I’m a curious bird

I haven’t been blogging much lately because of the double whammy of deadlines and burnout, but I did a recent interview with Ruth Tenzer Feldman, the author of an amazing trio of books that link near past and ancient past Jewish history through time travel and feminism. You definitely want to read Blue Thread, The 9th Day, and the forthcoming Seven Stitches! Anyway, here’s the interview we did (which originally appeared here). It was lots of fun! Thanks, Ruth!

So, Amber, with all you’ve done, what has brought you to writing?

I am pretty sure that Mo Willams based one of the characters in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog on me:

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I write because I am curious about so many things. I want to know about Ama divers and Antarctica and the history of women explorers and Nordic biathlon and dog genetics and how toilets are made. I love documentaries and memoirs because they plumb people’s obsessions. The writing life gives me an excellent excuse to learn and experience all the things I’m interested in.

I write for teens because I like them better than adults (present company excepted). Young adults are on the cusp of the world. So many possibilities are on the horizon. It’s an exciting time in life when you get to figure out what you stand for and carve your own path. The problem with many adults (again present company excepted) is that they get entrenched in ways of thinking and being and living. I love the brilliant energy young adults bring to the world.

Do you have a favorite piece of your writing?

If so, what is it and why? There is a scene in The Way Back from Broken (the beginning of chapter 33) that is really important to me. It began as a picture book manuscript in the very early days of my writing adventure. I took it to a manuscript critique at a writing conference. The literary agent who read it told me (to my face) that the world doesn’t need another ugly duckling story and that I wasn’t a very good writer anyway and that it would be best if I quit immediately.

I probably wasn’t a very good writer back then but I ached to write about how we can live with our own brokenness. It was a story that I needed to tell whether the world needed it or not. And that’s the thing about writing… it is an audacious act that proclaims: My story matters. I matter. My voice will not be silenced.

Every time I read that section of the book, I want to simultaneously offer a rude hand gesture to that agent and a fist bump to my own pugnacious self.

If you could change one aspect of the publishing business, what would it be and why?

So many things… First… Oh, wait… What did you say? I only get to change one thing? Well… shoot (actually I’m saying a bad word here)… Here’s the deal: Writing a book is hard. Selling books is even harder.

Thousands and thousands of books are published each year. Some are amazing. Some are boring. Some are downright terrible. Helping your book—your blood, sweat, and tears on the page—swim to the surface and into the hands of the right reader often feels like an impossible task. I wish that it were easier to sell books. I wish less of the publicity work fell on my shoulders. I wish that good books always sold well and that writers could create without the looming threat of unpaid bills.

Word-of-mouth (direct or via reviews on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads) is still the primary driver of book sales. If you know and love a writer, the most helpful thing you can do is share your appreciation for their work with your friends and family. Plus, it’s cool to talk about books with interesting people. Books are awesome!

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A poem and places for white people to start fighting racism

People take part in a rally on April 29, 2015 at Union Square in New York, held in solidarity with demonstrators in Baltimore, Maryland demanding justice for an African-American man who died of severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody. AFP PHOTO/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP PHOTO/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
I’m a writer. I take my pain and shape it into words. So today, in the face of more violence against people of color in this country, I wrote a poem.
Racism is not a black problem. It is a white problem. It is imperative that white people educate themselves about racism, listen and validate the voices of people of color, and that we take an active role in staunching the wounds and lifting the yoke.
After the poem you will find links to start doing the hard work of healing the wounds of this country. Join hands. Put your shoulder into it. We can help write a different future.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW ABOUT WOUNDS

I am gut-punched, hollowed out.
I am grief-broken and angry.
I could list the dead for hours: Sandy Hook, Orlando, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas—
There is ample pain to share.
Daughter, mother, wife, friend. I am these things.
And I have had my heart ripped from my chest by loss.
I know wounds.

This is what I know about wounds: they do not go away.
I will always be the mother of a dead child.
I share this with:
Sandy Hook
Orlando
Philando Castile
Alton Sterling
Dallas
We know wounds.

