From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Holy cow!  Less than a week to go now before National Novel Writing Month begins and I feel woefully unprepared.  I have no idea what plot, characters, or setting I'll be using for my novel.  And the time...where am I going to find the time to do this?  This time of year, I can barely write 1,600 words a month, let alone 1,600 words a day.  Between work and kids, writing 50,000 words in November will be a miracle.

This is just my second attempt at NaNoWriMo.  Last year, I wrote less than 15,000 words.  Pitiful, yes?  This year, I'd like to better prepare myself for the challenge.  Even if I don't hit the 50,000 word mark, I'd like to make a respectable showing this year.  So, here's my To Do list that will get me off to a good start:

1.  Have a basic plot outline.
2.  Prepare a brief biographical sketch for each of my main characters.
3.  Bribe my husband so that he doesn't kill me for dumping the kids on him the entire month of November. 
4.  After the time changes this weekend - we "fall back," right? - I'm going to keep getting up at my usual time, foregoing the extra hour of sleep, to write.  So, I usually get up at 6:00, but I'll set my alarm for 5:00 and my body will still think it's 6:00 because of the time change.  Am I making sense?
5.  As much as I hate staying in the office over my lunch break, I will, just so I can write.
6.  I will not permit myself to edit as I go along, like I usually do.  That pesky self-editing is what keeps me working on the same four chapters I wrote for NaNo last year without progressing any further.
7.  I'm clearing a spot at home to write where there is no TV and no phone. 
8.  I will not log onto the internet during a writing session.
9.  If the husband bribery works (see number 3), I will attend the Saturday write-in sessions my writers group is hosting.
10.  Apologize to family and friends in advance for my lack of time to chat, socialize, go out, etc.  (Who am I kidding. I live a really boring life as it is.)

If you have never given NaNoWriMo a try, you should.  Check it out at 

Good luck to all!  I'll see you on the other side of November...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Winner of SPARKS

J to the ILL

Winner of SPARKS by Laura Bickle

Thanks to everyone who hung out with us this week and a BIG thanks to those who commented. To our new followers - WELCOME! We hope everyone will come back and check us again soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Laura Bickle - Guest Blogger

Today at Fiction Flurry, Urban Fantasy author Laura Bickle talks about her experience with an annual November tradition. Nope, it's not Thanksgiving.  We'll let Laura tell you more about it.

But first, we want to say a big THANK YOU to Laura for hanging out with the Fiction Flurry crew this week. We've had a lot of fun working with Laura and hope she'll come back again soon - maybe when her new book ROGUE ORACLE is released?  What do you say, Laura? 

Followers, if you want Laura to return, please make her feel welcome by commenting generously.  As an added bonus, anyone who comments (on any of Laura's posts this week) will TRIPLE their chances of winning Laura's newest book, SPARKS. Laura is giving away an autographed copy of SPARKS to one lucky winner this week.  See the Contest Tuesday post for additional details. (and if you missed it, check out Laura's interview here.)

So now, the moment you've all been waiting for....Laura, the blog is yours.

Why I Love NaNoWriMo

The blank page is the most intimidating force in the universe to me.

It says nothing, and it's likely to say nothing. I fight against all that white space, trying to fill it, wondering how a ream of blank paper becomes a book. I used to take years to finish a book. I'd pick it up, put it down. I'd ignore it for weeks or months. I'd lose my place, go back, get sucked into editing. I'd wander into internet research, never to return. I had no deadline, nothing external to make me finish.

A friend in my writer's group mentioned National Novel Writing Month. I wrinkled my forehead and asked her:

"What's that?"

"It's an online challenge to write fifty thousand words in a month."

"No kidding?"

That sounded like a complete impossibility. After all, it took me YEARS to finish a book. How could anyone possibly do fifty thousand words in A MONTH? In a month, with a full-time job and other commitments?

"Sure. You should try it."

"Um. Okay."

I was doubtful. Really skeptical.

But I gave it a shot.

