happy messy glory!

Savannah-born Johnny Mercer wrote these lyrics:

When an irresistible force such as you
Meets an old immovable object like me
You can bet just as sure as you live
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give!

I like Sinatra's version here. And Sammy Davis Jr.'s, here.  They're different arrangements, and both terrific.

This gem from the Great American Songbook played in my head this fall, as I thought about all that was on my plate, and about how my intentions were good, but I wasn't going to accomplish all I set out to do.

Maybe the new novel, brewing and asking for attention, was the irresistible force. Maybe it was the immovable object. At any rate, I traveled like a crazy person, to conferences, schools, and gatherings of all kinds, and used any inch of time leftover to be with the novel. That left no time for many things, including blogging.

I use the blog as a scrapbook, but I don't even have photos of most of November and December, that's how fiercely I kept my head down, trying to stay the course, trying to plow ahead.

So I'll settle for sharing some photos of the past two weeks. I came off the road on December 15 after spending a day working with teachers at Columbia University Teacher's College in NYC -- what a fabulous day that was! (How COLD it was in NYC!).

I got up out of my own good bed the next morning and found that I just could not face the page, not one more day. I couldn't do one more work-related thing. I couldn't. So... I put on an apron and gave myself a break.

And now? I'm ready to go back to work. But first, time to ring out an amazing decade.

Here I sit, with you, on the cusp of 2011. Ten years ago, I was also on the cusp of my publishing career. My first book, Freedom Summer, was published in January 2001. Ten years ago tonight, however, December 31, 2000, I sat in my living room in Frederick, Maryland, with a friend, in the twinkling Christmas-tree dark, holding hands, and holding back the tears... no, I cried. I cried buckets. I had become suddenly single after 22 years of marriage. My heart was broken. I was scared. I worried for my children. For all of us.

I was embarking on an adventure I could not have imagined, not in my wildest writerly dreams. Today I live in Atlanta. I have sold nine books in ten years. I have published six. I have earned my MFA, I have taught writing all across the country. I have learned how to make a living and manage my own affairs. I have put my daughter through college and have welcomed my sons to live in Atlanta. I have stumbled a lot. I have let go. I have learned to love again.

My children are grown... and glorious. I will spend this New Year's Eve alone, by choice. I will cherish the solitude. I will slowly undecorate the tree (Remember the tree? I still love its stories.). I will write "2010" on the bottom of the new ornaments that symbolize this year. I will put away Christmas. I will become ready for the new year.

I am a newlywed (does three years count as newlywed territory?). My musician husband will come home to me after his gig and we will sleep in late tomorrow, together. Later, my house will fill with friends and family, new and old traditions, laughter, stories, memories... history.

And I will go back to work on book two of the Sixties Trilogy. I'm ready to chronicle this journey with you -- I hope I can do it justice.

I'm ready to face the next ten years, too. I will remember to take it one day at a time. I have learned what Uncle Edisto tells Comfort to do in Each Little Bird That Sings: "Open your arms to life! Let it strut into your heart with all its messy glory!"

Yes. Messy Glory. Happy New Year, friends.

Happy Messy Glory.

the long exhale

Hello, friends. More about me in a minute. First, a round-up of Countdown's year, on this last day of 2010.
It's been gratifying and exhausting, in the most exhilarating way, to watch Countdown make its way in the world this year. Since we last visited here, Countdown has been on several year-end lists:

A Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, 2010
An Amazon.com Best Book of 2010, Top Ten Middle Grade Books
A Booklist Editor’s Choice for 2010
A Book Links Lasting Connection of 2010
A Best Books of 2010, The Christian Science Monitor

  I wanted to share with you, as I let go of Countdown and turn my attentions fully to book two of the Sixties Trilogy, some secrets of Countdown. They are contained in the end-of-year interviews, reviews, and divulgences below. I offer them as resources if you are teaching Countdown, and as enrichment if you'd like to know more about how this book came together. And who doesn't like a few secrets? hee. Onward:
Jennifer Buehler and I spent a happy hour together in November at NCTE in Orlando, and the result is this lovely 20-minute podcast at Read-Write-Think all about the creation of Countdown, and just what was I thinking? "Every once in a while a book comes along that breaks new ground by doing something that's never been done before.  Deborah Wiles' 2010 documentary novel Countdown is such a book." You'll hear my paean to designer Phil Falco and to my editor, David Levithan, and learn about their vital roles in Countdown, as well as the connections *I* was making as I wrote the book. Thanks so much, Jennifer.

Earlier this month, David and I were interviewed by Laurie Beth Schneider at The Mixed up Files of Middle Grade Authors: Team Countdown: An Interview with Deborah Wiles and David Levithan. Laurie gave us lots of space to share in depth about the creation of Countdown, and you'll find here also my thoughts about the large arc of history vs our personal stories, and what I think about how we present historical fiction for young readers. Thanks so much, Laurie.

Scholastic sales rep and good friend Charlie Young sent me this Countdown review by a young reader (Girl Knows Books) in Prince George's County, Maryland (where Franny lives, in Countdown),and I love it so much, I want to share it with you. Favorite lines: "I loved this book and couldn’t put it down, so I finished it in two days. The writing and plot were magnetic, the characters were so real that I could either hate them with all my might or love them to bits. It’s just the right book for the kid that likes reading emotional stories, and the girl that needs to realize all she has. It really is."

 And isn't that what it's all about? It is for me. Countdown lives as long as it is embraced by readers and taken to their hearts. I always say I write for ten-year-old me. Here's a secret: I write for ten-year-old you, too. I expect you to rise to the occasion... and you do. Stretch! Grow! Become! The best stories, for me, offer me a way to see beyond my usual norms. They ask me to think differently -- to see what that's like -- and to feel and connect and... change.

