Category Archives: Writing

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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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

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!

 

“Rare in its honesty” — a review from School Library Journal

“Rare in its honesty…No easy answers…Sincere existential questioning…”

IMG_1433I am so touched by the review of THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN that appears in School Library Journal this month. What an amazing sensation to realize that the book does what I’d hoped it would do in the hands of a reader. Only a few more weeks and THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN will be available everywhere. I can hardly believe it!

From School Library Journal (Sept 1, 2015):

Rare in its honesty, this novel tells a poignant story of loss, grief, and recovery. Fifteen-year-old Rakmen’s infant sister dies in his arms, and his family unravels. He accompanies his mother to a support group, where he encounters his unstable teacher, Leah, who’s grieving the loss of her stillborn son, and her young daughter, Jacey. The little girl clings to Rakmen for protection from her mother’s bizarre behavior. The problem: so soon after the death of his own baby sister, Rakmen is not emotionally ready or willing to act as a big brother to the young girl. Summer approaches, and Rakmen’s parents, ignoring his protestations, send him off to spend several weeks at Leah’s slovenly Canadian lake cabin. Yet his parents underestimate Leah’s grief. Is he supposed to babysit Jacey, his teacher, or both? “It’s too heavy for me,” says Rakmen, not only referring to the canoe he carries by the lake. The trio go au large—into the wilderness, the unknown—for three weeks of hiking, canoeing, and sleeping in tents. Despite the familiar themes of “man vs. nature” and “man finds himself,” Keyser spares readers clichés. The characters raise questions to which there are no easy answers, or no pleasant ones, and Keyser wisely allows that. Rakmen learns that life can be excruciating as well as hopeful, and readers will be pleased when his story ends on an optimistic note. This debut novel works on many levels: it presents well-developed characters, a solid story arc, and scenes of rugged survivalism.

VERDICT A subtly touching tale of liberation from grief that, with its sincere existential questioning, will stay with readers and may leave teens feeling the urge to go au large themselves.

–Laura Falli, McNeil High School, Austin, TX

The Way Back From Broken – Cover & Contest

When you’re running whitewater, there’s a moment just before entering the rapids when the world stills. The canoe seems to hang in the air above the smooth tongue of green water that leads into the roiling waves. At that moment, it’s too late to be afraid, and there is a crisp, focused moment of joy.

Now is that moment.

Way Back from BrokenThis is the cover for THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, which releases on October 1st from Carolrhoda Lab. This novel holds both my heart and my history, and I am so grateful to be able to share it with you.

I have in my hands an advance copy of the book, and I am going to give it away to one of you.  If you sign up for my newsletter (which I send every 2 months or so), “like” my Facebook author page, or follow me on Twitter, I will enter your name in the giveaway. Do all three, and you’ve got three chances to win and be one of the first to read THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN.

And more than that, you’ll have my gratitude for joining me in the rapids and helping me find the way back.

Be All There

Sometimes I hit social media like a rat hits a pleasure bar. Treat me. Treat me. Lots of uncertainty in my life these days. I blogged about it here and here. I turn to Facebook and Twitter hoping for something funny, something sweet, connection, and I confess, a bit of validation.

The result… I struggle to get into the flow space I need for writing to be fun and fluid and fast. I march. I drudge. I write the words and meet the goals. But it doesn’t feel good. To get the writer’s high, I need to really be in the story not grubbing around online hoping someone will tell me I’m smart and cute.

So here’s the reminder… for myself and for you.

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Intuition, trust, faith – Lessons from SCBWI-WWA

IMG_5930I always leave writing conferences full of new ideas. Maybe a workshop has offered insight into some element of craft that I want to implement in my work in progress, or perhaps I’ve gleaned new strategies for social media and marketing.

I came home from the SCBWI-Western Washington Spring Conference with something a little different and probably far more valuable.

Sharon Flack and Nina Laden reminded me about intuition. Can I step back from over-analyzing and over-planning my projects and embrace the deep knowing of what my story needs?

Rachel Or asked us to trust in each other, in our art, and in ourselves.

David Wiesner spoke of faith in the ultimately unknowable act of creation that occurs when you commit to showing up on the page. Can I believe whole-heartedly in the process by which ideas are made manifest?

