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Yes, that’s right. This blog is closed for business. Fermé. Cerrado. Chiuso. But do not fret! I can now be found online, (looking pretty snazzy, I have to say), at a shiny new website! So please visit me there, sign up there for blog updates (you will no longer get my weirdness wisdom delivered to your inbox unless you subscribe again here – sorry).

www.danaalisonlevy.com

What’s so great about it, you ask? Well, it looks like this:

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And it was built by these lovely people and it is full of excellent information about my book, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER* as well as lots of other random and bizarre ramblings fun stuff.

So come on over to www.danaalisonlevy.com! I’ll save you a seat! (Probably).

*For those of you paying attention, YES, the name of my book has changed! It was THE FAMILY FURNIVAL, and now is THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER. Cool huh?

goneswimming(Source: http://www.etsy.com/listing/109897871/hanging-gone-swimming-burned-driftwood)

Well, folks might have noticed that I’m not around these parts much these days. One good reason for it is that I’m working on a brand-spanking-new, extra-fancy, now-with-links-and-more website! That’s right! Sometime in the next month or so I’ll update all of Internetlandia with my new-and-improved online world.

So meanwhile, enjoy the summer, keep your toes in the sand and eat copious amounts of ice cream.

I’ll be back before you know it!

 

Or Why We Need Issue Books Before Something Can Be a Non-Issue

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My book, that’s coming out next year, is a funny Middle Grade novel about a family that gets into typical high-jinks adventures. The family is neither rich nor poor, (poverty is not the issue in the book); the kids are neither brilliant nor developmentally delayed (education and intelligence is not the issue in the book); the friendships are both strong and less-strong (friends are not the issue in the book). And the parents are good, if flawed, people who both happen to be men (the parenting is not the issue in the book). Also not the big capital-I-Issue in the book? The gender of the parents. They are in some ways typical Middle Grade parents — sometimes wise, sometimes missing obvious cues, something funny, sometimes loving. Their sex life figures as prominently as you would expect it to, which is to say not at all (can you imagine Mr. and Mrs. Banks in MARY POPPINS getting all lovey-dovey? Or having to worry about Molly and Arthur Weasley in HARRY POTTER groping each other on the couch in the Burrow? EW).

THE FAMILY FURNIVAL is not what some in the industry refer to as “an issue book.” Issue books are ones that deal with a particular and topical issue: bullying, racism, and so on.

Very often, issue books are popular at a particular time in the awareness of the issue. Divorce, for example, was an “issue” when I was growing up. Divorce rates were skyrocketing and popular media and psychologists alike were expounding on children of divorce and what it all meant. And children’s books appeared on the shelves to deal with this issue the way books always help us deal with things: by helping us empathize, by putting us in other peoples’ shoes, by showing us we are not alone. But slowly, the issue faded. Now there are countless children’s books that have divorced families. We take it for granted.

An issue book can be an amazing nuanced piece of writing. Or it can be a kind of heavy-handed moralistic tale. But regardless, these books play a role in first recognizing, then normalizing, something that challenges us and makes us feel alone. Divorce, boyfriends/girlfriends from another faith, bi-racial friendships, then bi-racial romances, then questioning LGBTQ teens…these are all topics that have gone from being “issues” to be dealt with to common realities in real life and in the pages of kids books.

Polls show that a majority of Americans support gay marriage. Other countries are also moving in this direction. Marriage is a pretty mainstream thing. It’s rated G, for the most part, unless there are too many overly romantic kisses, which means it might be rated PG-13.

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It’s hardly like we’re advocating for orgies here.

But at the same time, a quick search showed me that there aren’t a whole lot of kids’ books that reflect this reality. While Young Adult books have really developed issue books to the point where many characters are gay “just because,” so to speak, the same hasn’t really been true about Middle Grade and/or gay families. So while I emphatically did not want to write an issue book, I did want to write a book that showed a world — hopefully one very like our own — where a loving family had the luxury of taking themselves for granted.

After all, doesn’t Dumbledore deserve the same rights as any other muggle wizard?

