Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Wisdom

I think that, if instead of preaching brotherly love, 
we preached good manners, 
we might get a little further.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Teacher Tuesday

Today's good sport is Craig Seasholes, a teacher with a passion for poetry who teaches in at a school in west Seattle.

Craig, please fill in the blank:

You should never read and (blank) at the same time.

You should never read and ....fight the need to Sleep... at the same time.  I believe in the power of both reading and sleep. It's not an either/or thing at all.

If you were invited to be on Oprah, what book would you bring for her to read?

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.  This master storyteller's brilliant series of first chapters ending in cliff hangers is a perfect plaything for people who love to small bites. Reading the first chapter aloud would be perfect for an expectant TV audience.

What is the funniest book you’ve read?

I couldn't choose just one funniest book if my life depended on it! Mo Willems is taking the cake for the early reader set, with That is Not a Good Idea tickling several funny bones at once. Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers is snort-through-your-nose funny prequel to this re-imagined Peter Pan for upper elementary.  For older readers, I still find Dave Macauley's Motel of Mysteries a brilliant send up to the King Tut hype, as is Leo Lionni's Parallel Botany for spoofing scientific proceedings of biologists and desert mystical philosophists.

What is the saddest?

OK, so the fact is I've got issues with most  question with  -est adjective forms.  The Fault in Our Stars was sad and lovely , poignant enough to stand out in recent YA fiction. But then so was Roz Chast's graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and there humor helps soften the blow while allowing grief its due. 

Favorite reading snack/beverage?

I'm a chai tea and gingersnap kinda guy.

What’s next on your TBR list?

Groaning shelves of  TBR loom over me as I struggle to keep up a with read/write/share habit for school  and audiences. Tonight  Ed Piskor's HipHop Family Tree towers from the top of the pile in anticipation of his appearance in Seattle Short Run Comix and Arts Festival Nov 15th at Washington Hall.

Teachers, librarians, reading coaches, principals, custodians, lunch ladies, anyone with school connections: Please play along! Email me here and I'll get you the questions so you, too, can be featured on Teacher Tuesday. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Packing my bags again

This afternoon, I'm off to Bellingham, Washington, to participate in an amazing event called Compass to Campus. Essentially, the program brings 900 at risk 5th graders onto the Western Washington University campus, arranges for them to attend "classes" and get paired up with college student mentors -- each 5th grader will have a mentor until he/she graduates from high school! 

I'm especially honored because many of those 5th graders have read either Duke or Dash and I will get to share the story behind those stories with them. How fun is that?

Then I zoom home from Bellingham, pack my bag and jet off to Tennessee. My BFF Mary Nethery and I will be speaking at a school on Thursday and then attending the Tennessee School Library Association conference, where we will accept the Volunteer State Book Award for Nubs (which now has 13 state young reader award medals!).

I am one lucky dog.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friend Friday

 It's a sheer delight to host Dori Jones Yang today.  Dori and I shared and editor back in the day; we also managed to bump into each other on a hiking trail between Monterosso and Vernazza, in the Cinque Terra, this summer. Dori is an amazing and dedicated writer, as you will figure out from her post.

Dori Jones Yang

 For a long time, I was afraid to talk about my new wisdom book project. Each time I conducted an interview for it, I asked the person not to mention it to others. I wanted the whole project to be “under the radar” – just in case I never finished it, I guess. I didn’t know how I would structure the book – or if I was capable of it. Several of my loved ones doubted the project, wondering who might possibly be interested in reading it. Several times I lost heart and put it aside.

This new book project, after all, was totally outside my areas of expertise. A former business journalist, I had written a successful book about Starbucks. A history major who reported about China, I had written two historical novels set in China. After years as a mentor in schools, I wrote a children’s book about a girl from China struggling to learn English. Married to a Chinese immigrant, I compiled a book of oral histories of Chinese Americans in Seattle.
But wisdom? What credentials did I have to write about wisdom?