And to all this I will add kindness. A thousand thank yous to Dana Armin, Dana Sullivan, and Lily LaMotte for taking such good care of all of us this weekend. I was so happy to be among my people, to see your projects come to fruition, and to share my own. This writing business can be solitary and frustrating and heart-breaking, but it is also filled with the best people in the world.

And thus I begin work this morning full to brimming…

Intuition
Trust
Faith
Kindness

May they be yours as well.

 

Fav books, the writing life, and my literary masterpiece, Anatomy of a Bruise

I was happy to be featured on the Lerner Books blog today! Lerner is the publisher of my current nonfiction, Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes as well as The Way Back from Broken (coming October 2015). You can view the post here or read on below.
What was your favorite book you read growing up?
Hands down, it was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. I’ve probably read it thirty times. Oh, how I love Reepicheep! Close on the heels of this book comes My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I always wanted my own Frightful.
What are some of your favorite childrens/young adult books that youve read recently? 
Okay for Now  by Gary Schmidt, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Rollergirl by Victoria Jamieson, Nation by Terry Pratchett, and Ill Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.
Who are your favorite contemporary fellow authors?
I can’t believe you are making me choose! That is a very cruel thing to do to a reader!
Right now I’m still gushing over Gary Schmidt. I admire the subtle ways he allows his characters to reveal deep emotional truths. A. S. King does this too. The writing of both Jandy Nelson and Laini Taylor has a pell-mell, technicolor intensity that I love. Nancy Farmer is a bomb story-teller, and she can do anything from survival stories in Africa to Vikings to alternate reality drug dealers.
Why did you start writing?
Before I was a writer, I was an evolutionary biologist. These might seem like really different jobs, but at the core, they are the same. I’m an observer. I want to understand how the world works and what makes people tick. Doing science and writing books are both ways to do this.
What are the hardest/easiest parts of writing for you?
The hardest part is when I let myself get emotionally invested in all the parts of the writing business that are out of my control: reviews, book sales, contracts, awards, etc. The easiest part is committing myself whole-heartedly to the story. That is what matters most.
How do you gather ideas for your books?
Ideas are easy. They are everywhere for the gathering. The trick is getting enough ideas to glom together into a book. Anything that interests me gets added to a list in my GTD software (The Hit List) called “Book Ideas.” Right now it has 28 entries including horse genetics, bronc-rider George Fletcher, and something called The Doom Dimension. For the current book, several of these ideas developed a magnetic attraction and BOOM! Suddenly there was enough bubbling out of the explosion to make a whole novel.
Do you have a writing routine?
As soon as my kids get on the bus, I’m at my desk. I take 15 minutes or so to glance at my email and check in on Twitter (@amberjkeyser) then I open Scrivener and get to work. When drafting, I try to hit 1,000 words before I take a break. When revising I try to work for at least three hours. Break time usually means a walk in the forest with our new puppy, Gilda. After lunch, I buckle down for another two hours.
How do you deal with self-doubt or writing blocks?
When the writing gets tough and I’m agonizing over every word, I have to ask myself what kind of “stuck” am I experiencing. Am I struggling because my batteries are depleted and I need to take care of myself? Or is it hard because writing is painful and I need to keep trying? When it is the former, I go for a run in the forest. Otherwise, I stay at my desk and remind myself that even if what I write isn’t great, I will fix it in revision.
Sneaker Century and The Way Back from Broken are really different books. How do you manage to write both nonfiction and fiction?
For me, writing any book requires the same things: free-flowing nonlinear creativity, deep research into the core elements of the story, detailed to-do lists on how to execute the plan for the book, and disciplined, grind-it-out time in front of the computer. They may occur in different proportions, but the ingredients are always the consistent. No matter the book, I have the same tasks: find the right structure to tell the story, create a voice that makes you want to read on, and bring the world to life with details you can sink your teeth into.
Do your kids influence your writing? If so, how?
Sometimes I write about very difficult subjects. You might assume that I would steer away from the edge for fear of what my children will think, but the opposite is true. They need me to be brave, incisive, and above all, deeply honest.
Tell us something we don’t know about you!
My very first book, penned in 2nd or 3rd grade, was called Anatomy of a Bruise. I remember one particular illustration that I was very proud of. It depicted the inevitable consequences of an apple falling off a table and smacking the ground. Another showed a time lapse series of a bruise healing from purple to greenish-yellow to gone. Also, I crocheted the cover with orange and turquoise yarn. Clearly, I was a yarn bomber way ahead of my time!

