Tag Archives: inspiration

A New World View

I remember with great clarity the moment when I really “got” evolution. Before that I could have given you a vague explanation for evolution, but that was book learning. The moment I’m talking about was a revelation, an awakening, an eye-opening realization: THIS IS HOW THE WORLD WORKS! Suddenly I grasped that given a few fundamental principles, the inevitable conclusion was that the diversity of life on this planet is explained by descent with modification. It was a fireworks moment.

I’ve just had another one, and this time I have the Cheeto President to thank for it.

I believed/assumed that our democratic system of government was unassailable. Some people chose to get involved and run for office or work for campaigns, while others, like me, voted and donated money. Sometimes my candidates won. Sometimes they lost. Sometimes I liked policy changes. Sometimes I didn’t. Ho-hum. Politics as usual.

What I did not know until now is that democracy, even one as lauded as ours, is constantly in flux. It must constantly be defended lest it fall away from the delicate balance of powers that defines it. Like a house by the sea, we must reinforce the foundation and re-shingle the roof. Voting is no longer enough. Speaking out and insisting that each branch of government does its job without overreaching its bounds is an absolute necessity.

The democratic experiment that is America is on the knife-edge of an autocracy. Without us, the people, raising our voices and our fists, it will crumble. We must write a new narrative.

And you know what? I am made for that. I am Jew. I know history. That means I recognize the beginnings of fascism. It also means that means I know how to wrestle with the story we are telling ourselves. I know that we must constantly re-interpret and re-vision the story that we are living. I am a writer. I am made for telling the story that I want to fight into existence.

Join me.

Download and read the INDIVISIBLE GUIDE. Find a local activist group. Make your voice heard.

We must rise.

An unstoppable, rising tide…

This awesome art is by Calef Brown at http://www.calefbooks.com
This awesome art is by Calef Brown at http://www.calefbooks.com

The poet, David Whyte wrote: Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.

I am paying attention—

To the singularly self-absorbed, little man who has revealed the bigoted underbelly of this country.

To the acts of hate and intolerance that have galvanized so many.

To the 64.6 million people, the majority, who voted for the progressive agenda of Hillary Clinton.

To the 3.8 million people sharing their stories in Pantsuit Nation.

To each of you who has written about transcending the hurdles of your past, about finding your voice, about standing up for yourself, about standing up for others, about building your true family, and about living an authentic life.

I am paying attention—

On one side, I see a thin-skinned man surrounded by hoodlums and supported by a mere 31.2% of registered voters, who willfully abandoned both critical-thinking and compassion.

On the other, I see survivors. I have read your stories. I have heard your voices. I know your strength. You are survivors of abuse, assault, and oppression, of illness, loss, and trauma. You have endured a thousand other indignities large and small, and still you shine.

You are light and fire and strength.

I am paying attention, and I am grateful. More than that, I am hopeful. I know that might be hard to believe, but it’s true. Dick and Jeanne Roy of the Northwest Earth Institute define hope this way: Hope is our highest vision of the possible.

YOU are my highest vision of the possible—an unstoppable, rising tide of humans united to take care of each other and the planet.

As for tantrum-throwing toddler man and his cronies who are determined to take it all for themselves, they have already lost. They don’t know it yet, and you might not be quite ready to believe me, but that’s okay.

The momentum in this country is toward a browner, queerer, greener, gentler, smarter future. We, the survivors, the highest vision of the possible, are using the power of the stories we share to take control of the narrative. We are the future.

*Feel free to copy and paste in order to share this post on your own feeds.
© Amber J. Keyser

I am weary of conflict

img_5348I’ll be honest. I’m having a tough time.

For a while I was just burned out. Writing four books in less than eighteen months will do that to a writer. But now it’s been almost three months since I turned in the last project. I’ve been on two canoe trips and spent lots of time in my happy place. I’ve rehabbed my knee and gone back to doing aerial silks. I’ve been trail running with the dog. And I’ve been trying to map out my next project.

It’s not working. The words aren’t cooperating.

Quite a few years back, when my daughter was little, she came home from an obviously awesome lesson about story structure declaring, “I hate stories that don’t have trouble!” It’s Writer 101 material, of course. Good narratives need conflict—they start conflicted and get worse and then even worse. Trouble is key.

And trouble is also my stumbling block. I am so very weary of conflict. My social media universe is nothing but trouble. My morning OPB shows. The newspaper. Every conversation. Everywhere I turn. Trouble. Sometimes it seems like the world is going down in flames. Or maybe just American democracy and civility and the safety of children and respect for other members of humanity.

As I scribble ideas in my journal, I can think of lots of snippets and images — a fish floating through a girl’s room, Miyazaki-style; a road made of solar panels; a boy farming carbon in some future world; a cross-country romp. Yet when I try to shape them into a narrative, I run into the trouble problem.

