January was quiet month for me, spent mostly with family and on vacation. This has given me a lot of time to reflect on the past year and the upcoming one. Another resolution: to not let a groove turn into a rut! I'm not entirely sure how to tell the difference, but I am resolving to examine my life more closely. Sometimes we continue to do things because they are easy, and not because they add value and meaning to our lives.
Speaking of vacation, every January we take off to the mountains of West Virginia to go skiing. It's a tradition my husband and I started in college, and over the years it has evolved from a college friends free-for-all, to a family and friends event that I cherish. My two boys now ski better and faster than I do. Not bad for a pair of Florida crackers!
On another note, these two women have read everything that I have written before it was published. They are my first readers, and my brainstorming partners, patiently listening while I discuss story and plot lines for hours on end. I honestly don't know how I could do it without you, Mom and Aunt Joyce. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
A bit of book news to share. ALL WE HAVE LEFT was nominated for a Teen Choice Book Award, and was named as a Notable Social Studies Book by the Children's Book Council. As I dive into my next book, it's incredibly nice to hear that ALL WE HAVE LEFT has been so warmly received. Is there a little bit of pressure to turn out a new book as good-- or even better? Yes. Yes, there is. :)
As 2016 disappears in the rearview mirror, and 2017 rolls into view, I've been thinking a lot about beginnings and endings. As a writer, I masterfully steer (read: “sweatily manhandle”) my stories through a definite beginning, middle, and end, but it struck me the other day that we never know quite where we are in our own personal narrative. We could be living our last chapter at this very moment--or we could be beginning a new chapter leading us to crazy-cool places.
As you get older, it's easy to focus on the endings, rather than the beginnings. But how many new experiences and adventures are we missing out on because it seems we're too old to start something new? I believe there are still new beginnings for me, and I'm resolving in 2017 to find them, lasso them, and make them my own.
Speaking of endings, Richard Adams died a week ago. He was 96, and he lived a long and productive life, but I still couldn’t help but feel his death particularly hard. His book, Watership Down, prompted me to begin writing a long, long time ago. I don't know why this particular book inspired me to write my first plagiaristic story at the age of twelve (he had rabbits; I had cats), but something in it spoke to me. I've been thinking about twelve-year-old Wendy writing that first sentence; I didn’t know then that I was embarking on a thirty-year journey that would change my life. I didn’t know that I was starting what would become a passion that I'm sure will carry me through to the end.
Who knows where new beginnings will take us?
The end of 2016 was full of family and celebration, but my favorite part, as usual, is the time I spent with my family out on the water. I look at my children and wonder where their passions will lead them. After all, I began writing when I was younger than my oldest son. Are my sons even now beginning their own journeys that will carry them into their bright futures?
I haven’t posted anything about Murdock in a while. He is nine months old, and has turned into a sweet, intelligent dog who can open doors and jump onto the top bunk of my son's bed. I am focusing on the good in 2016, and he is one of them.
Another thing I am grateful for is ALL WE HAVE LEFT. I had no idea where this book would lead me when I started it four years ago. It was the hardest book I ever wrote, and I suppose it's only fair that it is the book for which I have won the most recognition. The newest accolade, of which I am particularly proud, was from the Nerdy Book Club. ALL WE HAVE LEFT was named one of their picks for best teen books of 2016.
This makes me smile.
I wish I could show a video of what happened a few days ago. A dolphin came to the side of our boat and poked his head out of the water to look at us, no doubt wanting some food. We did not oblige, but he hung around for about five minutes right at the edge of the boat. I THOUGHT I was taking a video the whole time, but when I looked down at the screen, I realized that I never hit record. Very much a blond moment!
Anyway, this is a sunset shot from where we saw the dolphin.
Here's to new beginnings and leaving regrets behind in the old year.
November is a beautiful month in SW Florida. While everyone else is hunkering down next to crackling fires and watching leaves fall in glorious drifts of colors, down here we are turning off the air conditioner, opening the windows, and beginning to prepare for a glorious winter of sunshine and flowers.