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(All the amazing photos of these fab signs came from here. check them out for more!)

Since I pulled our suitcases out for our trip to Nepal last November, I have not put them away.

First there was a trip to Canada around Christmas to see family.

Then there was a quick run to New York to meet amazingagent Marietta and amazingeditor Michelle.

Then it was time for a belated 40th birthday bash out west with old friends. Here we can be seen in what I refer to as the 1980s Prom-Pose-On-Skis:

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Then it was back to Canada for the kiddos’ February break to visit more family. I refer to this as the Canada-Tourism-Sales-Pitch trip because we drove sled dogs, played loads of hockey, and skated in a frozen forest trail. And ate loads of maple syrup on snow…YUM.

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Then a few weeks later I was off to meet up with my online writing group — an incredible bunch of women who all write Young Adult and Middle Grade. (There will be a post about that trip soon – it deserves its own space). We were meeting at a big cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. I did a lot of this:

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But also a fair bit of this:

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(Not pictured in these writer retreat photos is Maurice Wa-Wa, the taxidermy raccoon eating a box of Crackerjacks. He is but one reason the retreat needs its own blog post).

Then I got home and in a few days I leave for a 25-person family reunion/ski weekend that involves, among other things, a singalong with drunken renditions of Danny Boy and The Gambler, 20 pounds of spiral-cut ham, and poker. And matzoh, because we’re funny like that.

Mae West famously said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!” And she’s right. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of this year. I’ve had years filled with minutes that I would have loved to miss, years where there was too much of a bad thing, years that kicked my butt. So I am not complaining – it has all been amazing. It has also been overwhelming, exhausting, and a little nuts.

During all these trips, trusty laptop in tow, I’ve been working on my revisions on The Family Furnival. Working with amazingeditor Michelle and with lots of lovely feedback from writing partners, I’ve been trying hard to make my story better, to make it worthy of the book it’s going to be.

I love this book, and the crazy family I created. Working on revisions I’ve had a chance to revisit them, to think hard about their adventures and sorrows, to climb into their skin and try to make their stories stronger, better, more honest.

Today I turned my revisions in, and decided to celebrate by dusting off the blog. (I should probably also dust off the house, but that’s another story). Anyway, I’m not sure that the next few weeks will be any less crazy, but as I said, this is the best kind of crazy to have. So I’ll hang on and enjoy the ride. Hope to see you all along the way…

Recently Amazingwriterfriend Alina Klein tapped me in a blog hop about debut books, where she wrote about her moving and amazing debut novel RAPE GIRL. This really means Alina’s making me write a blog post (which I should do more often anyway). And who are we kidding, I’ll do pretty much anything Alina tells me to do because:

1) She’s awesome

2) She wrote a book I love so hard I want to make every young adult, male and female, read it, ponder it, discuss it

3) She reads most any drivel I churn out and kindly and gently helps it be less drivelly

Alina herself was tagged by her Amazingwriterfriend Shannon Hitchcock, whose own debut novel came out this month! Visit her blog to hear more about THE BALLAD OF JESSE PEARL, which is racking up great reviews and is now resting comfortably on my (tottering) to-be-read pile.

SO. On to the questions!

What’s the title of your debut novel?

(Whew, we’re starting with an easy one)! THE FAMILY FURNIVAL

What’s it all about?

The Furnivals are just like any other family, if all families had four boys, three pets, and two dads. The boys navigate adventures from new schools to new friends, soccer tryouts to play auditions, and wet cats to friendly skunks, but a miserable new neighbor seems intent on ruining all the fun. As their school year progresses however, the Furnivals learn that neighbors, like life, can surprise you.

Also, wet cats. Because why not?

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What do you dream of for your book?

Action figures. Obviously.

Really though, I want this book to be the kind that kids read the funny parts aloud, or parents have to reread parts because the kids love it so much. I also want it to be a book that shows families with two dads or two moms that their adventures and jokes are worth sharing too; that every funny wonderful goofy family is worth celebrating.

Who else is writing awesome books that come out next year?