The paralysis of trying to “do it right”

Cosplayer Ryosama as Cowgirl Ed (Photo by Digital Celsius)
Cosplayer Ryosama as Cowgirl Ed (Photo by Digital Celsius)

Children’s literature is powerful.

I know this because certain books have changed my life. They have changed the way I view the world and my place in it.

I know this because of the brouhaha that explodes whenever some journalist writes about whether young adult fiction is too dark, too complex, too negative, too whatever.

I know this because of the  #YAsaves response to criticism of darkness in YA.

I know this because the campaign to increase diversity in children’s literature has taken over my internet feeds and sent reverberations through media culture in general. (Check out #WeNeedDiverseBooks)

The companion to the power and influence of children’s literature upon real, live, beating-heart humans is the pressure it puts on me as a writer of children’s literature to “do it right.”

Author Christa Desir captured this exactly in her review of THE BUNKER DIARY by Kevin Brooks. (Read the whole thing here.)

I’m fascinated by the burden of responsibility that seems to fall on the shoulders of those of us who write for children. I’m not completely clear who decided on the rules about YA books, but there seems to be an insistence that if the books are going to be about difficult things, then they need to somehow “save”. I have long hesitated at this notion that YA Saves because I think it puts us in the position that we must then acknowledge that the opposite can be true too. That if we’re going to assert that YA books save lives, then we have to allow that they can damage people. And this power makes me very uncomfortable.

I am only me and yet I am trying to write about people different from me with experiences far broader than my own. I want to “do it right.” I want to be authentic and reflective and respectful and honest. I want my books to be “true” even in fiction.

And in all this striving to tell stories that stretch beyond me, there is a very real danger of paralysis as a writer. In a recent conversation with my coauthor Kiersi Burkhart about our middle grade series Second Chance Ranch, I found myself expressing some very real fears about my ability to write diversity. I care so much about doing it right that I was afraid to do it at all. I can’t write about gamers. I can’t write about an overweight character. I can’t write about a black girl.

But the alternative?

Not writing.
Or worse, only writing about a bunch of skinny white girls who love horses.

I can’t face either of those alternatives.

In the midst of all this angst, I found Kate Brauning‘s wonderful post on Pub Hub about Writing Ethical YA. You absolutely must click here and read the whole thing, but let me leave you with the line I found most encouraging, the one that allowed me to shake off the paralysis.

If you’re showing real life and helping fill in the gaps, you’re doing just fine, and I want to read your book.

Thank you, Kate. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Now to get back to that black cowgirl who loves cosplay and isn’t super psyched about her weight…

Double knot those laces!

IMG_1533I’m getting really excited for the publication of my nonfiction book SNEAKER CENTURY: A HISTORY OF ATHLETIC SHOES (Twenty-First Century Books, January 2015). It was fun book to write and it will be fun to see it in the hands of readers. The book earned a nice review from Kirkus and another from Booklist. Here’s one from School Library Journal that leaves me grinning ear to ear. I’m glad to be able to share it with you.

Trainers. Tennies. Kicks. No matter what they’re called, athletic shoes have played an important role in American culture and the global economy during the past century, and this insightful look at the history of sneakers traces the shoes, from their humble origins in the Industrial Revolution to their current status as part of a multibillion dollar industry. While the text acknowledges the crucial role shoes play in athletic performance—a fact of which most readers are likely well aware—it does not dwell upon it. Instead, Keyser peppers the narrative with lesser-known human interest stories, such as the sibling rivalry between shoe manufacturers Adi and Rudolf Dassler that spawned Adidas and Puma. Equally fascinating is Keyser’s examination of the role youth culture has played in the athletic shoe industry (and vice versa) as well as her look at the seamier side of shoe manufacturing, including the extreme disparity between foreign labor costs and the price of the final product. While not comprehensive, the text provides readers with a solid understanding of sneaker culture. The graphics complement the text without overshadowing it, though there’s a lot of white space on some pages. Readers of all stripes will appreciate the role sneakers play in our lives. A fun and informative addition.

–Audrey Sumser