Sunday, May 30, 2010

I wrote this op-ed last week but haven't had any luck placing it, so I thought I'd post it here. After spending so much time researching the Chicago Freedom Movement as I was writing My Life with the Lincolns, I couldn't stay silent when Rand Paul made his inane comments about the "obscurity" of civil rights:

In his recent interview with Rachel Maddow, Rand Paul said he would have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s clear to me, however, that he wouldn’t have marched with the civil rights leader when Dr. King moved his campaign north to Chicago to focus on issues of housing discrimination.

The Chicago Freedom Movement, a joint effort between the Coordinating Council of City Organizations and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council, sought to end slums through open housing. In 1966, hundreds of dedicated African American volunteers (sometimes accompanied by white supporters) “tested” real estate offices all over the Chicago area to see whether they would be offered services. Most of the time, they weren’t.

If Rand Paul had his way, and private businesses were declared exempt from the Civil Rights Act, such discrimination would occur over and over again—in restaurants, in taxis, in hotels, in private schools.

I think about the marches during the Chicago Freedom Movement. Thousands demonstrated peacefully in white neighborhoods such as Marquette Park to raise awareness about fair, open housing, but members of those communities weren’t always non-violent in response. Ugly racial epithets were common; cars of the marchers were set on fire; stones were hurled (one of which struck Dr. King in the head). Comments such as Paul’s set the stage for the return of such racially motivated violence.

Civil rights are not an “intrusion” on corporate America, as Paul asserts. They are not “obscure.” They are human rights, ones that are just and have been hard won. They are what Americans should be most proud of. Let’s not let small minded people like Paul threaten the integrity of the Civil Rights Act and those who put their lives on the line to bring it into being.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Michael updated the home page of my website to include Delta Girls (and a picture of me in ice skates as a little girl). Check it out here. :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

I just read a post on Jezebel, Why the Kendra Wilkinson Sex Tape Should Make You Angry, and I definitely am upset. I have never seen any of Kendra Wilkinson's tv shows, and have no desire to view the tape in question, but I have felt a bit of a kinship with her over the last year or so because we had babies around the same time, and I would see her pregnant belly on the magazine racks growing at about the same rate as mine. Even if we didn't have this connection, though, I would still feel for her right now. I know there is some speculation that she was complicit in leaking the tape to the public, but it's hard to believe that after reading about its contents.

Supposedly in the tape, Kendra doesn't want to be filmed. She asks her partner several times to turn off the camera, tries to push it away, but he persists. His obvious disregard for her concerns, his need to put his desires before her own, is deeply troubling to me. In my novel Delta Girls, something quite similar happens. One of my characters is 18 and in her first serious relationship; her partner pulls out a video camera, which makes her incredibly nervous, but she goes with it because she feels pressured, and thinks that she needs to do whatever her partner wants in order to "keep" him. Some of the footage he takes later comes back to haunt her in ways she never could have anticipated.

As the author on Jezebel writes:
This isn't a sex tape, really. It's that thing we talk about that happens to our young women. That thing that we, as grown-ups, write about and research incessantly and condemn broadly, but don't remember so vividly. It's right here on video.

It reminds me to some extent of the Paris Hilton sex tape, but even more so here. It's that space where young women have discovered and perfected their sexuality and its value, but haven't yet figured out how it's empowering. They just know that it's something people want from them; it's something people expect from them. Something young men expect from them; something, perhaps, that young men haven't learned how to ask for politely. It's uncomfortable and new and everybody's learning, and what happens, more often than not, is that the male partner's desires come first and more forcefully, and the young woman is disrespected and disempowered and left with a sense that she's less valuable and less capable of demanding respect and control than her male counterpart - a sense than lingers into her twenties and beyond, even though she might not recognize it as such.

You should not be turned on by this. You should be pissed off.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I have a few guest blog posts to share with you...