The wound of America is domination
gaping, bloody, seeping
It doesn’t go away.
We don’t get over it.
We built a country out of human flesh.
That is a fact.
And now—

A wound does not heal when it is
ignored: you’re okay
demeaned: it’s not that bad
prayed over: this is part of the plan
unshared: not my problem
A wound untended goes into sepsis

and the system—that body with the beating heart—fails.

So hear me:
I see the bodies.
I see the guns.
I see our flesh-country seething, suffering, dying—
And also trying to live.

This wound:
It is not okay.
It is worse than you imagine.
No good God planned this.
It is my problem.

It is my problem.
It is my wound.
Our wound.

This is what I know about wounds: they do not go away.
But they can be carried.
If we
see
listen
struggle
claim
If we do these things—
the living flesh can bear the scar.

Here is the homework:
Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person
Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person
30+ Resources to Help White Americans Learn About Race and Racism
Six ways white people can help end the War on Black People
It’s My Job to Raise Children Who Are Not Only Not Racist But Actively Anti-Racist
Black Lives Matter – A Reading List
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A love song to Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt

OrbitingJupiterOh, this book, this beautiful, heart-breaking book… There is so much I want to tell you about ORBITING JUPITER by Gary Schmidt, but the most important thing is that you must read it.

Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite authors because he understands young people so deeply. The thing I appreciate most about ORBITING JUPITER  is that Gary Schmidt honors the love between young people. It is so easy for adults to disregard a teen who says they have fallen in love. Oh, you don’t understand what that really means. You’re not old enough to know. As if, something about being young means that emotions don’t affect you the same way. I call bullshit on that. How can we as parents expect to have real and honest conversations with our children if we devalue their feelings? Gary Schmidt takes young people seriously and writes about them with such respect and empathy.

Another thing about this book: it was a reading experience like I used to have. I fell into this world, his characters are real to me, and all I wanted was for them to be okay.

One of the sad side effects of my life as a writer is that I no longer enjoy reading the way I used to. Most of the time, as I read, my mind whirs along analyzing what works and what doesn’t work about a book. If I read a hyped book and I don’t like it, I’m really mad. It is a rare book that can absorb me to such a degree that I am reading only to know what happens, only to live in the world of the book a little bit longer.

So this book… so much love.
Go read it!

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“I never would have turned away”

DSC02664Yesterday I began a high school visit by saying “I wrote THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN about the hardest, saddest thing that ever happened to me–the death of my daughter.”

After my talk, one student asked me about the insensitive things people say in the book. “Are they real or did you make them up?”

I told him about being at work after she died and how people would see me coming down the hall and turn around so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.

“That’s how terrifying I was,” I told him. “That’s how scary grief is.”

Afterwards, a young man came up to me and said, “I want to give you hug. If I had been in that hall, I never would have turned away.”

And he gave me a hug and I hugged him back and I managed not to cry. The kindness–such kindness–what grace.

And to those of you who didn’t turn away (you know who you are), I am so grateful to you. You saved my life.

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Booklover’s Burlesque–Come Curious, Leave Transformed

loungeI write frequently about claiming space—space to create, space to protest, space to explore sexuality. On a day-to-day scale, claiming space is about getting an entire seat on the bus to yourself or calling out microagressions or expressing your own desires. On the scale of a life, it’s about staking out our territory in the world and claiming the right to be our true selves.

One of the things that I hoped to accomplish when I put together THE V-WORD was to create a space for conversations about who we are sexually and who we want to be sexually. I wanted to break through the wall of “nice girls don’t” and “boys will be boys” to reach a truer place.

Reading THE V-WORD was supposed to feel like sitting down with a smart group of older sisters or aunties and realizing that our sexual selves don’t need to be shoved in a closet. It wasn’t supposed to be erotic or titillating.

So why—you might ask—am I celebrating the publication of THE V-WORD with a burlesque show? Young adult readers can’t even attend. And talk about titillating… We’ve all seen those pictures of Josephine Baker and Bettie Page—va-va-voom!

