Category Archives: Antics

Book Tour: Southern California Edition

This spring, I have teamed up with the lovely author Elana K. Arnold for a book tour. We’re a great match up because we both have new middle grade novels (A BOY CALLED BAT and the QUARTZ CREEK RANCH series) as well as new young adult novels (WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF and POINTE, CLAW). For each stop on our tour, we are doing both a middle grade event and a YA event. I’ve just returned from the Southern California leg of our tour, and I am bubbly with things to report!

#1

Elana has a bird named Bird, a cat, and two dogs, including this endearing fluffball, who won my heart even though she ate my toothbrush!

#2

The Getty Museum is an architectural marvel perched on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. The paintings inside and the gardens outside were spectacular.

#3

Highland Park has vegan tacos and vegan donuts and men in high-waisted plaid pants. The Pop-Hop is a very cool bookstore, and I got to hang out with Antonio Sacre, one of my favorite writer-storytellers.


#4

Once Upon a Storybook in Tustin has reading nooks, a mouse door, and a wall of fame for authors to sign. I saw lots of my fav books on the shelves including VOLCANO RISING, THE MUSIC OF LIFE, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, and RAMBLER STEALS HOME.


#5

Gatsby Books in Long Beach has a store cat, a Carrie Fisher super fan, and was hosting a Night Vale event right after Elana and I talked about Feminism and the Female Body. I regret that I did not buy a t-shirt!

#6

Planning an extra play day turned out to be a stroke of brilliance. The beach had whales and dolphins and lots of teeny-tiny bath suit bottoms.

#7

We ate at Snow Monster, and I found my new life motto.

#8

Being with Elana K. Arnold is incredibly inspiring. She’s a brilliant, deep thinker, and her books are some of the best I’ve ever read. We wrote together every day,  talked about our new WIPs, and debriefed this weird business we work in. She fed me donuts and let me hang out with her super cool family. I am grateful to call her my friend.

#9

We are coming for you in the Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle. Click here to go to my events page for details.

George Fletcher: The People’s Champion

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George Fletcher — Art by Wendy Myers
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George Fletcher on Long Tom

Hold onto your hats, cowgirls and cowboys! The exciting story of saddle bronc rider, George Fletcher, is out today! I am so happy to introduce OREGON READS ALOUD, a beautiful anthology of 25 stories by Oregon authors and illustrated by Oregon artists. I love this book and I love SMART: Start Making a Reader Today and I love horses and I love George Fletcher! It’s a win all the way around. Grab a copy and snuggle up on the couch with your favorite little person for OREGON READS ALOUD!

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A must read book: PIT BULL by Bronwen Dickey

bronwendickeyI just read an amazing book by Bronwen Dickey called PIT BULL: THE BATTLE OVER AN AMERICAN ICON. It is a deeply-researched and deft description of the way fear, racism, classicism and the denial of data have lead to discrimination against pit bulls and their owners.

Before reading it, I would have looked askance at any dog that resembled a pit bull. After reading, I have a completely different perspective. I learned so much from this book, including the basic impossibility of looking at a mixed-breed dog and making solid inferences about its breed stock, the breed-specific laws that hurt primarily poor people and people of color, and the massive myth-making around these dogs. 

As I read, I was struck by how the historical and social narrative that Dickey details mirrors similar false narratives like the demonization of Hillary Clinton and the refusal to analyze these narratives with actual data and statistics.

The story of the pit bull is inextricably tied to the story of race in America and thus it is an important social justice story as well. In fact as Dickey concludes: “What pit bulls have taught us is that justice for animals cannot happen at the expense of social justice for humans. The divide between the two that has existed for almost two centuries needs to be bridged. If we fail to do that, the cycle is destined to repeat itself with another type of dog and another group of people.”

As a side note, this book came onto my radar screen because the author was targeted with death threats and hate mail upon its publication. She required security at her book events. Who were these people? They were anti-pit bull activists NOT the so-called “thugs” who own pit bulls. After reading Dickey’s book, it is hard not to see racism at the core of the hatred leveled at these dogs.

If you want to support organizations that are doing excellent work helping both dogs AND their owners, check out Pets for Life and the Coalition to Unchain Dogs.

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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!

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

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.

Shared experience, love of place, and healing

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THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN got a really nice review from VOYA. One section really resonated with me:

“A valuable theme in the book is how relationships can lead us back from broken. The shared experiences and honest discussion of their emotions are what are able to help Rakmen, Leah, and Jacey to begin a journey of healing. ”

In addition to relationships, I would add “connection to place.” The most healing (and happiest) place in my world is our cabin in Canada, where my family gathers every year to recharge and renew. This is where we linger over coffee and swim in the lake and hike in the forest. This conversation and connection in a peaceful, wild place keeps me sane and hopeful.

From VOYA:

Talking about death is difficult, but there are times in each person’s life when there is no way to avoid such a conversation. Separate traumatic events in the characters’ lives in The Way Back from Broken have forced each of them to confront the topic of death and dying, difficult as that may be. What is more, each must also come to terms with being a survivor and the many emotions that brings—guilt, fear, anger, and of course, overwhelming sadness. This overwhelming sadness gets the book off to a slow start; the situations and relationships appear to be depressing and hopeless. “Not gonna be a happy ending to that story,” writes fifteen-year-old Rakmen in his journal of tragedies, and it seems to be true for this book as well. However, the story becomes both compelling and hopeful when Rakmen and his “crazy” teacher Leah, along with her ten-year-old daughter, Jacey, leave on a summer trip to Canada. This is where progress is finally made in bravely experiencing their grief and learning how to find the strength to live with it.

A valuable theme in the book is how relationships can lead us back from broken. The shared experiences and honest discussion of their emotions are what are able to help Rakmen, Leah, and Jacey to begin a journey of healing. This book is a heartbreaker, but any reader can benefit from its message of honesty, resilience, and courage. —Debbie Kirchhoff.