Writers on Training Wheels

Hillary Illick writes about the blurry spaces she inhabited during her childhood, where the boundaries between fact and fiction were permeable:

As a girl, in school, I got in trouble quite a few times for insisting something happened that in fact did not. I wasn’t lying. I was clinging to the images in my mind that I experienced as true, even though it turned out more than once they were not.

She could have been talking about me! I too was a habitual creator of tales, connecting the dots when that seemed to be called for, glossing blithely over the small matter of an immutable reality that others seemed to take for granted.

All children lie in small and large ways.

As do adults, let’s face it, often for survival or self-preservation. Or sometimes just from habit.

But that wasn’t the kind of lie I used to tell. I’d simply make up endings for real events. If something happened that seemed inconclusive to me, I’d fill in an ending and narrate it glibly to others. When the neighbor’s dog ran away, I said I’d seen it down the road, running into the park. In a way, I had. We’d passed the park that day. I’d seen a dog running in. Was it the neighbor’s dog? Maybe not, but it felt satisfying to connect those dots. The neighbor searched up that road, turned up nothing. After much questioning, when it became clear that I’d simply suggested the park as a possibility, not the clear scene I’d painted, I found myself in trouble.

Not all childhood lying, of course, is imaginative play.

L1070666.jpgBut neither are all childhood fibs morally reprehensible. And at some point, assuming we’re not destined for a life of crime, we all come up against a boundary beyond which truth cannot be distorted for any real-life reason.

But fiction–that’s different. Sometimes I wonder if that trait of mine, practiced mostly in secret once I learned it wasn’t appreciated, was nothing but rehearsal, years in advance, for the kind of plotting (cause and effect, scene and sequel) required while writing fiction.

As I recall, that dog did wander back home, or did it? It’s entirely possible I made up that part.

 

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

kiranmala-reveal-cvrBefore its publication, I did my best to get my hands on a copy of The Serpent’s Secret. I don’t know why it should be so complicated to get a review copy from New York to a Canadian address! Between mailing issues and the promise of a copy via Scholastic Canada, and the failure of the e-galley to open….let’s just say it’s taken me half a year to open the book and start reading.

I was hooked right from the first words in the dedication:

To immigrant parents and children everywhere–who imagine an idea called home into being through the telling of stories.

I was hooked by the character, twelve-year-old Kiranmala of Parsippany, New Jersey. Ordinary girl, right? Maybe not. Because Kiran’s swiftly sucked into a spiraling story in which everything she knew to be reality is upended. Her parents are gone. There’s a demon, a rakkhosh, eating everything in her kitchen. And who are those guys dressed in funny Halloween costumes? In short order, she’s charged with no less a responsibility than saving the world. Each character is delightfully and lovingly crafted. Narrated in the first person,  the book hums with Kiran’s personality, every scene infused with purpose, sly humor, and an unerring sense of the middle grade character on the brink.

And I was hooked, finally, by the underlying worldview in Sayantani’s book. This is a world in which immigrant identity isn’t the issue, and one in which the cultural particulars not only ring utterly true but are regionally specific, going beyond the all too common representation of the entire subcontinent as one monocultural space. And there’s the girl at the center of the story. She’s the one who must be in control, even (maybe especially) when the ground under her feet has just given way! Magic can happen, the book suggests, in your space, wherever that is. We’re all in it together, if we just let ourselves ride into a destiny waiting for us to take charge of it!

Every girl at that puzzling, promising, in-between age of 12 ought to read this first book in the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series. Look for Book 2, The Game of Stars.

 

 

The Golden Rule and Paying it Forward: Carmen Oliver and Don Tate

Carmen Oliver and Don Tate have been longtime critique partners, and they’re getting ready to lead a workshop together in Honesdale, PA for the Highlights Foundation. I asked them: 

What have you learned about giving and receiving feedback on a work in progress? What’s helpful and what’s not, from the viewpoint of the giver and the receiver of critical feedback?
  

