Monthly Archives: July 2009

Cheryl’s Video

Check out this video about YA author Cheryl Rainfield’s upcoming books. She captures the enthusiasm and excitement that only a book contract can bring to an aspiring author!

I worked with her on an online writing course in June. To learn more about Cheryl, visit her website at http://www.cherylrainfield.com.

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The Invisible Car

When I was a kid, I used to imagine driving around in an invisible car with my mom.  Every time we drove anywhere, the grocery store, school functions, the mall, I imagined our car invisible.  I guess I had a big imagination.  No wonder I write.

It seemed like a cool idea at first.  But I quickly realized the dangers.

Uh oh

If other drivers can’t see you, they don’t know you’re coming when (if) they look before pulling out. 

Crash, bang, boom! 

Accidents left and right.

So what if the invisible car could also fly? Then we could jump up whenever someone pulled out in front of us, thereby avoiding accidents.  The problem is that the driver of the invisible flying car would have to have the reflexes of a fighter pilot.  My mother did not.  Most people do not.

Despite the evident dangers of an invisible car, I couldn’t shake the idea.  It was with me every car ride.  Would we be invisible, too?  Sometimes I imagined it that way and felt a bit like a superhero.  Other times I thought it would be funny if only the car was invisible, but everyone could see us, floating along in a sitting position, eyes ahead.

The book

Maybe this is where I got the idea to write about an invisible boy.  I don’t really know anymore.  It could also have been that Sesame Street episode where Snuffleupagus becomes invisible with the help of a magical musical instrument.  Ahem.  Either way, it was great to write about a kid who actually gets to become invisible, like a childhood dream, and to make up the rules to go with that premise. 

Would his clothes disappear with him?  What about the bike he rode on or the chair he sat on at the time?  Could he become invisible at will, or did it happen when he least expected it?  What did his friends and family think?  Or didn’t he tell them?

Well, to see how I handled these questions you’ll have to read the book.  Someday, when it’s published.

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A few book recommendations

I love to read.  I must always have at least one book on my bedside table.  Below are some books by authors I have recently discovered and who inspire me to keep writing.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A life-and-death mystery, ghosts, ghouls, witches and one orphaned boy make a fun read that you can’t put down.  I haven’t even finished it yet, but it makes me laugh, worry and just keep reading.  Would appeal to middle grade through adult readers.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Based on a little-known Grimm Brother’s fairy tale and set in ancient Mongolia, this young adult novel is the diary of a lady’s maid shut away in a tower with her lady, how they survive the darkness, the rats and diminishing food supplies, and what happens after.  Sweet, gripping, lovely (with a supernatural twist).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A teenager starts high school as the most hated girl in town.  This beautiful book grabs the reader with a unique style and a slowly unfolding back story to answer the questions of why everyone hates her and why she won’t talk.  This author tackles big issues with flair and subtlety.  Her newest, Wintergirls, deals with eating disorders.

Big Slick by Eric Luper

An Albany-area author with a penchant for poker has created a sympathetic character who digs himself a very big hole.  I didn’t expect to like this young adult novel, about a boy who steals from his father’s business, accidentally gets involved with drugs, has a crush (and then some) on a bad-girl and ultimately kicks his gambling addiction.  Looking forward to Bug Boy, about horse racing in the 1930’s, out this week.

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The power of words

Last week my six-year-old started all-day summer camp for the first time.  While a little nervous about the length of time he would be gone, I looked forward to a new routine.  Routine usually means I can find time to write during the day.

Then my son and I had a little chat in the car on the way to camp.  For years he had taken swim lessons at our local YMCA with a flotation device called a bubble.  Four floating pads strap to the child’s back.  Each pad can be removed as the child gains confidence and ability.  My son was down to the last pad.

“They may not use bubbles,” I said.  “They may have a different method.  But I know you’ll pick it up quickly.  You’re such a good learner.”

I thought I was preparing him.  I thought I sounded supportive.  He didn’t respond.  I thought we were cool.

We parked the car and walked through the woods to his camp’s cabin.  He dragged his feet and his face showed terror.

He wouldn’t let me leave him alone there.  Even after we met the three really nice counselors who did their best to distract him with his favorite activities.  The truth finally emerged.  The idea of swimming in a strange pool without a bubble terrified him.

If I had just kept my mouth shut, he would not have known about the bubble-less swimming until he got to the pool.  But would that surprise have been worse?  Or would he have rolled with it?

We struck a bargain.  I stayed to watch him swim, as he begged, then I left for the rest of the day.  He did great with a noodle instead of a bubble.  Now he’s talking about trying to swim without the noodle.

Now I’m terrified.  But I’ll keep my mouth shut.

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Things I learned in Rwanda Part 2

Hand out

I spent a lot of time alone in Rwanda.  Sometimes I was lonely, and sometimes I appreciated the quiet and solitude.  Other times, I wished for quiet and solitude.

One day I sat on the grass in my yard reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.  The sun warmed, and eventually burned, my delicate skin (have I mentioned that Rwanda lies between one and three degrees south of the equator?).  I heard a giggle.  Then I noticed a face peering at me through the hedge.  Before I could say “Dorothea Brooke Casaubon”, I was surrounded by children, ranging in age from 4 to 9.

The boldest one asked me my name in Kinyarwanda and answered my same question.  Then she held out her hand and asked for biscuits and money.

The smile slid from my face.  I didn’t know what to say.  Even though I was an outsider, a foreigner, and my paltry salary was at least three times higher than what their parents earned, I was offended.  I was in the country to help, yes.  But I gave my help every day. 