I want male characters who ask for consent and diverse characters who are not oppressed and female characters who aren’t demeaned. I don’t want them to have to fight for their lives or save the world or make heart-rending choices or defy authority. I don’t want to write villains or a world in ruins or a broken family or abuse. I just want everyone to be calm and happy and swaying in place with their hands entwined.

I am overwhelmed with heartache and trouble. The words aren’t cooperating. Everyday I try to acknowledge the suffering, to speak against it, and to amplify the voices that the world needs to hear, and then I try to turn away from horror and circle back toward a place where I can create. I try to return to joy.

But it’s not working. That’s the truth—at least it’s my truth right now. The words are not cooperating.

With a Mighty Hand – Day Five #Readukkah Challenge

This year I’m participating in the 2015 #Readukkah Challenge hosted by the Association of Jewish Libraries. The goal is to spread the word about wonderful Jewish books during the eight days of Hanukkah. So here they are: eight days of good reads on Jewish themes. Enjoy!
DAY FIVE #READUKKAH CHALLENGE:
WITH A MIGHTY HAND
Adapted by Amy Ehrlich

Mighty Hand
About this book:

Amy Ehrlich retains the beauty, drama, and mystery of the Torah in this unique adaptation, gorgeously illustrated with paintings by Daniel Nevins. The Torah is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. It tells the story of the beginning of the Jewish people and their relationship with God. From Adam and Eve to the first patriarch, Abraham, to Moses, who led his people to the promised land, the stories in the Torah have been studied and revered since it was first written down nearly 3,000 years ago. Now in this glorious volume, Amy Ehrlich crafts an authentic, lyrical adaptation that is presented as a continuous narrative, one that honors the complexities of the original text. Daniel Nevins’s richly hued paintings bring the ancient wonders of the Torah to resonant life, making this truly a gift to savor, share, and treasure.

Why I think you should read it:

This is not your typical “children’s bible.” It does not attempt to simplify the stories of the Torah into easily-digested moral parables. Instead it captures all the thought-provoking, weirdness of the Torah in a way that leads to excellent family conversations.

Happy Hanukkah

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A break from the maelstrom

As much as I love the crazy, complicated chaos that is the internet, there comes a time every year when I sign out of Facebook, stop tweeting, and push the power button on all my devices.

Now is that time.

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I will miss (at least a little bit) Lenny Kravitz’s wardrobe malfunctions and cats-vs-roomba and the latest kerfuffle in the YA community. I will miss (much more) the sharp insights and biting wit of my colleagues.

And I will miss you (a lot).

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But I will be listening to pebbles and sliding through water on wings of my own flesh and feeling the smooth wood of a paddle shaft under my palms. The smell of wood smoke will curl through my dreams, and when I wake early, and the mist is still rising, I will crush a leaf of sweet gale between my thumb and forefinger and breathe deep.

It is time.

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When I see you next, my dears, I will be more me and less maelstrom.

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 kindness of book people

IMG_4920This weekend, I was lucky enough to spend three days in beautiful Dumas Bay with book people. I woke today wondering how to capture the SCBWI-WWA retreat in a blog post.

Bald eagles.
A run in the rain.
Cookies and whisky.
Feeling like a giantess in my tiny convent room.
Hilarity and sand dollars.
Open hearts.

How could I give this to you, I wondered, in a wrapping of words that captured falling leaves and infinite mud flats and the way sound carries over water?

Then my writer friend, Kiersi, posted an article about what makes relationships last.

The answer? It is so simple. Kindness. Walking toward the outstretched hand and taking it. Holding out your own.

In one of the sessions this weekend, Sara Crowe, talked about the characteristics of career authors. One of them was to be kind, to reach out your hand to the editors and the assistants, to the published and the not-yet-published, to all you meet along the way. And while he might not have realized it, Andrew Karre reminded us to be kind to ourselves, to shut out the noise of reviews and the market, the expectations of genre, and the general cacophony that gets in the way of turning the multitude of wonders in our cupboard into story.

So this is what I want to tell you about my weekend: It was replete with kindess.

  • The kindness of Sara and Andrew when they talked about their authors and their books written and unwritten.
  • The kindness of critique partners who saw strength in the craft of others and named it.
  • The kindness of writers who shared the stories of their hearts with me and who, in turn, listened to my own. 
  • The kindness of laughing together (and leaving no one behind on the mud flats).
  • The kindness of every moment that honored both the gifts and challenges of this thing we do, this thing we share, the way we strive to bring forth the story only we know.

Thank you, Andrew and Sarah. Thank you, Allyson and Lois. Thank you, compatriots. It was a beautiful weekend.