Somewhere in the year's interviews, you'll find that I consider the Countdown scrapbooks kept by the young Franny, full of newspaper clippings and sayings she has collected and songs she has heard, and photos she has seen. I think of the opinionated biographies as written by the adult Franny, who has the perspective of age and time on her side, so she can see the throughline of history and how it is connected to each of us and how our personal decisions are touched by that history.

And, somewhere along the way, I was heavily influenced by social revolutionary and amazing writer John Dos Passos and especially his U.S.A trilogy -- The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. From one description:

"The trilogy employes an experimental technique, incorporating four different narrative modes: fictional narratives telling the life stories of twelve fictional characters; collages of newspaper clippings and song lyrics labeled "Newsreel"; individually labeled short biographies of public figures of the time such as Woodrow Wilson and Henry Ford; and fragments of autobiographical stream of consciousness writing labeled "Camera Eye." The trilogy covers the historical development of American society during the first three decades of the twentieth century."

Sound familiar? Franny's internal musings serve as the Camera Eye of Countdown. The scrapbooks serve as the Newsreels. And the biographies of Countdown are as opinionated as the ones in U.S.A.

The differences? I am focusing on the sixties. I am writing for young readers. I am following one heroine, one narrative line. And the story, of course, is mine. I want to offer young readers a terrific story, first of all, and along the way, a way to look at history, a way to sink into story that's visual, tactile, and auditory. The playlist for Countdown (on this resource page at my website) is as much a part of the experience as the elements inside the book. The reader's heart is as much a part of the experience as mine.
I issued a challenge and an invitation, with Countdown this year: come in. Wade in the water with me. Fall into this story. Become a part of this story, part of this history. Be one with all that has gone before you, and all that will be. Make peace.

It has been a good year. Thank you for traveling with me.

a few days to fill up

On the way home from Chicago, I took a few days to sleep, talk, listen, eat, cook, walk, and write, whenever the mood strikes, with good writer friends who've been retreating together for 14 years. Can you tell where we met? Do you know who the others are? 

We started meeting in October 1996. Some of us (including me) weren't published. Today we are all published and boast a couple of National Book Award finalists, a Boston-Globe Horn-Book Award, a Caldecott Award, and so many Notable books we've quit counting.

Some years, this is the only time we see one another. We come from all over the country (and Canada) We arrive with stories we're working on, with tales of the year's adventures. We make a stop at the local Trader Joe's so we can stock up on the necessities. We share cooking and clean-up. We spend our days writing in the seacoast quiet. We take breaks and walk to town when we need to. We spend evenings talking into the night about our lives and our hopes and our dreams... and, sometimes, our losses. We have held one another up in the darkest of hours, and we have celebrated our sweetest successes. We understand that those successes are about so much more than publication. 

Our children have grown. Husbands have come and gone (so have publishers and editors and more). Hearts have broken and mended. Lives have been transformed. 

Some of us are grandparents. We are growing old together, something we never considered 15 years ago. We hold pieces of one another's history. We are part of one another's story. I'm honored to be part of this amazing group of women who know how to laugh, cry, eat (!), tell tales, and write like their fingers were on fire. Long may we meet each October.

Special love today to our compatriot Dian Curtis Regan, above, who took the last two photos in this batch (well, not the one of HER -- she's toasting us with our leftover kitty money this morning). Go gently, good friend. Remember to carry us in your pocket.

all in a day

No, really. I'm serious. All in one day. Outside Chicago, in Lamont schools, and then in Skokie, at National Louis University's CTCB -- Center for Teaching through Children's Books.
An amazing librarian and new friend, Donna Sifling.

These are photos of the set-up at the Center for Teaching through Children's Books at National Louis University. I didn't take photos of the lovely crowd we had, and it was a lovely crowd. Thank you all for coming out to the Center for Teaching through Children's Books, and thanks so much to Gail and Jody and Junko, and -- as always -- Robin Hoffman at Scholastic Book Fairs and the amazing Chicago team, for making this event possible.

And I must point out these cupcakes! Countdown cupcakes! Heavens to Murgatroyd!

It's Mr. Schu! He showed up early, and was #1 for the book signing line. We've been twitter friends, and now we are real-life friends. Thanks for coming, John.

One more Chicago day.  I crashed into bed last night and got six solid hours of sleep.

Boston tonight.  I'm good to go.

going and coming

 Leaving Wisconsin, here is the Wisconsin SCBWI fall 2010 retreat faculty:
I had fun with y'all, and I learned a lot. A very smart, savvy, witty, compassionate faculty, even if I do say so myself.
 And here are our photographers! Pam Beres, regional advisor; Judy Bryan, assistant regional advisor, and JoAnn Early Macken, member (and writer) extraordinaire. Thank you, thank you, thank you again!
I left Wisconsin with my friend Robin Hoffman, Queen of Scholastic Book Fairs, who came to pick me up this morning. We drove to Chicago together, yakking all the way, and made a stop on the way to our destination. Robin knew just what I was looking for:

Here I was, just a week ago, thinking I needed to set book three of the Sixties Trilogy in Berkeley in 1968 -- even ready to find a short-term rental there for next summer. Now I think maybe I need to set book three in Chicago, of course.

Whew! Well... I don't have to decide about 1968 now. I need to finish book two. But first... Chicago. Tomorrow I work with Scholastic Book Fairs in three Chicago schools and then speak at National Louis University, at their North Shore Campus at 4:30pm. Here is your invitation to come out and hear me talk about Countdown!

Please come, if you're in the Chicago area and can make it -- I'd love to see you.  I promise not to look this tired:

One more photo to add to this one and this one, in Robin and Debbie's Big Adventures.