And I learned more in that crazy month than I did in years of plinking around with the same book. Laundry piled up. Sleep was at a premium. But I learned the most important secrets to writing a novel that contributed to me becoming a published writer:
  •  Integrating writing into my daily life. NaNoWriMo requires that one keep a pace of around 1600 words a day. It became easier and easier for me to fold that into my life, to keep the momentum going.
  • Suspending the dreaded inner editor. My inner editor can become quite vicious. NaNoWriMo allows me to hold her at bay for weeks, allowing me to get the skeleton of a story down on the page.  
  • NaNo taught me to finish. Completing a manuscript is the most important thing that a writer can do to further her career. And doing it again. And again.
Dark OracleMy 2008 NaNoWriMo novel, DARK ORACLE (under my Alayna Williams pseudonym), was published in June 2010 by Pocket Books. My 2009 NaNoWriMo book, ROGUE ORACLE, will be published in March 2011.

I use the skills I learned in NaNoWriMo in all the novels I write. I've learned to write quickly, to write daily, and to complete a story over and over. At the end of NaNoWriMo, I certainly don't have a complete eighty thousand word manuscript. But I have the skeleton of a book, something that I can build upon.

And I'm no longer facing the terror of the blank page. I know that it won't be blank for long. Within a few weeks, I'll be on my way to something wonderful.

Well said, Laura! For more information on Laura and her books, check out her website.

So tell us, are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo?  Have you participated in the past? We would love to hear about your experiences.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Contest Tuesday - Win a copy of SPARKS by Laura Bickle

Urban Fantasy author Laura Bickle joins us again today. Her latest release, SPARKS, is the perfect spooky read for this time of year. Here's a synopsis:

SparksWITHOUT A TRACE. Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern, who holds down a day job as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department--while working 24/7 to exterminate malicious spirits plaguing a city plagued by unemployment and despair. Along with her inseparable salamander familiar, Sparky, Anya has seen, and even survived, all manner of fiery hell--but her newest case sparks suspicions of a bizarre phenomenon that no one but her eccentric team of ghost hunters might believe: spontaneous human combustion.

After fire consumes the home of elderly Jasper Bernard, Anya is stunned to discover his remains-- or, more precisely, the lack of them; even the fiercest fires leave some trace of their victims--and she is sure this was no naturally-occurring blaze. Soon she's unearthed a connection to a celebrity psychic who preys on Detroit's poor, promising miracles for money. But Hope Solomon wants more--she's collecting spirits, and in a frantic race against time, Anya will face down an evil adversary who threatens her fragile relationship with her lover, her beloved Sparky's freshly-hatched newts, and the wandering souls of the entire city.

So here's the deal. Laura is giving away an autographed copy of SPARKS to one lucky Fiction Flurry follower. If you're not a follower, what are you waiting for? All followers get one chance to win. HOWEVER, if you comment on any of Laura's posts this week (Monday Interview, Contest Tuesday, Thursday Guest Blog), you will receive THREE chances to win.

That's right followers - anyone who comments will TRIPLE their chances of winning Laura's new book, SPARKS.

We love our followers! Complete rules and guidelines for claiming your prize are in the sidebar.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Interview with Urban Fantasy author Laura Bickle

Urban Fantasy author Laura Bickle is with us this week at Fiction Flurry. Laura has a new book out, SPARKS so we are lucky to have her. Today we sit down with Laura to talk about her background and how she got started writing. Tomorrow we’ll have a special giveaway featuring one of her books and later this week Laura will take center stage with a blog post of her own.

Laura thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations on the new book!
Thanks so much! I really appreciate you having me.

So, tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from?
I live in the Midwestern US with my husband/chief muse, where we're owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. My background is in Criminology and Library Science. I've worked in and around criminal justice for the last ten years, which has really helped me with the criminal investigation aspects of my books.

SparksI write urban fantasy novels as Laura Bickle and as Alayna Williams. This past year has been busy. EMBERS and SPARKS were released in April and September. DARK ORACLE was released under my Alayna Williams pseudonym this June, and will be followed by ROGUE ORACLE in March, 2011.

Wow, you have been busy! When and why did you begin writing?
I've always been writing, since I was old enough to hold a crayon. When I was a kid, I used to write stories from the perspectives of the family pets. The dachshunds and the cats had pretty exciting adventures in the woods, chasing critters and climbing trees. The fish...not so much.

Poor fish! What inspired you to write your first book?
I probably completed my first book ten years ago. It's still in a shoebox. The road to publication is really long.