I thought you’d never ask!!!! Two debut authors who are the funny on Twitter and have mad skills in the book world: Michelle Painchaud and Kristen Lippert-Martin.

Michelle’s 2014 debut is PRETENDING TO BE ERICA, a YA con game-thriller-awesomeness mashup that will be published by Viking/Penguin.

Kristen’s 2014 debut is TABULA RASA, a sexysmart YA thriller that uses LATIN in its title, people, which is how we know it’s smart! It will be published in Fall 2014 from Egmont.

(Also fun is that Kristen’s announcement is in the same Publisher’s Weekly rights report as mine, so I can smile at them both at the same time…)

 

So that’s what’s new with me! Check out the other amazing authors mentioned here, and enjoy. Also, remember to google wet cats if your day is going poorly. It will transform things, I promise.

Why writers need to shut down their computers and go away:

Ode to a Book (1) (excerpted)

When I close a book I open life.
I hear
faltering cries
among harbours.

Book, let me go.
I won’t go clothed
in volumes, I don’t come out
of collected works,
my poems
have not eaten poems —
they devour exciting happenings,
feed on rough weather,
and dig their food
out of earth and men

I learned about life
from life itself,
love I learned in a single kiss
and could teach no one anything
except that I have lived
with something in common among men,
when fighting with them,
when saying all their say in my song.

PABLO NERUDA Odas Elementales (1954)

 

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So this happened in Publisher’s Weekly today. And I am very very happy.

It is, by any standard, a dream come true. Here’s to working hard, writing hard, and to 2014!!!

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LNW2There’s a passage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that Large Son gave me reason to remember recently. It’s not a huge important scene, but his reference to it was perfect, and I remembered it immediately. It is in the White Witch’s castle after Aslan has breathed on all the stone statues and brought them back to life*. Here, he is speaking to the assembled group.

“Those who are good with their noses must come up in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is. Look lively and sort yourselves.”

And with a great deal of bustle and cheering they did. The most pleased of the lot was the other lion, who kept running about everywhere pretending to be very busy but really in order to say to everyone he met, “Did you hear what he said? Us Lions. That means him and me. Us Lions. That’s what I like about Aslan. No side, no stand-off-ishness. Us Lions. That meant him and me.” At least he went on saying this til Alsan loaded him up with three dwarfs, one dryad, two rabbits, and a hedgehog. That steadied him a bit.

This came up recently because Large Son was berating Small Daughter for being condescending to their young cousins. “Please,” Large Son said. “You were trying to tell me how boring it was that they wanted to play with you – you were all Us Lions about it!”

Us Lions. In publishing there’s a lot of that.

Until a few months ago, I was very much on the far side of the publishing fence. I was writing, I was querying, I was commiserating with other would-be authors. That was about it. On Twitter, at conferences, on blogs, there were all kinds of published or soon-to-be published authors joking with each other, professing their love for their amazing agents, talking up their book launches. For those of us querying and getting piles of rejections, those easy Twitter exchanges with agents and editors seemed a bit like a foreign language.

But then in October, a few days after my birthday, I got THE AMAZING CALL from the even more amazing Marietta Zacker, of the Nancy Galt Literary Agency, and I was suddenly in the club. Us lions.

Then in December (after that little jaunt to Nepal) I got THE OTHER AMAZING CALL, that someone was interested in my book. And the amazing calls just kept coming.

Earlier this month I went to New York and had a chance to talk to editors about THE FAMILY FURNIVAL. As I walked through the hallways of these venerable publishing houses I saw signed copies of books I adored, I saw famous illustrators’ doodles on the walls, I saw galleys and ARCs and manuscripts piled everywhere. Us lions were really roaring now.

Next week I should have some very exciting news to share with the world. And there’s a part of me that is that lion who, for a moment at least, felt he was Aslan’s peer. But at the same time, it feels like around ten minutes ago that I was glumly pressing send on a bunch of queries, complaining endlessly to my writer friends, and really wondering if there was any point in waking up early or staying up late to try and pursue this crazy writing thing. So I guess all this is to say, if, once I share that exciting news, I start to get too self-important, feel free to weigh me down with three dwarfs, one dryad, two rabbits and a hedgehog. Let’s see if that steadies me.

