The Iconic Maya Angelou

If you are a regular reader, you know how I feel about Maya Angelou.

I am consistently in awe of her spirit, of her ability to shape words – and overtly simple concepts – into something beautiful and profound.

I have often looked to her wisdom to comfort my soul.

And I’ve often wondered how such a  mind worked on a daily basis.  Obviously, Angelou had pain in her life. But instead of lying back on that pain, she dug her heels into it; she used it to raise her head higher, to pull her shoulders back.

I can’t imagine what the world would be without the passion and grace of Angelou’s words – certainly a dimmer one. I’ve often thought of her words as a gift. And as we mourn her death, I’d like to share some of those words with you.

Because, when such a brilliant human being dies, it is sad. Of course it is.

But it is also a time to celebrate the gifts she gave us, to reflect on the deep and permanent mark she left on this planet.

I mentioned the simplicity of the concepts Angelou often spoke about.  And I don’t mean that as a discredit. What is so amazing about the best writers is their ability to speak to something we all are familiar with, but to shine a light on it that we otherwise would not have seen.

It’s their ability to give depth to something the rest of us see in one dimension that makes them memorable.

Maya Angelou often spoke out against something as simple as complaining, and she spoke of love as a liberating vessel:

One of my favorite lines from the video below is, “take a minute, feel some sorrow, for the folks who thought tomorrow was a place that they could call upon the phone.”

Simple, right? But giving a shade of depth to the single dimension:

If you haven’t seen the Iconoclasts episode she did with Dave Chappell, you must. It’s brilliant. Her humble, honest soul was incredible. Here’s the first part of the episode:

And of course, my very favorite. I’ve linked to it before, but here it is again:

Goodbye, Maya Angelou. And thank you.

 

 

 

A note to myself at graduation

file0002022362803My husband is graduating from college soon.  He’s been in school for a while, taking a few classes here and there, fitting them in around work, cross-country moves, children and military deployments.  And by some strange turn of events, we’ve come full circle and he’s graduating from my alma mater.

His diploma won’t look the same (they’ve changed the name of the school since I graduated), but I imagine he’ll be walking across the same stage in the same basketball arena as I did those many years ago.

And it makes me think back to my 23-year-old self and wonder: what lessons have I learned? What would I want starry-eyed, ambitious, dreamy me to know as she’s handed her Bachelor’s degree?

A few things come to mind.

You are a writer.

You will try to convince yourself this isn’t true. You will take jobs solely for the money. You will try your hand at several vocations – and you will be very good at some of them (and really terrible at others) – but none of them will fulfill you.  They won’t make your heart ache. They won’t wake you up in the middle of the night the way writing does. They won’t urge you on or beat you down or pick you back up again the way writing does. She’s a bitch, but you can’t live without her. Trust me on that.

Stop laying out.

You will never be tan. Your freckley Scottish/Irish skin will not stand for it. Just embrace the pale.

Read Rambo.

One day, you’ll send a story in to a contest. A story beyond your typical genre. A story you hate, because it’s an illustration of your worst fear. Your writing partner will hate you for letting her read it without warning. (A piece of advice – warn her first.) But then the contest judge – David Morrell – will read it and think it worthy of honorable mention. And you’ll be honored. Especially after you Google David Morrell and discover he’s the author of Rambo. And then you’ll be humbled because clearly that guy knows terror.

Enjoy your body while it’s young.

Stop obsessing over what you are not and instead focus on what you are. Stop comparing your body to others, who are more than likely comparing their body to yours. It’s a relentless, stupid cycle. Embrace the good, let go of the “bad”.

Write for yourself.

You will get rejection letters. Lots of them. Then you will get one bite that will spin your head. When you read the words, “congratulations,” you won’t be able to breathe. But eventually, through negotiations, you’ll realize they are not a good fit for you. And you will lie awake at night, wondering if saying no to them would be the worst decision you ever made.

It won’t be.

You will be published.

After dreaming for years of getting your book into the hands of others, you will. It won’t be quite the St. Elmo’s-Fire-playing-and-fireworks-in-the-background kind of moment. But it will be close. And people from several continents will read it and tell you how connected they feel to the book. And you’ll want to stalk down every one of them and wrap them into a hug.

