Be an English Major

Fellow Candlewick YA writer and one of my favorite 2014 debut authors, Sarah Combs, recently sent me this article about why English majors matter. Needless to say, my heart swelled with bookish pride. For example:

“The English major is, first of all, a reader. She’s got a book pup-tented in front of her nose many hours a day; her Kindle glows softly late into the night. But there are readers and there are readers. There are people who read to anesthetize themselves—they read to induce a vivid, continuous, and risk-free daydream. They read for the same reason that people grab a glass of chardonnay—to put a light buzz on. The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough. He reads not to see the world through the eyes of other people but effectively to become other people. What is it like to be John Milton, Jane Austen, Chinua Achebe? What is it like to be them at their best, at the top of their games?

English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense—more alive with meaning than you had thought.”

The whole article is fantastic. Edmundson defends not only the act of reading, as above, but also the act of writing and how deft handling of language allows us to “not merely to represent the world but to interpret it.” Isn’t every other major or career made better by the ability to represent and interpret the world and its ideas? Definitely click through to read the rest.

I’m a former English major and, even though people often make jokes about how unemployable we are and how useless it is to “sit around and read,” I can think of nothing more valuable than understanding language and being sensitive to the human experience. My English major certainly helped me get jobs (with health benefits!) and has made me a more thoughtful person overall.

Also, I gave a little cheer when I saw that the article writer was, in fact, Mark Edmundson, professor at the University of Virginia, my beloved alma mater. (Woohoo, English department!)

Thanks again to Sarah for sharing such an inspiring article! (And guys, you are totally going to want to read her book, Breakfast Served Anytime when it comes out next spring.)

Billy Murray, Coming to Your Next Poetry Reading

When you think “poetry,” you don’t necessarily think of Bill Murray. (Okay, maybe you do, but it’s probably because of the innate poetry in Ghostbusters.) But Murray can pull of a surprisingly good poetry reading. Here, at the 16th Annual Poets House Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge, he reads Billy Collins’ poem, “Forgetfulness”:

I’ve seen Collins at a couple of readings and Murray really hits that Collins vibe–humorous at first, with that great thoughtful turn at the end.

Click through to see Bill Murray tackle more poetry readings.

(via Tweetspeak Poetry)

Friday Fifteen

It’s the end of July and a surprisingly chilly Friday here. (And by chilly, I mean not 93 degrees and 100% humidity.) Let’s get cozy with this week’s fifteen-word (or fewer) book reviews:

1. Belles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
More about the Gilbreth family, minus Dad. Same big family/turn-of-the-century fun.

2. The Ocean World of Jacques Costeau: Oasis in Space (Vol. 1) by Jacques Costeau
The first of Costeau’s classic series. Probably the reason I love giant sea creatures.

3. Guarding the Moon: A Mother’s First Year by Francesca Lia Block
First time I learned about things like how physically rough breast feeding can be. Yay?

4. Clifford’s Family by Norman Bridwell
Clifford knows what it’s like to be the “weird” one in your family.

5. The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
I love stories about prodigies, and Zarr’s look at what’s beautiful is fantastic.

Links Galore

A few links to round out the week:

Happy 116th Birthday, Amelia Earhart!

Happy birthday to my favorite female pilot, Amelia Earhart! She was born on July 24, 1897, making this the 116th anniversary of her birth.

Although Earhart herself doesn’t appear in The Chance You Won’t Return, she’s an important figure in the novel. I’ve mentioned before that I first got the idea for the book when the line “My mother thinks she’s Amelia Earhart” popped into my head. As I started writing, I found that Earhart was really the perfect historical figure to have permeating the novel. She was bold and smart and talented and pushed major boundaries for women. But she was also very much a public figure in that she had a carefully crafted public persona, much like a celebrity today would have. That, along with her disappearance, makes her such an enigmatic figure and one we always want to know better. In the same way, much of The Chance You Won’t Return is about the secrets we carry and how we function in our public and private lives.

More about the book and Amelia to come, but in the meantime, make sure to check out these fun Amelia Earhart links:

(image via Boston Public Library)

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday from Savannah! To kick of a Southern retreat weekend, let’s check out some fifteen-word (or fewer) reviews of Southern stories.

1. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Touching story about the isolation we all feel; loved reading it with ASL studies.

2. Sounder by William H. Armstrong
Early into the book, the dog gets shot. Things go downhill from there. Sad stuff.

3. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
I remember the act of reading this and the cover well, just not the story.

4. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Depression-era black family confronts racism; not as crushing as Sounder. School scenes stuck with me.

5. Georgia Music by Helen V. Griffith
Girl visits grandfather, they bond over “Georgia music.” Next summer he has dementia, I cry.

Getting Psyched for the Fourteenery Retreat

This weekend marks the first-ever Fourteenery retreat, in which thirteen of our fourteen debut 2014 authors descend on Savannah, GA for a few days of writing, bonding, cooking, nail polish, wine, and lots of Southern gothic fun. Which of course means I need to share my feelings and expectations of the experience in gif form:

What I wish packing were like:

What packing is actually like:

Getting off the plane and meeting everyone for the shuttle to the retreat house:

When I see everyone for the first time:

When someone says something hilarious (aka every five seconds):

Sharing industry gossip:

Writing time:

Stressing over book stuff:

Any “bad decisions” made:

When I realize that we have to go home eventually:

When I remember that we get to plan more awesome stuff for 2014:

Make sure to follow along on Twitter (#svrt) and Tumblr for all the real-time retreat fun.

Links Galore

Lots of mid-week link goodness:

New Title Reveal!

One of the first things I learned about being a debut author was “Don’t get attached to your title.” Even if it sounds perfect to you, it’s still part of the book’s editorial journey and, just like particular scenes or characters, is very likely to change*.

That change was part of my book’s journey. I’m happy to announce my brand new title…

…dramatic pause…

…suspense…

…drum roll…

THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN

Tada!

I’m feeling really good about the new title, and I think it suggests a lot of the themes/emotions from the book–loss and hope and grief and uncertainty and searching. I really liked Queen of the Air, but ultimately I think The Chance You Won’t Return hits the vibe of the book way more, and feels more like YA.

With any luck, that means lots more reveals to come. (Covers! Blurbs! More kittens!) Major thanks to my wonderful editor and agent for working through the new title process with me; you guys are the best!

*Check out where some classic titles came from; one famous book was originally called Something That Happened.

Poetry for Office Survival

It’s mid-July. A lot of people are on vacation. Going to work can feel like you’re in a barren wasteland of tumbleweeds. But this Wednesday, you don’t have to battle it out alone with the freezing office AC–it’s Take Your Poet to Work Day! Cut out a picture of your favorite poet, decorate him/her, attach it to a popsicle stick, and take your poet-puppet to work.

My work poet has to be T.S. Eliot:

Whenever I’m shuffling on public transportation with a lot of other commuters, I think about The Waste Land. Particularly:

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

If anyone understands how necessary that extra cup of coffee is, it’s Eliot. My suggestions for Take Your Poet to Work Day activities:

  • Write haiku about your favorite office supplies.
  • Print out sonnets and put them in random mailboxes.
  • Instead of listening to streaming radio, crank up your favorite poetry reading recordings.
  • Take meeting notes in iambic pentameter.
  • Have fun with your punctuation, ala e.e. cummings.

Share your ideas for Take Your Poet to Work Day in the comments.

(H/T bookshelves of doom)