Monday, September 29, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

Absolutely True Diary of  Part-Time Indian just shot to the top of my favorites read so far in 2014, and got added to my list of all time favorites.  My husband even read this book in less than 24 hours, and he's not a reader. He hates to read, but he loved this book. In fact while he was reading it if I happened to ask him a question, he'd give me that glazed, "what did you say? I'm in the middle of a good book" look that I'm guilty of all the time (a couple times I think he was doing this on purpose just to give me a taste of my own medicine but a couple times I'm pretty sure it was genuine.) 
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


14 year Spokane Indian, Junior, decides to leave the rez and go to a nearby mostly-white suburban high school.  Almost everyboy on the reservation treats him like a traitor, including his best friend, Rowdy. Not everyone in his new school is that thrilled about his bid for a life with more opportunities, either. 

Junior is smart and funny and self-deprecating and scatters  hand-drawn commentaries (e.g. cartoons) in with his words. Which came first? Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian? they are remarkably similar in style (right down to all the bathroom humor. Warning: this book is full of, um, very physical humor). But Sherman Alexie's book treats a desperately serious subject with both humor and heartbreak. 

I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals. That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.

Another funny/sad example is how the Indians would get pulled over by the police for  DWI's  (Driving While Indian). But before I get to the heartbreaky parts, gotta share some of my favorite parts. 

After Junior, his friend Rowdy was my favorite. (warning: gross parts ahead)

Rowdy didn't believe in himself. Not much. So I tried to pump him up.
"You're the toughest kid on the rez," I said.
"I know," he said.
"You're the fastest, the strongest."
"And the most handsome, too."
"If I had a dog with a face like yours, I'd shave its a.. and teach it to walk backwards."
"I once had a zit that looked like you. Then I popped it. And then it looked even more like you."
"This one time, I ate, like, three hot dogs and a bowl of clam chowder, and then I got diarrhea all over the floor, and it looked like you."
"And then you ate it," Rowdy said.
We laughed ourselves silly.

Junior has a hard time making friends at his new school, but he finally falls in with Gordy. Who is a super smart nerd and gives Junior a new perspective on books that made me want to meet Gordy in real life and high-five him. 

We ran into the Reardan High School Library. "Look at all these books," Gordy said.
"There aren't that many," I said. It was a small library in small high school in a small town.
"There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here," Gordy said. "I know that because I counted them."
"Okay, now you're officially a freak," I said.
"Yes, it's small library. It's a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almsot ten years to finish."
"What's your point?"
"The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know."
Wow. That was a huge idea.
Any town, even one as small as Reardan, was a place of mystery. And that meant that Wellpinit, that smaller, Indian town, was also a place of mystery.
"Okay, so it's like each of hese books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn."

Another character I fell in love with was Junior's grandmother, the only Indian that was enthusiastic about Junior leaving the rez school.

Now, in the old days, Indians used to be forgiving of any kind of eccentricity. In fact, weird people were often celebrated.... my grandmother, she still hung onto that old-time Indian spirit, you know? She always approached each new person and each new experience the exact same way. Whenever we went to Spokane, my grandmother would talk to anyoe, even the homeless people, even the homeless people who were talking to invisible people. My grandmother would start talking to the invisible people, too. Why would she do that? 
"Well," she said, "how can I be sure there aren't invisible people in the world? Scientists didn't believe in the mountain gorilla for hundreds of years. And now look. So if scientists can be wrong, then all of us can be wrong. I mean, what if all of those invisible people ARE scientists? Think about that one."  
So I thought about that one: [ draws a cartoon of Invisible Mountain Gorilla Scientist] 
 After I decided to go to Reardan, I felt like an invisible mountain gorilla scientist. My grandmother was only one who thought it was a 100 percent good idea.
"Think of all the new people you're going to meet," she said. 'That's the whole point of life, you know? To meet new people. I wish I could go with you. It's such an exciting idea."

A kind of funny but sad part was when a billionaire shows up at the reservation to dole out his "graciousness" to the Indians....

"I'm not Indian, but I feel Indian in my bones"
... we all groaned... he was yet another white guy who showed up on the rez because he loved Indian people so much.

