Long time the manxome foe she sought.

Three months ago, when the second Hobbit movie came out Hobbitish news was trending, Michelle Nijhuis wrote about swapping pronouns on Bilbo Baggins. Her five-year-old daughter insisted. It worked perfectly.

Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender—and neither does anyone else.

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Girl Bilbo art by Lanimalu, pasted here from original post

Both of my kids are younger, and neither will sit still for The Hobbit. But lately I’ve been able to lull my one-year-old daughter to sleep–or at least into a sleep-like trance–by reciting Jabberwocky. She’s small but fierce, and already seems like a monster slayer, so I swapped the pronouns for her. Easy enough.

One line of the poem ends in “son,” however, and another in “boy.” I changed both to “girl” (“daughter” has too many syllables), and adjusted the rhymes accordingly–which had the unexpected consequence of turning the Jubjub bird and the frumious Bandersnatch into the same creature (Jubjub is its species and Bandersnatch its name). This also made the father twirl around at the end. Not many words in English rhyme with “girl.”

The rest of the text is unchanged. I have transcribed it here for your amusement.

Jabberwocky
by Lewis Carroll
revised by William Alexander

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my girl,
   The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware that Jubjub bird and churl,
   The frumious Bandersnatch!”

She took her vorpal sword in hand;
   Long time the manxome foe she sought.
Then rested she by the Tumtum tree,
   And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought she stood,
   The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
   And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
   The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
She left it dead, and with its head
   She went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
   Come to my arms, my beamish girl!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
   He chortled as he twirled.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

 

Gender-swapped Hobbit photoshoot by photographer Alexandr Turchanin

photo by Alexandr Turchanin

In Which I Conduct Many Interviews

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The National Book Awards Ceremony is this Wednesday.

The Finalist Reading is tomorrow. (You can watch the webcast here.)

I interviewed all five finalist authors of Young People’s Literature, and I asked them about their first remembered bedtime stories. This is what they said.

(Click through the names for the rest of the interview.)

Kathi Appelt: My father read Rudyard Kipling’s poetry to me; in my deepest memories, I hear his voice reciting “Mandalay” and “Gunga Din” and all of those old poems. When I’m quiet, I can still hear my dad, still hear Brother Rudyard.  

Cynthia Kadohata: My father usually wasn’t around for bedtime because he worked such long hours, and I don’t believe my mother read to us or told us stories. I’ve told my son, Sammy, every story I can think of when we have our pre-bedtime life talk that I think we both really, really enjoy. 

Tom McNeal: My mother tells me that whenever she would take out a book to read to me at bedtime, I would say that I wanted a story “from her mouth.” Meaning a story that she made up. Evidently I knew even at that early age that she was the real storyteller in the family. And she made it even better by “drawing” illustrations or maps on my back while she told her tale. Her fingers would trace the progress of the story’s hero here and there, and draw the castle or forest or towering mountain that the hero was approaching. She continued this tradition with our sons, who would go to her house and ask for a “back story.” I suppose one of these days they’ll learn that backstory has another important, yet less charming, meaning.

Meg Rosoff: My mother was a wonderful reader—all our early bedtime stories were courtesy of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. To this day, iambic pentameter makes me incredibly drowsy.

Gene Luen Yang: My mom used to tell me Monkey King stories at bedtime. My favorite were about how he peed on stuff.

I didn’t get to interview the other authors on this year’s (first ever) NBA longlist. Instead I’ll list them yet again. Go forth and read them.

Kate DiCamillo, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures 

Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots

Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince

David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

Anne Ursu, The Real Boy

 

Interviews & John the Fisherman

Two new interviews just hit the interwebs: One at Strange Horizons, in which David Schwartz and I interview each other, and one at Inkygirl, in which I am interviewed by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

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Photo by Beckett Gladney

After the Inkygirl interview I asked Debbie about the first bedtime story she can remember, because this is still my favorite question to ask my fellow authors. She sent me this:

Although my Dad read me picture books, my Mom wasn’t as comfortable reading English. Instead, she used to tell me fairy tales that she remembered from her childhood in Japan, but would use Western names.

One of the earliest stories I remember was the tale of John The Fisherman. The story changed from time to time, probably because I kept asking my mother for it over and over again, but the basic story I remember is this: 

— Story begins —

Fisherman John saves the life of a turtle during one fishing trip. As a reward, the turtle takes John to an underwater kingdom, where the fisherman is given a fine meal and a comfortable bed. He is invited to visit for a few nights, and he agrees. When the time is up, the Queen of the underwater kingdom tries to convince him to stay longer, but John misses his home and family too much.

