New in paperback: Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer

Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer coverTiernay West, Professional Adventurer is now in paperback!

Order a copy your favorite young adventurer online or from your favorite bricks-and mortar bookstore (ISBN 978-1719955553).

Originally published as Secret of the Three Treasures, this classic book about a would-be adventurer who isn’t about to let anything stop her has a new look and has been updated for a new generation of young readers.

Get one for the kid in your life today—and for yourself, too. For a limited time, when kindle users order the print book, they can add their own e-copy at no additional charge.

Do share with anyone in your life who might enjoy a bit of adventure this winter holiday season.

Ice Melts in the Wind

The most excellent Larry Hammer released Ice Melts in the Wind this week, a gorgeous translation of seasonal Japanese poetry.

[Ice Melts in the Wind cover]The water I cupped
in my hands, drenching my sleeves,
has long been frozen—
today, with the start of spring,
will it melt in the wind?

Find out more about Ice Melts in the Wind, and about where you can buy a copy, here. Do share with others who might enjoy it!

Thinking, processing, pondering, planning

“Nobody who says, ‘I told you so’ has ever been, or will ever be, a hero.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night

“And then.
“The great connective, the thread that binds the patchwork fabric of stories. And then this happen. And then that. One thing after another, until the end of the story. And then it stops. And then everything stays the same forever and ever, because a story once told is unchanging, everlasting. Imprisoned in amber.
“As if like was like that …”
― Richard Grant, Rumors of Spring

“What exactly are you here for?”
“To see with eyes unclouded by hate.”
― Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke

“Well, what is it?” I cried. “What is his crime?”
“Cruelty,” whispered Snout.
I felt my stomach tighten. “Cruelty?” I asked, wondering if I had heard right.
“In the civilized galaxy, cruelty is the greatest of all crimes,” said Madame Pong. “Of course, life always involves some suffering, and there are times when painful things must be done for life to continue. But an intelligent being who takes pleasure in causing pain to others–well, such an individual is considered dangerously bent.”
“You must understand,” said Tar Gibbons, “that empathy is the heart of civilization.”
“Empathy?”
“The ability to understand what another feels,” said Snout. “It is the trait that lifts us above the animals.”
― Bruce Coville, Aliens Ate My Homework


Wednesday morning inspiration and comfort

“Into the woods,
It’s always when
You think at last
You’re through, and then
Into the woods you go again
To take another journey.”
―Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

“And for adults, the world of fantasy books returns to us the great words of power which, in order to be tamed, we have excised from our adult vocabularies. These words are the pornography of innocence, words which adults no longer use with other adults, and so we laugh at them and consign them to the nursery, fear masking as cynicism. These are the words that were forged in the earth, air, fire, and water of human existence, and the words are:
Love. Hate. Good. Evil. Courage. Honor. Truth.”
―Jane Yolen, Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood

“This is. And thou art. There is no safety. There is no end. The word must be heard in silence. There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

“Now you’re on your own
Only me beside you
Still, you’re not alone
No one is alone
Truly
No one is alone …
You move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Something’s bound to linger
Be heard
No one acts alone.”
―Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

“There’s lots of kinds of chains. You can’t see most of them, the ones that bind folks together. But people build them, link by link. Sometimes the links are weak, snap like this one did. That’s another funny thing, now that I think of it. Sometimes when you mend a chain, the place where you fix it is strongest of all.”
― Bruce Coville, Into the Land of the Unicorns

“This is our world. Aye, there’s more than enough of darkness in it. But over everything there’s all this joy, Kit. There’s all this lovely, lovely light.”
― David Almond, Kit’s Wilderness


Catch me at the Tucson Eastside Barnes and Noble Saturday, plus Library and Huntsman game news

Hope you’re all having a good summer!

I finished my residency at the Pima County Public Library at the end of May. Before leaving entirely, I blogged about my time there: Libraries remain a place of refuge.

Some writers came to me nervous about sharing their work and writing hopes. Others brimmed over with enthusiasm and the desire to discuss their projects. But every writer who came to me felt they had something precious inside them that they wanted to share …

If you missed me at the library, this Saturday (June 11) I’ll be at the B-Fest Teen Book Festival at Tucson’s eastside Barnes and Noble. Catch me there for a signing at 4:30 and a panel discussion on getting your book published at 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, the final two chapters of The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse are out, and the game has been getting good reviews. Here’s an article about the game in the Arizona Daily Star: ‘Huntsman’ tie-in a hit for Tucson game studio.

