Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm still alive!

And today I blogged a few of my thoughts on Jhumpa Lahiri's adult fiction over at Color Online. See you there? =D

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guest Blog Post by YA Author Beth Fehlbaum

YA author Beth Fehlbaum is a guest blogger at Into the Wardrobe today. We are celebrating the upcoming release of her novel Hope in Patience (WestSide Books, October 27, 2010)! Hope in Patience is the companion novel to Beth's 2008 YA novel Courage in Patience (Kunati, Inc.). Click here to read my review of Courage in Patience and my interview with Beth. :o)

"Writing as Healing: My Creative Process"
By Beth Fehlbaum

Writing has always been a way of satisfying my need to know. Even as a small child, I processed my problems by allowing what was in my head to trickle down my arm and escape through my fingertips. In my late thirties, I was working through the immense emotional, physical, and mental damage that years of childhood sexual abuse had left me with. The pain I was in was so great that the memory of it is very much like the pain of childbirth: unfathomable. In an effort to cope with the overwhelming feelings, I was writing short stories and poems and sharing them with my therapist. One day, he suggested that I try writing a novel. It took about four months of stopping and starting, always ending up stuck in spiral thoughts that looked like this: Why? How could this have happened to me? How could the person I thought I could never live without have turned her back on me? Why?... It never stopped.

One day, I decided to try imagining the experience I was having through the eyes of someone else. I dug deep and found a girl who was not me, but whose feelings I could understand: Ashley Nicole Asher, age 15, whose outcry to her mother about her stepfather’s abuse was ignored. I created for Ashley a biological father she had never known, and a tiny East Texas town that would become Ashley’s new home. This became Courage in Patience. I wrote the first draft of Courage in Patience in the wee hours of the morning, in about four months. There were more rewrites in the revising and editing process, but that first cathartic draft had a pretty quick birth. I am a teacher and I was working at the time, but because my life was so entrenched in recovery and my mind was working so hard to process and heal, I was sleeping very little. To be honest, I dreaded sleep. I preferred to be with Ashley and her newfound family in Patience during those quiet night hours instead of fighting the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder-driven nightmares and flashbacks that were happening frequently. I’d come home from school and work out, fall asleep for about four hours, then wake around 11 p.m. or so and write through the night. I have no idea how I functioned at the time! I just remember my mind constantly “writing.” When I’d wake around 11, it was like my feet could not get to the kitchen table and my laptop fast enough to let the rest of me record what was happening in my head.

By the time I finished writing Courage in Patience, I had come to know in my heart what my therapist had been telling me all along: what had happened to me was not my fault, and—this is an even bigger deal, believe me—the fact that people who were supposed to love me and protect me had chosen not to do so was NOT a reflection of my inherent worth as a person. I learned those things by writing Courage in Patience, because I wanted Ashley to know that about herself.

Hope in Patience was not such a quick write, and while it was a healing experience, I was less frantic by then. The pain was beginning to settle, but I was struggling mightily with the notion that the losses I had experienced were not just temporary. I started writing Hope in Patience the summer after Courage in Patience released, mainly because I realized that Ashley had unfinished business, and that was acceptance of the situation with her mom. Ashley—and I—were still waiting for the people who should have loved and protected us to—you know—snap out of it! Ashley thought her mom had to change because, well, she’s her mom, and no mom could really be that cold and messed up... Could she?

No more middle of the night writing: my body had readjusted to a normal schedule, and I could not pull the all-nighters that I had with Courage in Patience. I treated writing Hope in Patience like a full-time job. The entire summer (between “Mom Stuff” I did with my college-age daughters, that is), I wrote from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. I did a lot more research than I did for Courage in Patience. Unlike Courage in Patience, which takes place during the first summer that Ashley lives in Patience, Hope in Patience takes place during the regular school year. I researched World War II, since Ashley’s American history teacher, Coach Griffin, is a WWII fanatic. I bought an American History textbook off Amazon and used it as the basis for what Coach Griffin teaches. Ashley’s stepmom, Bev, teaches the novel Farewell to Manzanar, and I reread the novel (I used to teach it when I taught middle school). I wrote to Dwight Okita, the wonderful poet who wrote, “In Response to Executive Order 9066,” for permission to use the poem in Hope in Patience. I also wrote to Densho: The Japanese-American Legacy Project, for permission to quote from a video they have online. I studied World War II propaganda and newsreels. Ashley is in a class called Human Ecology—I LOVE that label!— it’s the study of families and child development. I researched a lot of Consumer and Family Science lesson plans. Throughout this process, I had kind of a spider-web-looking flowchart because I wanted all three of these classes to intersect. Luckily, I have enough experience in planning cross-curricular units that it was not very difficult for me to do.

Ashley’s stepfather, Charlie, goes to court for breaking her arm, so I did a lot of research into the trial process. My brother, Brett, is a police sergeant, and for many years he worked child abuse cases. I peppered him with questions about the legal process and sent him the early drafts of the chapter in which the trial takes place. He walked me through the Victim Impact Statement and told me whether the events in the courtroom seemed realistic.