Today, the aptly named Largehearted Boy has posted my playlist for My Life with the Lincolns as part of his great Book Notes series. I did one for Self Storage and was so happy to be invited to return with My Life with the Lincolns.

I meant to share these other two weeks ago, but life kept getting in the way. I'm so grateful to have done these guest spots, as well:

I answer five (make that six) questions over at Fictionaut Five.

I offer a few thoughts for The Laughing Yeti's series of authors writing about reading.

More to come (and I'll try to be more timely with my postings!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My first two real life copies of Delta Girls just arrived in the mail--they're gorgeous (and even though the book is no longer titled Pears, two luscious pears adorn both the front and back covers. They look just like the lovely pear brooch my aunt Sylvia gave me when I was in Chicago; I'm going to have to wear it at my book events! She also gave me a strawberry pin, both of which she had had for decades. I will treasure them always.)

It is a bit wild to think about a new book coming out in a month when I feel I've barely gotten started promoting My Life with the Lincolns. Of course I know how lucky I am to be in this position, but with the baby, I'm lucky if I am able to take a shower, so doing anything beyond that feels monumental some days. My subconscious has been preparing me for the release of Delta Girls, though--images from the book have been showing up in my dreams. I had a dream a couple of weeks ago that I was swimming in a river and a massive whale sidled up next to me. I reached out my hand and felt its slick, long belly as it swam past. Another night, I dreamed that Michael and I had to perform the Bollywood program of the Olympic ice dance team Davis and White. Asher was on the ice, too, so we got a bit distracted as we were skating.

I have a couple of events on the horizon that I am excited about:

--Women and Words, Saturday, June 5 at the UCLA Covel Commons Grand Horizon Ballroom, 9am-3pm. This all day event not only celebrates women and the literary arts; it also raises money for charity (Children's Hospital, Adolescent Medicine this time around.) I will be speaking, as will the authors Patricia Smiley, Anne Cherian, Tatjani Soli and Mary Yukari Waters. Copies of Delta Girls will be available there even though it's not officially released until June 22.

--UCLA Extension Writers' Program Publication Party, Wednesday, June 9, 7pm, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda, Los Angeles. Join me and 17 other members of the Writers' Program faculty for an evening of readings and dessert. The event is free, but you need to RSVP at

Come say hello if you're able to come to either event! I'll be the one with the pear brooch. :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I found out today that I received a starred review (my first, I believe) in Library Media Connection for My Life with the Lincolns:
This coming of age story is told through the voice of 12-year old Mina who is growing up in the challenging 1960s during the civil rights struggle and the conflict over the Vietnam War. Her father takes her to hear speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to participate in civil rights events. She is a precocious and highly intelligent Caucasian youngster who is fortunate to live history firsthand. Mina has a fantastic imagination, and she believes she is the reincarnation of one of Abraham Lincoln’s sons. Some of Mina’s thoughts are hilarious, while others are eye-opening. The story is also told through a newsletter written by Mina to promote her father’s furniture store, “Honest Abe’s,” which also provides tidbits of historical information about Lincoln and his troubled wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. One subplot involves her father’s affair with a black civil rights advocate. This is the author’s first young adult novel, but she proves her ability to capture the ways a teenager might interpret events and assign meanings to them. The intricate storylines come together and create a wonderful read for adolescents and adults. Highly Recommended. Caroline Geck, Newark (New Jersey) Public Schools
I felt a bit like a star, myself, when I spoke at a local middle school on Monday; at the end of my second presentation, one of the students asked if I would sign autographs, and when I said yes, I was mobbed. The librarian gave me a stack of blank cards from the card catalog and a purple marker that smelled like grape popsicles, and I signed my name over and over again as dozens of kids surrounded me, their hands held out, each clamoring to be next. I'm sure it's the closest I'll ever get to a taste of celebrity (and I have to say I'm grateful I won't get any closer. It was very sweet and I was touched by the enthusiasm of the kids, but I found myself also getting quite claustrophobic and overwhelmed. Talking with the kids was great, though, and I feel so lucky to have a chance to reach young readers, hopefully with words other than just my purple, sweet-smelling name.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

