About gretchenwing

A high school English and History teacher for 20 years, Gretchen now lives, writes, and bakes on Lopez Island, Washington.

Making Lemonade Out Of Mighty Sweet Lemons, Or, Book Launch Reschedule = First World Problem

I admit to more than a little stress when I realized how few days remained between what I thought was my manuscript’s final upload and my November 18 book launch. But I told myself, with my usual fierce optimism, that the MS would be approved in time for me to press that magic “publish” button in time to order multiple copies of Altitude (Flying Burgowski Book Three) in time for said book launch.

I admit to more than a little swearing when my optimism was not, for once, rewarded.

The expected approval email did not appear. When notification arrived, it wasn’t good news: a glitch in the MS required a second upload. The nice CreateSpace rep I spoke with assured me that, assuming the second upload went through, the absolute earliest I could receive my books was…November 20.

I admit to more than a little self-pity at realizing my book’s long-awaited debut was going to have to be a little more-awaited.

But all it took for me to extricate myself from the Swamp of Stressed-out Self-Recrimination was a half-hour drive, during which I thought about…

…a friend of mine who’s going blind

…another friend whose son, a dad in his 40s, is dying of leukemia

…a colleague who pretty much lives paycheck to paycheck

…the family of Philando Castile

…the families of those killed at the Texas church, the South Carolina church, the Las Vegas concert, Sandy Hook elementary…and on, and, sadly, on…

You get the idea. My launch date postponement is the poster child of a First World Problem. I got home, got to work on setting a new date and notifying the people who helped me get this far with my book. 

Want to know how blessed I am? The friend who designed my original poster was emailing me the revised version within five minutes of receiving my news.

It was done before I’d even asked for it!

Sweet, sweet lemons indeed. 

White Privilege for Dummies (Like Me)

I have been thinking about white privilege, trying to articulate its meaning…then here comes this teacher who just sums the whole thing up visually:

(…with thanks to Allison Snow, from whose Facebook page I first saw this, and datniggakel, whose YouTube I used.)

As this worthy teacher/coach would probably say after a lesson: “Any questions?”

Is “So” is the New “Well”? Fun Trends in Verbal Throat-Clearing

So have you noticed that no one on the news can begin a sentence without the word “so”?

So this has been happening with such frequency on TV and radio news, from anchors to reporters to people-on-the-street-answering-questions, it has me wondering: where did this habit come from?

So they do it in a way that pays no attention to the meaning of the word, as in “thus” or “for that reason”. So they’re just saying “so” as a kind of motivational noise, like the grunt we older people make when rising from a sofa.

So there’s no comma. So it’s not, “So, what I mean is…” So it’s more like: “I am starting to speak now.”

So it’s also not just newsy people priming their sentences with “so.” So it’s regular people, friends of mine…even, to my bemusement, myself!

(So if I hear The Mate say, “So I’ll be working on the gutters this morning,” I will consider that as a sign of impending Apocalypse.)

So it’s also showing up now in print, like on Facebook and blogs. So I’d give an example, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone. So keep an eye out for it, and you’ll soon see what I mean.

So, when did this start? (So did you notice–that time I actually used the word properly, logically, as in, “Okay, people, let’s think about this”?)

(Orig. photo by Abigail Porter)

So I’m also wondering, is this just an American thing? So you folks in other countries, are you prefacing your English sentences with “so”?

So another question: what did we use as sentence skid-greasers before “so”? So was it “well”?

So I think it was “Well.” So it might also have been “Um,” or “ah.” So maybe in Ireland it was “sure.” So maybe it still is. So you go, Ireland!

So what do you think? 

Facing History and Ourselves, Quaker Style: Indian Boarding Schools Are Our Shame Too

Facing History and Ourselves is the title of a book and a mini-course in Holocaust Education. I took the course and used the book myself in my high school teaching.

But what about that uniquely American, slo-mo Holocaust, the attempted eradication of Native culture? In grad school I learned about the Indian boarding schools of the late 19th and early-mid 20th century: the kidnapping of entire generations from their homes, and the creation of generations of people who felt alienated from both communities, Native and white. And of course I shook my head over the terrible thinking of the past, and its terrible, long-term effects.

But I never realized that people of my own religious background, Quakers, were eager perpetrators of that shameful enterprise, until a friend sent me an article in Friends Journal, by Quaker writer Paula Palmer, entitled “Quaker Indian Boarding Schools: Facing History and Ourselves.”

What’s this? Quakers, you say? But we’re the good guys! Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape! Marching for Civil Rights! Becoming Conscientious Objectors in the Korean and Vietnam Wars! 

I may not be a very religious Quaker, but I’ve always been a very proud political Quaker, the product of Carolina Friends School, the first integrated school in North Carolina.