Carmen consulted with Don and here is her reply: 

Yes, our first critique group formed back in the mid 2000’s. We met through SCBWI and partnered with several other writers. Over the years, some of the groups have folded, but Don and I have remained constant critique partners. We’ve bounced ideas off one another, we’ve even dabbled in writing a book together. As our careers have gotten busier—and Austin traffic widens the divide (we live on opposite ends of the city)—we often meet on-line or over the phone to discuss projects.

One of the most important things that we’ve learned is the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. We don’t tell each other what or how to write. Rather, we ask questions. This allows the other to delve deeper into their story, to think more broadly. We ask “what if” questions, which can help to find holes in the story structure. We suggest taking a look at a story from differing vantage points.

 We’ve also learned the importance of encouraging and not discouraging. Criticism must be honest, yet constructive and helpful. Sometimes it takes a lot longer for an author to uncover the heart of the story.

 When receiving feedback, it’s important to step back at first, take a breath. Don’t take criticism personally. Take a second to be open to what your critique partners are offering. Don’t be so quick to respond defensively. Mull over comments. Consider what is useful to you and what is not. After you’ve had time to process your thoughts, delve back into your project. Keep the dialogue open with your critique partners, if you have questions that need further answers.

 [Uma] In the end, we’re all looking for publication, but how do you tell the stories that matter to you while still being realistic about what’s likely to sell? What does that balancing act entail for each of you?

 [Carmen] Initially, Don doesn’t worry what’s going to sell or not sell. Instead, he writes what interests him, what he wants to explore or to learn about. Often times, through research and exploring the topic, he discovers whether the investment in time is worth it. Some topics are exciting at first discovery, but then quickly fizzle out for various reasons. Writing a book requires a lot of time, so it’s necessary to choose a subject that will keep your attention through the months, and even years.

 [Uma] And you?  How does this balance work for you?

[Carmen] Back in 2005, I began working on A VOICE FOR THE SPIRIT BEARS: HOW ONE BOY INSPIRED MILLIONS TO SAVE A RARE ANIMAL (Kids Can Press, May 7, 2019). This book took eleven years to figure out. I never gave up on it because I believed it was a global story that would matter to young kids everywhere. And so I kept at it until I found the heart of the story. Over the years several publishers turned the manuscript down, so I put it away and then came back to it with fresh eyes, to do the additional work needed. I also believed that this story needed to find the right home. And eventually, it did.

 In the publishing world, it’s a good idea to study lots of books of the genre you’re writing for, to know the crème de la crème! What books are being talked about, getting the publishing industry’s attention? Why? Which ones strike a chord in you? Which ones linger long after the last page? Which ones make you stop and think? Pay attention to those books, learn from them. They’ll likely inform your own work.  

 [Uma] And teaching? Where does passing the love along fit into your writing life?

 [Carmen] Early on, Don and I realized that teaching would definitely be a part of our journeys. Within children’s publishing, we’ve discovered the generous tradition of reaching out to help others. We’ve both received mentorship from many award-winning authors and illustrators over the years. It was important to pay it forward, to the next generation of writers/illustrators following their dreams. Our students have inspired us. We learn just as much from aspiring book creators as they learn from us.

 [Uma] This one’s for Don. As a writer who is not also an illustrator, I often wonder if there are stories that are just beyond my capacity to tell because I can’t think like an illustrator. Don, can you talk about how your illustrator’s mind benefits your writing? What can a wordsmith like me learn from someone like you?

 [Carmen checked with Don, and reported] Don doesn’t think the capacity to tell a story is limited because you’re not an illustrator—although as an illustrator, he’s always asking: What does it look like? It’s one thing to put pretty words on paper. It’s another thing to make those words visual. As a wordsmith always ask yourself what is happening in a scene, picture it in your head. With a picture book, every detail can’t be in the text. But the more familiar you are with the visual details of a scene, the better equipped you are writing visually. Like Don says: You’re painting a picture with words.

 For example, when Don wrote and illustrated POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON, he learned that a letter writing campaign, and books that published against slavery, was an important element of the climax of George’s story. But, oh how boring and not very visual that would be. Instead, Don chose to focus on visualizing the results of the published letters and books—people fighting back against injustice.

Thanks, Carmen and Don. Have fun at your workshop. You too, all you lucky Highlights writers and illustrators who get to work with this talented teaching duo.

