Monday, April 23, 2007

Grief and Anger

For the past week, I've been struggling to write my thoughts about the killings at Virginia Tech. The massive media coverage hasn't helped. Instead of gaining any kind of clarity, I've become angrier and angrier, listening as everyone with an agenda and a soapbox hijacks this tragedy and twists it to suit his or her own ends. We’ve heard endless “reasons” for Seung-Hui Cho’s actions: video games, legalized abortion, gun control, not enough gun control, school bullying, liberalism, the Devil.

Seung-Hui Cho was mentally ill. Were there other factors that led him to shoot 32 people? Probably. But none of those factors made Cho psychotic. His mental illness made him psychotic. Psychosis is not a product of society. It’s not an “excuse.” It’s a product of brain chemistry, a biological disorder.

But people want someone to blame. And they adore pointing fingers. So the eagerness to politicize this tragedy, and ignore the bare fact of its cause, is not surprising. But it is reprehensible. If we truly want to prevent this from happening again, we must focus on the issue at hand—mental illness—and how best to get treatment and help to those who need it.

My heart goes out to the families of the murdered, and to Cho’s family, who lost their boy before he ever picked up a gun.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Blast in St. Helens

A big shout-out to St. Helens High School in St. Helens, Oregon—you guys rock!

Yesterday, I was invited to SHHS for their first-ever visiting authors’ day. Sharing the stage with me was Graham Salisbury, multiple-award-winning YA author and truly nice guy. For each presentation, Mr. Salisbury gave his talk (wonderful stories of growing up in Hawaii, which form the backdrop of his novels), and then I followed with my musings on writing, living in Tennessee, and Tallulah Falls. The students were a fantastic audience—responsive, sharp, funny, and smart. You guys made the day fun.

Thanks to the faculty and administration of SHHS for your hospitality and for putting this program together—your dedication to your students is wonderful to see, and your plans for future programs is truly visionary. And many, many thanks to the students, for your enthusiasm, hospitality, and grace. I enjoyed meeting you all, and I hope to have many more opportunities to talk writing with you again!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


The most surprising thing has happened the past couple of weeks. I finished my novel, sent it off to my editor and my agent, did my happy dance. Then I sat back down at the computer. Now that I had a little bit of downtime, I planned to blog at least twice a week. Write articles. Work on a short story I’ve had simmering on the back burner for months. I was raring to go. But it was as if someone had turned a tap off in my head. All the words that, these past many months, had come pouring out of my fingertips into the keyboard onto paper just…vanished.

No. Vanished isn’t the right word. They’re not gone. It feels, instead, as though they’ve gone deep. As if my brain is earth. Waiting. Warming in the spring sun, recharging. Gathering energy.

In the meantime, I’ve been out to see my friends. Lots of laughing, lots of catching up. Working my day job, of course. Cleaning my house. All the while, soaking up everything around: the smell of flowers that hits as soon as I step outside my front door (Oregon in the spring is not only beautiful, but beautifully fragrant), the way a person in the coffee shop crinkles her eyes when she smiles. Everything. Instead of churning out, my brain is taking in. Watching and observing and listening and turning things over. I can feel it, just below the surface. Thoughts and fragments of ideas float up, sink again.

It sounds odd, probably. It’s as if the subconscious puts up a sign: QUIET. WORKING. I think about writing, I sit at the computer. I type. I don’t say much.

But the past day or two, I’ve become irritable. A sure sign—I’ve learned—of words building up. Wanting to break loose.

A little rest, a fallow time. And now we begin again.