The Queen gives him some gifts to take with him, including a small ornately carved box which she says will protect him but that he is NEVER TO OPEN.

After John thanks the Queen, the turtle takes him back to the surface and John returns home. To his shock, however, his house is barely recognizable: only a few broken-down walls remain, and there is no sign of his wife or children. The rest of the village has changed as well, and John does not recognize a single soul. After asking around the village, John discovers that while he spent few nights in the underwater kingdom, a hundred years have gone by above.

Grief-stricken that he will never see his family again, John opens the box. White smoke emerges and within a few seconds, John ages until he is a very old man.

— Story ends —

As a child, I remember finding this story extraordinarily sad but also fascinating, which is why I asked for it so often.

My mother died from cancer years ago, but the story still brings back strong memories of how I felt back then: deep sadness, horror at John’s predicament…but also the reassuring touch of my mother’s hand while she gently stroked my forehead as I fell asleep. 

If you’re interested, you can read about the original Japanese story (“Urashima Taro”) in Wikipedia.

Oceans

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Blog! I have one. I had forgotten.

A couple of weeks ago I emerged blinking from my author cave, having turned in the manuscript of my third novel. The book might be finished. It might not be. Only my editor will know for sure.

Since then I’ve given the commencement speech at my old high school, performed a wedding for a couple of very old friends, and attended my grandfather’s 90th birthday. In my travels I got to see the ocean. I don’t see oceans very often, living right smack in the middle of the continent as I do. My very small daughter seemed to enjoy the taste of salt. She smacked her lips together and grinned at the saltiness. Then she fell asleep in my arms, in the ocean.

Speaking of oceans, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane just came out. It is astonishingly good. I reviewed it here. My review is Neil’s favorite, apparently—though he spelled “favorite” in the odd way that they do across the ocean:

NeilTweet

This makes me extremely happy, but not in a squee-ish sort of way. Well, not only in a squee-ish sort of way. “It says nothing about the plot & everything about what the book is.” That’s important. Book reviews usually read like reluctant book reports. They follow a very specific format: a paragraph or two of inadequate plot summery (and all plot summaries are inadequate), followed by a single sentence of evaluation. That tiny smidgen of opinion at the end will tell you whether or not the reviewer liked the book, but it isn’t likely to tell you what the book is, or what it does, or whether it does so successfully. And it should.

So this a challenge. Read well, everybody! Prove that your reading of any given book is one worth reading about…

Lions, Lambs, & Hats

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March is over. They say the month is supposed to come in like a wintery lion and go out like a lamb frolicking in sunshine. This particular month slunk away in a trail of dirty slush like a mutant lion-lamb hybrid. But I got a book published in March, so for me the month was glorious.

Addendum Books organized the launch party. PW covered it here. We drank hot chocolate and listened to live music from Dreamland Faces.

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DreamHaven and Red Balloon and Wild Rumpus and Uncle Hugo’s and Birchbark Books all hosted splendid events. This town is so very rich in bookstores.

Wild Rumpus made me a great big mask.

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Louise Erdrich joined me at Birchbark and gave me a hat.

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It was a very good month. The frozen resentment of mutant lion-lambs can’t possibly compete with such celebrations and hospitality.

I leave you with links to three articles:

Nancy Holder asked me all sorts of excellent questions at The Enchanted Inkpot.

The Route 19 Writers blogged about favorite passages from Goblin Secrets and offer insights into why those particular bits of the book worked for them.

Amy Goetzman wrote about me and unsettling stories for MinnPost.

And that’s all for now.

 

Places Where My Voice Is

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Two entirely different podcasts decided to interview me. One dedicated to the challenges of making art while simultaneously raising small children. The other is hosted by the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Both were very fun conversations to be in; hopefully they’re also fun to listen to.

Pratfalls of Parenting Episode 39

William Alexander on Fantasy & Social Theory

Also! My second audiobook just arrived in the mail. GhoulishVoice

And today I blogged about music and magic at the Enchanted Inkpot. That doesn’t have much of anything to do with my voice, but it happened today so I should probably mention it.

Tomorrow my second novel comes out and we will party.

