Old Home Week


I’m just back from Ann Arbor, where I tabled at Kids Read Comics and taught a writing workshop at the Ann Arbor District Library.

I kept using the phrase “cognitive dissonance” to express how it felt to be in my old home town after many years away, and it’s close, I suppose, but inadequate.

I wasn’t discomfited per se by seeing how Ann Arbor has (and hasn’t) changed, but I became hyperaware of how site-specific memory can be; how experiences you’ve had in a particular place can suddenly return when you’re physically present.

I’d forgotten, for example, about Dominick’s. But as soon as I was standing inside, conversations I’d had in grad school over sangria came back; some, in fact, with these people (Dave Carter, Jim Ottaviani, & Kat Hagedorn):


I tried to do an update of this old photo taken outside the Clements Library where my dad used to be a curator:


but decided to respect the boundary around the book statue:


I went to some places that didn’t exist in the 1990s, too:


At Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, aka 826 Michigan, I bought Don’t Forget to Write: 50 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons for the Secondary Grades.

literati bag IMG_3735

And at Literati Bookstore (which has splendid graphic design in addition to its well-curated title selection) I got Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Perhaps the experience that best encapsulates the visit was going to Seva; a restaurant I remembered fondly which has recently relocated.


They kept stained glass from the old location, but display it in a different arrangement. They kept some items from the old menu, but added dishes. The result: a comforting, tasty blend of familiar & new.


Kids Read Comics

Representing today & tomorrow for teen & adult readers at the Ann Arbor District Library’s Kids Read Comics festival — really fun to be back in the library I grew up using. If you’re in or near Ann Arbor, come say hi!


Father’s Day


My mom took this picture on the Father’s Day when I was 8 and he was 49. By squinting and googling I ascertain that the book we bought him is A Circle of Light #1, about which I remember nothing except the cover. I remember I was very excited about the ice cream cake and thought it was clever that it had a tie on it, since I already knew that ties were the cliche gift and this was a tie, yet not.

Also we got him a cigar and I made him a card that says Lord of the Rings because he was reading it to me. He’d make himself hoarse doing the orc voices.

I miss him.

Throwback Thursday

I decided a #TBT post was appropriate since I’ll soon be visiting my old hometown.

Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor-adjacent readers, come see me at Kids Read Comics 6/21-22 and/or my writing workshop 6/23!

Now for the throwback:

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

I learned via the very cool Vintage Girl Scout Online Encyclopedia that I earned the most badges in the purple-bordered “World of the Arts” category and the least in blue-bordered “World of People”: I was painfully shy and keen on getting badges that required minimal interaction with other humans.

And here I am from around the end of my Girl Scout era:


Half speed

So far this year — I just counted the days, because I am the sort of person who does that — I’ve spent over a month in places that aren’t home.

Seven different states, including both New York and California, as well as a few occasions in my home state but not my home town. In most cases I was doing author events. And that is super cool and I’m very grateful to have the opportunities.

But wow, it has also been exhausting. (I say this fully aware that there are lots of folks who are on the road much more often than I’ve been. My hat is off to them/you all.)

I have a bit of time before the next round of travel (which I’m excited to say includes Kids Read Comics! and a writing workshop at the Ann Arbor District Library!) and I kind of feel like I’m operating at half speed — thinking, moving, and certainly writing less quickly than I’d like. Like the sleep debt and jet lag I’ve accumulated have coagulated to slow me down.

But I always think I’m not writing fast enough. And half speed is still some speed. So, onward.


SCBWI Oregon: resources mentioned for writing with cultural awareness/responsiveness

Writing The Other: a practical approach, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

12 Fundamentals of Writing “The Other” (and the self), Daniel Jose Older

Diversity in YA

We Need Diverse Books

Iceberg Activity — which aspects of culture are visible and which are ‘below the water line’? An interactive online exercise from FamilyForce.ca, a resource for Canadian military families

White Girl, Colleen Mondor

How privilege and diversity affect literature and media, a collection of articles curated by Sarah Hannah Gomez

Guest Post: Joseph Bruchac on You Don’t Look Indian at Cynsations, Joseph Bruchac hosted at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog

A Few Disjointed Thoughts on Other Cultures and Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Aliette de Bodard

Should White People Write About People Of Color?, Malinda Lo

Windows and Mirrors: Reading Diverse Children’s Literature by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen

Writing Race: A Checklist For Writers, Mitali Perkins

The Danger Of A Single Story, Chimamanda Nzogi Adichie

“The Boundaries of Imagination,” Or, The All-White World Of Children’s Books, 2014, a collection of articles curated by Philip Nel

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Letting Go Of The Status Quo by Zetta Elliott

Looking at rituals from the outside:

No R.S.V.P.? In Rajasthan, India, No Worries and the satirical response No R.S.V.P.? In South Jersey, USA, No Worries


SCBWI Oregon: resources mentioned in Page One, Panel One graphic novel workshop



Interview with Mimi Lipson, author of The Cloud of Unknowing


I loved every story in Mimi Lipson‘s collection The Cloud of Unknowing —  so much that I couldn’t resist reading one, “Mothra,” out loud in its entirety. When I finished, my companion looked at me expectantly, then said, “Oh no. That’s the end?” I nodded. They laughed with appalled delight.

Mimi is also a stained glass artist; I’ve punctuated this interview with images of some of her pieces.


SR: Jenny Offill says and I agree that there’s a generosity to this collection, and I see it particularly in the way you shift points of view both between and within the stories; for instance, the reader seeing Isaac through Kitty’s eyes and vice versa. How do you decide which POV to use in a scene?

