Books? Thinking? Are those “lit”?

[“Lit,” by the way, is the trendy way to say “cool,” or “neato, daddio.” Just typing that last one is totally not “lit”.]

These lines are what I hope none of my students will ever say about my class:

books thinking never saw before

These lines are also why I often read out loud to them, because even though they’re 10th graders, a few kids had never finished a novel until they took my class.

I worry that books and thinking are becoming as old-fashioned as typewriters and rotary phones. We rarely hear about either much anymore, and when we do it’s, “Hey, remember when we used to think about problems and read all we could before we made judgments? Or am I just remembering a time that never really existed? And am I using the word ‘lit’ correctly?”

Get Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World right here. It’s totally lit. (Maybe?)

 

Defensiveness arises when we suspect we may be wrong

In my experience, those who become defensive and angry in a discussion are those who aren’t sure their position is correct.

They respond with anger when they’re afraid of being found out, when they’re afraid they might be wrong.

That’s always been a good reminder for me when I find my ire raising: something’s not right with my thinking, and it’s up to me to fix it; it’s not up to me to attack someone else.

When in the history of the world has attacking someone with an opposite point of view brought them around to agreement?

disrespectful to tell the truth

Admit it–you want unpredictability and challenges!

Ever have one of those years when everything changes on you?

And does it seem that it happens every year?

Yeah, me too. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as “regular” life, that the “good old days” when life was predictable and easy never in fact existed, that when we long for the stability of the past, we’re really longing for a fantasy that never happened.

And why would we want a quiet, dull existence? Isn’t the unpredictability of our lives what makes it worth living? The daily challenges that push us, the nightly flopping into bed with a quiet but triumphant, “Survived another day!” that invigorates us to exhaustion and new determination? Don’t we want that, crave that?

I had two dull days this past year.

I couldn’t wait for them to be over. (And I’ll probably regret writing this . . .)

People aren't as clever as they hope they are

“The sky is blue.” We’ve been giving our kids fake news since kindergarten, and why that’s a growing problem

“You’re sophomores now,” I told my new batch of high school students last week, “which means you’re realizing that there’s more going on than you used to think. For example, you’ve been lied to since kindergarten. Answer me this: what color is the sky?”

I’ve written about this debate in my first books, and carry the thread throughout the series, but I had never before asked it of my students. I watched to see what they did with this simple yet odd question. I was not disappointed.

A few shouted, “It’s blue!” because on the second day of school you’re still trying to impress the teacher.

A few squinted, dubious as to what the right answer was, seeing as how I’d spent the last five minutes explaining how we’d be learning to analyze and see “the bottom part of the iceberg.”

(I drew terrible pictures of icebergs on my board. The students asked, “Is that a potato floating in the ocean?” Yeah—see the “whole potato,” my friends.)

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(Imagine if icebergs were potatoes. “Titanic” would have been a very different movie.)

But in each class, a couple students glanced out the window before answering, “White and pale blue.” (It was a humid, muggy day because Maine has been thinking it’s Maryland all summer.)

I replied nothing for a few seconds, watching them process, think, and squirm in worry that I was just standing there, smiling slyly, until I finally I said, “That’s exactly what I was hoping you’d say!”

“What?” they exclaimed. “That it’s blue? Or white? Or . . .” And then more started looking out the window, as if I’d seen something they hadn’t noticed and maybe they should notice it, too.

I could barely contain my excitement—they were re-examining what they assumed was true. I love these moments when their neurons start firing!

Some kids had initially sniggered at those glancing out the window, likely thinking, So dumb—have to look out the window when everyone knows the sky is blue.

Some others had that twinkle in their eye that they were going to show me up by not giving me the standard, “Blue!” answer, which I pounced upon happily.

“So is the sky actually blue?” I pressed.

They glanced at their peers, now unsure.

“It’s only looks blue,” one 15-year-old remembered, albeit backwards, “because it’s reflecting the blue of the ocean.”

“Except,” I said, “I grew up in the deserts in the west, and the sky was very blue there.”

Rapid eye-blinking is a sign that new neurons are being created in students’ minds. That’s a fact I just made up, like the sky is blue.

Eventually I explained how the blue is merely an optical illusion and asked them what other colors the sky can be.

When they realized it can be every color, especially at night (black) and during sunsets (even green and purple) they looked simultaneously intrigued and disturbed by this “new old news”.

And when I told them the sky is different colors on other planets (and that the sun isn’t actually yellow but white, if they could steal a glance at it without hurting their eyes), a few students’ eyes bugged out (a sure sign that neurons are firing—it’s a scientific fact I also just made up).

mars skyMars, 1997, with no blue sky in sight.