For example, this was my view at a recent signing on my island. It was an absolutely gorgeous night, and as the sun began to fall, sirens began to blare over the water.
Hey, look! Is that Santa Clause on that boat?
Why yes. Yes, it is.
If you look real close, you'll see he's wearing white boots. I've heard these called several different things depending on where I've lived (Mullet Boots, Matlacha Slippers, Seaford Reeboks, Wanchese Bedroom Slippers) but they always mean I'm living in a community next to the water.
Which brings me to another past time well known on the islands of SW Florida. Cast netting. And yes, there is actually a thing called a "Cast Net Rodeo." The kids dress up in cowboy hats and throw nets at both moving and stationary targets.
This guy was cute.
This guy was not.
I have some book news as well. ALL WE HAVE LEFT was nominated for the Young Adult Library Services Association best young adult fiction list.
It's also an Amazon and a Kirkus Reviews best book for 2016.
It was listed among the ALA's top 10 religion and spiritualty books for youth for 2016.
Finally, I just found out today that ALL WE HAVE LEFT is the winner of the Bookbrowse Award for best young adult book of 2016.
You know how much I love my sunsets... I will leave you with this one.
Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love that you can shrug off your everyday clothes and become anyone, or anything, for a night. I like to think of it as a dress rehearsal for the future, because our kids should have the option to become whoever they want in life. Of course, my kids dressed up as ghouls for Halloween, so it may be that their goal in life is to play extras on the set of Walking Dead.
I'm a tad bit biased about this holiday, because it's my birthday as well. As I was growing up, my mom used to tell me: "On the day you were born, we knew you were going to be a sweet treat!" This was on the good days. On the bad days, it was: "We knew from the very beginning you were going to be a little witch!"
I'm sorry, Mom. I really, really am. I deserve to have the worst teenagers in the history of god-awful teenagers. Seriously. I'm not sure how she put up with me.
In early October, I was invited to a writing retreat in Sarasota with three lovely young adult authors. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to spend a weekend writing, brainstorming, and sending inappropriate tweets at one in the morning.
It was, quite simply, a blast.
In book news, I recently learned that ALL WE HAVE LEFT will be a Kindle monthly selection ($1.99) for the month of December. Woo-hoo!
Also, I received a nice review and write-up in The Horn Book Magazine. "This timely, ultimately hopeful story of love, courage, and human goodness when it matters most is a much-needed antidote to our era’s Islamophobia, fear, and the tense political and social conditions that young people are surely internalizing."
I've had so many people contact me who have been reading the story in their book clubs. I can't tell you how much I love that teens and adults are getting together and discussing this book!
On a more personal note, a teacher at my son's school pulled me aside to tell me that she was recently going through a rough patch, so much so that she wrote "faith and strength" and tucked the words into her prayer box. That same day she read the passage in ALL WE HAVE LEFT about faith and strength. By the end of her story, we were both crying. THIS. Sometimes it feels as if I am writing in a yawning vacuum, and then moments come along that remind me exactly why I do this.
I'll leave you with this shot from one of my favorite places. This is where I come to regroup and center when things have gotten overwhelming in the real world. And they've gotten really overwhelming lately. So much anger. So much unhappiness. I hope that we can come together. I hope that we can remember what is important. Our kids are growing up in this world that we are making, and we owe it to them to get it right.
September was a busy, exhilarating month. So busy that it's taken almost until the middle of October to post about it!
The second week of September, I traveled with my two sons and my mom to New York City. I knew it was going to be quite an experience for my boys when they were impressed by the escalator at the airport. ("Can we do it again, Mom? And again?")
The second day we were there, I had the intense pleasure of strolling to Starbucks, picking up the New York Times, and seeing my book on the front page of the Arts Section. Heady stuff, that!
As my boys had never been to NYC, we did all the normal touristy things: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Empire State Building. My oldest son was co-opted into a street performance in Time Square-- a guy literally flipped over him. Did I get a picture of it? No. No, I did not.