“I enjoyed how we were all working at the same time. I’d be there writing the story as the art is being created and the game design is being worked on and the programing is happening, and all those pieces would influence each other,” she [Simner] said.

Until next time, stay cool, keep writing, keep reading, and keep dreaming!

Is Star Wars better than Twilight?

An article on how Twilight-hate is part of the larger picture of teen girl hate in our society, something I’ve been aware of for a while now: “For many people, the fact that teenage girls like something — whether that something is Taylor Swift or One Direction or ‘Twilight’ — is a reason to write it off completely.”

When I first shared this article on social media, there was some discussion, as there usually is (because I’ve been part of discussions about this before, the past few years), about how our hatred of Twilight isn’t really or only about dissing teen girls, because the books really are problematic, because they provide such horrible models for teen girls of who they can aspire to be.

I used to share this concern. But after talking to actual Twilight readers, I’m convinced that teen girls read as critically or more critically than the rest of us, and that they’re no less aware of the problems with the books than any of us are aware of the problems with whatever fluffy, escapist stories we happen to enjoy. In fact, I’ve had some of my favorite thoughtful conversations about YA books and reading with Twilight readers.

The Twilight books still don’t hit my story buttons. I’ll never be part of their core audience. But then I began thinking about how Twilight is nowhere near the only fiction out there that provides poor role models for girls. One could argue that, more often than not, most stories out there–in books and in other media–still do that. Girls and women are so often either absent or victims in everything from children’s stories to adult ones. (Being a girl is also not-infrequently tossed off as a one-line joke in movies, because apparently nothing is funnier or more humiliating than a guy being mistaken for a girl, or finding himself in girl’s clothes.) One could argue that Bella, at least, gets what she wants at the end of her story, which even today isn’t true for the women in so many other stories we read and watch.

So after thinking about that, I began thinking about one of my favorite bits of escapism from when I was a teen, something that remains one of the things that still does hit my story buttons: the original Star Wars trilogy.

Star Wars had a huge influence on my writing. It helped ignite my love of fantasy and adventure stories. (I do consider it more fantasy and adventure than science fiction, though that’s a whole other discussion.) It helped turn me into a writer, because I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours writing hundreds of thousands of words of Star Wars fanfic. The Star Wars movies were huge for me. Huge.

The Star Wars movies provide horrible role models for being a woman.

Oh, sure, in the very first movie Leia is full of spunk and fire and no small amount of strategic planning. She’s also, as far as we know as of the original trilogy, one of only two women in the entire Star Wars universe, which is a tremendous problem in itself, especially when the other woman dies horribly in the opening scenes and is never really a character at aLL. But by the end of the trilogy, Leia has been drained of all real agency. In The Empire Strikes Back she’s reduced to primarily a love interest, and by Return of the Jedi her main active actions revolve around trying to rescue the man she loves. By the end of Jedi movie, Luke does all the heavy lifting, while Leia discovers and helps inspire the Ewoks to help out on the ground. And that ground battle doesn’t even really influence the course of events; it’s Luke and Vader’s battle with the Emperor that truly destroys the Empire, though not everyone knows it.

A point is even made, in Jedi, of the fact that Leia has the same powers as Luke–but she never gets to use them, not even a little bit. At the end of Jedi Luke has saved the galaxy, Leia falls into Han’s arms, and viewers cheer.

I cheered. Which is actually the point I’m trying to make. These movies, which also don’t provide strong role models for girls, were movies teen me loved beyond all reason. They’re movies adult me loves beyond all reason, too. Loves them even as I critique their flaws, which I’m fully aware of, and which include front and foremost their treatment of female characters. Teen me was just as aware, though she articulated it differently, by constantly adding female characters to the fic she wrote, and giving them agency.

Teen Twilight fans (and, yes, adult ones too) are capable of the same self-awareness. They’re as capable of enjoying problematic things as I am.

The difference is that, when I say I love Star Wars, very few people sneer and go “oh, lightsabers, seriously?” in that way that they so often sneer and go “oh, sparkly vampires, seriously?” Two problematic stories–two very different societal reactions.

