MN: Hi! I am a middle school teacher and mother of a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. I have been teaching 6th grade language arts & social science for 19 years, and for the past 3 years, my focus has been on gifted students. As far as blogging goes, I kind of fell into it. It’s a little bit of a story, but a good one nonetheless. My brother has been blogging for quite some time on his family of omnimystery sites. Although he has a wide range of sites, the one that inspired me was mysteriousreviews – where he writes reviews of mystery books. Well, our mother fell ill several years back, and we came close to losing her. As she was recovering, she struggled with some depression, but my brother found a solution. She was looking for a good book to read, and he offered her one – but it had a catch. She had to write a review. Reluctantly, she agreed, and since then has published countless reviews for him.
It was amazing to see what writing something that was read and appreciated by so many people did for my mother, which made me think, “How can I use this with kids?” So, I approached my brother about having my students write reviews for his children’s mystery site – firstclues. It was such a hit that we started receiving non-mystery books in the mail for review. I had a choice to make, ignore the non-mystery books or start my own blog. The choice was clear – and as a result, BookTrends was born! Since then my students and I have written hundreds of reviews. Honestly, being able to provide middle school students an opportunity to write something that is more meaningful than the standard essay, which is written for a real audience, is – priceless!
After reading a great book like PLAYING HURT, it’s always exciting to find out a little about the author that made the characters come to life. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
HS: First, I have to admit, I really admire what you’re doing in the classroom, Margo. I love the fact that you’re actively seeking new reading material for your students, and introducing them to real-world discussions of literature…You are absolutely creating lifelong readers with a passion for literature…The book blogging community is a powerful place for both young readers and writers!
That having been said, I’ve been a writer since I could hold a pen. I was an extremely shy little kid, and sometimes, I think I started writing almost as a way to have a “voice.” I wrote through high school, majored in literature and creative writing in college—undergrad and grad. When I obtained my master’s, my mom invited me to nix the idea of a full-time job in favor of writing. She offered to feed me while I sought publication, got my writing career off the ground. Even though I didn’t have any financial concerns, the first deal did not come easy—took seven and a half years to ink the first contract!
But not only did I have financial support, I also had someone who was cheering me on, as four, five, six years passed with not a single acceptance. Someone who kept insisting I’d get there, if I’d persist just a little longer…
As an author, my first concern is my readership. Both of my books—PLAYING HURT and my debut, A BLUE SO DARK—are pretty honest. I try not to sugarcoat anything, or to shy away from any content. But I wonder—especially with a novel like PLAYING HURT, which has both sensual and sexual content—how librarians and teachers like yourself approach or deal with that edgier content. (I still remember when my sophomore year high school English teacher had to offer us all another book to read, if we were afraid that OF MICE AND MEN would be too offensive!)
MN: Well, Holly, I’d say your mom is a gem. You definitely have a gift, and I’m sure countless readers are thrilled you had the support to get through those early years! “Honest” is a great way to describe your writing. PLAYING HURT is an outstanding book – mainly because of that honesty. But you’re right, that edgier content can be questionable for some readers. I remember when FOREVER by Judy Blume was the “must read” book with girls hiding them in their book bags hoping Mom never found it! But, right or wrong, times have certainly changed since then. With so much exposure on public television, I’m sure FOREVER would never get the fevered attention today!
That being said, as both a parent and an educator, I definitely have to think about the appropriateness of the edgier content. Clearly PLAYING HURT is intended for an audience much older than my 6th grade students, but I do think it is every bit appropriate for late high school students. There is an excellent storyline that goes much deeper than the sensual content. However, it is very important for parents and educators to be aware of what their children are reading. Back when I read FOREVER, I remember my mother asking to read it too. Although I was a little horrified at first, in the end I did not mind at all. In fact now that I have children of my own, I highly respect her decision. Teens are going to be faced with “adult” decisions. What’s most important is giving them the support and core values to help them make the best decisions. Nothing - no books, movies, television shows, etc. - can ever replace the valuable conversations parents have with their children that help them grow and develop in their understanding of themselves and the world.
So, when it comes to books like PLAYING HURT, I would say – go ahead READ! But, parents need to be aware. Read PLAYING HURT too, but most importantly TALK. If more parents and teens really talked (and listened), a lot of problems might very well be avoided. I admire the honesty in your writing, and look forward to sharing your books with my daughter in a few years! Hopefully by then there will be more Holly Schindler books on the market!
HS: Love that you referenced FOREVER, Margo! (Didn’t we all love that book growing up?) And you’ve so succinctly summed up exactly how I feel about edgier content, as well—that it can absolutely be used as a springboard for an open dialogue!
I do absolutely love the blogosphere for so many reasons…One thing I love about the blogosphere is that bloggers also engage in just that kind of dialogue…Bloggers don’t just discuss the literary merits of a book, they also discuss a character’s actions and behaviors, and whether or not they agree with them…
With PLAYING HURT, there’s been a lot of discussion about the cheating subplot…some bloggers take the black and white view that cheating is wrong, and Chelsea and Clint’s relationship never should have happened, and other readers have really empathized with Chelsea’s situation, and have put themselves in her shoes, trying to figure out, “What would I have done?”
As a literature major (who has for years focused her reading on literary merits), I love that the blogosphere has such a guttural reaction to books…I find that reading blog reviews has made my own reading more emotional. How has blogging changed your own reading? How do you hope it changes your students’ reading?
MN: The blogosphere is an exciting, emotional world that has most definitely changed the act of “reading” for anyone who has experienced it. For myself, I find I am reading very differently. I don’t merely read for overall plot enjoyment, but my mind delves deeper – looking for the elements that make a review. I find myself armed with Post-It notes to mark those thought-provoking moments, good quotes, subtle inconsistencies, etc. But, amazingly, it doesn’t remove the enjoyment one bit. In fact, it deepens it. I am enjoying books on a different level today.
This depth of enjoyment is exactly what I hope for my students as well. When I was in school studying literature, the over-analysis nearly pushed me to detest reading. If another teacher asked, “Why do you think the author wrote it that way?” I might have pulled my hair out! But, writing reviews and blogging encourages that thought in a far more purposeful and enjoyable way. Once the review is out there, the anonymity of a blog allows people to express their thoughts in a comfortable forum. I’ve loved reading the comments my students have received. Granted they’re not all thought-provoking, but they are finding that what they write is being read and valued – not by Mom or Dad, and not by a teacher, but instead by real people looking for books. I see them engage far more intensely in literature discussions than I have in the past because they know how to review literature – and they do it well. Knowing that someone out there around the world is going to read their writing, and that their writing will evoke opinions and emotions in the readers, really pushes kids to think about the literature in a much different way. I even see their books riddled with Post-It notes!
But, most importantly, let’s face it, kid book-talk groups aren’t exactly seen as super cool, but a blog provides a safe forum to let out that “inner geek” and really talk about books – and how books shape and change the lives of their readers. What a wonderful concept – kids analyzing books and having fun at the same time! I imagine as an author, you’d also hope that readers don’t merely fly through the pages and then let the book collect dust, but instead they find themselves reading & discussing your books in such a way that an impact is made on the reader so that thirty years from now (as is nearly the case for my reading of FOREVER), someone, somewhere will be telling people about PLAYING HURT, the incredible, inspiring book they read as a teen and the impact it made on them as a person.