EmbersMy first published book, EMBERS, was inspired by a theme that pretty much built itself. By day, Anya investigates suspicious fires as an arson investigator in Detroit. By night, she works as part of an eccentric group of ghost hunters. Anya's the rarest type of spiritual medium - a Lantern. Where other mediums allow spirits to use their hands and voices to communicate, Anya incinerates malicious ghosts.

I'd established a theme centering around flame....and decided to give Anya a fire salamander as a companion. Salamanders haven't gotten much press since Paracelsus' time. They are the elemental avatars of fire. Our ancestors assumed that they were the spirit of fire, as they were often seen crawling out of logs tossed into hearth blazes. The salamander was probably annoyed to have his peaceful woodland home turned to tinder, and was making a fleet-footed escape. But alchemists and sorcerers made the link between salamanders and flames, and the association has endured.

So...for me, inspiration is pretty much following a theme down a rabbit hole.

It seems like you don't have any problems finding inspiration at all. So I have to ask, do you ever experience writer's block? If so, how do you get through it?
All the time. I think that the worst thing that I can do is to give into it. There's really no good solution except powering through it with the "butt in chair" approach.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I do a lot of research. I keep files of clippings about arson investigation, spontaneous human combustion, ghosts, Tarot cards…I’m sure that my files greatly resemble Fox Mulder’s from the X-Files. I’m doing research before and throughout the writing of the book. I often arrive at a point where I need to know something new for a plot detail. Everything I’m reading when I’m writing a book is research for that project – sort of a total immersion. I find that I get the best ideas that way.

Dark OracleWhen I’m working on the ORACLE series (as Alayna Williams), I write with a deck of Tarot cards at hand to try out a spread or generate ideas. It’s a really fun way to work.

Probably the hardest research I did was research on Chernobyl for ROGUE ORACLE. That kept me up at night, everything from eyewitness accounts to pictures. Really disturbing stuff

Wow. That sounds like pretty heavy research.

So let’s switch gears for a moment. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It's something I've always done, but never really thought much about. I've always had at least one project going on.

What book(s) have influenced your life most?
When I was a child, I read Robin McKinley's HERO AND THE CROWN and BLUE SWORD. I'd never read any fantasy before with strong female heroines, and I was instantly in love with the genre.

What book(s) are you reading now?
I'm reading Ann Aguirre's HELLFIRE. Also THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO ALCHEMY. I love mixing pleasure reading up with research.

Is there someone you consider a mentor?
I've had a lot of help and encouragement from fabulous authors like Linda Robertson, Ann Aguirre, and Jeri Smith-Ready. But my favorite mentor would be my editor, Paula Guran. She really teaches as she works. I've learned so much about what it takes to make a book through the four books she's edited for me.

What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author?
I'd be a veterinarian. Maybe for some mythical beasts, like dragons. :)

And to finish up, what has surprised you the most about the publishing industry?
That it isn't over once the contract is signed. There's so much to do after the fact...copy edits, promo, worrying about can get to be overwhelming.

Do you think your experience is typical in the publishing industry?
Probably not. My first four books were sold directly to the publisher without an agent. I only recently acquired one, and am very excited to begin to work on new projects and ideas.

Any words of advice on how to get published?
Know how what you're writing fits the market. Study submission guidelines carefully - there really is no leeway. Only submit if your manuscript meets those requirements.

Be patient, persistent, and flexible. Once you've sent a manuscript off, be working on the next. This may not be the book that is your big break, but it may be the next one. Keep pushing your darlings out of the nest. One of them will fly someday.

Go to local writer’s conventions and join organizations that are involved with your type of writing, like RWA and SFWA. Go to conventions and meet other writers, editors, and agents. Though it's difficult for introverted writers like, network, network.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
The best advice I can give is to finish. Whatever you’re working on, push through to the end. And do it again. And again.

To that end, I strongly recommend participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The process challenges you to write 50,000 words in November. That was really a breakthrough in my own writing process, in learning what was possible. Both DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE are NaNoWriMo books.

Laura thanks so much for your time. For all of our as-yet unpublished authors out there, your story is very inspiring because it proves that there is not just one way to get published. Great job!

Readers, if you want more info on Laura or her books, check out her websites  and  Plus, we’re not done with her yet. Laura will be back on Thursday with a guest post on the upcoming NaNoWriMo that you won’t want to miss. Best of all, Laura has a great giveaway for the Fiction Flurry followers, so be sure to check back with us tomorrow for Contest Tuesday.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview With Chuck Sambuchino (Part Two)

Do you know Chuck?