Don’t stalk. It’s creepy.

Not everyone will like your work.

A woman from Sweden will post a bad review and it will crush your soul. And you’ll want to stalk her down and explain yourself.  Or at very least, throw angry looks at your IKEA bookshelves.

Don’t do that. It’s creepy.

Stop reading your reviews.

This is hard. But you have to do it. In order to keep writing for yourself, you have to stay grounded in who you are. And you can’t do that if you are pulled in either direction. As Maya Angelou said, “don’t pick it up, don’t lay it down.”

Don’t let compliments build you up to beyond who you are, and don’t let reproach pull you down. It’s not fair to the work.

Blog.

You’ll learn these lessons slowly, and through a series of relationships with other writers. Some of those writers you’ll meet through connections in the blogosphere. And you’ll treasure the insight those writers have. Putting yourself out into the world makes you vulnerable, but it also opens the way for new friendships. And helps you hammer out the ongoing flow of extraneous words in your head. Both are worth it.

Free books – and a scavenger hunt!

wildfire-graphic-2We’re in day four of the Wildfire blog tour.

You can enter to win one of 4 free ebooks in a giveaway and scavenge for clues to win an additional ebook.
 
The first to email the clues to bitnbooktours@gmail.com wins!

Below is a list of blogs participating in the tour this week – be sure to check out the author interviews and excerpts from the book!

 

Day One (April 14th, 2014): Kick Off Post & Graphic

MoonBeams Over Atlanta

http://blog.eloreenmoon.com

Day Two (April 15th, 2014): Excerpt Part One

Tome Tender

http://tometender.blogspot.com/

Day Three (April 16th, 2014): Author Interview

 Ink Of My Heart

http://azgreen786.blogspot.co.uk/

Day Four (April 17th, 2014): Graphic

The Hellvis Compendium

http://thehellviscompendium.com/

Day Five (April 18th, 2014): Author Interview

Fire & Ice Book Reviews

 http://fireandicebookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

Day Six (April 19th, 2014): Excerpt Part Two

Steampunk Sparrow’s Book Blog

http://steampunksparrow.blogspot.co.uk/ 

Day Seven (April 20th, 2014): Author Interview & Graphic

Bit’N Book Promoters

 http://bitnbookpromoters.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Happy hunting everyone!

And it begins …

wildfire graphic

The blog tour, giveaway and scavenger hunt starts today at Moonbeams over Atlanta.

 

 

Blog Tour

So, this is happening next week:

Wildifre bit'n tour April 2014

Stay tuned for details.

 

It’s all about perception

I wanted to link to a great TED talk I watched today.

Cameron Russell breaks down the perception of success in modeling and gives an honest account about the insecurity and reality of her job.

If you watch nothing else, fast forward to 5:30, when she provides real pictures of herself alongside the constructed and retouched modeling pics, and then watch at 7:25, when she gives a shocking statistic about the body image of young girls.

Actually, it’s not that shocking. Which makes it all the more terrible.

 

Sexism in young adult novels

I have this friend who is an intelligent human being.  But when discussing the issue of gender stereotypes, his acumen seems to wane.  His take on gender roles: they don’t exist.

On one hand, this is a refreshing outlook on life.  He doesn’t treat women contrarily to men, because he doesn’t see them differently.  But on the other hand, he believes this is how the rest of the world operates, and he thinks me inane when I bring it up.

Here’s a snippet from a recent conversation of ours (editorialized, I’m sure):

Him: I never read The Hunger Games.

Me: Cause it’s for girls?

Him: No, why would you say that?

Me: Because boys don’t read books written for girls.

Him: What???

Me: Or written by girls.

Him: Absurd.

Me: What was the last book you read written by a woman?

Him: I don’t remember.

Me: Uh huh.

Him: I don’t remember because I don’t pay attention to the gender of the author.

Me: Have you ever read a book with a bubble gum pink cover on it?

Him: No.

Me: Cause the pink cover is there to appeal strictly to women.  Women aren’t turned off by a black or blue cover. But a pink cover makes a man run in the other direction.

Him: Whatever. How many books with pink covers do you own?

Me: Uh – they make me run in the other direction too.

