That Time My Minivan was an Instrument of Swift and Certain Vengeance

In the long and noble history of mothering, the worst Sunday morning ever recorded came on a lovely spring morning.

My husband had volunteer duty at our church so he was already gone. I loaded our three kids into our gold-colored minivan and headed up Georgia 400, a fast-moving highway that offered a lovely view of towering pine trees on either side. The kids were sleepy and perhaps a bit cranky—my memory does tend to flicker when I recount the events just prior to the horror—so I turned on 104.7 The Fish, my favorite radio station here in Atlanta. With praise music pumping through our speakers and the sun shining, we buzzed down the highway. I sang to the tunes and expounded to my kids the glory of praising the Lord on a day like this, how your soul just rises up and you have to sing.

Up ahead, on the left side of the highway next to the guardrail, some poor creature had met its demise. A turkey vulture stood over the carcass, claiming it. I wasn’t terribly close, but in Atlanta that is a common enough sight. I hate turkey vultures, those debased creatures who feed off the misfortunes of the innocent and indecisive.

As the van barreled on, getting closer, the vulture decided to take his breakfast to-go. Grabbing the carcass in his talons, he lifted up, spread his enormous dark wings, and began to cross the highway in front of us, taking the carcass to the pine trees.

Our eyes met for a horrible brief second.

We knew at the same moment.

He had miscalculated my rate of speed, and his. The minivan now appeared to be an instrument of God’s swift judgement. But at the moment we should have collided, killing him instantly, the vulture lifted straight up—and dropped the carcass.

The carcass hit my windshield and exploded, a balloon of death that no child should ever see. My daughter, sitting in the passenger seat, opened her mouth in a silent scream, reminiscent of a Munch painting, but with pigtails. Panicking (did you know blood is completely opaque?), knowing I was in fast-moving traffic and had zero visibility, I did what any driver would do. I turned on my windshield wipers and blasted the windshield with washer fluid.

“Don’t look!” I screamed. The praise music was still going strong. Perhaps God was oblivious to the drama unfolding below.

The blades struggled to clear the carcass, sweeping it back and forth across the glass. I’m pretty sure it was a possum, judging by the nose.

Finally the carcass was thrown off the windshield. More windshield washer fluid cleared most of the blood. That’s when we saw it.

The wiper blade had trapped a long strip of intestine. Merrily, it waved back and forth, back and forth, as we drove. Frantically, I kept blasting the windshield with fluid to clear the rest of the blood.

After another upbeat praise song, the intestine finally broke free and flew across the highway like a party streamer in hell.

We rolled into the church parking lot seconds later. I’m not sure why the parking attendant didn’t call security, since a deranged mom with a gold minivan dripping in blood surely is not a common sight, not even for Baptists. I guess he thought we really needed to be there, for reasons entirely all our own.

The kids stumbled out of the van, pale and close to vomiting, legs wobbly, glassy-eyed from witnessing such carnage, especially carnage set to praise music.

And me? I confess, I was angry. These things should never happen on Sunday morning when you’re singing praise music! I stormed into church (the parking attendant had a walkie-talkie, and he was speaking into it rather urgently), found my husband, and blamed him for the whole thing.

I certainly can’t blame Jesus, can I? That would be wrong.

It was Sunday morning, after all.

My favorite line from The Last Monster is….

“The world around us is filled with monsters and freaks and mysteries.
And me?
I am the Guardian, who will watch over them all.”

“Uniquely imaginative….An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.”
Booklist

“While the fantastical elements are compelling, it’s the real-world situations that make this book stand out. A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.”
School Library Journal

Happy New Year!

Forget resolutions. They leave us cranky and preoccupied.

That’s my current philosophy, at least. I’m a goal-oriented person, though, so I naturally lean into the future. This year, however, as I made my list of goals, the goals sounded flat to my ears. They’re all good goals. Achievable, too.

Maybe that is why I am discontent. (and it’s winter…que Shakespeare on that line…)

Goals are about what we want to achieve. But does that leave room for wonder? If I am so busy looking at the work of my hands, will I remember to look up and see the stars?

This year, I choose wonder. I choose mystery. I choose to let go of the reins and let another heart, another set of eyes guide me.

Make Your Library A Haven for Teens

I recently had the privilege of speaking to Forsyth County library employees on making the library a “safe place” for teens. We run a teen author workshop that is consistently well-attended and filled with the most wonderful teens on the planet.

(Yep, I am biased. But I’m also right.)

While the teens have led the way to creating a library experience like none other, I’ve been making notes and studying what works and why. I will be posting here what I’ve learned, and hope you take every last bit to use at your own library.

Here’s the first lesson I learned:
They need us to listen. So…don’t try to make a perfect list of talking points, or a lecture, or even a plan. You won’t know what they need until the meeting is already underway.

Scary, but usually true.

Teens need to be heard. I call it Vitamin H. Vitamin H is the most life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-affirming vitamin known to humanity.

In fact, teens may not be able to tell the difference between the feeling of being loved and the feeling of being listened to. Being loved = being listened to. Being listened to= being loved.

(for more fascinating insights like that one, check out this interview: Ellin Galinsky, Inside the Teenage Brain, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/galinsky.html)

Second, be patient.