You should!  Chuck Sambuchino is the editor of Guide to Literary Agents (GLA).  In today's agent-driven marketplace, this is an absolutely indispensable tool in the writer's arsenal.  GLA has been updated for 2011, and you can find this latest version with one click.

Today we are talking with Chuck about the Guide to Literary Agents, his journey to becoming a published author and his thoughts for all the rest of us following him down that dusty road.  You can also check out the first part of the interview here.

What was the hardest part of completing your first book, Guide to Literary Agents (GLA)?

It took a lot of time to figure out how to update such a big book like that. Plus, when I first took over the book, I quickly discovered that there were many literary agencies in existence that were not in our database. So I aimed to get 50 new ones in my first edition of the book. I ended up adding something insane like 120.

Does it get easier with the second book? Third?

Oh yeah. Writing gets easier every year. You get better and learn quicker. You get more work—get paid better. Relationships you develop pay off later. It gets easier, but you have to be willing to put in at least two tough years.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Focusing on one project and finishing it. I enjoy delving into an article or story and doing the first draft—creating something exciting and new. I do not enjoy the whole process of polishing and revising and rewriting. To me, that is a necessary evil that I just have to forge through.

Where do you get your ideas? And more specifically, I would especially love to hear the story behind your new book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.  How on earth did you come up with the idea for that?

It was a rainy weekend afternoon in early 2009 and I was thinking about The Full Monty (the 1997 film). In it, there is a scene with a garden gnome. I started to think how creepy gnomes were, and it occurred to me that if garden gnomes touched a nerve with me like that, surely they would touch a nerve with others. And that was how the proposal came to be. I pitched the idea to a bunch of friends and no one thought it was funny. Thank God, my agent (Sorche Fairbank) saw the potential and helped me.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Geez Louise—how much time do you have? My blog ( is a huge blog on publishing & writing that has more than 1,000 posts on it. It talks about queries, synopses, fiction, agents, submissions, platform, new agents—just about everything. Plus, I talk on writing and agents all the time at writers conferences across the country. Come out and meet me, or at least head to a local one in your area.

Any words to our readers on how to get published?

Educate yourself on how the publishing process and industry works. Write a lot. Read a lot. Attend writers conferences. Join writers groups. (And when you need an agent, consider the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents!)

What surprises you the most about the publishing industry as it stands today?

How slow everything works. Answers take weeks or months. Books take years to come to fruition. That’s the benefit of working on multiple projects at the same time—you are always busy with something, so the “slowness” doesn’t get to you.

What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author? I understand you play guitar in a cover band. Are you still doing that? Where can we see you strut your stuff?

We play all around Cincinnati. You know—just last night—I was at a bar with my wife and friends, and a cover band was playing. So I did exactly what you think I’d do: I told the band it was my birthday (possibly untrue) and asked if I could play a song. They said yes and it was a bunch of fun. To answer your original question, there’s nothing I want to do more than writing and couldn’t imagine a full-time job doing anything else.

What are your current projects (writing or otherwise)?

Working on a proposal for my second humor book. Working on a screenplay with my buddy at work. And I was just named the new editor of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market for the 2012 edition. So that is an important challenge for me in the coming months, to say the least.  (Click here for the 2011 edition.)

Do you have any final thoughts to share?

No, I’ve blabbed enough. A big “thanks” to Fiction Flurry for featuring my book.

Chuck Sambuchino ( is an editor and a writer. He works for Writer's Digest Books and edits two annual resources: GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. He is also a humor book writer, with his first book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, released in Sept. 2010.

Hey people!  Did you know that there are only 71 days until Christmas?  Yikes!  But I've got you covered!  You know those relatives on your list that are especially hard to shop for?  Chuck's new book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack is the perfect answer for everyone this year!  I mean, everyone likes to laugh; right?  And even better, you don't even have to leave your chair to get it.  Just click here


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interview With Chuck Sambuchino (Part One)

Chuck Sambuchino is a funny guy. He’s the kind of guy that you’d like to sit and have a beer with, or wish to have for a next door neighbor. If life were a sitcom, Chuck would be the best friend character – the one that, in the end, always gets all the laughs.