So, with a sense of unease, I read the article. I read this:

More than 100,000 Native children suffered the direct consequences of the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation by means of Indian boarding schools during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their bereft parents, grandparents, siblings, and entire communities also suffered. As adults, when the former boarding school students had children, their children suffered, too. Now, through painful testimony and scientific research, we know how trauma can be passed from generation to generation. The multigenerational trauma of the boarding school experience is an open wound in Native communities today.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says that for healing to occur, the full truth about the boarding schools and the policy of forced assimilation must come to light in our country, as it has in Canada. The first step in a truth, reconciliation, and healing process, they say, is truth telling. A significant piece of the truth about the boarding schools is held by the Christian churches that collaborated with the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation. Quakers were among the strongest promoters of this policy and managed over 30 schools for Indian children, most of them boarding schools, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The coalition is urging the churches to research our roles during the boarding school era, contribute this research to the truth and reconciliation process, and ask ourselves what this history means to us today.

And this:

In a letter dated May 26, 1853, teacher Susan Wood at the Quaker Tunesassa Indian Boarding School in New York, wrote:

“We are satisfied it is best to take the children when small, and then if kept several years, they would scarcely, I think, return to the indolent and untidy ways of their people.”

And this:

For a child’s view, we have The School Days of an Indian Girl, written in 1900 by Zitkala-Sa, a Lakota woman who entered White’s Institute, a Quaker Indian boarding school in Indiana, at age eight:

“I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair. I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. . . . Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards! . . . I moaned for my mother, but no one came to comfort me . . . for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.”

Modoc School, Indian Territory, 1877 (Courtesy Friends Journal and Haverford College Quaker Collection)

In these days of Trumpmerica, with its white supremacist marches (“some of them are good people!” said our prez), it’s easy to point fingers and say, “You are on the wrong side of history.” But, I am finding, it is even more important to look at the history of the people I most claim as “mine,” and say aloud: “We did wrong. We need to acknowledge and atone in order to help heal the damage we helped to do.”

So says Paula Palmer:

Native organizations are not asking us to judge our Quaker ancestors. They are asking, “Who are Friends today? Knowing what we know now, will Quakers join us in honest dialogue? Will they acknowledge the harm that was done? Will they seek ways to contribute toward healing processes that are desperately needed in Native communities?” These are my questions, too.

And mine.

Ottowa School, Indian Territory, 1872 (Courtesy Friends Journal and Haverford College Quaker Collection)

Was the revelation of Quaker complicity in Native boarding schools a surprise to you, as it was to me? Please consider passing this post–or better yet, Parker Palmer’s–on to someone else, or to any organization that might benefit from considering the attempt of the country’s most “politically correct” religious organization to face history, and itself.

Confessions of the Clueless, Part IV: NaNoWriMo Got You Down? Try WriBoYoWaWri!

You’ve heard of NaNoWriMo? (That’s National Novel Writing Month–an annual, Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November.)

Well, today this clueless author is celebrating something more personal: WriBoYoWaWri. That is… writing the book you (or I, in this case) wanted to write.

When I first published The Flying Burgowski, I told my writing group, “I wanted to write this book, and I did. I wanted people to read it, and they are.”

So later, when I ran into the brick wall fun challenges of marketing and book-selling, my writing buddy Iris Graville (whose memoir, Hiking Naked: a Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance was just published by Homebound Publications) reminded me of what I had said.

“You wanted to write this book, and you did. You wanted people to read it, and they are.”

Later still, when Book Two, Headwinds, came out and people would ask me that highly annoying perfectly innocent question, “So how’s your book selling?” I could always find my “happy place” by reminding myself about WriBoYoWaWri.

(Original photo: Abigail Porter)

You know: Write the Book You Want to Write.

These days, much to my surprise and DEEP gratification, both my sons are turning into novelists. And both are sharing their work, and their thoughts about their work, with me, their author-mama.

The other night, Son Two was stating his intention to end his book in a certain place. “That’ll make it very short,” I warned. “A novella. When I wrote mine, back in the nineties, all the agents I contacted told me they could never sell it.”

Son Two shrugged. “It’s what I…”

And I kicked myself and finished his sentence for him: “…wanted to write. Of COURSE. Do it. Don’t listen to me.” And I meant it.

Son One’s work will likely have the opposite challenge: length. Will I warn him about the difficulties of selling a long novel when your last name isn’t King or Stephenson?

No. No, I will not. I will joyfully chant, Write the Book You Want to Write. And I will MEAN it.

Writers, readers–your thoughts? Will you join me in WriBoYoWaWri? Don’t worry about November. WriBoYoWaWri lasts all year long.