I understand that it’s awkward when a group first begins meeting together. I’ve led groups for twenty years, and I can tell you that the first six months may be wonderful and meaningful…but the gold comes later.

When a teen reads her work to the group, and you know you have heard her heart, a hush falls over the room. It’s a sacred moment. And sacred moments become much more common after the first few months. So jump in and let the group grow.

(And bring snacks.)

And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself to have a master plan for creating the perfect evening. I always scout a few YouTube pieces to show the teens, in case we want to branch out and talk about the mechanics of writing. I look for interviews with their favorite artists and writers, and we have had some great discussions around those.

Most of the evening, however, is devoted to listening. I listen to them, they listen to each other.

I have a list of insights I’ve gleaned from running these groups which I will be posting here in the coming weeks. Why am I passionate about this topic?

Aristotle said, “To educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

As a nation, we’re neglecting the heart. And fixing that oversight begins with the simplest of steps.

Teens need a safe space where they can be heard. Your library is that space. It’s not as daunting as you might think, and you don’t need to be a writer or a speaker to do it.

You just need to listen.
Because what you hear will change your life.
More on that next time!

What I’m Reading…

Everything, actually.

My high school-aged daughter and I have been battling all summer to see who can read the most books. She prefers long tomes in the fantasy genre and I love middle grade fiction which tends to run much shorter. She finally resorted to grabbing a stack of Goosebumps titles to gain a quick advantage. On the afternoon I caught her doing that, I snapped “I better not catch you with another book!” Sigh. Not my finest parenting hour, but needs must.

My favorite books this summer are classics that I am re-reading from Corrie ten Boom. I had forgotten how beautifully written THE HIDING PLACE is and how deeply moving. I have two regrets in my life, the first being that I never had a chance to meet her, and the second being that my mother neglected to take me to an Elvis concert when I was a baby so that he could kiss me. It seems that being kissed by Elvis as an infant conferred magical properties on some kind. I’m sure of it. I’ve been able to pin most of my life’s misfortunes on this tragic omission.

But as they say, if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.

Now, get out of here and go read a good book!

Summer at the Post Road Library

Every summer, I partner with the incredible staff at the Post Road library here in my cozy north Atlanta suburb and bring young adults a super-cool writers workshop. My kids tell me I shouldn’t call it super-cool, but I think it fits.

Here’s how it works:
We watch a movie on a Saturday, then the following week, we have a discussion about the techniques used by the screenwriters to bring the story to life. There’s no homework except to watch the movie…and perhaps eat popcorn for extra credit. :) Writers will gain a better understanding of what makes each genre work, and how their own stories can come to life with the right techniques.

Here’s our schedule:

Adventure Stories
Movie: Saturday, June 4 at 2:30 p.m.
Back to the Future (Rated PG, 1985)
Workshop: Tuesday, June 7 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Boy Meets Girl Stories
Movie: Saturday, June 18 at 2:30 p.m.
10 Things I Hate About You (Rated PG-13, 1999)
Workshop: Tuesday. June 21 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Teen Against the World Tales
Movie: Saturday, July 2 at 2:30 p.m.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Rated PG-13, 1986)
Workshop: Tuesday, July 5 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Detective Stories
Movie: Saturday, July 16 at 2:30 p.m.
Super 8 (Rated PG-13, 2011)
Workshop: Tuesday, July 19 at 1:30 p.m. Please register.

Teens can also bring in their own work to read to the group, but not everyone feels comfortable reading their work out loud, so there’s never any pressure….but we do promise positive feedback and plenty of encouragement.

Come join us if you can. You can register at the Post Road library or on their website at
http://www.forsyth.public.lib.ga.us/

Here’s what the media is saying about THE LAST MONSTER

“The world around us is filled with monsters
and freaks and mysteries.
And me?
I am the Guardian, who will watch over them all.”

THE LAST MONSTER, by Ginger Garrett, Delacorte Press

“An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.”
Booklist

“A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.”
School Library Journal

Preorder now for the best price at:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Monster-Ginger-Garrett/dp/0553535242

Or:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-last-monster-ginger-garrett/1122342054

Here

“The world around us is filled with monsters
and freaks and mysteries.
And me?
I am the Guardian, who will watch over them all.”

THE LAST MONSTER, by Ginger Garrett, Delacorte Press

“An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.”
Booklist

“A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.”
School Library Journal

Know A Kid Who Needs Encouragement?

THE LAST MONSTER, a new novel for young adults, is available for preorder from any book seller. Published by Delacorte Press/Random House, the novel is getting some great reviews…most importantly, the reviews are helping booksellers and librarians get the book into the right hands. Here’s a sample of what the media is saying:

“ An appealing tale for readers dealing with their own insecurities.” Booklist

“A perfect recommendation for introspective kids who feel like outsiders.” School Library Journal

“poignant and sophisticated…punctuated with wry humor”
Kirkus Reviews

I’m thrilled that the reviews will help the right readers find the book. Preorder now- the book releases in early April!

SCBWI SpringMingle

Just got home from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators SpringMingle conference, hosted by my region (Southern Breeze).
If you want to write or illustrate for children or young adults, you really must join us at SCBWI:
http://www.scbwi.org/

It’s a wonderful organization and has been enormously helpful to me in my career.
That’s it for now: I have to get back to working on my synopsis for another book. Or two. :)