What makes me think this? Well, for one, I had the opportunity to interview Chuck for today’s Fiction Flurry post (part one today, part two to follow on Thursday). And secondly, I have read Sambuchino’s latest offering, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack. This is good stuff, people. If you have ever had a garden gnome, or know somebody who has, or even if your only experience with gnomes is that little Travelocity dude, then you need this book. Really. Protect yourselves, get the book, and exercise your right to laugh out loud!

Interview with Chuck Sambuchino (Part One):

I’d like to start with your background. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?

Grew up in Erie, PA and went to college at Xavier University in Cincinnati. I live in Cincinnati now with my wife and super-flabby dog, Graham, who enjoys contributing nothing to society all day.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

For as long as I can remember, I have loved telling stories to friends. If something happened with my buddies one night, the next day they would always ask me to tell the story—because I could tell it the best. I guess that was how it all started. In high school, I was writing fan fiction for myself—unaware that it was even called fan fiction.

What inspired you to write your first book?

My first book, technically, was the 2008 Guide to Literary Agents, and that was/is part of my full-time job at Writer’s Digest Books. Once you see your name on the spine of a book, it casts a spell on you. You want to write more. (You can find the 2011 version here.)

Did you just sit down one day and say “I’m going to write a book to be published?”

I’ve always wanted to write, but the type of writing was never an issue. In other words, I just want to write. I’ll write books, articles, plays, screenplays—whatever—it all is a joy.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I don’t know because I don’t really like to dissect my own style (if I even have a “style”), but I would say my writing is kind of sarcastic and dry, and also contains a bunch of pop culture references, even if some are very obscure.

Do you ever experience writer's block? If so, how do you get through it?

I explain my problems to friends at work (who are also editors). We kind of brainstorm how to get through an area. In return, I help them with their books if need be. That’s why it’s important to have writer friends you like and trust.

What were the challenges in bringing this new book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, to life?

Finding the right blend of humor and seriousness in what was going to be, essentially, a ridiculous, ridiculous survival parody. Also, I was responsible for providing all the garden gnomes that appear in the book’s many color photos. Gnomes aren’t cheap, so I ended up having to drive into a small town in Indiana where a man had a collection of 80 gnomes and was willing to lend us as many as we wanted for several months. He was a godsend.

Have you ever had to put a project away because you couldn’t write it?

Lots. A buddy and mine at my work have come up with 6 ideas for screenplays, but it was the sixth one before we could finish it beginning to end. An idea for a concept of a book or story or article is one thing. Actually filling in the 1,000 blanks in the middle is its own mini-nightmare. My first YA novel is something I had to stop writing—20,000 words in. I just realized the finished product would not be worth it. But all this is what makes writing so rewarding. The fact that it’s so hard is what makes it so sweet when success comes.

Have you ever hated something you wrote and why?

In my years writing, I have written plenty of magazine articles simply for money. For example, I’ve written about golf, Cessna jets, and the layout of new homes—all for a paycheck. I disliked every moment of those articles, but one thing I have learned over the years is that if you want to make a living as a writer, you will write some things for love and you will write some things for money—and that is OK. You need a healthy blend.

Please come back on Thursday for more with Chuck, when he will discuss a little about the Guide to Literary Agents, the publishing industry, and his advice to new writers.

Chuck Sambuchino (visit his blog here) is an editor and a writer. He works for Writer's Digest Books and edits two annual resources: GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. He is also a humor book writer, with his book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, released in Sept. 2010 from Ten Speed Press / Crown. His first book was writing-related: the third edition of FORMATTING AND SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

He is a produced playwright, with both original and commissioned works produced. His work has appeared in national and regional magazines, with recent articles in Watercolor Artist, Pennsylvania Magazine, The Pastel Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Romance Writers Report and New Mexico Magazine. During the past decade, more than 600 of his articles have appeared in print. Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary Representation ( is Chuck's literary agent. To read his blog, visit

Besides that, Chuck is a husband, cover band guitarist, chocolate chip cookie fiend, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Getting The Most Out Of Writer's Conferences

Recently, I've had the pleasure of attending the ACFW National conference in Indianapolis, IN. This was the third conference I've attended, and I must admit my most successful. Thinking back I can attribute this to focusing on three major areas.