Likewise, while there are certainly thinky gender critiques of both Star Wars out there, when I say I love Star Wars, few people immediately respond by saying, “Oh, but what kind of an example is it setting for our girls?” — even though the example Star Wars sets is not ultimately better than the example Twilight sets. Leia has more spunk than Bella, sure (though even that spunk is tempered by the end), but she doesn’t have more agency.

Of course we should talk to our daughters about the problematic messages and role models in Twilight. I’m not suggesting otherwise. But we should also talk to them about the problematic messages and role models in other stories–and be on the lookout for them ourselves–because Twilight is nowhere near unique in this regard.

But before then, first and foremost, when a teen girl says she loves a thing?

We owe her the same respect we owe anyone else, when they talk about the things they love.

Diversity and the stories we tell

Recently, in my search for diverse picture books and especially for books where my child could see other children who look like her in the illustrations, I came upon Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. This beautifully written and illustrated book, for those who haven’t read it, introduces babies from around the world and of many races with the refrain:

And both of these babies—as everyone knows—had ten little fingers and ten little toes.

The strength of the writing and illustrations meant that it took two or three or maybe five readings (because no one reads any picture book only once to their child) for it to hit me that that well-crafted refrain … wasn’t actually true. That the very book I’d bought to help my child celebrate her diversity and the diversity of all children was not about all children.

Because somewhere out there–many somewheres out there–there’s a parent who saw this book that was trying to be about all babies and set it aside because it wasn’t about their baby. Maybe this parent’s perfect, beloved, amazing child was born with polydatyly, or with a limb difference–yet here’s this book about how perfect, beloved, amazing children all have one thing in common–that they aren’t anything like this parent’s child.

At first I thought I was overthinking things. And then I thought I wasn’t. Intersectionality is tricky. It’s easy to say that no one book can be about every child and move on, but really it’s so much more complicated than that.

And this post isn’t about this one (otherwise lovely) book, or about any other one book, though I fear it will be taken that way. It’s about how I then thought a little more deeply about what the stories I tell mean for my child, who I want to embrace diversity not only when it’s about who she is, but also when it’s about the wide world she lives in.

I tell my child hundreds of stories every day, and not all of them come out of books.

Shortly after we finished the second or third or fifth reading of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, my child handed me her stuffed bat, which had recently lost an eye. She pointed to the spot where the eye had once been, asking without words for an explanation.

I almost went for the obvious story–that yes, the toy was broken, and yes, I could fix it. Then I realized there was another, truer story I could choose instead.

“You’re right,” I told her matter-of-factly. “That bat has one eye. And you have two eyes.

“That’s because everybody’s different.”

Tucson Festival of Books!

This weekend is the next Tucson Festival of Books! After six years, it’s hard to believe this event hasn’t been part of Tucson forever.

I’ll be there this Sunday, signing with Mostly Books from 12-12:45 p.m. (booth #148), and then moderating Ally Carter and Sarah Mlynowski’s Twitter and Trailers: Using Social Media to Promote Your Book panel from 4:00-5:00 p.m. (Education Bldg., Room 333).

And both Saturday and Sunday I’ll be on the UA Mall of course, enjoying the Festival. Hope to see many of you there!

Millions of Cats, Billions of Cats, More Stars Than in the Entire Milky Way of Cats

When it comes to picture books, not understanding the natural world inevitably leads to tragedy.


Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág

A cautionary tale about the dangers of relocating wildlife.

An old man removes an entire population of cats from their native ecosystem, only to discover he lacks the knowledge and resources to care for them on his own. When the cats grow hungry he offers them each a mouthful of grass, unaware that these obligate carnivores cannot subsist on such a diet. “What are you doing?” the old woman he lives with cries when she sees the cats, aware, as he is not, of how unsuited the creatures are for their new environment. Her fear proves well founded, as in their desperation for meat the poor felines ultimately resort to eating one another.

Only a single small kitten survives, young enough to live on the milk the man and woman are able to provide, but it faces an uncertain future as it grows “nice and plump” and nears adulthood.


Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

The tragic tale of a good-hearted squirrel who lacks the skills to survive in the wild. Unable to tell the difference between a bear, a rabbit, a frog, and an owl, our hero’s lack of discernment proves fatal when he cheerfully accepts an owl’s invitation into her nest for “cookies.” The final details of the squirrel’s inevitable demise are, in a bold yet necessary move, left to the imagination of the reader.

“Uh oh,” indeed.