So. This is the debate.  Do men read books that are directly marketed to women?  With pink covers or a drawing of a lithe, fashionable woman holding a wine glass on the front?

Why would they? Clearly, it’s not marketed to them. Just as I am not drawn to Sports Illustrated magazine – while the articles in that publication might be very stimulating, I’ll never know, because I’m not inclined to pick up a magazine with a sweaty man in a football uniform gracing the front.

However, I don’t hesitate to read books written by men. Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite authors of all time.  But so is Jane Austen.  John Green, I think, is one of the most brilliant writers of our generation. But I also feel that way about Suzanne Collins and Kristin Cashore. And – interestingly – the covers of their very popular books are NOT gender specific:

A recent article published in The Guardian poses this thought-provoking question:  are we encouraging sexism among young adult readers?

Interesting tidbit from this article:

Almost from birth, readers are coralled [sic] into the pink and blue worlds of sparkle for girls and adventure for boys. But, as American YA author Libba Bray points out, books have no gender – titles for young adults, she argues, should have gender neutral covers. “We have to move the needle,” she says. “If you categorise [sic] books as for boys or for girls, the message is that boys don’t need to be concerned about the female experience. And vice versa.”

Wildfire cover finalI am completely guilty of this.  The cover for my young adult novel, Wildfire, features a young girl in a whirlwind of red hair.  It’s not pink. But it certainly doesn’t say, “Dude, read me now.” This is exactly what I asked of my cover designer.  I had the vision in my head long before the release date.  And she delivered exactly what I wanted.

And my readership – in my mind – is also comprised of teenage girls.

But why?

At least a handful of men have read my book.  Most of them are related to me, or linked to me in some way, and they read the book out of support for me.  Which is fantastic and I love them for it. And I certainly want my own boys to grow up and read my books someday.

And why couldn’t they?

The themes addressed within the book (racism, classism, domestic abuse) are pretty universal across genders.  In fact, when I think about it, the main character could be a boy.  And I certainly think it would work that way. But the marketing does not appeal to the male demographic.

Gendered book marketing has particular impact upon boys. Girls, as Brooklyn-based author Gayle Forman explained at Reading Matters 2013, will read across gender. But boys are often self-conscious about reading books that might be considered to be “girly”. “Why is it acceptable for a girl to enter a boy world, but not the opposite?” Forman asked.

Interesting debate, but something that goes deeper than books, I think. As usual, the book world is just illustrating what is going on in society as a whole.

But it makes me want to experiment. I wonder, if I changed the cover of Wildfire, changed the lead character to a boy, and changed nothing else, would it sell as well as the original? Or better?  Interesting thought.  Look for Wildfire part Deux, possibly coming soon to Amazon.com.

Tris AND Hazel; Caleb AND Augustus

Buzzfeed.com recently released an article touting the 16 Books to Read Before They Hit Theatres This Year.

I’m a little ashamed to say the only two I’ve read on this list are Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.

And I’d like to point out something interesting about the casting of those two.

Shailene Woodley is playing Tris in Divergent. I’ve only ever seen Woodley in commercials for that TV show about pregnant teenagers, so I can’t judge her ability to make this very strong character work. However, what is troubling is this: she’s also playing Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars. So not only does she have to win our hearts as Tris, she also has to take on Hazel, a very different, but equally strong character.  No pressure, Shailene.

Additionally, the guy who plays Tris’ brother Caleb in Divergent (Ansel Elgort) is also playing Hazel’s boyfriend Augustus in TFiOS.

Whaaaaat? Is there a shortage of young adults in Hollywood these days?

I think this casting decision is odd, given the scads of devoted YA fans who are looking forward to both of these films with heightened anticipation.

And, in my humble opinion, TFiOS is one of the best YA novels written in a long time.  And Augustus is the finest character I’ve seen in a while. He truly is unique and beloved.

No pressure, Ansel.

A few words on fear

I’ve written the climax for my WIP.  Finally.  And this morning, as I was scrolling through (and not reading) the words I’d written, a thought occurred to me.

I don’t want to read it.