On Sunday, September 11th, fifteen years after planes crashed into the Twin Towers, we went to the 9/11 Memorial. I was crying, as were others, as we heard the chimes that marked the horrendous events of that day. It was a solemn, heart-breaking experience.
I visited many bookstores and libraries while in the city, including the wonderful Books of Wonder and The Strand. So cool to see my book on their shelves!
I had the pleasure of meeting not only my wonderful editor, Mary Kate Castellani, but the entire Bloomsbury team who worked so hard to make ALL WE HAVE LEFT look beautiful inside and out! It was so nice to finally put faces to names.
On Tuesday, I traveled by train to the beautiful town of Westport Connecticut, where I met the wonderful staff of the Westport Library, as well as four lovely authors: Nora Baskin (Nine, Ten: a 9/11 Story), Gae Polisner (The Memory of Things), Jewell Parker Rhodes (Towers Falling), and Lauren Tarshis (I Survived series). It was an inspiring, moving discussion about healing through words. If you missed it, here's a link to the Facebook video below.
Back at home, I received this beautiful drawing of the cover of ALL WE HAVE LEFT, as envisioned by one of the fourth-grade participants of a talk I did on 9/11.
Murdock is getting bigger! At six months old, we have conquered potty-training and are now moving into the running-away stage. It's like raising a kid in fast-forward!
I'll leave you with this. It's a place I bike to in the morning, and it makes me happy. :)
It's a Flamingo! No, it's not. It's a Roseate Spoonbill. But for the first year that I lived in Florida, I told people that I was seeing flamingos. And yes, they looked at me like I was odd. Thankfully, I'm used to that. :)
August was an awesome month, and I've memorialized some of that awesomeness in pictures.
What on earth, are you asking? Well, this is me playing golf for the very first time...at least that I can remember. My husband swears we played golf in college, but I. DO. NOT. REMEMBER. There's a reason for this, I'm pretty sure. I am not spectacular at golf. Not at all.
On a more interesting note, however, is the paw print we saw in one of the sand thingees. It's hard to tell by the picture, but it was huuuge, like panther-size. As far as I know, there aren't any endangered Florida panthers on our tiny island, but maybe they are sasquatching us.
This one is just fun. I was on a doggy play date at a friend's house, and Murdock and Hattie were playing with her dog, Gem. They lined up (Murdock pushing and shoving in the back-- "it's my turn, it's my turn!") and then they jumped in one by one.
The first day of school. Somehow watching Murdock grow from puppy to dog has been reminding me of how quickly the kids are growing up. When they were babies, I remember older people stopping me to tell me how fast it went by.
They were right.
I do have book news! Something pretty exciting happened on August 9th. In case you weren't keeping score, ALL WE HAVE LEFT came out. Murdock kept me company as I fielded messages and posts. It was a beautiful day!
And this happened. Not only was ALL WE HAVE LEFT picked as an Amazon Book of the Month, it was also picked for the August YA Book Club. Color me excited!
This came home in my son's pocket, all wrinkled up and scribbled upon. I had almost forgotten ALL WE HAVE LEFT was coming out in the Scholastic catalogue, and he was pretty surprised when he saw it there. He raised his hand and told his teacher that it was his mom's book.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Uh, yes?" he answered.
He still doesn't think she believes him.
And finally, I was interviewed for the School Library Journal. Only librarians and authors are geekish enough to get excited about this...and yes, I am a geek. Here's a link to the article if you want to get your geek on. :)
And of course, we have to have the requisite cute puppy picture. This is one of our favorite places to go on our boat, as it is a deserted piece of land right across from a bunch a gazillion-dollar condos. It's good fishing and usually pretty free of people. In other words...perfect.
Like mother, like son! He has worked his way through Harry Potter and now has started on the Lightning Thief series.
And here you thought I'd managed to go through an entire post without a sunset picture. Nope, I snuck in one.
I was just thinking that most of my pictures are on the beach, or on the boat, because...well, that's what we do for fun. BUT. But, I will have some pictures from an entirely different locale next month. See you then!