*I’d really like to think I don’t have to tell anyone here to read this book. Honestly, if you haven’t read it by now there’s probably no hope for you. But on the off-chance you recently landed here from another planet and just haven’t had a chance to read it, by all means go ahead. I’ll wait. *taps fingers* Done? Excellent. Carry on.

Well, as I wrote in my last post, I went to Nepal. Why, many people asked. Work? Volunteer commitment? Family connections?

Nope. The answer, to quote the famed climber George Mallory,when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, is simple. “Because it’s there.”

Now I will be quick to point out that we did NOT climb Everest; or attempt to climb Everest, or, frankly, climb anything that resembled it. No, my family and I went trekking, where we walked up and down in the mountains for several weeks, climbing to 5000 meters (15,000 feet) and experiencing the most glorious views, of Everest, Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, and many other famous peaks. There were no ice axes, no crampons, no ropes or belays. We walked.

And this is where we walked:

It is an extraordinary place.

Nepal is also a very spiritual place. The mountains are the homes of the gods, for many cultures, and the Khumbu region and Sagarmatha, to use the Nepali word for Everest, is a holy place. Prayer flags fluttered constantly, releasing millions of prayers into the wind. Prayer wheels lined the village paths and we would turn them clockwise as we walked. Mani stones carved with the Buddhist mantra OM MANI PADME HUM dotted the trails.

It was both easy and hard to feel connected to the divine there. Easy because of how extraordinary the views were, how much the gods and nature seemed to be working in cosmic concert. Hard because…well…we bring ourselves wherever we go. We bring our achy muscles, our itchy socks, our thoughts about how the car needs to be repaired, our annoyance that someone else ate the last bite of chocolate….in short, everything that makes us human.

And while I’d love to say I trekked in a state of transcendental joy the whole time, unbothered by corporeal or mundane challenges, that would be a big fat lie. I trekked in joy, certainly, but also in conversation with my kids about their favorite songs and whether we would have beef stew or Chinese food the first night we got home and if we missed hot showers or fresh fruit more. And sometimes I didn’t trek with joy at all. I trekked annoyed at someone’s whining, or trekked slowly, putting one foot in front of the other, thinking of nothing but how exhausted I was, and dreaming of sea level oxygen.

We are home now. Within days, life at home returned to its former patterns and schedules. After all, we were only gone a month, not years. Laundry piled up, grocery shopping was done, homework starting flowing. Nepal receded from all of our minds.

Nepal didn’t change us, really. I didn’t have whole books spring full blown, Athena-like, from my head. I didn’t have meaningful life-changing discussions with my husband or children. My kids still hoover down a whole bag of pretzels and leave the empty package on the table. It still bugs me and I bark at them. We are the same.

But not exactly the same. We have friends in Nepal now, who invited us to their home and made us lunch, where that home had a dirt floor and an outhouse around the corner in the garden. We stared into the Buddha eyes on stupas and saw holy men, or Sadhus, at Hindu temples and realized that our personal Jewish-Christian hybrid is just one piece of the spiritual puzzle. We watched children holding on to the back of their parent’s motorbikes in crowded cities and realized seatbelts and carseats were luxuries not to be take for granted. We avoided even wetting our toothbrushes with tap water and recognized just how precious clean drinking water is.

Maybe we are changed, but still ourselves.

I hope someday we go back to Nepal. Next time we go, if someone asks why, we will have a better answer. We will say, “because we loved it there.”

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Namaste.

So I realize I don’t write regularly but this is a longer hiatus than usual. I meant to write a long log post leading up to it, but the fact is that I left home almost two weeks ago to trek in the Himalayas, near Mount Everest, with my family.

And I am there right now.

Ye, thanks to the wonders of technology I actually have Internet for the next few hours. So I am popping in simply to say I will be back in Mid-December with epic posts about this trip.

Until then, I will simply enjoy the journey.

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Namaste