Well here’s the deal, when we get sexual with someone else, we bring our whole selves to the table—our emotions, our desires, our bodies, and our baggage. For many, how we feel about our bodies and how we claim space to inhabit those bodies can be pretty conflicted.

What I love about modern burlesque is that it empowers performers to celebrate their bodies—scrawny, curvy, old, young, variously abled—it’s all there on the stage to delight and yes, to titillate. They are performing for an audience, and yes, the performers want you to love it. But burlesque is just as much for performers as for the audience.

I love this TEDx talk by Lillian Bustle (definitely watch the whole thing and read this profile)! She says that when she saw her first burlesque performance she was blown away by the “daring, creative, funny women of all shapes and sizes [who looked] like they could walk through fire.” She wanted the confidence to claim the territory of her body and to love it. Lillian became a burlesque performer and says it is her “courage reference,” which means ”doing something brave and keeping that feeling in your pocket for times when you’re not feeling so brave anymore.”

Burlesque is far more than striptease. It is a form of creative expression that supposes, as Lillian says, that “Being beautiful is a decision that you make. Most of us sit around waiting for permission, for affirmation, for some other [person] to swoop in and tell us that we’re worthy, that we’re beautiful. It doesn’t have to be like that … you get to wake up one day and decide that you’re beautiful.”

If you believe girls and women should be able to explore, discover, and own their sexuality without shame, then COME to Booklover’s Burlesque: The V-Word on Friday, April 8th, at Crush Bar! You can help support the movement of encouraging young women to find, fight for, and use their voices when it comes to their sexual lives.

Come curious.
Leave transformed.

(And don’t forget to get your tickets in advance!)

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Readings by Amber Keyser, Sara Ryan, Kate Gray, and others!

Performances by Fannie Fuller, Lily Le Fauve, Judy Patootie,
Honey Le Fleur, Paige Rustles, and Lacy Knickers!

Books available for purchase!

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What World Do You Want?

When a young black woman is pushed, insulted and harassed at a Trump rally—
When armed men destroy Paiute sacred lands—
When a man tells a woman that she has to carry a child of rape—
When there are so many mass shootings that I can’t remember the details—

When anger is everywhere I look—

I get angry too.

I don’t want a world of racism and institutionalized privilege, violence and hate, ignorance and distrust.

But you know what?

I don’t want to be full of such anger either.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 7.32.11 AMToday I offer you my hope for the world instead of my rage, and I challenge you to turn darkness into light. The world we will get is the one we can imagine, the one we can build with our hearts and our hands.

Share this hope. Or better yet, share your own.

What world do you want?

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GEORGE–an amazing book… You should read it!

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I stayed up way too late a few nights ago reading this book. I knew I should close the pages and go to sleep. I knew the alarm was going off early the next morning, but I kept reading.

Not because this is a suspenseful story.
Not because this is a story with a relentless pace.
Not because I couldn’t imagine how this story would end.

I read the entire book in one sitting because George is a character I have never, ever before seen on the page.

Think about that for a moment. Frodo, Harry, Lyra, Katniss… we know this kind of hero. And we know (and love) books like THE GIVER or BRIDGE TO TEREBINTHIA. I could list a hundred books I adore that have their seeds in other stories. That is how literature works.

But I have never read a heart-warming, sweet, gentle, aching book about a person like George. I love her and I wanted her to be okay. That is why I kept reading.

And we need George to remind us of our human capacity for empathy and understanding. I hope that you will buy a copy and read it in one sitting and then share it widely. George has a lot to tell you about being real.

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Do you remember reading FOREVER by Judy Blume?

ForeverDo you remember reading FOREVER? If you, like me, were a teen in the 80s or 90s, Judy Blume’s depiction of teenage love and first time sex was monumentally important. We’d never read anything like it—realistic sex where nothing bad happened to the teens involved.

There is a lot more sexual content out there now, but teens, especially teen girls, are still turning to young adult novels for information. This is one of the reasons that my new anthology THE V-WORD includes a Q & A with teen librarian Kelly Jensen about portrayals of teen sexuality in media.

