Save the world (and have fun doing it) Monday, Mar 31 2008 

Next week I’ll be in Minneapolis, presenting at the National Service-Learning Conference, a gathering that brings together educators, students, authors, and internationally renown voices (such as this year’s keynote speaker, Bishop Desmond Tutu) to discuss hands-on social action and civic involvement for young people and adults, and what it means to make your voice heard in the world, for the better.

What is service-learning? To quote from the National Youth Leadership Council’s site:

Picking up trash on a riverbank is service. Studying water samples under a microscope is learning.When science students collect and analyze water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency … that is service-learning.
Cathryn Berger Kaye (author of The Complete Guide to Service-Learning) invited me to be part of a writers’ session along with Janet Tashjian, so I’m looking forward to a lively discussion, with book signings to follow. I’ll be presenting solo as well: “Fun Will Save the World,” about the necessity of joy as the engine of our work – the more challenging it is, the more you’ve got to love it, or it simply won’t be possible to go on.

The fact of the conference itself is a good reason to feel encouraged: about young people, their ingenuity and energy; about the adults who care for them, teach them, and learn from them. Our world seems so mired, these days, in a sad stasis of conflict – it’s worthwhile to remember that the wheels of change grind slow, like Longfellow’s mills of God, but they do move, and they leave a mighty path.

“I come around catching sparks off you” Saturday, Mar 22 2008 

Someone asked me “How come Headlong is called Headlong?” and I was thrilled to refer them to the Pixies (cover) and Jesus and Mary Chain (original) versions of “Head On,” whence, indeed, my Headlong gets its name. What a song! It captures so perfectly that feeling of having made a connection, knowing you’ve made it, as authentic and visceral and satisfying as two hands meeting in the dark. “As soon as I get my head ’round you. . .”

Is midlife the new adolescence? Wednesday, Mar 19 2008 

Wow, sounds like an Op-Ed piece I would hastily turn the page to avoid. . . But it did occur to me that one of the reasons YA is read by adults, who presumably know all about being teenagers, and have solved the problem of growing up (yeah, right), is this: the distance provided by time facilitates the reexamination of adolescence. Sort of like wearing asbestos gloves.

Perhaps being a grown-up means one has kids of one’s own, whose hurts and joys are all-important, and always in the forefront of one’s mind, and fiction is a good way to process those daily dramas. Or perhaps being a grown-up can be, um, rather serious, and adults long (without identifying the longing as such) for the intensity of those years, when everything moves at effortless speed and novelty is the rule rather than the exception: first love, first sex, first time away from home, first everything.

Or perhaps one has never grown up at all, and the pangs and deeps are still one’s natural habitat?

But midlife is definitely not the new adolescence.

Books for the Teen Age Friday, Mar 14 2008 

Kissing the Bee was just chosen as one of the New York Public LIbrary’s 2008 Books for the Teen Age, which made me pretty happy when I saw it in my in-box yesterday morning. Thank you, NYPL!

Perfectly expressed Tuesday, Mar 11 2008 

In a recent interview, the choreographer Ohad Naharin speaks of the difference between creating work for adults and for young people:

“[Y]ou know how it is when you can relate to young people? That you feel more responsible? And more tenderness and unconditional love?. . .But it doesn’t make the piece any less demanding.”

Not a whiff of dumbing down, or prettying up: just the highest art personally possible, within parameters of tenderness and responsibility. Yes. That’s what the best YA aims for, every time out.

What don’t we see? Thursday, Mar 6 2008 

Or hear, read, experience. . .Listen to this, from Margaret A. Rees’ Alfred de Musset: “Generally misjudged and underestimated during his life, [Musset’s] work has attracted since his death a good number of appreciative studies[.]” Or this, from Enid Peschel’s Arthur Rimbaud: “A Season in Hell, first published in Brussels in 1873, did not become widely known until eighteen years later[.]” And these are just two books that happen to be lying on my desk. Here’s Wuthering Heights on the pile, too — as good old SparkNotes puts it: “Wuthering Heights, which has long been one of the most popular and highly regarded novels in English literature, seemed to hold little promise when it was published in 1847, selling very poorly and receiving only a few mixed reviews. Victorian readers found the book shocking and inappropriate in its depiction of passionate, ungoverned love and cruelty (despite the fact that the novel portrays no sex or bloodshed), and the work was virtually ignored.” Emily Bronte! Don’t get me started!. . .You can insert your own favorite examples, endlessly.

So what are we missing now, today, existing right beside us in contemporary culture, that future generations will think we were total chumps for not loving?

Bee buzz (and Headlong, too) Sunday, Mar 2 2008 

Kissing the Bee has been making some excellent new friends in the wide world. For starts, this morning’s inbox brought me this good news: the Bee has been chosen as one of readergirlz Suggested Reads (and is flying in some fast company, too). I’ve also recently learned that the Bee‘s received a 2007 Parents’ Choice award. And the IRA’s review called it a “must read for young romantics.” I blush.

And my intrepid editor – though in the throes of a huge move – still made sure to get into my hands not only the lovely galley of Headlong, coming out this fall, but the jacket as well, that is even more lovely and washed with mysterious silvery pewter-y light. Frances, you’re the best.