J.L.Powers on Writing, Publishing, and Being a Third Culture Kid

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All images used by permission of J.L. Powers

I met Jessica Powers when she took the picture book semester at VCFA, and I’ve been interested in her work ever since. In this guest post, she talks about who she is and the paths that have led her to what she does.

I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico Border in a working-class Mexican and Mexican-American neighborhood. I am what people call a “third-culture kid”—I grew up in a culture completely different than my parents’ culture (they are from the Midwest U.S.A.). This fact shaped me more vigorously than just about anything else. I always feel a bit “in-between”—not quite this and not quite that. Sometimes that’s a wonderful feeling; it’s easy to distance myself from the cultural habits and values of white, middle-class Americans—after all, it doesn’t represent me or my lived experience. Sometimes, it’s difficult because people are determined to place me in that cultural box even if it doesn’t fit me very well.

The summer I turned nineteen, I worked with street children in Kenya, and quickly leapt into a genuine love for African people that went on to sustain me as a graduate student of African history, as a learner of Zulu/Xhosa/Ndebele and currently Afrikaans, and now as a publisher of African writers. I have spent the last decade in and out of southern Africa, loving the many people there who have chosen to embrace me as a friend and family member. Yet I still have a very strong connection and pull to the Mexican Border, where my family still lives.

9781617755804_FC.jpgEven though I loved many of the classics as a kid, they produced in me a keen and vigorous longing. I never saw my world represented in children’s books. So as a writer of books for young people, I’ve always written about the worlds that I do live in, which are generally not mainstream.

My first novel was set in El Paso, about Mexican-American and Mexican kids, because that’s the world I’ve always known. My second, third, and fifth novel (forthcoming) were set in African countries (South Africa and Somalia) because that’s the world I’ve immersed myself in as an adult. My fourth novel (co-written with my brother, and the start of a series) is pulling on my love for the vast and wonderfully varied cultural terrain of the U.S. But can I say that I am returning to the Border soon enough for a future book? Look for that on the horizon!

I’ve worked for wonderful diverse publisher Cinco Puntos Press for a very long time. That’s been a classic fit. And last year, I launched my own publishing company, Catalyst Press and Story Press Africa.
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Why in the world would I do such a crazy thing? Well. I’m glad you asked!
After my child was born, I was really frustrated with the lack of African literature for young people. It seemed like there were two types of books: folk tales and books about Nelson Mandela. Come on, people! We publish tens of thousands of books every single year!

9781946498984_FC.jpegSo I teamed up with the amazing people at Jive Media Africa to start the African Graphic Novel Series. And because I love African literature widely and indiscriminately, I’m also publishing a variety of short story collections, crime novels, thrillers, and other books by Africans and/or set in Africa. Come check us out! I promise we will have something you love!

More about J.L. Powers: In addition to her writing and publishing, J.L Powers also writes and edits The Pirate Tree, a blog on social justice and children’s literature. 

Books by J.L. Powers

Amina coverUnder Water (forthcoming January 2019)

Broken Circle (co-written with M.A. Powers, 2017)

Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza (2014)

Amina (2013)

That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone, a collection of essays from around the world (2012)

This Thing Called the Future (2011)

Labor Pains and Birth Stories: Essays on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Becoming a Parent (2009)

The Confessional (2007)

 

 

An Invitation to Writers

Back in the day, when Vicki Holmsten, Kristine Ashworth and I were dreaming up the earliest iterations of the Bisti Writing Project in Farmington, New Mexico, I learned the power of the word “invitation.” It was a term commonly used by National Writing Project people–you didn’t appoint someone to committees or working groups, you invited them. Invitation leads to feeling welcome, and therefore to being welcomed. It levels the field. It creates transparency.

Some of my most joyful work over the years has emerged from invitations–to write, to teach, to speak. This week I’m at Hollins University, meeting with Children’s Literature classes after speaking at the grad student-run Francelia Butler conference.

Being invited to the conference made me think about my writing life, about all the steps and missteps that led me to become the person I am now. A greying writer with a treadmill desk and a laptop but also stashes of paper and a fountain pen, an old Remington portable typewriter and a head full of stories waiting to be written.

