One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


So way back in August of 2012 – doesn't that feel like a long time ago? – Luke Reynolds asked me if I was interested in contributing to an anthology of essays by children's writers about breaking rules. Ummm…yeah. Even only knowing that much I was in.

The book was to be a compilation of rules – societal, parental, peer – that are so familiar we forget to question them; rules that require closer examination. Rules like: Never Be Alone. Don't Quit. Don't Tell Lies. Go to College After High School. Don't Let the New World Change You. Luke came to me because he wanted an essay that focused on nature; one that maybe asked teens to contemplate what nature could teach them about themselves. Would I like to contribute an essay about the power of landscape? This time there was no Ummm. Just yeah. Oh yeah!

And now, just over a year later, I am proud to say that the anthology, Break These Rules: 35 YA Writers on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself has been born!

Here's how to publisher describes the book:

If you're a girl, you should strive to look like the model on the cover of a magazine. If you're a boy, you should play sports and be good at them. If you're smart, you should immediately go to college after high school, and get a job that makes you rich. Above all, be normal.


Wrong, say 35 leading middle grade and young adult authors. Growing up is challenging enough; it doesn't have to be complicated by convoluted, outdated, or even cruel rules, both spoken and unspoken. Parents, peers, teachers, the media, and the rest of society sometimes have impossible expectations of teenagers. These restrictions can limit creativity, break spirits, and demand that teens sacrifice personality for popularity.

In these personal, funny, moving, and poignant essays, [these authors] share anecdotes and lessons learned from their own lives in order to show you that some rules just beg to be broken.

There are some amazing writers between the covers of this book. A.S. King, Gary D. Schmidt, Sara Zarr, Kathryn Erskine, Chris Lynch, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovitch, Natalie Dias Lorenzi, Mitali Perkins, Sayantani DasGupta, Mike Jung…the list goes on and on.

I am so ridiculously humbled to be part of such a group.

A candleholder made by Nate, taken from his website.
I write quite a bit in my essay about a friend named Nate. He's an artist now. He carves furniture and cool things (skateboards, iPhone cases, cutting boards) out of gorgeous wood, and he often painstaking inlays carved wooden leaves or (his newest and most amazing idea) recycled coffee grounds, spices, wood shavings, and other bits of things into his work. Nate had an exceptionally painful childhood. And that is putting it mildly. And nature, as he puts it, saved him. His story is so breathtaking to me, both in terms of how devastating it is and how hopeful it is too. And although his childhood fell to one extreme on the continuum, the essential issues he faced – feeling more and more unlike himself the more he complied with "the rules" – are universal. My own experience with those issues circled around peer pressure, being a shy girl within a group of girls, feeling like I had to step outside of myself in order to belong, and obeying "the rules" of the pack. My childhood was perfectly wonderful in many ways – don't get me wrong – but I believe SO strongly that we can do better when it comes to helping our teens be and honor themselves.

And I also believe that nature is a great place to find that help. It is a place full of creativity, intuition, all the wisdom of evolution. A place empty of tomes – or loud, angry monologues – of directions.

I'll leave you with an excerpt from my essay:

We all internalize the directions that are laid out in front of us. The ones our parents give us, the ones our teachers give us, the ones our peers give us. We internalize them, and they become a part of us. We don't even notice them. They are an endless, flat landscape inside our bodies. They just are. This – this incredible process of finding even one of your own loose parts – brings pieces of yourself into relief so that they pop up like little hills. This is the nature – no pun intended – of the truth, especially the truth about you. It sweeps in and stirs up the earth. It brings contrast and clarity. Those are my stepfather's directions. They are more about him than me. I don't believe in them. But I do believe in these leaves and patterns and art. This is what began to happen for Nate. Those girls live by those directions. I don't feel good when I try to live by them too. I do feel good when I follow a trail and imagine the stories that are lingering here and go home and write about them. This is what began to happen for me.

Learning the art of do-not-follow-the-directions was my pathway and Nate's pathway to salvation – or perhaps, more aptly, selfation.

With gratitude,


  1. Congratulations! This sounds like an amazing collection - a fabulous gift for teens. Can't wait to get my own copy.

  2. Oh Tam! This is so exciting! I can not wait to get my copy, many copies to give to every teen I know. Time to celebrate! Love and hugs, Sharry

  3. Tam! So, so grateful for your beautiful and important words in this book. Yes!!