I lived there, I worked there, I ate there and spent my money there.  Did I also need to keep a wad of cash and a box of cookies in the house to hand out to children who paid surprise visits to me during my small amounts of down time?

I stopped hanging out alone outside my house.  Sometimes, even a humanitarian needs a break.

PTSD

A Canadian psychologist volunteered to spend three months with my organization, to study whether the Rwandan people of Byumba Prefecture (the northernmost “state”) suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.  He visited the rural clinics we supported and looked at people’s medical records, and asked them questions about their symptoms and what they had experienced during the war and genocide.

Guess what?  The people of Byumba did, indeed, suffer from PTSD, which sometimes manifested itself through stomach ailments, headaches and sleeplessness, among other symptoms.  Quelle surprise!

Then he left. 

We continued to support the rural clinics.

People are people (cue the music)

It may sound like a cliché, but people really are people wherever you go.  There are good people everywhere, and evil people everywhere, and everything in between.

I worked with some of those good people.  A Zairian doctor who spent his free time away from the trauma hospital at the local Protestant church, sharing his wisdom.  A Ugandan widow who left her five children across the border in Kabale so she could help the people of Rwanda.  A Rwandan nurse, who spent all week working with us in Byumba so she could support her three fatherless boys, two younger sisters, and infant nephew in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.  My American boss, a doctor, and his wife, who have dedicated their lives to helping the people of tropical countries, first in Africa and now in Asia.

I have been fortunate to only hear about the bad people.  But some of the things I heard about in Rwanda kept me awake for years afterward. 

In person, I saw a lot of pettiness and greed, by all kinds of people, of all cultures and nationalities.  Such qualities have no skin color, no national boundaries.  They exist everywhere.

Prison vs. death

Back to the subject of the genocide and bad people.  The Rwandans called those who instigated the genocide, authors of the genocide, and those who perpetrated genocidal acts, genocidaires.

Genocidaires who stayed home when the authors of the genocide fled the country with almost 2 million compatriots, were usually turned in to the local police and then spent their lives crammed into too-small prisons with poor sanitary conditions among thousands of others.  There they remained until the justice system caught up.

Genocidaires who came home after the camps closed in Zaire usually suffered the same fate.  However, some were never turned in.  Their victims were still too afraid – or were dead.

Sentences for those tried within Rwanda included capital punishment.

The authors of the genocide followed a different route.  They ran away.  Some to Zaire, Tanzania, Kenya.  Others to Belgium (Rwanda was a Belgian colony until 1960).  When captured, they were not returned to Rwanda to be put on trial for their crimes against humanity.  No.  They were sent to Arusha, Tanzania, the seat of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Arusha is a pretty provincial city at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in northwestern Tanzania.  Not far from the famous Serengeti, Arusha serves as a tourist center and jumping off point for people on safari or wanting to climb Kilimanjaro.  (I spent three weeks there in July 1997.)

The highest sentence allowed for those tried by the international court?  Life in prison. 

That’s right.  The people who planned the genocide, instigated the genocide, incited people to kill their neighbors, used governmental resources to spread propaganda leading to the genocide, will languish in foreign prisons.  The villagers who actually carried out the killings will languish in very different conditions until they are killed by the state.

How is that fair?  The big guys get to hang out while the little guys die.  This isn’t an indictment of the Rwandan judicial system, by the way.  I now believe that there are crimes that are too heinous to be ignored, and some criminals whose acts are too vile to allow them to continue in life when they snuffed out someone else’s life.

You may not be there yet and I hope you never get there.  I left for Rwanda a bleeding heart liberal against the death penalty.  Then I entered the compound of a church where hundreds of men, women, and children had sought refuge and instead found death.  Their remains had not been buried, more than two years after the massacre.  A tented area to one side held tables covered in skulls of all sizes.  Inside the church itself lay heaps of bones and clothing tatters.

At that moment I confronted everything I thought I knew about human nature and my own beliefs.  These remains in front of me were of Rwandans, just like those I had worked with and lived with every day for almost two years.  And the people who had hacked them to death with machetes were Rwandans.  Victims and killers knew each other.  They were neighbors.  Some were family.

Among other lessons that assaulted me that day, I learned that a heart could bleed for justice.

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Young love (for a book)

My six-year-old son started reading this Spring.  We started with the basics – Dr. Seuss.  He was so proud when he finished Green Eggs & HamThe Cat in the Hat took about three nights.  He picked and chose pages in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

But he kept coming back to Green Eggs & Ham.  He read it to my parents at Passover.  He read it during a family camping trip to all his big cousins.  He takes it out on the deck in nice weather to read to himself.

For a school assignment, we raided his younger brother’s bookshelves for Eric Carle and PD Eastman.  Now we have moved on to the easy to read section at the library. 

A 6-year-old’s Favorite Books

Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle and Bill Martin, Jr.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert
Ricky Ricotta by Dav Pilkey and Martin Ontiveros
Put it on the List by Kristen Darbyshire
Old Mo by Stacey Hsu
Mo Willem’s Pigeon books
Skippyjon Jones in Mummy Trouble  by Judy Schachner
Are you my mother? by PD Eastman

A mother’s pride

As an avid reader, a writer and a mom, I am so excited by his interest in reading.  His ability to read has grown exponentially in such a short time.  When we get into the car, he immediately reads aloud the titles of his brother’s books stuck in the seat backs. 

In our local library’s summer reading program, he now gives book reports on books he reads himself.  After a book report (and the resulting prize), he picks out new books from the easy to read section, and begins to read them over snacks in the library’s café and on the car ride home.

We can barely get his nose out of the new book.  Just like his mother!

What are your child’s favorite books?

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