Then there's a really cool scene at the high school which ends with Junior's classmates stomping out of the classroom in protest.

Also, there is this different way of looking at tribes: 
I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream. 
I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists...And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.

I loved the ending, how it ends on the rez,  not on the bad parts of the rez, but the good parts. The great, ancient trees (some of them older than Benjamin Franklin). And the spooky stories about Turtle Lake. And Rowdy talking about how Indians used to be nomadic, but they aren't anymore... except for Junior... "you're an old-time nomad," Rowdy said. "You're going to keep moving all over the world in search of food and water and grazing land. That's pretty cool."



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: owning my oddness

Everyonce in a while I own up to my inner oddness. Usually  I try to keep it inside my head (or at least, my home. My family is understanding). Usually I try to appear like a generally normal wife, mom, professional mapmaker and writer (if any writer can be called normal). I might get a little too excited about maps once in a while, and I might let it slip that I'm a Trekkie and a Tolkien addict, but mostly the oddness stays safely contained.

Even here on the blog I keep up tidy appearances. Gushing about books is socially acceptable, after all. Confessing fascination with mythical creatures... no biggie, right? But something I don't often share is my love of lizards. My daughters buy me mugs with lizards on them for Christmas. And lizards pins that hang out on my purses. They know what charms me.

I used to bring my pet lizard to high school with me. Really. He was a little anole named Loki (I kid you not. Btw, this was way before the Avengers Loki) and I'd carry him around in my pocket and when I was bored in class I'd let him hang out on my desk. Amazingly, all my teachers were quite tolerant of this behavior and my economics teacher once borrowed Loki and taught a class with the lizard peering out of his front pocket.
Throwback Thursday: a picture of Loki from high school (I'm on the left. The year I died my hair black)
Here's where I use my oddness to also promote a very worthy book. I bought a copy of the newly released young adult fantasy Gates of Thread and Stone because
1) "gargoyles" was mentioned in a review, as in "Gargoyles had been native reptiles once" and gargoyles have definitely been underutilized in fantasy literature, in my opinion, and 2) reptiles - sweeeeeetttt!!! and 3) manipulating time never fails to make me prick my ears and 4) this cover. Look at the shimmery threads weaving around the title. MUST KNOW MORE ABOUT THE THREADS. 



oh, and 5) I read the sample chapters first and was so hooked, so very much hooked I must have gills. I fell in love with Kai on the first page when she says this:
A shoulder smacked against mine on the sidewalk. I didn't bother checking my pockets. They were already empty. But sometimes I left little notes in them I thought might amuse a pickpocket: "Try me again tomorrow. I forgot my diamonds at home" or "Might have better luck with that guy", alongside a scribbled arrow. Well, they amused me, anyway.

and oh, oh! 6) I kind of missed this part of the blurb at first, but by chapter 2, I was deeply impressed by the genuine brother-sister love between Kai and her older adopted brother, Reev.
When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability [to maniplate threads of time] comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home.
The ties between Kai and Reev run deep and strong through out the story, and explode at the ending into something breath taking and heart breaking. The ending! Whoa. Such a good ending. And all I can give is just this obscure hint:  if you've happened to have read Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett, there are a few similar mythical characters that appear. To say which mythology would give too much away). 

But in addition to the stellar beginning and ending, the middle parts of the book keep up a good pace, too.  I caught a fun steampunk feel from the walled city Kai and Reev live in, especially the mechanical beasts that people ride: 
On the cobblestone road, riders steered enormous Grays in the shape of long-extinct animas: creatures with three foot horns, lumbering feet, spiny backs, or long slender necks that bobbed as they moved. Their massive chests glowed in two spots, indicating they needed two energy stones.

And then there are the gargoyles. Loved the creepy/beautiful scenes at the top of the spiral staircase:
The gargoyle touched its nose to G-10's knuckles, and then bobbed its head, its tongue flicking out to lick his fingers. It was almost... cute. 
(Really, lizard head-bobs are adorable. Trust me). I hope the gargoyles play a larger role in the sequel... they have so much potential. They reminded me of the flying lizards in the movie Avatar (without the wings, and a little creepier in this story). 