July was a crazy-fun month! The Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday, and we spent it on the boat fishing and watching the firework shows. We always spend a lot of time out on the boat this time of year, so I have loads of pictures of sunsets. I always tell myself I need to stop taking pictures of sunsets, but when you see these, do you blame me??
Murdock is getting bigger and has finally found his sea legs. We still haven't conquered the potty-training thing, which is frustrating, but we work on it every day. I swear, in some ways it's like having a toddler again.
In our boat wanderings, we often see some pretty cool things. If you look real close, you'll see something strange about this tree. I tried counting them, but gave up!
There's also been some good book news this month. Fist of all, ALL WE HAVE LEFT comes out ONE week from today. It's been a long road, but I'm so happy it's almost here. I received my author copies a few weeks ago. They are so pretty!
The book has gotten a lot of love. Two starred reviews, and it's showed up on both Kirkus Review's and Bookish.com's list of must-reads for the summer. It was featured in Bookpage's August print edition, and I just found out that it's an Amazon Best Book of the Month, as well as on Bustle's list of Best Books of August.
All very heady stuff and I'm very excited to share ALL WE HAVE LEFT with the world on August 9th!
It's been a spectacular June! I always love when my boys are off school; we've been taking some day trips and generally having a great time. On the book front, I found out that ALL WE HAVE LEFT received two starred reviews, one from Kirkus, and the other from School Library Journal. I also learned that ALL WE HAVE LEFT will be coming out in the Scholastic catalogue in September. So, yay me!
We welcomed this sweet baby into our home and hearts. Hattie has taken Murdock under his wing and has been a wonderful big brother.
Trish Doller and I participated in B-Fest at the Fort Myers Barnes and Noble earlier this month, and it was a lot of fun. We talked about our books--Trish's THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is not to be missed!-- did a treasure hunt, and wrote a story with the kids.
The boys and I went to the Everglades and did the tram ride to the Shark Valley Observatory Tower. We saw lots of wildlife, including a few gators, and learned so much!
I participated in my very first virtual book launch for Nora Raleigh Baskin's excellent middle grade book, NINE, TEN. It was a wonderful experience--many people shared their stories of 9/11, and we talked about how fiction can help people heal after a tragic event.
I'll leave you with this sunset shot. We're planning on being out on the boat a lot this Fourth of July--I hope that all of you have a wonderful weekend!
As the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, four YA and MG authors tackle this difficult, heart-breaking subject. As adults, it's hard to believe that there is an entire generation of children who were too young to remember the day that is etched in our collective consciousness. These four books complement one another, showing a many-faceted view of the day the world changed.
Twitter hashtag #readandremember has been created for teachers and librarians who are seeking books about 9/11, as well as other historic events.
All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (8/06/16)
Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. Her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, and her dad since has filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one momentary hate-fueled decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that will reveal the truth about how her brother died.
In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is proud to be Muslim . . . it's being a teenager that she finds difficult. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia decides to confront her father at his Manhattan office, putting her in danger she never could have imagined. When the planes collide into the Twin Towers, Alia is trapped inside one of the buildings. In the final hours, she meets a boy who will change everything for her as the flames rage around them . . .
Interweaving stories from past and present, All We Have Left brings one of the most important days in our recent history to life, showing that love and hope will always triumph.
Advance Praise for All We Have Left
“The author elegantly transitions between the gripping descriptions of Alia and Travis trying to survive and Jesse almost falling into the abyss of generational hatred of Islam. In doing so, she artfully educates readers on both the aspects of Islam used as hateful stereotypes and the ruinous effects of Islamophobia. With almost poetic language, the author compassionately renders both the realistic lives, loves, passions, and struggles of Alia . . . and Jesse . . . as both deal with the fallout of that tragic day. Both a poignant contemplation on 9/11 and a necessary intervention in this current political climate.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Thoughtful, poignant . . . An important topic that deserves more dialogue than it receives. A moving portrait and important look at the lasting effects of one of our country's greatest tragedies.” – Booklist
The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner (9/6/2016)
On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows, covered in ash, and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a NYC detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.