I’ve been telling myself it’s because the scene is too intense. But that’s ridiculous.  The climax I wrote for Wildfire was intense.  And I don’t remember avoiding it. In fact, I relished the action.  It’s fun to put your characters in treacherous situations to see how they’ll fare.  (Sadistic, but fun.)

But this time, the danger was too hard for me to handle. I skimmed over the scene I knew was too extreme and intended to just move on. Until I stopped myself.

And said, “self, what’s up? Why so avoid-y with this particular passage?”

Well, if you’re a regular reader, you know I avoid for one reason and one reason only: fear.

Damn stupid fear.

Writers everywhere are familiar with fear.  It’s an enduring staple of our daily routine.

Wake up, Make Coffee, Write, Fear no one will understand it, Edit, Fear it’s not good enough, Send off to First Readers, Fear they are just humoring you, Edit again, Fear it’s obsolete, Publish, Fear it will receive bad reviews (or, worse, NO reviews), Start the next book, Fear the first one isn’t as “finished” as you thought, Sleep, Have nightmares about obscure character arcs and archaic plot lines.

This is the method. And fear is the constant companion.

But usually, I’m okay with fear.  We snuggle up together in front of the computer screen on a daily basis. I’m aware of its existence and I write through it. Because I have to. I don’t really have a choice.  I can let the fear win or I can beat it down until it’s just a whisper in the back of my mind.

Don’t get me wrong.  Some days, the fear does win.

But that is why I have a writing partner.  To help me through the bad days. And I read other writer’s blogs, to feel supported – and not so alone – in this struggle.

But today, as I skimmed over the scene, I was able to answer my own question.

This fear is more imminent than usual.

And when I asked myself why, myself answered swiftly and with the most obvious response possible.

Because I am going on vacation in January. Some friends and I are going skiing in the mountains of Colorado. Just like we used to every year in high school and college.  I’m looking forward to it, not just because I love skiing, but also because of the nostalgia we are bound to strum up over a roaring fire and a glass of wine.

Why is this important to the WIP?

Well, the climactic scene I’ve written, and seem unable to read at the moment, is about a young girl trapped in the thrashing of an avalanche.

English: I took this picture on May 2006, on m...

Ahhhhhhh! (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

As my six-yer-old would say, Duh.

Of course I’m afraid.  I’m going skiing in the mountains.  No wonder I’d like to avoid stories of a girl trapped under the snow-packed menace of an avalanche.

The fear I’m experiencing doesn’t stem from self-doubt. It’s a very realistic what-if-I-smother-under-a-packed-pile-of-snow brand of terror. Nobody wants to read about that right before they put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.

This realization is interesting, partially because I had planned on giving my friends copies of the WIP to read on their way to Colorado (some of us are flying, others are driving). And now I feel the need to rethink that. Or at least warn them of it. In case their natural defense mechanism is also avoidance. (I’d feel a little smug if my writing made them huddle up inside the condo for the whole trip, but I’d probably feel some guilt about it too.  So I’d like to avoid that. Since, you know, avoidance is my thing.)

What I do feel good about, however, is the amount of research I’ve conducted on the nature of avalanches in order to write the scene.  While knowledge of the hazardous aspects of snow increases the fear (what I didn’t know wasn’t scaring me before), the newly-attained awareness of how to increase my chances of surviving an avalanche gives me hope.

Fear or no fear, I’m going skiing.  Because I can’t allow the natural anxiety about a conceivably perilous situation keep me from having that experience.  I wouldn’t want to be ruled by the fear, or let it dictate the quality of my life.  And perhaps the fear I’m working through now will make me a stronger, more aware skier.

In the same vein, I’m going to edit that scene in the WIP.  Fear or no fear.  Because it has to be done. Because the writing fills me up and enhances the quality of my life.  And maybe, just maybe, facing the fear will make me a stronger writer.

Wildfire is FREE today!

I just felt like giving away books today.  (And … *cough* boosting my Amazon sales ranking *cough*.)

As of noon, I’m at #26 in the Young Adult Contemporary category.  John Green, of course, is #1. And I’m pretty sure that ranking cannot be ousted.  (Have you read The Fault in Our Stars? Amazing.)  But.  A girl can try.

Here’s a link to my (free!) book for your convenience:

Wildfire cover final

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