One last thing: the love interest, Avan. I loved the slow, quiet development between Avan and Kai, and just have to share this little tidbit about him and his tattoo: 
Avan’s tattoo of a tree: “I got the trunk and the branches done when I moved out of the shop. The tree had one leaf. Kind of like… the start of something new.” He rubbed his neck and shifted so that he was turned away from me. He actually seemed embarrassed. “Something good, I mean. I figured I would add more leaves as… well, as things changed.”
Okay, anybody else out there with pet lizards? Or what's the oddest pet you've read about in a book? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What works for me

What's Up Wednesday has a new question: What works for me? - and a new button. If you're interested in keeping in touch with other writers, join this meme hosted by writing sisters Erin Funk and Jaime Morrow


What works for me? 
My biggest challenge with writing is getting started. I have four kids  (I homeschool two of them) and a part time job, and a hundred things I *should* be doing (like, exercising!!) and a big temptation to escape them all by losing myself in a good book. So what works best for me to get started writing (instead of succumbing to other things calling my name) is to shut off the internet, plug in my earphones (soothing spa music works best), re-read what I worked on last and make a short bullet list of what I want to accomplish in an hour. Just an hour. If I think longer than that, then I freeze up.

What I'm reading
An e-ARC of Stitching Snow, by R.C. Lewis (due out in October).  A version of Snow White set in space (I love space ships!) where Snow's "domestic duties" are mechanics and programming! (I love programming! Well, mostly. When my programs work, that is). She calls programming "stitching". Oh, and her seven dwarves are her bots programmed to help her. Dopey = Dimwit and Grumpy = Cusser. I'm loving all the twists in this fairytale retelling.  And look at this intricate cover!

What I'm writing
YA author Veronica Bartles picked my YA science fiction, Star Tripped, as her altnerative for Pitch Wars, and she's given me some great feedback. So I'm busy ripping apart my first chapter and stitching it back together. I knew I wanted to submit to Veronica when she said she loved Isaac Asminov's science fiction stories. Also her book is called Twelve Steps - a young adult's version of the A.A. Twelve Steps, but a twelve steps for dealing with sister problems (that made me smile).  I'm in O.A. (Overeaters Anonymous) and the twelve steps keep me sane on a daily basis when the chocolate and Cheetos demons are calling my name, but I love this teen's take on a relationship-problem version of the twelves steps.


What else I've been up to
Finishing my first publication through work: the Wyoming Student Atlas. It's 46 pages of maps about Wyoming - two of my favorite things (maps, and Wyoming) and its for middle school kids (another favorite, as I have two middle schoolers of my own). If all the last minute edits go well we go to press next week!!! Here's the cover:
What state would you like me to work on next for an atlas?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Insecure writer: writing a love list

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Last month I wrote about five things I do to fight the insecurity of the querying process, and this month I'm expanding on that with a love list for my manuscript. Discovered this idea through the wonderful group of YA authors that hosted theReady, Set, Write! challenge this summer, who in turn discovered it from author Stephanie Perkins (Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After). 

To quote Stephanie, from her post about the love list, "I use this love-list as a touchstone to remind myself during the hard times why my story is worthwhile. It’s easy to forget the GOOD STUFF when I’m wading through the muck"  (the muck might be writing the middle of the first draft, or 2nd draft revisions, or in my case, querying - after a round of rejections wondering if what I wrote had any merit at all). 

Writing this love list reminded me of how much I love this story and how much I want to NOT GIVE UP ON IT. 

So without further ado, here are all the things I love about this story, a young adult science fiction. 

scuba diving
coral reefs
golden retrievers
Shakespearean insults
Harley Davidson motorcycles
anti-gravity
cheese biscuits
the butterfly nebula
sailing
lighthouses
jazz
blue hair (a nod to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor)
how my title came to be
henna tattoos
Treasure Planet (anyone else love that movie?)
Captain Hook
raining stars
love across all of space and time
Moroccan style headscarf
I'm Glad You Came by The Wanted
Lake Brienz, Switzerland 
Soli Deo Gloria

What's helping you fight insecurity or providing inspiration lately?

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