Confessions of the Clueless, Part III: If John Green’s Clueless Enough to Write About Articulate Teenagers, So Am I, Thanks

Raise your hand if you

  • have read (or seen) John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
  • are, or once were, an intelligent, articulate, even eloquent teenager
  • have read John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines
  • are the parent of someone who was formerly an intelligent, articulate, even eloquent teenager
  • have read John Green’s Looking for Alaska
  • believe that teenagers have as much capacity for intelligence, articulateness, even eloquence as adults (and way more than several recent Presidents)
  • are excited about John Green’s latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down.

Me? My hand never went down.

Thinking about the critiques my own books have faced–“Your heroine thinks and talks too much like an adult!”–I’ve found happy solace in this article by Jennie Yabroff of Signature Reads. com, which details John Green’s patient resistance to dumbing-down his teenage protagonists. Here he explains that his characters simply narrate not the way society expects of teens, but the way these teens, these PEOPLE, see themselves:

“The reality of experience is ultimately a lot more interesting to me than what I think is sort of wrongly called ‘objective reality.’ Because I don’t actually think objective reality is a thing — certainly not a very interesting thing for fiction, I don’t think,” he said. Rather, he believes that the way he represents his characters on the page is the way they see themselves in their heads. “Certainly, teenagers don’t sound [like my characters] when they talk to us… But they do sound that way to themselves. And that’s what interests me. I’m not really interested in capturing how they actually sound, because that’s not their experience.”

I say AMEN. Or rather, my protagonist, Jocelyn Burgowski, says that. Even though “that’s not something a teen would say.” Jocelyn is trying, like every other teen, to figure out exactly who she is. Her voice is the voice of the self developing inside her–which we, the readers, are privileged to peek into. So who are we to demand a different voice on the page?

(Orig. photo courtesy high school-aged Brian Whittier)

I prefer to get my books from the library or in paperback from my local bookstore, so I won’t get to read Turtles All the Way Down very soon. But if you do–and I hope you do!–please listen hard, and hear what Green’s heroine Aza has to say. Then apply that listening to the teen nearest you.

Coming in November, Altitude: Final Book of the Flying Burgowski Trilogy

(Design by Bob Lanphear; hands photo by Heather Harrison; hands themselves: Anah-Kate Drahn) Thanks, all!

“To thine own self be true…” Yeah, right.

I banked toward the warehouses, skimming the trees. Gotta find some way to USE my power…Reaching the first ratty rooftop, I hovered, quivering. If I could get Vivian back to the sky… put our powers together—What’s THAT?

Not a seagull. This sound was coming from the alley below. A quiet wail—kittens crying. Was that rusty blue shipping container there before? I landed behind the gnarliest warehouse and peeked into the alley. From street level, the giant rusty container towered above me. The kitten-cries were definitely coming from inside. Maybe someone dumped a pregnant cat in there. The box was hinged at one end—a pair of doors belted with a big ol’ rusty chain and padlock. Why lock a cat in?

 “Kitty-kitty-kitty?” I called. “You in there? Poor thing!”

Two syllables floated from the stinking metal monster. A word I recognized from my Mandarin Terms a Traveler Should Know: “Bāng wǒ.” Help.

After a summer of betrayal and heartbreak and an epically rotten year, 16 year-old Jocelyn (The Flying) Burgowski is fleeing family and friends on Dalby Island for school on the mainland. What good is flying if it wrecks relationships? The guy she fell for almost destroyed her power. Now, discovering the ugly underbelly of mainland life, has Joss stumbled upon a fellow Flyer—only to bring her down? Confronting the dual forces of magic and maturity, Joss must face the question: what does “to thine own self be true” really mean?

Confessions of the Clueless, Part II: Think Outside of the Genre Box At Your Authorial Peril

[*Note: Confessions of the Clueless Part I was my #hashtag rant. Here comes Part II.]

Nothing like working on the cover design of a book to let you know how hard you’ve made life for yourself. I’ve been looking for an image that…

…captures the dark beauty of the Pacific Northwest, without being too beautiful

…suggests the ugliness of the American industrial underbelly, without being too ugly

…encompasses an aerial view, but not from too high

…orients the viewer toward the water, but still keeps the shoreline visible

…won’t involve me in complicated and expensive negotiations over copyright usage

…allows for the addition of text elements in line with the previous books in the series

Turns out I really could not have thought up a more difficult set of requirements. Starting with beautiful vs. ugly: waterfront pictures are generally taken for two purposes, a) to lure tourists, or b) to lure business. The first wants only beauty; the second, only utility. And don’t forget that je-ne-sais-quois whiff of Northwest! Gotta have some dark forest in there. I searched internet images from Oregon to British Columbia. These were a couple of the finalists:

Port Angeles, WA–good on ya!