Being invited led me to think about the collective sea of stories–and about the marvelous glass metaphors that Rudine Sims Bishop employed in 1990 to call for stories with more characters of color. That article served as an invitation to me, years ago, to write the stories that mattered to me.

Now I felt invited to take that metaphor and extend it. As I finished work on Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh a couple of years ago, I’d been struck by how it was more than a mirror or window text. Why not, I thought, play with that notion? Why not embrace the complexity of history and story and the relationships of people within and across cultures?

Here are a couple of slides from my keynote, with samplers of books whose authors complicate diversity in the best way:

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Because windows were good for another time, and mirrors are necessary. But why stop there?  If you are a writer with a story grounded in a particular culture, or in more than one culture, consider this an invitation to frame your story as more than a mirror, more than a window. Why not make it a prism, capable of shedding light upon the world?

Nora Carpenter on Yoga Frog

Nora Carpenter author photo verticalI’m delighted to report that VCFA grad Nora Carpenter (my student!) has a new picture book out. A yoga book–with a frog character leading the way.

I asked Nora: Where did this book idea come from?

[Nora] When I first started teaching yoga to kids back in 2007, I searched the Fairfax County library system (I lived in Northern Virginia at the time) for a book that introduced a basic yoga flow in a way that was fun and simple without being simplistic. I found one kids’ yoga book, but it was written for older kids (10+), was incredibly wordy, and focused on minute details (“place your hand three inches from the end of the mat” kind of thing). There was no way it was going to help me teach preschool or young elementary children. Fast forward a few years to my time as a student in the MFA for Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I decided to write the book I wish I’d been able to find in that library. My efforts produced a series of lyrical yoga poems, some of which I included in my graduate reading.

[Aside from Uma] I remember those poems. They were quite wonderful.

Yoga Frog clear cover.jpg[Nora] They caught the ear of someone who went on to work for Running Press, so RP reached out to me about writing a yoga book. It was one of those moments that was both super long in the making and also serendipitous. My poems didn’t get picked up, but if I hadn’t created them, I might never have gotten the opportunity to write Yoga Frog. Writing (and life) is weird like that.

[Uma] How much did it change along the way?

[Nora] My early story drafts featured a young frog who befriends Yoga Frog and learns from him. Then I reshaped it into a dialogue form. Then I changed the frame. At one point there were tween frogs in the book! In the end, the book worked best as nonfiction.

[Uma] What did writing this book teach you? A joyful moment? A moment of realization?

[Nora] It reminded me to have fun while writing. Creation is tough work, but at the end of the day, why do it unless you love it? I had so much fun writing this book! It also reminded me not to cling too tightly to my work and to experiment with different forms. I was really excited about the initial, story version of Yoga Frog, but my editor was like, “eh.” She liked it okay, but she really wanted the book to make it super simple for kids/beginners to learn basic poses. In those first drafts, the story had taken over. So I scrapped all those drafts and started again. Magic happens when you let yourself play.

[Uma] How did you decide on the combination of Sanskrit names and your own whimsical ones?

cat pose at Malaprops[Nora] I wanted interested readers to have access to the proper Sanskrit names, but in my teaching experience, more child-friendly terminology gets better results with young kids. For example, preschoolers can have a hard time conceptualizing a pose which literally translates as Half Lord of the Fishes. However, by calling it Caterpillar and giving it a specific kid-friendly action with sounds (searching for leaves to munch as you twist) it gives children a way to remember what they’re supposed to be doing in the pose. (Why are we twisting? Oh yeah, we’re looking for leaves.) Poses like Chair (Utkatasana) didn’t require a kid-yoga name because children have no problem imagining they’re sitting on an invisible chair or creating a chair shape with their bodies. At the end of the day, my goal was to help kids relate to the poses in the simplest, most fun way possible.

[Uma] I found your backmatter fascinating as well. If it’s hard to write books aimed at the very young, I cannot imagine what it takes to get a toddler into balasana. Talk to me about how you approach teaching yoga to very young children.

