Monday, February 27, 2017

The Artist's Way (and reading) by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

A couple of Mayhemmers have recently blogged about their experiences of  either The Artist's Way (Caroline's Morning Pages One Year In) or going on a reading fast (Joanna's Fasting Story.) Since I am currently working my way through The Artist's Way, part of which requires giving up reading for a week, I thought I'd share my own progress report.

Caroline's piece actually was the boost that got me back to the practices Julia Cameron writes about it her book, the subtitle of which is "A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity." Towards the latter part of 2016, I was in a complete creative funk--a lot of which I trace back to the election and its aftermath. Add to this that, after parting ways from my agent, I had been having no luck querying my latest novel (lots of full requests and nice rejections, things like "not for me, but I can see this being a smash hit with the right agent,") I was finding it hard to hang on.

Intellectually I knew that the sun would rise again tomorrow, but my creative child was really feeling the slings and arrows. I'd had a similar creative crisis in 1997, after the birth of my first child, and the knowledge that I was soon turning THIRTY-FREAKING-FIVE (!) and that my creative dream of being a published author was still in embryo. (Fast forward 20 years, and here I still am.)

My wise wife gave my a Christmas gift, paying for me to attend a 12-week course on The Artist's Way. There were about twenty of us, and we met weekly in the back room of a music store. Our facilitator was funny and down-to-earth, and soon we were engaged in all sorts of kooky things, like making collages, writing affirmations, and bidding farewell to negative messages.

Week 4 of the course, however, was tough. That was the week where we had to give up reading and watching of any sort for one whole week. (The internet wasn't ubiquitous then so, looking back, it was not so tough.) But I freaked out. The Winter Olympics were being held in Nagano, Japan, and I really wanted to see a couple of my favorite skaters--Elvis Stojko and Michelle Kwan--compete. But, being the rule-follower I am, I buckled down. I also kept my wife busy: she had to remove the newspaper off the front porch in the mornings so I wouldn't be tempted to read the headlines, and then she had to videotape the events for later viewing. (Yes, after Week 4's dastardly task was over, I did binge watch hours of the Olympics!)

Here we are in 2017, and I am older and maybe just a smidge wiser. Week 4 was hard yet again, not because of The Olympics, but because I had to come face to face with my social media obsessions. Although a late adapter of Facebook and the like, I find it's a little like a morphine drip for me--a squeeze here, a squeeze there throughout the day and whoops! Where did the time go? (Twitter's even worse.)

What did I discover with my week off from reading screens and magazines and other people's books? First, my worry-levels dropped dramatically. (The media-free week coincided with the Inauguration, and during that blackout I was as happy as a clam.) Also, since I wasn't losing myself in others' stories, some of my own started to emerge. I'm not quite back at my fighting weight yet, but I'm getting there.

The creative life ebbs and flows. We all have wounds and scars, but we also have champions and companions on the road. (My friends on this blog are part of this support.) Julia Cameron is also a firm believer in serendipity and the opening of doors when we are ready. And that is happening to me now too. A young, highly creative friend from church has invited me to write the script for an animation series he's creating. We're having a lot of fun brainstorming ideas together. As Julia Cameron says, "Artists like other artists."

I've got three more weeks to go on The Artist's Way. I've been religious about my Morning Pages, and have done Artist's Dates most of the time. (I've put links to Julian Cameron's website, where you can find explanations of what these two practices are.) I'm sitting with and pondering these words in Week Ten:
"In a creative life, droughts are a necessity. The time in the desert brings us clarity and charity. When you are in a drought, know that it is to a purpose. And keep writing morning pages."

Have you ever read The Artist's Way? If so, what were your experiences? Do you think you could go a week without consuming text or media? Are you willing to try?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A World War II Must Read by Tod Olson (post by Paul Greci)

I have the good fortune of having my classroom in a little room in the School Library. Having my classroom in the library puts me in direct contact with all the new books coming in.

This week, Lost in the Pacific, 1942 by Tod Olson caught my eye. I took it home over the weekend and started reading it.

The short summary from Kirkus reads:

Olson tells the harrowing true story of how eight men in three tiny inflatable rafts, lost in 68 million square miles of shark-infested Pacific Ocean without food or water and near enemy-held territory, survived three weeks before being rescued.  A riveting, completely engrossing true survival story. (glossary, author‘s note, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

I haven’t finished the reading the book yet but the story has swept me away. Without any spoilers, I’ll just say it’s written in a directly, powerfully and personally.