I am thrilled to share the news that my friend Naomi Benaron has won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for her stunning manuscript, Running the Rift. I had the pleasure and honor of helping Naomi with the project, so it almost feels as if I've won the prize a second time. :) Of course Naomi deserves all the credit--she has written a moving, gorgeous, painful, haunting, eye opening novel, which helped me understand the situation in Rwanda more deeply than any news report ever could. I am so thrilled her amazing characters are going to find their way into the world (and so auspiciously!) Congratulations, Naomi!!!!
So much has happened since my last post, it's hard to know where to begin. I've wanted to write all about my Midwestern tour, but it feels so long ago already--I'll just share a couple of snippets now. I had an amazing time, especially because I got to see so many family members and old friends, including an aunt I hadn't seen since I was a teenager, since she and my mom had become estranged. It's been very meaningful to reconnect with her after my mom's death. I saw a bit of my mom in her eyes, which was quite an amazing experience. But let me back track a bit...

This was my first family book tour--I had my little entourage with me, Michael, Asher and Hannah. Our first full day of the trip (after missing our flight and not getting into our hotel until about 1am), I got sick, one of the stomach episodes I've written about. I had been invited by a Western Michigan Humanities Council to do a couple of events (thanks to the lovely Nurya Parish), one at 9am (6am our time), and one at 4pm. With the help of some mint tea, I got through the first event with a warm and wonderful library book group. I went back to the hotel to rest afterwards, and started to feel worse and worse. When it was time to leave for the next event, a talk about crafting a writing career at Grand Valley State College, I could barely stand up. I considered canceling my talk, but didn't want to disappoint Nurya, who had worked so hard to get me there. I told her that I'd play it by ear and see how I felt after the 20 minute drive to campus. I definitely didn't feel better when we arrived, but I decided to push through after I saw how much they had been publicizing the event. I'm so glad I did.

The room was packed, and someone had even put together an amazing broadside featuring an excerpt from Fruitflesh (you can see part of it above--I have several copies; if anyone wants one, let me know. I'm not quite sure how to mail them--they're very long--but I'm sure I can figure it out.) I told the audience at the beginning that I wasn't feeling well, but said that I had been inspired by Lady Gaga, who had passed out during a recent concert and had told herself, when she came to, "Get up and finish the song, you little bitch" (not that I would ever call myself--or anyone, for that matter--that). I said that if I threw up at the podium, they could call me Lady Gag-Gag. I was worried this would mortify my daughter, but she said she was impressed; she told me she didn't think I had it in me.

I burst into a cold sweat a couple of times during the event and had to clutch the podium to stay upright, but I managed to get through the talk and book signing without passing out, and had some great conversations with the students. After the room cleared, I lay down on the floor as the pain got worse and more constant. We eventually decided I needed to get to an emergency room. On the way there, I knew I was about to throw up--I dumped as much out of my purse as I could, and then used it as a barf bag, hoping that would protect Nurya's car. Later, after several hours in the er with meds that made me goofy as Hannah sat with me and Michael tried to keep the baby happy in our hotel room (I had never been away from Asher for such a long time before), we threw the purse away, thinking the only thing still inside was Asher's rattle. Once we were almost in Chicago, though, I realized that my keys had been inside the purse, too, including the keys to the car waiting for us in a parking lot at LAX. Thankfully Michael asked if my ex husband still had a copy of the car key; I called Matt and he searched around and found the valet key, which he fed exed to us, making life so much easier than it could have been. It's all quite funny to me now, but it was quite a fraught experience at the time. I'm grateful the rest of the trip was drama-free (aside from learning my book had been censored by a couple of school librarians because it contains the word "vagina." But more on that, and my fun school visits, later.)

This is Lady Gag-Gag, over and out.