Number One: Preparation. Prior to attending the conference I did my research. I checked the website on a regular basis to keep informed about what editors and agents would be attending. I also took the time to visit their websites and find out what they were looking for. I made photo copies of all of this information to keep it readily available at the conference.

Number Two: Writing down your goals for the conference. A few days before the conference I set aside a few minutes to think about what I wanted to get out of the conference. Top on my list was to improve my writing skills, do a little networking with writers further ahead on the journey, and make new writing friends. I found that when I wrote my goals down, I not only achieved them, but it helped me to relax.

Number Three: Look for opportunities. Not just for yourself, but for others. In one conversation with an editor, I found out that he was looking for a specific magazine article. Earlier that day I had a conversation with a woman who had just such an article. I passed this information on to the writer, and made a new friend in the process. If you tend to be on the shy side, the best question you can ask at a table full of people you don's know is, "What do you write?" Soon you'll find yourself relaxing, and enjoying the experience.

Writer's conferences are a great way to meet people and improve your writing. I feel they are an absolute necessity to take your writing to the next level.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guest Blogger - Angela Carlie

Give it up for our guest blog winner Angela Carlie. She has a great post today regarding the Young Adult genre. So without further ado, here's Angela...

Hello Fiction Flurry Peeps.

Writing YA fiction over the last couple of years has come natural to me, probably because I sometimes think I’m still a teenager. It may also have to do with the fact that I totally love the genre and try to gobble up all the YA books I can.

What makes published YA authors so in-tune with teens of this era? I don’t know. What I do know is, as writers for this genre, we need to appreciate our audience in order to speak on their level and without talking down.

We also need to be compassionate and hold our hearts and minds open to the struggles our audience faces. It’s a tough world out there. Many of the most important decisions we make in life happen in our teenage years. Some don’t survive. Lives are altered with a single taste of alcohol, one drag off a joint, one hit, one roll in the sack, one fight, one failed test. That’s all it takes sometimes, just one.

In my journey to present my stories for teens to the world, I’ve learned that living young today is drastically different than it was eighteen…eh…a few years ago. To be aware and make others aware of the issues teens live with, I’ve decided to interview them to find out what it is that they worry about, that haunts them, that makes them happy, and what makes them sad. I’ve tried to keep each interview authentic and real, meaning I’m not going to alter their words, grammar, or punctuation.

Most importantly, the interviews will be posted on my blog to be a resource for teens, too—a place for them to read about others their age struggling with the same situations or worse.

Some interviews are done via email and others, like this one, via chat. The interviewees are informed that they do not have to answer any questions they don’t feel comfortable answering and may end the interview at any time. They also know that these interviews will be posted on the blog. If the interviewee seems upset in anyway, the interview ends and we discuss getting help for him/her.

Today, we meet a 13 (almost 14) year old girl. I call her Denim because she is strong.