Here’s the beginning:

The Pacific Ocean looked calm and inviting from 5,000 feet up, from the drone of four sturdy motors in Jim Whitaker’s ear. But he had no desire to land a 15-ton, 4-engine plane down there. To a B-17 bomber, plunging from the sky, the ocean is as unforgiving as a concrete wall. 
      Yet by 1:30 p.m. on October 21, 1942, that was the only option left.
               -Tod Olson-(page 1, Lost in the Pacific, 1942)

If you like history and true survival stories, then this book is for you.

From the Author’s website: Tod Olson is author of the historical fiction series How to Get Rich and the narrative nonfiction series, LOST. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in Vermont with his family, his mountain bike, and his electric reclining chair.

Thanks for stopping by.

Paul Greci is the author of Surviving Bear Island, a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2016 Scholastic Reading Club Selection.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cybils Awards Finalists and Winner!

It’s award season, not only for movies and TV shows, but also for books. Book awards are my favorite, starting with the American Library Association Book and Media Awards in early January, and continuing with the Cybils Awards, which were announced appropriately on St. Valentine’s Day, the best present for book lovers everywhere. The Cybils Awards mission statement reads:
The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious (
Last fall I saw a call out for judges, and I applied, and I was thrilled when I was accepted as a round 2 judge. This is an inclusive list of all the nominees in the Middle Grade Fiction category.
My job didn’t start until Christmas Eve, when the finalists were announced. What a fantastic Christmas Eve present! The shortlist was outstanding, and I started reading immediately. I loved getting to know all the other judges, and the discussions through email and google groups. What’s better than talking books with other book lovers? Exactly! Not many things can top this pleasure.
            The runners up, in no particular order were:
Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

Cameron Boxer is very happy to spend his life avoiding homework, hanging out with his friends, and gaming for hours in his basement. It's not too hard for him to get away with it . . . until he gets so caught up in one game that he almost lets his house burn down around him.
It's time for some serious damage control--so Cameron and his friends invent a fake school club that will make it seem like they're doing good deeds instead of slacking off. The problem? Some kids think the club is real--and Cameron is stuck being president.
Soon Cameron is part of a mission to save a beaver named Elvis from certain extinction. Along the way, he makes some new friends--and some powerful new enemies. The guy who never cared about anything is now at the center of everything . . . and it's going to take all his slacker skills to win this round.

Things Finley Hart doesn’t want to talk about:
-Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
-Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
-Never having met said grandparents.
-Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)
Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real—and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.
With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you wouldn’t guess it by his name: his father is part white and part Lakota, and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Drawing references and inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition, celebrated author Joseph Marshall III juxtaposes the contemporary story of Jimmy with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse (c. 1840–1877). The book follows the heroic deeds of the Lakota leader who took up arms against the US federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Along with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse was the last of the Lakota to surrender his people to the US army. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they're both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.
Joe's lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.
Ravi's family just moved to America from India, and he's finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.
Joe and Ravi don't think they have anything in common -- but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

Although all these books were deservedly finalists, the winner title was all of the judges' first choice.
            Ghost, by Jason Reynolds!
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.
Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

The Cybils’ official statement on Ghost is:  "Ghost is a true joy to read, share, and celebrate the powerful messages. You’ll remember many of the passages long after reading. Ghost’s spot-on unique voice and amusing insights are surprising and always in character. This budding track star has a lot of societal strikes against him: poor, African-American male, a victim of violence, child of a single-parent household, and his father is in jail. It would be easy for him to give up and join a gang, but instead he discovers the power of teamwork and consequences for his poor choices. Ghost is an engaging and fully realized character and many kids will find something to relate to. The supporting characters are also multi-dimensional, each with a story of their own. This begins with Coach. The benefits of hard work and practice are something Ghost would never realize without him. He is a strong figure who has something to offer his team and a willingness to stick with these kids. The storytelling is endearing and diversity takes center stage. Author Jason Reynolds deserves a victory lap. We’ll sit back and anxiously await the next book in this track and field series."

Congratulations to all the finalists, and especially to Jason Reynolds for Ghost!If you need any help adding books to your TBR pile, here is the complete list of all the winners.And remember, next August Cybils sends out their call for judges. Their call for nominations goes out in October. Mark up the dates on your calendar and nominate, and why not volunteer as a judge and see what the process is like for yourself?*All blurbs were copied from book jackets and/or Goodreads