Yet I kept returning to the project, compelled to dig deeper.
One reason, I suppose, is that I felt unwise. Maybe that’s because I had been reading a lot about wisdom from the world’s great wisdom traditions and felt daunted. More likely, it’s because I was unsure how to handle some important relationships in my life, which kept veering off into annoyance or bitter words or huffy silences. Sigh.  At midlife, I thought I would be wiser than this. Many of my friends, about the same age as I am, are struggling with various life issues and feel the same.

Another reason I undertook this project is this: I know a marvelous bevy of older women I consider very wise. For years I have been watching and listening to these women, admiring them for their resilience and resourcefulness, their calmness and confidence. I aspire to be like them when I “grow up.”

So I put two and two together. I made up a list of twenty questions that my friends and I are grappling with at midlife. Among them: How do you get through tough times? Is happiness really a choice? What’s the best way to manage anger? How should parents interact with their adult children? Some tips, please, on dealing with difficult people! Where do you look for peace and inspiration?

Then I chose one woman and convinced her to sit down with me and answer these questions as well as she could. I captured her answers on audio recorder. Then I asked another. And another. None of these women considered themselves wise, although they were delighted that I thought so and were more than willing to share even painful, personal stories with me. At the end of each interview, my spirits soared. These women were humble and humorous, honest and open – and very articulate on these twenty topics.

So I pulled it all together in a book and – viola!  Actually, it was a lot harder than that. I struggled with how to pull together a book from this great material. In the end, I created a chapter from each of the twenty questions. Each chapter opens with some of my musings on why this question matters, followed by direct quotes from the interviews, and concludes with my “takeaways” – specific tips, mental tools, and refreshing insights.

I fell in love with the book that came out of this: Warm Cup of Wisdom: Inspirational Insights on Relationships and Life. Who else might possibly be interested in reading it? Men and women of all ages – all people who enjoy reflecting on themselves and others. I hope this book inspires readers to embark on “wisdom projects” of their own, interviewing wise ones in their lives. Wisdom can be found in ordinary people around us, if we dare to ask.

Now I enjoy talking about this book.  It’s a natural conversation-starter for book clubs, women’s groups, alumni reunions, and coffee klatches everywhere.  I can’t claim to be any wiser today than when I started. But I have some tools to use when I encounter bitter words or angry silences. And I have learned that seeking wisdom can be something we do with intention – a lifelong practice.

Dori Jones Yang is a genre-jumper who has written six books for adults and children on a wide variety of topics, including business, China, immigrants, Marco Polo, and wisdom. She spent eight years as a journalist for Business Week in Hong Kong, where she met and married her husband. They have a daughter named Emily and recently moved to a condo overlooking Lake Washington.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dash Seattle Book Launch

On Sunday October 5, I celebrated the Seattle launch of Dash with 100 or so friends and fans. The event took place at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall, 1212 South King Street, with the able help of my daughter Quinn Wyatt and Nisei Veteran's Committee board member, Debbie Kashino. 
Me, in vintage garb, with Debbie Kashino

Son-in-law Matt, Princess Esme, and Uber Party Planner, Quinn

Secret Garden Bookshop not only lugged over a ton of books, they also donated a percentage of the afternoon's book sales to the Nisei Veteran's Foundation. 
Cookies from Sweet Themes Bakery

A bit of background: when the Japanese-American vets returned after WWII, they were not allowed to join the segregated Veterans associations. In order to have a place to gather, they built their own hall. Now, with fewer and fewer WWII vets around, the Memorial Hall is a place of education about that slice of American history. If you are ever in the area, I would encourage you to visit and take in the powerful exhibits board members have assembled.
Mitsi Shiraishi and her beloved dog, Chubby -- inspirations for Dash

I was so pleased that a good number of Mitsi Shiraishi's family was present; Mitsi (and her dog, Chubby) was the inspiration for Dash

Judy Kusakabe, Mitsi's step-daughter

Other special guests included people who had been interned at Minidoka (including Louise Kashino, widow of Shiro Kashino, from whom my character Mitsi takes her last name); my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Steve Craig; and too many dear friends and family members to name. 