Or maybe, further north:

Powell River, BC, anyone? Great town.

But the image dilemma is really a stand-in for the difficulty my books face in terms of categorizing. You see, the Flying Burgowski series 

…takes its time to drop its heroine into the action, and said action involves no combat, no werewolves, no vampires, and not a single zombie.

…is fantastical enough to involve flying humans, but otherwise very much real-world (sorry, no parallel universe lurking just behind Platform Nine and Three Quarters!)

…deals with political issues like religious extremism, homophobia, and human trafficking

…has a middle-grades heroine, but one who faces adult themes like divorce and addiction from a very early age

…follows said heroine into her mid-teen years where, guess what? sexual maturity is suddenly an issue.

Let me dwell on that last point a moment. Jocelyn Burgowski’s personal literary hero, Harry Potter, also ages in his series, has a crush, finds a girlfriend. But author J.K. Rowling managed to keep Harry’s physical responses to said girlfriend–his natural teenage lust–safely off the page. Author G.K. Wing was not that unrealistic, or smart, depending on your perspective.

So, bottom line? How would YOU characterize this series? Have I made these books difficult to advertise, or what?

I call the first two books of the Flying Burgowski trilogy Middle Grades Fantasy, and the last one YA Fantasy–because I have to call them SOMEthing. But you know what? I’d really just rather call it a damn good read. Can that be a thing?

 

#Hashtags #makeme #crazy #howboutyou

#hashtags #makemefeellikeI’mbackin #middleschool 

#tryingwaytoohardtobe #cool

#notfullyconvinced #Icanpullitoff

#orevenwantto

#butitstimeto #promotemynewbook #altitude #flyingburgowskitrilogybook3

#ya #fantasy #book #girl #flying = #hot

#comingofage #tothineownselfbetrue #magicvsmaturation #discoveringlifesmorethanyourownlittleproblems = #not

#theysayhashtagshelpyou #jointheconversation

#feelslikeshoutingintoa #crowdedroom

#alreadytooloudinhere

#wouldibuyabookfromsomeonewhosscreamingatme

#dontthinkso

#besidesiloveandhonor #punctuation 

#callmeoldfashioned

Coming soon to a book launch near you…excuse me, #booklaunch #book #launch

#justpleasereadmy #books #flyingburgowski #headwinds #altitude

#ipromise

#theycontainzero #hashtags

PS–check out my Goodreads page to win a free copy of The Flying Burgowski or Headwinds, Oct. 10-Nov. 11

#blatantcommercialism

 

 

Watching Your Writing Role Model Strip Bare: Iris Graville Publishes Hiking Naked

If you’ve published your words in any form, you know the feeling when someone looks you in the eye and tells you they read what you published. It’s not like singing at a concert or displaying visual art. These are YOUR WORDS, your literal, expressed thoughts, straight from your brain into someone else’s. Who is about to tell you what they think.

Now imagine those words you’ve published are your MEMOIR. And imagine the people who are looking you in the eye are your neighbors, folks you bump into at the market, at the post office. 

My friend Iris’s new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, could not be better titled. As Iris tells it in her latest blog post, “Baring My Soul”:

I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

(Courtesy Homebound Publications)

My own forthcoming book, Altitude, Book Three of the Flying Burgowski series, could not be more different from Iris’s. My book’s a novel. It’s Young Adult (although I’m finding that Older Adults seem to like it just fine). It’s fantasy–not vampires nor zombies nor dystopian archer-warriors, certainly, but hey! my heroine can fly. So, yes. Fantasy enough.

The only thing my book has in common with Iris’s is that she helped “midwife” mine, via critique, while I did the same with hers (both of us with a LOT of help, and in her case, Masters-in-Fine-Arts-level help).

Well, maybe two more commonalities: they’re both set in the northwest, and they’re both about strong females.But that’s it.

So how can Iris be my writing role model? Because she is, to borrow her metaphor, hiking ahead of me on that rocky path called publication. She started years ago, creating her own press to co-publish Hands At Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands, with photographer Summer Moon Scriver.

Then last year she published Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community–which is just what it sounds like, only more mouth-watering.

But all the while, Iris was working on that memoir. Crafting and drafting, re-crafting, re-drafting; pitching, pitching, pitching; writing and submitting short pieces to increase her visibility; keeping her chin up through inevitable rejections…until one day…

You go, girl.

I am still bummed to have missed Iris’s launch party because of some silly plane tickets to Ireland. But now that I’ve heard about it, I’m totally planning to follow in her footsteps at my own launch party in November.

(Not sure who took this photo…but Iris will tell me.)

Iris introduced by her own writing mentor, Ana Maria Spagna? How ’bout Gretchen Wing, introduced by Iris Graville? 

I better ask her, huh?