Saturday, July 26, 2014

Inspiration is Everywhere You Let it Be

Taking your kids to a theme park is part of the parental hazing process -- a necessary rite of passage. Which is why this week, my family drove to Carlsbad, California  to see Legoland.

For kids, this is mecca. That is all.

The kiddoes were over-the-moon happy. They cruised around the park, dipping into the millions of Lego stations to build or play, riding rides, and singing "Everything is Awesome" a lot. A WHOLE lot. And it was fun - in its own special way.  I really truly do love to do things that make my children happy. And spend time together.

The thing is, I'm not a huge fan of theme parks -- they're noisy, smelly, overwhelming. Yuck.

It's the classic irony that as you eddy about from one ride or game to another, carried along by the sea of sweating humanity, much of what you hear and see is crying children. And parents hissing terse admonitions: "We came here to have fun!"

Moment of honesty: I said it once too. *Winces in shame*.

So of course this is the last place I would have expected to wheel right up into a moment of inspiration. Because I had thoroughly forgotten that inspiration is everywhere you let it be.

But behold: Rodin's Thinker - made entirely of Legoes:

Tens of thousands of Legoes superglued (Kra-gl-ed, for anyone who's seen the movie). A work of art lovingly rendered and placed in a central location. Where you couldn't miss it, even if you didn't know what it was.

What's inspiring about a Lego Thinker? The example he sets. You can create beauty out of anything -- even thousands of small pieces of knobby plastic. Which is what my brain feels like most days.

Another moment of revelation -- the beach.

I had forgotten how much I love the ocean. We've been in arid Arizona for 18 months now, and the memory of the breeze, the crash, and the smell have been stunned into submission by the mountains and cacti.

But when we finished with Legoland, we went to the beach ...


While my daughter happily played in the sand and my son and husband romped in the waves. I zoned.

I mean, ZONED. I only got about 5 minutes of that, but it was enough.

Inspiration is everywhere you let it be. The sunshine smell of hot sand, the salt-sweet wind. It doesn't have to come accompanied by a middle-of-the-night dream (although sometimes that's fun) and it often doesn't come on call.

But it can come when you look -- I mean really look, and NOTICE THINGS -- all around you. And when  you don't preordain. As in, "Today I will come up with a brand new, amazing plot idea." (Imagine me saying that in a game-show voice).

More like, "Oh, look. It's Rodin's Thinker. Made out of Legoes." (Imagine me saying that in a Reese Witherspoon You've-got-a-baby-in-a-bar voice).

And then, "Oh, wow. It's the Thinker. Made of Legoes. That's totally cool." That one I said in my own voice.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Final Post On Why I Write MG

Why do I write MG - and why is my latest work for boys?

The answer is right under my nose and under my feet all the time. He's a creature in perpetual motion, knocking over everything and creating whirlpools of energy in his wake.

My little boy.

Gratuitous picture of my first born. Old picture, but yah, he's still that awesome. And he's a committed, enthusiastic reader. Reading is the one activity for which he is completely still.

I am grateful every day for that - yes, the stillness, but also and mostly, the reading. I do all I can to encourage him. Like that book club he and I started - which, by way, is going like gangbusters.

GANGBUSTERS, I say, and I am beyond thrilled that at least for these young boys, reading is an activity of choice and pleasure, one they look forward to, can truly engage in, and will share with their friends.

That's not true for many boys though, and this is no surprise. Statistics continue to show us that girls outpace boys in reading skills and engagement.  Most schools have a guideline for young readers - 20 minutes a day. But not everyone follows it - and it's mostly the boys who are falling short.

I write MG for boys because I have a Big Dream: to write 1 or 20 of the books that will make boys stay up late and read under the covers with a flashlight and bely the scary literacy stats.

This Big Dream began to crystallize back when when Nicholas began reading chapter books (at age 5) and we discovered Magic Tree House and Geronimo Stilton and so many other fun series for young readers. But when we needed some variety and trolled the library for new books, I saw the deficit: not enough cool boy characters. We devoured these:

And other classics, like this:

My son got to discover the plethora of great stuff out there, both classics and new. But as he discovered the greatness, I discovered something else. It seemed to me there were so many more great series and stand-alones with girl protagonists.

So, BIG yay for my daughter, but what about my son?

Ok, here's the part where I state the obvious lest I be accused of backward, Neanderthal, anti feminist thinking:

I AM NOT SUGGESTING gender must match the reader. How boring would that be. Plus, we all know the whole point of reading is to get excited about and explore people and ideas you don't get to see in your own world.That's why it's so amazingly wonderfully transportive - we as writers know that as well as we know how to blink our eyes. It's an instinctive knowledge.

But. Also.

Part of the draw of reading is seeing yourself in a book. It feels great and empowering when you read about someone else who feels and acts like you do, - you're not alone! And then it gets even better because here's that person like you but also not - who has crazy, exciting adventures that are so much fun to read, you'll spend a whole afternoon inside even though it's a beautiful day outside.

So we need more books for boys in general. But it doesn't stop there. #WeNeedDiverseBooks because so many of the boys who aren't engaged with books also aren't white and middle class in spite of what's on the shelves. The boys having the great adventures also need to be black or mixed or Latino or Asian or Native American. My son doesn't look mixed, but he is - and I clearly am - so when he looks for his family in a book, he rarely finds it.

I want to write the books that engage him and his friends and ALSO reflect his world and his life.

We need more Carter Kanes.

I love the other boy heroes out there -- Percy Jackson - yay! Alex Rider - cool! The Origami Yoda crowd - Hilarious! Toothless and Hiccup - also Hilarious! Plus, duh, there's Harry Potter.

But we need  more. We need to re-engage our boys and we need to bring them all into the tent, not just the white middle-class ones.

What do you think?