Blue sky is fake news. Oh, we didn’t mean to set out feeding our kids lies when they’re little–we’re just trying to simplify their complex world, cover the essentials, and worry about the deeper details later. That’s not a problem.

Except if we neglect to later dig deeper, think harder; then we become lazy thinkers. We don’t want to analyze, to see if everything we’ve assumed is actually true, because it’s not fun or entertaining. (Ask high schoolers what makes a “good class” and they’ll answer with, “It’s fun,” “We don’t have to work hard,” “We play games and watch movies,” or “We can get away with anything.”)

We want entertainment, not enlightenment. 

That’s going to be a problem in the future, as it’s becoming a problem right now. It seems most adults won’t analyze the news, its sources, or its veracity. They’ll take whatever matches their present assumptions, rant on social media for a minute, feel they’ve done something good, then see what’s new on Netflix.

In the meantime, nothing improves, no one notices, and the sky continues to darken without anyone glancing at it to say, “I don’t think that’s a good sign . . .”

color of the sky

Rector Yung studied him. “Dormin, what color is the sky?”

“Blue,” he answered automatically. He didn’t even glance out the window at the blazing orange that leaked into the room, tingeing everything around them in a carroty hue. “Everyone knows that.”

~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World

 

Get your clock for Christmas, and $5 off!

Get your Forest at the Edge official clock ordered soon to ensure delivery by Christmas. Remember to put “Book Reader” in the message section, and I can refund you back $5. That way, the clock will be only $10, and with shipping (about $3.70 in the US) that’s less than $15 for a gift. 

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Also comes in white and red:

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I can customize it, too! Tell me what you want it to say, and I can modify up to three entries, so yours is absolutely unique. (Just get one for yourself; you know you want one.) Order here!

Book 5 teaser–Refuse to see the shining light

High Polish Tatra mountains

They will also refuse to acknowledge the darkness, even as they crash around blindly. 

The ancient Israelite prophet Isaiah wrote:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

I can’t bear to list all the ways the world is spinning in the dark right now (Obama’s recent declaration that all restrooms and locker rooms–even and especially in public schools–be “gender neutral” has me too nauseated to write about it).

However, even though our governments and our so-called leaders may be waaaay off the mark on many issues, we as individuals don’t need to follow. We each have our ability to think, to ponder, to declare that we will continue to see the light, that we will recognize the darkness, and that we will not–no matter how many times everyone tells us otherwise–we will NOT see that the sky is merely blue.

Take a good, hard look at it. Today, the tiny section I see out my window is blue, but when I get up and view the entire sky, in the distance there are huge clouds, billowing and approaching.

See the entire sky, and the entire world, for what it really is. Identify the light. Recognize the darkness, and don’t let anyone with power, or money, or charisma convince you that you see otherwise.

Three years ago I wrote about the strange habit we have of thinking that “the sky is blue.”

It isn’t.

My first book, The Forest at the Edge of the World makes the argument that while everyone thinks the sky is blue, that’s only an illusion. It’s actually black. (So quit telling your kids it’s blue.)

We have to be brave enough to take a good, hard look at the world, and to make a judgment about what we see. Oh, how we’re so afraid to do that! We’re so afraid of offending the world that cares nothing for us. In the meantime, we offend our Heavenly Father, who truly loves us.

We need to not be afraid to declare, “No, this is wrong. I will not agree, I will not give in, and I will not refuse to see the light.”

I won’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions for going against the world. You will be knocked down, likely not by some high government official, but probably by your social media “friends.” I’ve taken to hiding in my closet on a regular basis when I, once again, write up something that, as the comments and railings pour in, I regret . . . but only for a moment. Every time I think, “Oh, why did I put that out there? Look at the conflict it’s generating! I hate that!”

I hate fighting. I hate arguing. I hate thinking that people don’t like me. (I’m such a 7th grader sometimes.)

But I hate more seeing the good in the world being labeled as evil, the bitter replacing the sweet, the darkness trying to smother the light.

Here’s the great thing about our world right now: all of us can find a forum where we can stand up and declare where the light really is, and what the dark’s trying to do. Most of us won’t shine too brightly. I know I’ve personally got the illuminating power of a penlight on aging batteries, but that’s ok. I borrow strength from the many brave bloggers and writers and religious leaders of many faiths who boldly shine their brighter lights on the darkness.

And here’s the awesome thing: light, shining together, gets brighter together.

And here’s the even more awesome thing: it takes only one light to dispel absolute darkness.

Book 5 teaser–Good way to burst?

High Polish Tatra mountains

I’m ready to burst too! And I think it’s in a good way!

