Kwame Alexander & "The World We Want"

I'm pushing myself back into posting...

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the most recently minted Newbery winner, Kwame Alexander. A very cool dude and a brilliant author/poet who took an hour+ to hang out with a few writers-of-color at the annual SCBWI conference in NYC. He waved two sparks that must spread like wildfire:

 

1. We have a responsibility (opportunity) to envision "the world that we want." I truly agree with that framework for thinking about both the beauty and the dire stakes of storycraft.

2. We can't embrace diversity in YA without living and reading it. I take this for granted as a teacher in NYC public education, but it's so vital. I must read more.

 

 

Check out his Newbery Medal winning book, The Crossover.  

 

 

Will "augmented reality" take gaming outside?

This image by Ben Giles really captures the wonder of what AR may offer kids (of all ages) in the near future. We're at a moment where "video games" increasingly integrate with our lives, our world outside, and with our social networks. Will these new types of experience get kids back outside to play?

Which company will offer the first outdoor gaming console? A gaming drone?

Portals, by Ben Giles

Portals, by Ben Giles

I'm sending queries!

This week, I'm sending out queries to select literary agents.

The manuscript is a scifi thriller with coming-of-age themes for ages 12+. The story begins in the South Bronx and reflects the type of "majority minority" diversity that already defines most of New York City. I've envisioned a resilient metropolis that’s obsessed with street games, buzzing with drones, struggling through daily blackouts, and teeming with guerrilla gardeners.

While writing this novel, I posted several reflections that I'd like to re-link here.

"Beta" Readers

I began a total re-write of my novel just over a month ago. I switched from 3rd-person to 1st-person. This involved a comprehensive reworking of the plot, scenes, and characters. Weeeee!

Now I'm in the exciting/scary process of sharing two chapters with selected middle-school students. I've emphasized that it's not school work. It's a draft. They should write any questions or comments  in the margins as they read. I've picked both girls and boys. I've picked reluctant readers and bookish types.

The first thing I discovered is that they needed some type of general "blurb" about the text before they started. I also needed to insist this was entirely voluntary and that I needed complete honesty. There's now serendipity with additional kids asking to read.

I've had very rewarding feedback so far.  This is what it's all about...

My biggest concern remains the first ten pages (too heavy/thick).  I am also concerned about reading levels and complexity for low-endurance readers. Even as somebody who has spent a bit of time in the classroom, I still find myself having to rethink vocabulary and scene-craft to maximize comprehension. After all, for me, the "literary" dimension should be the emotional & thematic thrill-ride, not the requirement of a dictionary.

And here's a completely unrelated music video:

Books: The Human Connection

At a recent dinner party, I heard a compelling argument in the Ebook vs RealBook debates:  real books can connect humans (on subways).  People actually start conversations with strangers regarding books.  Covers add a layer of human play and interest to the fray of urban life.  And yesterday, this truth showed itself during my hours at Books of Wonder.

Neil Gaiman reading & book signing!  

Illustrator/Author duo of Chu's Day

Illustrator/Author duo of Chu's Day

The lines began.  The most considerate way to have used my waiting time?  Figuring out precisely what to say in 15 seconds about being inspired as teacher/writer, capped with a profound witticism. 

Yes, I didn't do that. 

Instead, I bought a copy of every day by David Levithan. 

I read 35 pages as I shuffled in line.  The novel caused four spontaneous discussions with strangers.  Four.  Not only did this say volumes about this particular book/author, it reminded me (a Nook user) of the power of books to connect people.  And of the gravity of authors within an expanding universe.

A compelling YA novel (that stirs conversations with strangers)

A compelling YA novel (that stirs conversations with strangers)

Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman has very passionate fans.  The store was packed.  One older gent dressed up as Destiny from Sandman.  A toddler was dressed up as Chu (from Chu's Day).  Most fans had their picture taken with Neil (with several fan in tears of joy).  I suspect the lines continued late into the evening.  Neil himself seems a particularly down-to-earth guy, which made the spectacle rather warming for such a cold, rainy day in NYC.

Me?  My back & legs cramped, but I was enjoying my new book.  

The woman in front of me handed Neil and Adam Rex bottles of fine juice, which lifted spirits.  Then as I approached, the owner of Books of Wonder, Peter Glassman, initiated a conversation about the non-Neil book I was carrying: "That's a great book!"   So, I'm 10% blaming him for having nothing of import to offer Neil Gaiman when I stepped up.  I had no fine juice.  No personalized witticisms.

Only heavy admiration...

Sometimes words just suck.

As I watched him scribble "believe" in my book, I chuckled.  Someday I will buy him a fine beer, I promised myself.  Yes.  Authors matter.  Dead-tree-book-devices matter. 

Whether they sleep inside dead trees, digital data, or our frayed neurons - stories, like the gods, need our warm blood & breath to live.  I think what matters most is whether they guide us to improve ourselves.  To be more human.

(this is not a YA text)

(this is not a YA text)

My rambling reflection is passive, cliche, & indulgent - yet embodied.  Sometimes words just suck...  :-)