A few days after the book launch, I received an email from Louise Kashino: I read DASH and poured over every sentence inasmuch as I was 16 when we were incarcerated on May, 1942.  My family was assigned to Area D inside the Puyallup Fairgrounds, where our barrack among others was built inside the racing grounds.  I don't know who guided you through the whole incarceration, but you did an excellent job of describing the experiences for someone like me.  I also relocated to Chicago and eventually returned to Seattle, so again, your description of the whole movement brought back many memories.  Thank you for your accurate descriptions of our experience to give the general public an insight into what we experienced during our incarceration.  

Me talking about how Dash came to be

Even though Dash has garnered two starred reviews, Louise's endorsement means more than any other recognition I could receive. (Special thanks to Louis Fiset, who shared his carefully compiled map of Camp Harmony with me, a complete stranger.)

It was a deep privilege to write this book. And, to use a phrase I saw near Notre Dame, at a memorial to the French Jews sent away during WWII, "Pardonne n'Oublie Pas. . ." (Forgive but do not forget.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teacher Tuesday

The latest good sport to play along on Teacher Tuesday is Michelle Haseltine, a sixth grade teacher in northern Virginia. 

Michelle, please fill in the blank:

You should never read and (blank) at the same time.

Paint, I've tried it. It's not pretty. 

If you were invited to be on Oprah, what book would you bring for her to read?

Only one? I guess I'd bring Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery. 

What is the funniest book you’ve read?

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos This was hard for me, I tend to lean towards the sad books. 

What is the saddest?

There are so many, it's hard to decide. I'll pick: Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz I had to put the book down, I was crying so hard. It was a tough book to read, definitely for adults, but I loved the flawed characters and their yearning to become better. 

Favorite reading snack/beverage?

Healthy: apple slices and water
Not so healthy: swedish fish and diet coke

What’s next on your TBR list? 

The Junction of Sunshine & Lucky by Holly Schindler.

Teachers, librarians, reading coaches, principals, custodians, lunch ladies, anyone with school connections: Please play along! Email me here and I'll get you the questions so you, too, can be featured on Teacher Tuesday. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friend Friday

I am delighted to host Justina Chen today, and to celebrate her latest book. Justina is a human dynamo, not only working as an executive communication strategist and young adult author, but also finding time to give back to the community, most notably as founder of ReaderGirlz.  Take it away, Justina!

Justina Chen

Odd, Strange, and Bizarre: 
The Workings of an Author’s Mind

The questions I’ve fielded as a novelist have run the gamut of odd, strange, and bizarre: How old are you? How much money do you make? When are you going to write a really good book like Twilight? But the most consistent question I get from readers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers: Where did you get your idea for your book?

If only they knew the odd, strange, and bizarre workings of my mind and musings.

Case in point: we have bedbugs, French kisses, and Machu Picchu to thank for my latest novel, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS.


Bedbugs. Two summers ago, my son brought home the worst possible souvenir ever from a month-long stay in the remote reaches of India: 324 bedbug bites. Yes, bedbug bites. 324 of them.

Scratched, scabbed, and riddled with angry red bumps and pockmarks up and down his body: this was not the smooth-skinned boy who had flown with a little trepedition into the wide blue sky for an adventure. No, a young man returned to me, scarred but no longer scared. Given the choice to leave his homestay family whose three-room hut was teeming with bedbugs for a bug-free house, my son chose to stay. He adored his adopted family, and staying with them was worth the sure promise of more bug biting.

That is the choice of a man who understands loyalty and sacrifice.


French kisses. The morning started out idyllically enough…until my then-boyfriend got enraged yet again about who-knows-what this time while we were ostensibly working at Starbucks. Two minutes later, glowering, he stormed out with the coffee that I had paid for, leaving me alone at a now-empty table. As it happened, a tall, dark, and handsome man sat down on one side of me, and on the other, an old lady whose thick white hair topped her head like a pouf of cream. There I was, typing away on my manuscript, still trembling inside from my soon-to-be ex’s latest burst of anger when the old woman started chatting with me.

