault in Our Stars and it came in right before a trip. Now that I am a Kindle owner, I travel with this great little light weight library. But I need a book for take off and landing. I just do. So I tossed The Fault in Our Stars into my carry-on. I started reading it on take of and kept reading in the air, on landing, and in the hotel. I reread it on the return trip. I love this book. I am in love with John Green. Yeah, okay, he's married and young enough to be my son, but still.

And that's all I'm going to say. It was good to get lost in a book again. Thank you John Green.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Courting Diversion

I just got an email notification: a Gifted Giraffe is following me on Twitter.  I am tickled, of course, wondering if there are other gifted animals out there who might be persuaded to follow me. I imagine myself as the pied tweeter of gifted animals. Gifted polar bear, wolverines, flamingos and fleas.  What stories, one wonders, will they respond to? What links might inspire? What kinds of antics might a group of them engage in? Dances, improvisations, the occupation of various institutions. Ah, the possibilities...

Get back to work, Debby.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

About the connections we make with each other

Erin Hollingsworth, the children's librarian at Tuzzy, our local library, told me something wonderful yesterday. She said that one Inupiaq girl checked out a copy of Blessing's Bead and said she had read it four times. It was her favorite book, she said, and she and her mom read it together sometimes.

(Erin told me this in answer to my rather snippy question: why aren't my books displayed with the others? They are all checked out, she told me. Yes, I felt appropriately guilty for snapping.)

This is why I write books. This is why I started writing books for young people. This is why I write books set within the context of  the culture I live in. There were not enough books that reflected Inupiaq life as I knew it. Understatement. I would be happy, I said at the start, if just a few Inupiaq kids could read my books and say: yes, that's us. 

I'm happy.

Sometimes, though, as our careers progress, we have to remind ourselves of why we write. We have to remember to see the faces of our first readers and see them clearly. My first readers are Inupiaq.

We want all readers to relate to our work, of course. And when we start to receive wider recognition, it's wonderful. When I got my first review for Whale Snow, a review in the prestigious Publishers Weekly, and when the reviewer clearly understood the book, even though it was about the whaling--not a politically popular subject beyond my world--when they liked it, even, I celebrated. When I went to an Alaska Library Association meeting in Anchorage, years later, and saw saw a young Barnes and Noble sales rep, Renee Sands, hand selling Blessing's Bead, I was deeply touched--and surprised. I hadn't expected it. I thought I had to go out and push my books, but she'd found it on her own and she was celebrating it. And when I got that call saying the My Name is Not Easy had been named a finalist for the National Book Award, I was breathless. Who knew my books could reach so far?

Now I am in a political tug of war within the industry. Renee writes with regret to say that My Name is Not Easy will no longer be sold at Barnes and Noble because my small publisher was bought by Amazon and Amazon is at war with Barnes and Noble. Publisher's Weekly writes stories about the war that make Amazon look like the devil itself. But they've been good to me. And what about me? What about my books? I take a stand. I take multiple stands. Remember, people, I say, it's about writers, readers and books. That's the core of it, isn't it? It's the young girl reading my book for a fifth time because it touched her--that's what we're talking about. And the boy in New York City--as far removed from the Inupiaq world as it is possible to be--who said he'd read My Name is Not Easy twice, less than a month after its release. That's it, really. That's the heart of it. That's all there is of importance.

So this is me, reminding myself to remember this. Telling myself to just keep writing. Artists are not politicians. Books are about the connections people make with each other, nothing more and nothing less.