Advance Praise for The Memory of Things
"...a touching look at the power of selflessness, memory, and hope in the face of tragedy."-- Booklist
"Gae Polisner's beautiful and poetic The Memory of Things shows us the enduring resilience of human connections. Powerful, frightening, sad, and impossible to look away from, The Memory of Things is ultimately filled with love and hope. This is a truly remarkable, unforgettably moving book." -- Andrew Smith, Printz Honor-winning author of Grasshopper Jungle
Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin (6/28/16)
From the critically acclaimed author of Anything But Typical comes a touching look at the days leading up to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and how that day impacted the lives of four middle schoolers.Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center. But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business. These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined. Award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin weaves together their stories into an unforgettable novel about that seemingly perfect September day—the day our world changed forever.
Advance Praise for Nine, Ten
“Readers will have different reactions to the work depending on their ages and how much prior knowledge they bring to it. . . children may gain a small sense of the magnitude of the changes that day wrought on our world. Tense, disturbing, and thought-provoking.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“A powerful account of how the events changed lives. . . . There are no graphic displays of violence; Baskin focuses on how her characters emerge wiser, worldlier, and more sensitive to others’ pain after surviving a profound and tragic piece of history.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (7/12/2016)
From award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes, a powerful novel set fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks.
When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can't help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?
Award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a powerful story about young people who weren't alive to witness this defining moment in history, but begin to realize how much it colors their every day.
Advance Praise for Towers Falling
"History made personal--and what a person! Deja's voice is real and memorable, her compelling story one of hope unmarred by sentimentality." --Linda Sue Park, Newbery Medalist and New York Times bestselling author.
"This is a welcome contribution to children's literature." --School Library Journal
Songs are a touchstone for my memories. A familiar song can easily take me back to a specific time and place, releasing a flood of thoughts and feelings and emotions. On hearing about the passing of Prince, I felt a sense of sadness that was not only for a great artist whose time had been cut short, but also for my teenage years that stand out in my mind so vivid and bright. Prince’s songs were a soundtrack to my youth, a song list of joy, discovery and heartbreak.
I remember standing in the gym at my first high school dance, dressed in a jeans jacket and hoopy earrings, and thinking hairspray don’t fail me now. “Purple Rain” came on, and the guy I liked, the one I had been watching from the safety of my group of friends, came towards us, and my heart was beating he’sgoingtoaskme, ohgod, he’sgoingtoaskme. And then I could taste the disappointment as he asked another girl to slow dance instead. Someone touched my elbow, and there stood the guy who had given me a rose for Valentine’s Day in the seventh grade, and when he asked me to dance I said yes, and as we swayed together on the floor under the slowly swirling lights I thought I’ll never forget this moment…
I remember driving my car, blasting “Little Red Corvette,” and while my car wasn’t a corvette or red, I played the song over and over again as we circled Heritage Square, trying to gather the courage to stop and talk to that guy, or maybe that one, and ending up going through the McDonald’s drive-through just so we didn’t look stupid, my friend squealing, he’s there, he's RIGHT there, and then realizing we didn’t have any money and having to order a cup of water much to the McDonald’s guy’s disgust…
I remember giving a party at my house, blasting “1999,” but 1999 felt like it was so far off, like a millennium away, and everyone was laughing because someone had let all my birds out of their cages, and opened the Christmas presents under the tree, and even though I was thinking how am I going to explain this one to my parents, I didn’t care because all that mattered was right here, right now….
I remember breaking up with a guy, and spending hours making mixed tapes, tears falling on the cassettes as I added “When Doves Cry” and REM, and Depeche Mode, and U2. I listened to “When Doves Cry” over and over again, that guitar solo and opening iconic beats reverberating through my entire body as I blasted the song as loud as it would go…
Prince is gone, and so are my teenage years. But the songs and memories remain, and even though I’m driving a SUV now, booster seats and baseball gear in the back, whenever I hear “Little Red Corvette,” it takes me back to when all that mattered was right here, right now, and 1999 seemed so far away.