I smiled politely, nodded once or twice, then continued to type. After all, I had a scant two hours before I turned back into a mom when the kids came home. Did the old woman notice that I was working? No, she continued to chatter and as she gestured, she knocked over her cup. Hot coffee cascaded all over the table, her bagel and her lap. I sprung up to help just as Tall, Dark, and Handsome did. Together, we mopped up the old woman and the table. I bought her a new coffee, he fetched her a fresh bagel. And this time, when I sat down, I thought to myself: Well, we’re sitting here next to each other for a reason.

So I leaned into the conversation that the old woman continued as if there had been no coffee-spill interruption and I had been engaged in the first place. And what she told me was this: two years ago, her husband passed away. He refused to die in the hospital so their sons brought him home to her. As he was fading away, she leaned over to kiss him goodbye. Her husband didn’t just kiss her back. He French kissed her! Gleefully, she told me, “He was sexy to the end!”
After she finished her coffee and trundled off, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome asked for my number. It was almost as if I were being told: there are many more friendly fish in the sea instead of the great white shark of a boyfriend you’re with. Don’t you dare settle. It’s fishing season.

Justina at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu. I truly believe that there are sacred spots in the world. Spots so special that even the air feels different: lighter and more luminous somehow. Machu Picchu is one such place. To this day, no one—not archaeologists, not historians—knows definitively the what and why of Machu Picchu: was it a vacation spot for the royalty? Or a religious sanctuary for priests? Whatever it was, standing before the ruins, I could feel my depleted soul refilling and soaring heavenward. There, standing atop a flat rock, I marveled at the rubble—at the beauty that lay not just in ruins, but because of the ruins. And there it was: my aha moment. That even if my world had fallen apart a few years before, I could still be standing amidst unimaginable, inexplicable beauty.


Those three different stories became the entwined DNA strands for my new novel. The trial by bedbug that turned my boy into a man became the foundation for the father in my book: How one man has to weigh the cost of loyalty and self-sacrifice when he learns that he’s going blind. Were his choices to put family above his own personal dream worth it?
The lasting passion and playfulness of a forever love became the key question for my protagonist: Could she heal from the heartbreak of a forbidden love and risk her heart again for real love?

And finally, Machu Picchu, the setting for the bulk of the novel. And more than that, the trek to Machu Picchu tested each and every one of my characters, stripping them of their veneer of outward perfection. I love the transformative nature of journeys. Setting off into the uncharted and unknown forces you to see yourself more clearly as you hit the unexpected but inevitable bumps. You—and all your travel buddies—see your every foible and your every strength. 

As the ever astute Lisa Von Drasek, curator of the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, pointed out to me: all my books feature some kind of journey, whether it’s a girl healing at her grandfather’s home in Hawaii in Return to Me or one venturing on a pilgrimage to China in North of Beautiful. On these expeditions, all my characters become so much more self-aware and world-aware.

How could I not share the majesty and mystery of Machu Picchu with readers when the place had so rearranged me, heart and soul? And now, one of the greatest gifts I have received are the messages from reader after reader, telling me how this special place in our world is now on their bucket list. I love that.

During one particularly meaningful college internship at an ad agency in New York, the founder advised me to braille the world. Get out there and read everything: newspapers, novels, milk cartons, cereal boxes. Take a big bite of life and write about it all. I’ve taken that sage advice one step further: get out there and mine our life experiences for all possible learning. Don’t just live it all, but learn from it all—love, heartbreak, and yes, the odd, weird, and bizarre.

Justina Chen is an executive communications strategist skilled at crafting powerful, resonant, and Tweet-worthy narratives. She conducts popular storytelling workshops and has presented at prestigious organizations ranging from the Mayo Clinic to NASDAQ and AT+T to Disney.

Justina’s multi-dimensional storytelling style draws from her experience as an award-winning novelist for young adults. Her titles include Return to Me, North of Beautiful, Girl Overboard and Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies). Additionally, she co-founded readergirlz, a cutting-edge literacy and social media project for teens, which won the National Book Foundation’s Prize for Innovations in Reading.