 

Ghoulish Song Launch Events

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LADIES & GENTLEMEN! And anyone and everyone else not represented by either of those categories! My second novel will exist on bookshelves next week. It’s not precisely a sequel to Goblin Secrets; the two happen at the same time, in the same city, and involve several of the same characters, but the books also stand alone. You can see them unfold in the background of each other, if you look…

I’ll be throwing several parties and readings throughout the month of March. Come celebrate with books and masks and music! And also chocolate. Ghoulish Cover

Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau, hosted by Addendum Books with live music by Dreamland Faces: Tuesday, March 5th at 7pm

DreamHaven Books (with more live music!): 
Friday, March 8th at 7pm

Red Balloon Bookshop
: Saturday, March 9th at 2pm

Wild Rumpus
: Saturday, March 16th at 1pm

Uncle Hugo’s: Sunday, March 17th at 1pm

Birchbark Books: Saturday, March 30th at 2pm

 

Second Story Reading & Various Interviews

I’ll be reading for the Second Story Series this very Saturday, with Kelly Barnhill, at 2pm in the Loft Literary Center. There will be thematically-appropriate food. I look forward to finding out what sort of goblinish victuals our hosts will provide.

Also! I’ve been interviewed a couple of times recently, once for Write On! Radio (which is still streamable, but not for much longer) and once for the UVM alumni magazine. Here’s my favorite bit of the print interview:

“If we deny kids unsettling stories, then we deny them the very best hope that they’ll have for dealing with unsettling events,” he says, with mischief creeping around the edges of his voice. “So we have a responsibility to tell unsettling stories.”

The Round House

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RoundHouseCoverLouise Erdrich’s novel The Round House is currently enjoying a massive swack of literary attention and awards. This is good. This is as it should be. The book is amazing. It’s a rich and strange portrait of boyish adolescence. It’s about Star Trek, the awesomeness of Worf, and how reaching adulthood often requires imitating Captain Jean Luc Picard. It’s about ghosts that aren’t necessarily the ghosts of the dead. It’s about rez life and rez law. But over and around all other subjects and concerns, the book chronicles the aftermath of sexual assault. It also dramatizes the impossible legal tangle of that aftermath, given that reservation law could not prosecute non-Native perpetrators.

Novels usually disavow any connection to reality. The fine print reminds us that “this is a work of fiction.” But check out Erdrich’s version of that disclaimer, typed up at the end: “The events in this book are loosely based on so many different cases, reports, and stories that the outcome is pure fiction.”

Go back and read that sentence again. It handles its rhetoric like a kung-fu master, moving almost too fast to see. “This story is made-up. And yet it did happen in one way or another, over and over again, in so many different cases. And it is still happening. All of this is fiction. All of this is true.”

Now we need to talk about politics and current events.

The Tribal Law and Order Act, passed in 2010, did much to challenge the basic, fundamental injustice dramatized by The Round House: abuse and assault committed by non-Indians on reservation land became answerable to reservation law. A new provision in the Violence Against Women Act would do more. This is good. This is generations overdue. But the GOP is blocking the hell out of the Violence Against Women Act.

I’m not entirely comfortable posting about politics in a blog about kidlit, but we need to be talking about this. The Round House won the National Book Award, and yet I’ve seen zero press connecting the novel to the current struggle in the House and Senate.

Every other email asks us to call our reps for one reason or another. It’s exhausting, I know. But call your reps. Or write to them. Ask whether or not they support violent misogyny. Demand an explanation for their support of violent misogyny. Get the VAWA reauthorized. Honor the magnificent literary achievement of The Round House by answering the specific legal injustice it dramatizes. Because it’s still happening. All of it is fiction, and all of it is true.

 

Puppets & Mischief Making

My office is now backstage to a puppet theater. I suppose it always has been. curtains

When they aren’t performing, puppets will live in this pirate chest just outside the door.chest

This will obviously lead to tremendous productivity. Why keep the door closed and write novels when I could open the door to put on puppet shows?puppet

Please do not tell my editor about this.

In other news, the School Library Journal just published a long conversation between Gary D. Schmidt and myself. They also called me a mischief maker. I am extremely pleased.

Here’s a quote:

The giant mask comes from one of my favorite theatrical exercises, an especially useful one for children’s workshops. You get everybody to walk in a circle and give them vivid, impossible metaphors: “Walk like your feet weigh five hundred pounds. But you’re used to it. They always have. Now walk like your head is full of honey. Now walk like your hair is on fire, and always has been.” This is great for giving each character a distinct way of moving. One of those basic exercises is “Walk like a giant.” Some stand on tiptoe as soon as you say “giant,” but they shouldn’t. “You’re already a giant. You don’t need to stand on tiptoe. You are already very tall.” That’s a useful walk to learn. No one ever bothers you when you stand like a giant, no matter how tall you happen to be.

You can read the rest here.