Friday, August 20, 2010

The Egg and I

I am delighted to report that my fifteen seconds of internet fame have nearly expired. My part in the Humble, Texas affair is mostly over, and I hereby return this blog to its weirdly eclectic mix of food, mushrooms, writing, and other distantly-related topics.

Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, a friend of mine told me he was looking for a mentor—an older, more experienced man who would help him in his career and in other aspects of his life. I asked him how he planned to find such a person.

He said, “It’s easy. These old dudes, when they get into their fifties and sixties, they realize that they have learned a lot of stuff over the years, and that they might be dead soon. It’s like a biological imperative—they don’t want their knowledge to die with them, so they look for a younger guy to share it with.”

I thought that was an odd way to look at it. But now that I am well into my fifties, I find myself experiencing that urge to share. Therefore, tomorrow, I am going to tell everyone who visits this blog how to properly poach a freaking egg. Stay tuned!

Speaking of eggs, Part One of my “Blank Confession” video will be posted here very soon—I'm aiming for a week from Monday.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Nasty Thing in the Corner, Part Two

Wow, that’s a lot of comments! Thank you for your supportive words.

And thank you also to those who took the time to post their dissents. Allow me to respond to a few:

To “A Teen Librarian”: I agree that teens should not have to pay for the political battles of their elders. But they do, every day, in more ways than I can count. I wish I could have figured out a way to attend TLF without hating myself for doing so, but I could not.

To “Paul”: I understand what you are saying and I respect your point of view, although I disagree. BTW, I have deleted no posts here—your insinuation is gratuitous.

To “Nate”: You are technically correct about my misuse of the term “censorship.” My use of the term is deliberate. We all know that the “uninviting” of Ellen H. was not literally censorship. It would be more accurate to say it was “the active suppression of an author to discourage teens from reading her books.” (Can we find an acronym in that? Wait a sec…okay, how about Activist School Suppression of Hopkins’ Access to Teens. I’m sure there’s an acronym in there someplace!) In any case, elephant or mastodon, it’s still a pachyderm. We all know what we're talking about. They may not have literally “censored” Ellen Hopkins, but their actions point to a similar intent.

To “Whoa Nelly”: First, I love your handle. And you are right in what you say, however, I believe that each of us has a point at which we must say, “Whoa, Nelly! I’ve had enough! I have run out of cheeks to turn! It’s time for some melodrama!” I reached that point last week.

Hey, I’m not sure, but I think the Thing in the Corner got a little smaller today!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Nasty Thing in the Corner

I don’t often talk about censorship for much the same reason I don’t often talk about creationism, dog fighting, or Rush Limbaugh. Despite a lifetime of contrary evidence, there is still a part of me that believes that if you ignore that nasty thing squatting in the corner of the room, it will go away.

It does not go away.

Last week I received an email from wildly-popular YA author Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Impulse) letting me know that she had been “uninvited” to the 2011 Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas. Ellen made it clear that she was majorly pissed-off about it.

The biennial Teen Lit Fest (TLF) in Humble (a suburb of Houston) has become one of the premier teen literature festivals in the country. By all accounts, it is a friendly, well-organized event where teens can meet their favorite authors, and authors can connect with their teen readers. The high school and middle school librarians behind the event are a passionate and dedicated group with a deep love of teen literature.

Events like TLF are one of the best ways to encourage reading in teens, and they are important to authors as a way to get exposure for their books. When I was invited to be one of the featured authors at TLF 2011, and offered a generous honorarium to do so, I was thrilled.

Then I got that email from Ellen.

Censorship of children’s literature can take many forms. In its most blatant incarnation, books are removed from classrooms and libraries. Thankfully, this does not happen often. But there are more insidious forms of censorship.

In Ellen Hopkins’ case, she was invited to TLF, she accepted…and then, a few months later, the invitation was rescinded. Apparently, “several” parents were disturbed by the content of Ellen’s books, and objected to having her at the festival. They brought their concerns to the festival organizers, and one (one!) school librarian agreed with their concerns, and recommended to the school superintendent that Ellen be asked not to come. The superintendent went along with the one (one!) librarian’s recommendation. I believe that virtually every other librarian in the Humble ISD was embarrassed and furious over this decision.

Although Ellen might understandably take this matter very personally, it really has nothing whatsoever to do with the content or quality of her work. Whether she writes well or responsibly is immaterial. I wrote a post a couple of years ago addressing that issue.

What is important is that a handful of people – the superintendent, the one (one!) librarian, and “several” (three? five?) parents – took it upon themselves to overrule the vast majority of teachers and librarians and students who had chosen one of the most popular YA authors in America to be their headliner.

That is a form of censorship as damaging and inexcusable as setting fire to a library.

Over the past fifteen years of visiting schools and libraries I have been “uninvited” on two occasions. It is a terrible thing to be told by educators that your life’s work is “inappropriate” for its intended audience. In both cases, I did nothing. I didn’t want to further embarrass the librarians who had invited me - they were already mortified. I just wanted to leave a sour experience behind and get on with the next thing.

I now believe that was a mistake. The political and philosophical problem of censorship, in all its forms, harms all of us, and each of us has a responsibility to fight it. I cannot help but think that those same people who objected to Ellen Hopkins’ work might find some of my books equally disturbing.

And you know what’s really scary? Here is how the Humble ISD superintendent responded to a letter from one of the librarians who objected to his decision:

“…there are more authors that we would want at our Teen Lit Fest than we could ever have enough Teen Lit Fests to accommodate.”

Apparently he subscribes to the commodities model of educating our children. Creeps me out something fierce.

A few years ago, at a National Book Awards banquet, I met Judy Blume. She had just delivered a passionate speech about censorship. I joked, “Hey Judy, how do I get MY books challenged? I think it would be good for sales.” Judy was not amused. She looked at me and said, in a voice as dry as ash, “It will happen, and you will not like it.” She was right on both counts.

And so, as one of the other participating authors, I felt that the right thing to do was to withdraw from the festival, and so I did.

At least one of the other authors, Melissa de la Cruz, has also withdrawn from the festival. I don’t yet know about the other five.*

This whole business makes me sad. There are, I don’t know, maybe a hundred thousand or more good people in the Humble school district. They should be mad as hell, every one of them.

*UPDATE (8/16): Tara Lynn Childs has also withdrawn from the festival.

UPDATE (8/17): Matt de la Pena has withdrawn.

UPDATE: Festival canceled. Very sad.

UPDATE: I have decided to give up writing to become an actor. Click here for a sample.

The illustration above was created in five minutes on my iPad using a really cool little app called Brushes.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I just watched the rough cuts of the BLANK CONFESSION videos. Philip Seymour Hoffman, you have nothing to fear!
Not even Keanu Reeves needs to worry.
Fortunately, I'm working with professionals whose job it is to make me look good. I'll be posting the first video in late August.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sweetblood Trailer

Just in time for the reissue of Sweetblood, here's an impressive trailer I ran across on YouTube. Nice job, Margo!