Tree pose at Malaprops[Nora] I make it as imaginative and interactive as I can. Adults sometimes don’t realize that kids’ yoga classes look quite a bit different than adult classes. Specifically with very young children, I’ve found that nothing engages them like imagination and pretend play. For instance, if I asked a group of toddlers to mimic me in Child’s pose (Balasana) and stay for five deep breaths, most of them are not going to stay in that position very long. They get bored, restless, and start rolling around or getting up. However, if, like I do in the book, I ask them to pretend to be hawks and fly down to protect their chicks for five breaths, almost every single toddler is able to do that. The pretend play element gives children something to focus on, whereas adults are better able to concentrate on the sound of their breath or counting. Plus, it’s just fun! The kids love flapping their wings and “flying” down to their nest. It gives them ownership of the movement so they’re not just doing something that a grown up asked them to do for reasons they don’t understand. Importantly, the results of kids and adult yoga are the same. While pretending to safeguard their chicks, kids’ bodies and breath are still slowing down as they relax into a resting, forward folding bend. That is the main function of Balasana, even in an adult class.

[Uma] You are so finely attuned to the sensibility of the young child, so essential in writing for the youngest readers and listeners. Maybe those poems will find a home someplace one of these years. Thank you, Nora!

[Nora] Thanks so much for having me, Uma!

Update: Nora Carpenter’s YA novel, The Edge of Anything, is slated for publication in Spring 2020. Here’s a preview summary:

Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Lennon is a loner teen photographer with a guilty secret. As Sage’s carefully planned life unravels and Len’s past increasingly threatens her safety, the girls develop an unlikely bond, finding the strength to conquer their internal monsters in a place neither of them expected: each other. Set in the mountainous outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina, The Edgeof Anything explores the transformative power of friendship and how it can help you find yourself and the goodness in life, even when everything feels broken.

Congratulations, Nora!

Loreena McKennitt on Progress Traps and Her New Album

Loreena-McKennittI fell in love with the music of Loreena McKennitt many years ago, when I first heard the haunting sounds of  The Dark Night of the Soul and her renditions of  The Highwayman and The Lady of Shalott. Ghosts give hope to dead lovers in these poems, and her singing made me feel as if I inhabited some ghostly terrain myself, as if I had always known that those poems would find this music someday.

I kept looking for new work by her–and there hasn’t been any for years! It’s given me hope, in an odd way, because I’m unable to crank out a book a year the way so many talented writers do. The work always seems to take its own time, or else I run the risk of breaking it. Loreena seemed to be telling me it was okay to do things my way, to serve my craft, with ends more complicated and interior than any business model could encompass.

She has much to say in this interview with CBC Radio, about the new album that is really a reflection on the last decade, about her decision to quit Facebook, and about the progress traps referred to by novelist and historian Ronald Wright in his book, A Short History of Progress. It’s the idea that humans have this ability to evolve ourselves into disaster, to take an intriguing idea or a creative process to ends that may be logical but turn out to be terribly destructive. You know, denuding forests, damming rivers, creating the atom bomb. It’s quite a list.

Snippet from an interview with Ronald Wright:

Refugees from earlier failed civilizations could move on to other places and try again. Today, however, civilization is global. This time we cannot flee. As a sign at the Copenhagen summit noted, “There is no Planet B.”

Loreena’s conversation with the CBC host of Q is enriched as well by her eloquent music. For myself, I was most intrigued about an aside she tossed in–about a project under way in India, something to do with the history of cows.

But I can wait. I’m sure it will be something rich and strange and thought-provoking.

Immigrants and Neighbors on this Fourth of July

Today, NPR reports the story of a deported migrant, named only as Nasario, who waits anxiously to be reunited with his daughter. Nasario, a victim of the Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy, is a Guatemalan farmer fleeing gang violence. He and his young daughter were apprehended crossing the border illegally and were separated. Six weeks later, he’s been deported and his daughter remains in a New York shelter. She is five years old. She was taken out of his arms by border patrol agents. They both cry every day. Nasario is a broken man.

These are the stories of our time. A new one every day. Someday there will be books for young readers about these stories, but how will we frame them? As part of a grim interlude that has been overcome and the culprits brought to justice? Or as part of a successful takeover by fascists and racists of a country once founded on principles of liberty and justice?