The paperback proof for Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti will be in my hands by the end of the week, then it’s one more read and edit, some formatting for the ebook versions, and then PUBLISHED! My hope is to get it out before Memorial Day, if not sooner. I’ll keep you posted!

(In the meantime, I’m already working on fine-tuning Book 6. Yes, there are books 6, 7, and 8. All of them are drafted, and all of them will be out in the next three years. Oh dear, I’m so giddy that I feel a burst coming on! I better get a sponge. And by the way, sounds like Shem’s got an admirer in Book 5 . . .)

Book 3 is coming! (And so is some other great stuff, but you have to read to the end to find out)

Book 3: The Mansions of Idumea is in its final editing stages (meaning, I’m going through it when I’m not grading students’ essays, or taking children to lacrosse practice, or cleaning the toddler’s jello mess, or helping another child with homework . . .)

I’m hoping to release it by the end of April (yes, of this year, and that clarification is pointed to a wonderful but annoying friend; you know who you are, so don’t act all innocent).

Thanks so much for asking, for prodding, for rolling your eyes at me when I promise that it IS coming, but I want to get it as good as I possibly can, and that takes time.

You see, I’m a fast and sloppy writer; I actually have the entire 8-book series fully drafted and waiting in my computer, and I completed the saga in just over 14 months. 

But oh, is it messy!  “Fast and sloppy” also means “rather crappy.” I never claimed to be a good writer. But I am a decent editor, if not slow. And since I don’t notice issues on the first edit—or even on the thirtieth (and honestly, that’s about how many times I go through each book, cleaning it up, tweaking the language, improving the pacing, clarifying the dialogue, etc.) it takes me a bit of time to make it readable. And even then, once I have the paper copy in my hands, I find about a dozen minor proofreading errors that eluded me each pass. (That’s what revised editions are for, correct?)

Self-published authors don’t have the luxury of professional editors (well, they could if they shelled out the big bucks, which I don’t currently don’t have) so we rely on marvelous friends who are generous with their time and help go through our drafts.

And we also rely on understanding readers who embrace the story and overlook teeny tiny errors that they’re sure will be fixed on the next release.

For some more exciting news (aren’t you glad you read this far?) I’m currently turning Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World into an audio book (and as I read it I circle those nagging typos to correct later this year). Once it’s ready, it’ll be available as FREE DOWNLOADS from podiocast.com.

So no, my friends, I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing since I released the first two books, and there’s still a great deal more to come!

17 Rules of Pregnancy for Husbands (updated)

Updated for a friend who’s wife is, well, confusing him . . .

In Forest at the Edge of the World Joriana Shin sends her son a list of how he should behave when his wife is pregnant. A few points are mentioned in the book, but some readers have asked me to post the full list.

Having been pregnant nine times, I feel I have a bit of experience with the topic. I will hand the list below to my own sons and son-in-laws so that they won’t accidentally destroy themselves with their own ineptitude.
(Heaven knows my husband could have had a list like this. I don’t think I’ll ever get over #3. Neither will he.)

15 17 Rules of pregnancy for husbands 

1. She will become irrationally testy at the most unexpected moments. Let her.  Remember, the reason she’s expecting a baby is, after all, your fault.

2. Remind her how beautiful she looks carrying your child. And be grateful you’re not the one that’s expecting, because you’d look ridiculous.

3. Never, ever use the “f” word; don’t even think the “f” word in her presence. If you say “fat,” is should be only in reference to something on your steak. (Also never say something such as, “Speaking of walruses . . .” when you see her roll over.)

4. Her vocabulary may change, including words you’ve never heard from her before, such as “weensy,” and “sweetadorableness” and “thatisthecutestthingever.”

5. When she can’t sleep, don’t attempt to give her any advice such as, “Just close your eyes and relax.” Instead kiss her on the cheek, tell her you’re so sorry, and then make yourself comfortable on the couch. For the next five months.

6. Do not attempt to bounce anything off her belly, even if you’re sure the pebbles would sail an impressive distance.

7. Accept the blame for everything. Everything.

8. Remember to look her in the eyes every now and then, before evaluating her bulging belly. And whatever you do, do not let your eyes bulge in surprise. Those changes are, after all, your fault.

9. No matter how tempting, do not use her belly as a shelf.

10. She will feel the need to reorganize everything. Help her. Remember: your fault.

11. Near the end of the pregnancy, don’t tell her it will all end, because she won’t believe you and may try to harm you.

12. Don’t try to poke her belly button back in.

13. If you absolutely feel you must say, “Whoa, is that normal?” do so in the kindest, most helpful tone possible. And try not to flinch at her answer.

14. When she goes into labor, do your best to comfort her: rub her back, massage her feet, tell her she’ll be just fine. She’ll likely be aggravated by every attempt you make, but still try. And don’t take it personally when she shrieks that you will never be allowed within twenty feet of her again. She’ll change her mind in a few months.