In a wide ranging conversation, we talk about the best depictions of arousal, body image, gender identity, female masturbation, queer sex, straight sex, rape culture, and enthusiastic consent. Throughout, Kelly recommends go-to titles for teens who want to know more about these issues.

In a recent review on NetGalley, Melanie P. wrote:

I also loved the Q&A after the seventeen essays in this book. Kelly Jensen’s answers are so amazing, and I aspire to be more like her. She is so strong, and such an amazing voice for every young woman out there. I can’t recommend this book enough, just for the Q&A session at the end alone. I truly do believe with all my heart that this is a book all young girls would benefit from reading, because this book explores what schools and other outside sources are not going to teach you.

If you want to know more, check out this great article in the Huffington Post called 8 Books That Don’t Sugarcoat Teen Sexuality and of course look for THE V-WORD at your nearest bookstore.

Add it to your Goodreads list
At Simon & SchusterBarnes & Noble, or Amazon
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Take up all the space you want

The novel that I’m working on now explores what it means to be in a girl’s body in this world at this time. It’s about control and consent and physicality and wildness. It is also about space. How do we claim it? Fill it? Own it?

Yesterday at the dog park, I had a really upsetting interaction with a woman. Her dog took my dog’s ball, and the woman simply shrugged. “He’s a ball stealer,” she said. “Sorry. I can’t get it back from him.”

What followed (and I’ll spare you the details) was my utter disbelief in her behavior as well as my desire to get my $5 Chuck-It ball back. She ended up swearing at me and yelling at me and saying I was stupid to have an expensive ball for my dog and expecting it back and a whole lot of horrible things. Including telling me that she walked in the park every day and hoped she would never see me again.

Talk about claiming space (and balls that don’t belong to you.)

I walked home shaken (I am not a lover of conflict). She ended up driving up next to me in her truck and holding out the ball. “Here!” she snapped. Apparently her dog gives them back when he gets in the car. I took the ball and continued home.

But the damage was done. I too walk in that park nearly every day. I make two loops and throw the ball for Gilda so she can get good and worn out so that I can write. I use that space daily, and yet my first inclination was to find another place to walk. As I said, I am not a lover of conflict.

How many times has this happened to you? When have you been pushed out of space, emotional or physical, that you have every right to occupy? How many times? I could give you a long list, and I am tired of it.

I’m not saying that we should all turn into narcissistic Trump twins who think that the world was made for us and us alone, but we do not need to shrink. We do not need to cede territory.

So today, when Gilda brings me her ball and tells me it is time to go, we go to the dog park, our park. And if that woman is there, then okay. I can take it. I can even find some empathy for her. It must suck to have your dog be a dick.

It’s a small act of rebellion but I deserve it.

And so does Gilda.

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It’s time to talk about sex and virginity and voice

Recently you may have noticed a plethora of posts from me that feature a beautiful book with a canoe on it…

I know, I know!

I’ve been talking a lot about THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN. It’s not every day I get to publish a novel, especially one that is drawn from such a personal and painful place. It’s been humbling and inspiring and amazing to share the book and to hear from readers, and you’ve all been very indulgent of my shameless self-promotion. Thank you!

However, if you are tired of hearing about leeches and portages, you might be excited to know that change is coming…

BIG CHANGE…

Drumroll, please…VW_front

I have a new book coming out on February 2nd and it has nothing to do with canoeing or grief (well, maybe a bit of grief).

THE V-WORD is an anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sexual experiences. The women who have written for this collection are smart and funny and insightful and phenomenally honest. I can not wait to share their stories with you.

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Talking honestly about sex is the best way to help young women find and use their voices in intimate encounters.

Our goal in laying it all out there is to give teens a broad perspective on what real sex is like—sometimes awesome, sometimes not so much. The landscape of sexual experiences is broad, and we hope our experiences will help young women to chart their own course and claim their own sexual agency. After all, they are the ones who should be in charge of this journey.

So you can expect to hear me blabbing for awhile about THE V-WORD. I hope you’ll help me get this book into the hands of readers who need it.  Thank you, my friends!

 

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