Me: What grade are you in?
DENIM: 8th grade and I love it.
Me: What do you like so far about the 8th grade?
DENIM: Seeing friends and I like some classes.
Me: What’s your favorite classes?
DENIM: Media
Me: What’s that?
DENIM: Where you take pictures of kids and interview kids for the school newspaper.
Me: Awesome! Do you write articles, too?
DENIM: yes I write articles! (: I love taking pictures most though
Me: That’s great to hear. Do you think you might go into photography when you are older?
DENIM: hmm. Im really not sure it’s a possibility but im not sure what im going to do when I get older yet.
Me: Fair enough. Do you have any major accomplishments that you are proud of and you’d like to chat about?
DENIM: like what kind?
Me: Anything. Have you had to overcome any obstacles in school or your life? Or maybe you won a contest or perhaps had to make a big decision. Maybe just passing math was an accomplishment! Haha
DENIM: i was voted most creative writer in the class. And ive been on the honor roll.
Me: I LOVE both those accomplishments!  How were you judged about the writing? Did you write a story?
DENIM: yeah. We got judged by ever essay/story we wrote in 7th grade.
Me: Nice. Congratulations.
DENIM: thank you
Me: Do you participate in any extra-curricular activities? Sports, drama, music, dance or anything else?
DENIM: Choir in 6th grade. & ive done soccer for 4 years.
Me: Do you plan on continuing with any of those?
DENIM: yeah I love soccer. But I was late for sign ups this year
Me: Are you participating in anything this year?
DENIM: I don’t know yet
Me: What kind of issues are you most worried about right now? In school or home.
DENIM: At school not really anything. At home is pretty goot too. But im hoping to get a picture of my brother and sister.
Me: So, you don’t worry about anything?
DENIM: well I worry im not going to get a visit with my biological mom.
Me: What do you mean about by a picture of your brother and sister?
Me: That’s a big worry. Do you get to visit her often?
DENIM: they don’t live with me. they live with her
DENIM: And no. I don’t
Me: I’m sorry. How long have you been apart from them?
DENIM: all my life I was adopted. But my biological mom lives in (edited out name of town—same town as Denim). She got to keep her 2 children the rest are adopted
Me: How many brothers and sisters do you have? How old were you when you were adopted?
DENIM: biologically? And (edited out age—when she was a baby)
Me: Both.
DENIM: well my brothers and sister who got adopted to other families a had 4.
And I have on brother now
Me: So you have six total biological siblings and one sibling from your adopted family?
Me: May I ask why your mother had to give you up for adoption?
DENIM: yes. And drug problems
Me: Have you known your mother your entire life or did she just recently come back into your life?
DENIM: I haven’t really known her that much but ive seen her around town and talked to her. She sends me letters.
Me: Is she off drugs now?
DENIM: she was clean for about a year but I recently heard she is back on drugs.
Me: I’m sorry. I’m glad you live in a safe environment now, away from drug use.
DENIM: Yeah. Thank you.
Me: Do you worry about the two siblings that still live with her? That must be hard.
DENIM: Yes. I heard that they have drug users living with them like a couple people.
Me: What do your adoptive parents think about you keeping in contact with her?
DENIM: They don’t want me to that much until she is clean. And off drugs
Me: I can understand. Do you know anyone else who has used drugs?
DENIM: yeah I know people that smoke weed
Me: What do you plan on doing if any of your friends ask you to try it?
DENIM: JUST SAY NO! (: hah aim not getting pulled into that stuff.
Me: That’s GREAT!
Me: Do you want to talk to about your cousin?
DENIM: what one
Me: The one with cancer.
DENIM: okay.
Me: Were you very close to him?
DENIM: not super close but pretty close.
Me: Was he sick for very long?
DENIM: yeah he was fighting cancer for 3 years
DENIM: it was all over
Me: I bet that was tough. How old was he?
DENIM: yeah. And in his late 30s. I think 38. Im not sure
Me: I’m sorry. How are you doing with it? Are you okay?
DENIM: yeah im okay. I don’t know why but I never seam to be sad and cry when someone dies. He wasn’t happy with the cancer.
Me: That’s a very mature response. Have you know many people who have died?
DENIM: Not really by Grandma did a few years ago.
Me: Do you have someone you can talk with about it if you need to?
DENIM: yeah.
(skipping through several questions/comments)
Me: So now, some important questions…lol
DENIM: haha
Me: Do you read many books?
DENIM: not that much there are a few books I love.
Me: Which ones?
DENIM: Small Steps. The Outsider
Me: Nice. What makes a good book?
DENIM: im reading now…Charlie St. Cloud
Hmm…a good topic
Me: I’m glad to hear you’re reading. What kind of topics do you like to read about?
DENIM: mystery books
Me: Cool beans
DENIM: haha yeah!
Me: What’s your favorite movie? Favorite food?
DENIM: Charlie St. Cloud. Haha I recently watched it. When it came out. I love Italian food!
Me: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll have to check it out. I love pasta!
Me: If you could be an object or animal, what would it be and why?
DENIM: probably a dolphin! Hah they r so funny and I love the water
Me: Dolphins are very smart and peaceful creatures, too.
Thank you, Denim. You are a very strong girl and I wish you all the best in life.

Thank you, too, Fiction Flurry for allowing me to be a guest blogger. You Rock!

For all you Fiction Flurry peeps out there, you may check out more interviews as they are posted on my blog:

Peace out!

Thanks, Angela for this informative post on the YA perspective. Tell us, Flurriers, what do you want to know about YA fiction?

Friday, October 1, 2010

The First Amendment and Banned Books

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The First Amendment seems pretty straight forward at first glance, doesn't it?  With simple and elegant language, who could get confused?  Who am I kidding...we can't seem to agree on much of anything in this country.  Unfortunately, there are volumes of case law on the topic of free speech alone, not to mention the topics of freedom of religion, of the press, of peaceable assembly, and dissent, all of which are encompassed in the First Amendment.

