Paperback Writer!

Holy Box of Books, Batman!

I know I announced this when it was official last week, but a HUGE books arrived in the mail the other day, much to the delight of Barnhills everywhere. And so I stacked them up. And…..well. Just look at them! So many! And just after I was complaining to my dear Anne Ursu that I didn’t have a single copy of my own book in my house because I was constantly handing them to children who looked like they may be in need of reading material someday, and viola! Books! Real ones! And they arrived in secret on my doorstep, and I can’t wait to hand them out again to unsuspecting children.

I feel like the tooth fairy. Except without the underlying dental conditions. Also: with books.

The sky poured in my head and the world rang blue

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”  Hamlet

The world I see is not the world I know.

The world I see is dead. It ceased from the moment it shed its light like a snake shedding its skin, sending image after irrelevant image towards my eyes. The moment we see a thing, the thing in the state in which we saw it does not exist. It has changed. We are time travelers, looking ever backward. This is the limitation of seeing.

The world I know is a living place. It exists both before and after I perceive it. There are no befores and afters in Time. Time simply is. Any linearity is simply a construct.

For example:

Two of my children are home today. I haven’t seen them for most of the morning, but my living room is so messy that they may be within the reach of my arms and I would not know it. Anyone could be here right now – small animals, extra children, exiled world leaders. This is how we build kingdoms of limitless space: we allow the debris from the excesses of the world to spill around us, to loop around our feet again and again. We allow the universe to dimple and gather and fold. My messy house is not a result of my laziness: I am expanding space.

Yesterday, on my run, I slipped on a patch of ice, and flew. Time, of course is relative. Under the tyranny of a stopwatch, the time from step to wobble to launch to landing was, doubtless, less than a second. But really – really - it was longer than that. Time bent, looped and lengthened. Time ceased. There was only the sky. There was only the air. There was only a woman in flight.

My dog is alive, though part of her is dead. She has a benign tumor above her leg, the size of a large orange. It doesn’t hurt her, doesn’t slow her down, but it is dead at the center. It is a zombie tumor. The vet says, at her age, surgery would open up more problems than it will cause. The dead tissue has been, we believe, walled off inside of the tumor, and will likely not be the cause of her expiration. Indeed, at the ripe old age of almost-seventeen, she could be killed by any number of things. And so, she carries on her body, a talisman of death. It wobbles and quivers with each step. It draws the eye. It grins through her fur. “I am coming,” Death says. “I am coming. Indeed, I am already here.”

Yesterday, for my birthday, we put up the tree. My house smells of sap and snow and wood. We pressed the lights deep into the branches and they shine like stars. My daughter made an angel for the top. She curled a brightly printed paper into a cone for the dress, and carefully attached a serene, hand-drawn face with yellow braids.

“That angel looks like you,” I said.

“Of course it does,” she said.

“But she has no wings,” I said.

“Her wings are invisible,” she said. “Everyone’s wings are invisible. They are secret and no one knows they have them. Everyone is sad because they don’t know how to use their wings.”

“Do I have wings?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “But you use yours all the time.”

“What are they made of?” I asked. “Skin? Hair? Feathers?”

“No,” she said. “You’d be able to see them if they were. Your wings are made of sky. Everyone’s wings are made of sky.” She looked at me as if I was the silliest person she’d ever met. “It’s obvious, really.”

Things coming, things doing, and things done.

So, I have a confession to make: I have a ridiculously humungous amount of fun doing bookish events. Maybe I would feel differently if I wrote for grownups and was therefore speaking in front of audiences comprised largely of grownups. Cuz, yanno. Grownups are stodgy and a bit of a snore.

Now, I don’t want to offend any grownups reading this blog, and I really want you to know that individually I think you’re marvelous and I love you all very much. But. Let’s be serious. Kids are more fun.

I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings.

(Kids, if you’re reading this, please remember that grownups – while insufferably tiresome when collected in groups – are a sensitive, fragile lot, and you should always try to boost up their self-esteem. For example: You can tell them that they just said something smart. Or that they look terribly attractive in that sweater.)

Is there anything more awesome, I wonder, than sitting around with a bunch of kids and talking about stories? Honestly, I don’t think there is.

So, I’ve been doing some more bookish-type events lately, and I’m going to be doing some more.

For example, back in September, I was reading at Wild Rumpus Books, surrounded not only by a bunch of kids, but animals too! 

Kids!

Animals!

It was magnificent!

And then, just last Saturday I was at Red Balloon Bookshop. And there was cake. CAKE!

One of the perks of being trained as a teacher is that I’m pretty good at getting the kids to think of – and then actually ask- questions after my brief reading.

And their questions are always really interesting and esoteric and random and wonderful. Such as, “Thank you for reading but what are those books about?” And, “But why did you stop there? What happens next?” And, “But seriously, did you write all the words in this book all by yourself?”

That last one was asked with some incredulity.

By my own nephew, by the way. (Honestly! The respect I get around here!) (Et tu, Charlie?)

Anyway, I feel exquisitely energized by these last two readings, and I’m looking forward to the next appearances. For those of you who are interested I’ll be at the Twin Cities Book Festival this Saturday for a reading, signing and teaching two writing mini-workshops for children. Later, I’ll be at the AASL conference in Saint Paul at the end of the month, signing books. Then, on November 13, I’ll be doing a reading with Minnesota writer, extraordinaire, Anne Ursu, at the Second Story Reading Series at the Loft. And then, on December 3, I’ll be speaking at Nokomis Library, doing a reading and author chat with their youth book group, and I’m ridiculously excited about all of it.

If you’re around, come by! Say hello! Throw tomatoes! Or flower petals! Or autumn leaves! Make fun! Tell jokes! Stick around for coffee! Or whatever.

In any case, I’ll be there. Having the time of my life.

Want to save Literature? Support small presses.

I’m not kidding around. For all the bellyaching lately about the Endless Deathknells of Literature (and Life!) as we know it (yeah, Garrison, I’m talkin’ to you), not nearly enough attention is being paid to the vigorousness and vitality abounding in the small press world. The small press world is populated by millions of profoundly brave souls who deeply care about books. They stake their futures on books and leverage their livelihood on books and sometimes even mortgage their children’s future on books. And it is this willingness to risk everything that has fueled a renaissance in literature – one that’s happening right now -  that is recharging, re-invigorating and resuscitating the Book.

It’s the small presses, the independent booksellers, the indie zines, and the micropresses who are pushing boundaries in literature. For those of us who are constantly on the lookout for books that inspire us, challenge us, books that push language and concepts and ideas into uncharted territory, we know better than to search out the old standbys on the bestseller list. Instead, we look to the vanguard – where books rethink and recreate the world.

I’m thinking about this right now, because I have a new story up on Shimmer’s website – one that you can read for free (did you say free?) for just signing up for their newsletter. Now, this is something that we should be doing anyway – because we can’t always afford to buy every book we want nor can we subscribe to every journal that we think is awesome. But, what we can do is stand up and be counted. We can say, yes! I value this! I support books and thinking and language and image. I believe that literature is a living thing, a world unto itself, one that expands and greens and fertilizes all who touch it. I believe in the power of stories and the power of great books.

Anyway, if you feel like reading the story, head over to Shimmer, and show your support. And in the meantime, here is my question for you folks: Who are the small booksellers and book makers that are currently revving your booklust currently? For me, PS Publishing, Subterranean Press, Graywolf Press, and Small Beer Press get my vote.

What are your favorites?