What would I do if my child and I were in danger in my homeland? Would I not try to leave by any means available to me?

Meanwhile, in the book trenches, I’m Your Neighbor continues its collection of books for young readers, books that celebrate and honor immigrant experiences and offer booksellers, librarians, educators, community organizers, and families information and titles that can help build connections across cultures. IYN-Web-Banner-2.jpeg

I was honored to be on a panel at ALA 2018 with Anne Sibley O’Brien, Thi Bui, Bao Phi, and Terry Young speaking on Unpacking the Immigrant Experience: Creating a Space for New Arrivals . And beyond honored to receive the 2017-18 APALA award for children’s fiction for Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh.

This is the America I know. Today, it seems in danger of extinction.

Landmark, Seamark, or Soul’s Star?

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Cairngorms National Park, Scotland 

Years ago, an English teacher handed me a volume of poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins and forever changed my relationship with words. “Vex’d elm-heads” and a “listing heart” and the moon “dwindled and thinned to the fringe | of a fingernail….” It was as if that long-ago voice was showing me how heart and place could meet within a twist of a word or a single rhythmic leap.

Thank you, Christina Harrington, for telling me about Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane, because here is a book that delves into the inseparable nature of place and language, despite out best efforts to tear them apart. MacFarlane’s introductory chapter discusses the culling of words related to nature from the Oxford Junior Dictionary:

Under pressure, Oxford University press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beach, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, block graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chat room, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice mail.

Landmarks pleads for a literacy of the land, evoking precision and poetry as well as the voices of a range of writers and artists–Nan Shepherd (whose extraordinary writing I discovered last year on a visit to the Cairngorms in Scotland) Roger DeakinRichard Skelton. It’s a summons to us all to pay attention to the landscape, to remember its name. In that remembering, we recreate the thing itself, passing it on to another generation.

How much more human and humane it is to prize listing hearts and dandelions over committees and voice mail.

 

 

 

 

Inscrutable Wonder: The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko

grandcanyon1Back in the last century, my husband and I visited the Grand Canyon. We were grad students at the time, and we cobbled the trip out of our spare savings because that year we decided that the Canyon was such an iconic space in the American landcape. It had come to occupy so cavernous a space in our imaginations.that we simply had to go see it.grandcanyon2grandcanyon3grandcanyon4

That was before the days of non-stop air tours and the assault of recreational ATVs on the North Rim, before smog from coal-fired plants destroyed the endless sky, before the relentless march of what passes for civilization. We had brought along a point-and-shoot camera and we surrendered ourselves to the geological marvels of the canyon, hiking halfway down in a state of wonder.

A year after that trip, in 1983, the largest El Nino on record hit the western US. A massive snowmelt hurled runoff down the Colorado River, nearly bringing the Glen Canyon Dam to its knees.

emeraldmileThe Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko, is set against that tumultuous event. It is the nonfiction account of a secret, madcap trip by the captain of a little wooden dory who aimed to use the flood as a kind of slingshot, propelling his boat through some of the most dangerous whitewater on the continent.

For me, reading this book wasn’t just about connecting with the magic of the canyon, right from this epigraph quoting Wallace Stegner:

“It is a lovely and terrible wilderness, such a wilderness as Christ and the apostles went out into; harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed… and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs the sudden poetry of springs.”

And it wasn’t just that in my old stomping ground, Farmington, New Mexico, they read this book and talked about it last October, which was how I heard about it in the first place.

And no, I am not usually a big fan of adventure nonfiction.

But I think what made me race through Fedarko’s book the way Kenton Grua and his team raced through the rapids of the flooded river, was the particular combination of craft and heart. Fedarko makes the characters come to life and take firm hold of the reader, precisely the way the heart-stopping beauty of the Grand Canyon’s landscape did for me all those years ago.

The one small reference that sealed it for me, was a quotation from another writer whose fiction, too informs in spades, and moves, all at once. Here is Fedarko, and look at who he’s quoting with reference to how Grua’s dubious exploit became a legend :

 “‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.” [Philip Pullman]