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


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.



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?


(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:



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:


But also a fair bit of this:


(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?


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.

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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