I drew on my therapist’s expertise not only for myself, but for writing Hope in Patience, too. I needed to understand from an objective point-of-view the “why” behind self-mutilation, because I had never done it to the extent Ashley does, and I needed to know it from the mental health professional’s standpoint, too. I questioned him about how he would actually talk to a teenage girl. I wrote to Tom Russell, a Texas singer-songwriter, for permission to use a few lines from his song, “It Goes Away,” which Ashley’s therapist, Dr. Matt, plays for her during a therapy session. I even researched haunted houses—you know, the kind that people put on around Halloween-and Halloween theme parks, so that the Tour of Terror that Ashley goes on would be authentic.

Even though I worked steadily on Hope in Patience for one entire summer, it took me most of the following summer to complete it. I really don’t write novels during the school year. My full-time job requires so much creative “juju” that just keeping up with lesson plans, grading, housework, and promotion of my already-out-there books pretty much leave me too drained to storyweave. That said, I started the third (and final??) book in the Patience series, Truth in Patience, this past summer (between moving two of my daughters to Colorado and working on final edits for Hope in Patience). I’m about four chapters in, and I expect to complete it this coming summer.

In the meantime, Hope in Patience releases the end of this month, and I am so excited to tell you that it’s already been nominated for a 2011 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers! I invite you to stop by my website and read chapter previews of Courage in Patience and Hope in Patience.

Beth, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful and touching writing and healing process!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Family Update =D

My brothers JP and Brian, along with their teammate Tonek, won the gold for the men's team event at the World Poomsae Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan!!!

Congratulations, JP, Brian, and Tonek!!!

(Those are JP and Brian's medals in the picture. =D)

Kataastaasan by Hannah Buena and Paolo Chikiamco

I want to quickly mention Kataastaasan (Highest), a comic book by Hannah Buena and Paolo Chikiamco, because I was having a pretty dead day today until I read it. Kataastaasan is an entertaining mixture of steampunk and Philippine folklore - with cool illustrations. It's targeted at adult readers. I think it has some teen appeal (yes, I am always thinking of young readers!) because it is set in Cebu City in 1770 and is an alternate history of the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain. High school and college students study this revolution and Kataastaasan seems like a fun supplement or springboard for discussion on Philippine history. There's a bit of innuendo in the story. That might make some people hesitant to recommend it to teens, but the innuendos weren't really gratuitous. After all, sometimes revolutionary women had to pretend to be tramps to spy on the enemy . . .

It appears Kataastaasan will not be a series, as it will be published later this year by Espresso Comics, "a weekly comics magazine that features one-shot comic stories by Filipino creators." Too bad. :o(

[My copy of Kataastaasan was an advance reading copy provided by Paolo Chikiamco.]

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sís

When I first saw The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sís (Scholastic Press, 2010) on a bookstore shelf, I gasped and clutched the book to my chest. I was stunned. Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sís in ONE BOOK? A book for middle grade readers that is a fictionalized biography of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda? I imagine that this is the kind of project editors live for.

The Dreamer introduces us to the young boy Neftalí Reyes and takes us into his life. Neftalí is shy and sickly. He speaks with a stutter. He is also bright, sensitive, and inquisitive. His imagination rich. Numbers from a mathematics homework assignment fly off the page and out his bedroom through a window crack. His bedroom becomes an enormous tree that he tries to walk around. A rhinoceros beetle is his steed through a rain forest.

Neftalí collects rocks, feathers, leaves, and anything that he is curious about – which is just about everything. He is fascinated by the world around him, but above all, he is fascinated by words. Neftalí loves the look of words when they are written, their feel and sound when they are spoken. When he writes, he shows incredible skill and talent for his age.

Using appropriately poetic prose, Pam Muñoz Ryan has written a beautiful portrait of a young poet and shows how he becomes Pablo Neruda, one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. We clearly see and understand how Neftalí’s heart and mind work and how he sees the world around him. Peter Sís’ gorgeous, detailed illustrations amplify Ryan’s writing. The dark green illustrations and the use of the same color ink for the text adds to the book’s poetic, even ethereal, air.

Though characterization for Neftalí was most satisfying, I wish the characterization for his father had been equally excellent. The main conflict in the story is Neftalí’s struggle for acceptance and affection from his father. José Reyes is an often harsh man and he disapproves of his sons’ interests. He is not proud of Neftalí or his older brother Rodolfo, and thinks that their interest in language, literature, and music will never amount to anything. One summer vacation by the sea, he even forces Neftalí and his younger sister Laurita to swim every day even though they are terrified of the water - all in the hopes of changing his children (apparently Laurita is becoming too much like Neftalí) and making them “stronger.” At the beginning of the novel, it is revealed that José Reyes does not want his sons to struggle for money the way he did. But readers need much more than a single line of dialogue to understand why the antagonist in a novel is the way he is.

My other concern with The Dreamer is its quiet plot and how many children might take it. This isn’t a page turner. I really wonder, will many children have the patience for and appreciate the character-driven plot?

One thing is for sure: Readers will come away from The Dreamer inspired. Those new to poetry will find their appetites for poetry whetted. Poetry lovers will find their love for poetry expanded. The book includes an author’s note on Pablo Neruda and some of his poems and odes. Even before readers reach this last section of the book, they will find themselves eager to learn more about Pablo Neruda and read his work. More importantly, readers will find themselves more like Neftalí Reyes, more open to and aware of the poetry that surrounds us every day, the poetry in twigs and pinecones and nests. The poetry of lost mittens and umbrellas and discarded boots and keys.