Thank you (and thank Jenny) for saying that. I guess generosity isn’t something every writer goes for, nor should they, but I do—as long as it doesn’t shade into mawkishness.

Anyhow, those switches in POV are usually a matter of instinct. Just, I get itchy with Kitty’s view, and bam, I’m in Isaac’s head. In retrospect I can see that the shifts are usually technical moves. They push a story along or to give it more dimension. It’s supposed to be good if the reader knows something about the narrator that the narrator doesn’t know about him-or-herself, and POV switches are a way of accomplishing this. It’s easy to communicate something about Isaac through Kitty’s eyes, and vice versa, without requiring either of them to have too much self-awareness. So maybe it’s another crutch.

Then sometimes a story will only work with a certain narrator. “Lou Schultz” is an example. It had to be told from Lou’s perspective because otherwise he would seem a little monstrous. Or anyhow he would just be a lousy parent, which in this day and age amounts to the same thing.


SR: One of the many things I really admire about this collection is that there are moments in each story that suggest the possibility of other, equally rich stories. In “Lou Schultz” when Lou remembers how he and Helena met, or in “The Endless Mountains” when the freight lines remind Jonathan of Lou’s anecdote about hopping a train and eventually presenting himself at the Enid, Oklahoma jail. Given all these possibilities, how do you decide how much narrative space to devote to each one? Would you want to write, for example, a longer Lou-and-Helena-in-their-youth story, or a story about Lou’s train-hopping?

ML: This is actually a big problem for me. The story-before-the-story is such a tempting device for enlarging a current world or a current relationship. I would maybe even call it a crutch—like writing about dreams or photographs. As you point out, it seems to happen more around the Schultz family. I don’t think anyone will be shocked to learn that most of the pieces in this collection take events from my own life as their jumping-off points, and so much of what I know or think about my own family is based on stories I was told.

To answer your question, though: Would I want to write those other stories? Yes. I guess everyone is interested in their parents as characters who existed in the world before they were born. But haven’t I already been self-indulgent enough?


SR: Does your background in linguistics influence your writing, and if so, how?

ML: I’m not sure about influence. I do think my interests in linguistics and in writing have a common source, which is (to use a mortifying expression) a love of language. I’ve always paid a lot of attention to the way people talk: how they can be characterized by their speech, and how they do things with language—for instance, using formality to dominate and informality to disarm. Or how grandiloquence can be comic. It’s Bugs Bunny stuff, really.

As far as linguistics goes, my initial attraction was to macro-level language structures—what’s called discourse analysis. That quickly led to sociolinguistics, which is more about the invisible rules and patterns of language change and variation. That, in turn, led me to formal linguistics. Eventually, we’re not even dealing with words anymore—just symbols and functions and stuff. So as things become more abstract and formal and technical, the two things—writing and linguistics—get further apart. I’d be hard pressed to find a connection between my writing and, say, the semantics of verb aspect.

Anyhow, I didn’t start writing seriously until I’d been out of the linguistics game for a while, but when I did, there was that mix of high and low—that functional use of register that made language structure interesting to me in the very beginning.


SR: Your characters Helena and Kitty seem to have some similar impulses to rescue, protect, and otherwise nurture difficult people, and also a similar capacity to see those difficult people’s positive qualities. Where do you think the line is between having strong empathy and making excuses for poor behavior?

ML: I guess you could say that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with those two. As for me, I don’t know where that line is, but then I think a lot of people don’t. I don’t even know where the line is between a negative trait and a positive one. I often have misunderstandings as a result of talking about people or places in terms that sound disapproving when I don’t necessarily mean something bad—like how Kitty calls Los Angeles ‘apocalyptic’ in “The Searchlite.”

red shoes

SR: And of course the usual question: what are you working on now?

ML: Let’s just say I am working on a nonfiction project.

OLA and WonderCon

If you’re in Salem tomorrow or Anaheim Friday-Sunday, come see me!

At the Oregon Library Association conference:

Thursday, April 17th

2 – 3:30 PM Graphic Rave & Graphic Reads!  In my part of the session I’ll talk about collaborating with Carla Speed McNeil on Bad Houses & show some penciled and inked pages from the book. I’ll especially highlight Carla’s fabulous lettering — she was just nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Letterer!

4 – 5:30 PM Making vs. CraftingDespite the title this will probably not be a fight between Team Making and Team Crafting. But who knows what might happen? 

Directly after those sessions, I’ll drive at breakneck speed from Salem to the Portland Airport so I can make my flight to Anaheim!

I’ll be a special guest at WonderCon, tabling at AA155 and appearing on the following panels:

Friday, April 18
1:30 PM Spotlight on Steve Lieber and Sara Ryan 
Room 203WonderCon Anaheim special guests Steve Lieber (Superior Foes of Spider-Man) and Sara Ryan (Bad Houses) discuss creating comics, finding the core of a story, comics versus prose, collaborating while married, and more.

4 PM The New Wave Graphic Novel Room 210A: Jim Di Bartolo (In the Shadows), Steve Lieber (Whiteout), Sara Ryan (Bad Houses), and Gene Luen Yang (The Shadow Hero), all eminent graphic novelists, discuss their own works within the graphic novel form, as well as how today’s increased acceptance of the graphic novel has led to new books, new authors, and new readers. Moderated by WonderCon Anaheim special guest and author Jim Pascoe.

Saturday, April 19
11 AM: Signing at Dark Horse booth 519