According to the American Library Association, a book challenge is "an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others."

The ALA has a thorough summarization of seminal legal cases involving the First Amendment.  Interestingly, some of them involve conflicts between various guaranteed assurances within the amendment itself.  For example, in the case below, the government's assurance that the state would not establish or sponsor a religion was used as the basis for a challenge to the King James version of the Bible in a school library:

Evans v. Selma Union High School District of Fresno County, 222 P. 801 (Ca. 1924)

The California State Supreme Court held that the King James version of the Bible was not a "publication of a sectarian, partisan, or denominational character" that a State statute required a public high school library to exclude from its collections. The "fact that the King James version is commonly used by Protestant Churches and not by Catholics" does not "make its character sectarian," the court stated. "The mere act of purchasing a book to be added to the school library does not carry with it any implication of the adoption of the theory or dogma contained therein, or any approval of the book itself, except as a work of literature fit to be included in a reference library."

In a more recent case, the Harry Potter books survived attack:
Counts v. Cedarville School District, 295 F.Supp.2d 996 (W.D. Ark. 2003)

The school board of the Cedarville, Arkansas school district voted to restrict students' access to the Harry Potter books, on the grounds that the books promoted disobedience and disrespect for authority and dealt with witchcraft and the occult. As a result of the vote, students in the Cedarville school district were required to obtain a signed permission slip from their parents or guardians before they would be allowed to borrow any of the Harry Potter books from school libraries. The District Court overturned the Board's decision and ordered the books returned to unrestricted circulation, on the grounds that the restrictions violated students' First Amendment right to read and receive information. In so doing, the Court noted that while the Board necessarily performed highly discretionary functions related to the operation of the schools, it was still bound by the Bill of Rights and could not abridge students' First Amendment right to read a book on the basis of an undifferentiated fear of disturbance or because the Board disagreed with the ideas contained in the book.

Courts have made a distinction between school libraries and public libraries, giving educators some latitude in determining the educational value of books they bring into students' curriculum.  However, schools cannot remove a book because they simply don't agree with the ideas put forth in the book.  An important case for school libraries:
Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 73 L.Ed.2d 435 (1982)

In 1975, three school board members sought the removal of several books determined objectionable by a politically conservative organization. The following February, the board gave an "unofficial direction" that the books be removed from the school libraries, so that board members could read them. When the board action attracted press attention, the board described the books as "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy." The nine books that were the subject of the lawsuit were Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris; Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas; Best Short Stories of Negro Writers edited by Langston Hughes; Go Ask Alice; Laughing Boy by Oliver LaFarge; Black Boy by Richard Wright; A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich by Alice Childress; and Soul on Ice by Eldrige Cleaver.
The board appointed a review committee that recommended that five of the books be returned to the shelves, two be placed on restricted shelves, and two be removed from the library. The full board voted to remove all but one book.

After years of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (5-4) the students' challenge to the board's action. The Court held that school boards do not have unrestricted authority to select library books and that the First Amendment is implicated when books are removed arbitrarily. Justice Brennan declared in the plurality opinion: "Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

Though court challenges appear to be more common for school libraries, public libraries are far from immune:
Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas, 121 F. Supp. 2d 530 (N.D. Texas, 2000)

City residents who were members of a church sought removal of two books, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy's Roommate, because they disapproved of the books' depiction of homosexuality. The City of Wichita Falls City Council voted to restrict access to the books if 300 persons signed a petition asking for the restriction. A separate group of citizens filed suit after the books were removed from the children's section and placed on a locked shelf in the adult area of the library. Following a trial on the merits, the District Court permanently enjoined the city from enforcing the resolution permitting the removal of the two books. It held that the City's resolution constituted impermissible content-based and viewpoint based discrimination; was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest; provided no standards or review process; and improperly delegated governmental authority over the selection and removal of the library's books to any 300 private citizens who wish to remove a book from the children's area of the Library.

As we wrap up Banned Book week, it's worth a look at the legal challenges regarding books in our libraries.  Take time today to look at the sometimes surprising situations in which libraries have been asked to remove books.  All case law summaries above are from the American Library Association's website.  These an many more cases can be found here.

Stat Counter