15. After the baby comes, she will cry and cry and cry. Your wife, that is. If she doesn’t stop in a few weeks, call her doctor. Carry her in to the office, if you must. She’ll thank you later, in a few months.

16. Early on, remember: food, your house, and especially you do NOT smell as bad as she claims. Probably. After the first three months her nose will recalibrate, and then she’s going to make up for everything she’s missed out on. Until then, shower frequently, carry mints, and don’t even THINK about fish.

17. Morning sickness (afternoon, evening . . .) is NOT in her head. It’s caused by massive surges in hormones. And so is anger, so if you dare suggest her illness is in her head–well, you’ve been warned.

What else should be on the list?

My 10th child

Yesterday a delivery arrived–one that I’d been waiting for, for more than four years now–and once I lugged it into the house I couldn’t bear to open it.

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It was, what I’m now starting to think of it as, my 10th baby.
I have nine children (yeah, really–all birthed by me, no twins), but the amount of effort and sleepless nights I’ve put into the Forest at the Edge book series feels very much like another child.
And yesterday it arrived. And, just like my human babies, I happily cradled the bundle handed to me, but didn’t dare inspect it. Because . . . what if something is seriously wrong?
What if this amazing little thing isn’t as perfect as the doctor proclaimed, but has three nostrils?
Or a large birthmark on its neck like I do?
Or . . . looks more like me than like my hunky husband?

And it’d always be my husband who’d take our newborn out of my arms and start to unwrap the impossible blankets. “Let’s see what we have here!” he’d say cheerily, while I clenched my hands by my face and worried that my sweet darling would have some defect that would cause him or her heartache, and that I wouldn’t know how to alleviate that pain.

Yes there were birthmarks–cute ones, on the tuchus or the bottom of a foot–and there were minor oddities and bizarre flexibility that, as my children grow older, proudly demonstrate to squeamish by-standers. But all in all the baby was pretty darned good.

I needed my husband again yesterday.
He saw the box on our bed and, always eager to open a package, asked, “Ooh–what’s this?”
“My books,” I whimpered.
“Open it!”
“I can’t!”
What if something was horribly wrong with them? I already knew of a couple formatting glitches I can’t seem to work out, and a few typos despite my going through it 30+ times . . . but what if there was something far worse?
I couldn’t bear it.
“I’ll open it,” my husband decided.
“No! Yes! I don’t know–”
He already had out his keys and slashed the tape. Then he opened the box and looked.

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Cringing so hard my cheeks hurt, I asked, “Well?!”
Slowly he nodded. “Look pretty good to me.” He was reading the back cover of one of the books, still nodding. “Do you want it?”

Do I want my 10th baby? The actual paper copies of the books I’ve been writing since early 2009? (Actually, since it’s two books, maybe my 10th and 11th?)

I held out my hand nervously . . . then sighed in relief as he gave me Forest and Soldier. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Then, just as I did with my babies, I suddenly wanted to show them everything in the world. And, just like my babies, I started taking pictures.

First, I introduced them to my hero and mentor, Terry Pratchett. Don’t they look cute on the shelf together?

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Then I introduced them to the bathroom, which is always a good place to know in a new house. Top of the tank, for your reading pleasure.

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Then, the bathtub–waiting for me to actually dare take them near water–

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Oh no! They fell in!
Oh, there’s not water.
Silly Forest and Soldier!

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They also liked the baby swing in the backyard. Hold on, boys!

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Then it was time to have a tea party with their friends . . .

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And at this point I began to think, Maybe this is a bit silly?
I mean, seriously–would books really have a tea party with themselves?

Of course not.
They’d have a tea party with OTHER books!
So I introduced Forest and Soldier (they were pretty uncomfortable at this point, but already they have some sense of propriety so they soldiered on) to my other three inspirations; women who demonstrated that even “regular moms” can create books, and they unwittingly dared me to write: Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Joanne (J.K.) Rowling. (The books all want to have a sleepover later. With popcorn. But I just vacuumed, so I’ll have to think about it.)

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(I’ve met two of these authors, and bashfully said nothing about how they inspired me.
But some day I will. )

Finally I brought Forest and Soldier back to where they were conceived–my computer. On the screen is a list of the current drafts I have of the entire series (my file of past drafts is immense) and I showed them where they began. I’m going to save this picture as motivation; I’ve done it twice before, so I can do it six or seven more times to bring to life the entire family/series.

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And then, I put Forest and Soldier back into the box.
Not because I’m still overwhelmed or anything by being a real mom, I mean, author.

Just because it’s nap time.