Author Archives: Jan Gangsei

Disconnected

So I just returned from a family trip to northern Minnesota, where we spent a week on a lovely lake with no wi-fi, no internet connection and spotty cell coverage. As I sat back down at my computer for the first time in days, I was all ready to write a haha-insightful post about the joy (or sheer horror, if you asked my teenaged son), of being cut off from most of the outside world in a log cabin with no television, a malfunctioning toilet, bloodthirsty mosquitos and the world’s lumpiest sofa/bed.

Then, I read the news.

A man shot during a traffic stop. A black man. A human being, who by all accounts was a good man, hardworking and kind, loved by the schoolchildren he worked with for more than a decade, dead on the side of the road.

My heart sank. Philando Castile was killed in a town I’d just passed through the day before with my own children in the back seat of my car. Suddenly, the toilet that wouldn’t stay flushed seemed trivial and stupid. I wasn’t in the mood to crack jokes anymore. I felt saddened. And sorry. And truth be told–helpless and guilty.

Because here’s the thing–as I blissfully drove through St. Paul, it never occurred to me that I could be pulled over and shot. Heck, I’ve been pulled over–twice when I was in my twenties–for having a tail light out, just like Castile’s alleged infraction. Both times, the police officer changed the light for me. I never felt threatened. I was never perceived as a threat.

That, I now understand, was a luxury I enjoyed as a young, white woman.

Now, let me just pause and say–being a police officer is not an easy job. It’s often dangerous and difficult, and I have great respect–and am thankful–for those who protect and serve, and do it well. I am married to a federal law enforcement professional, have worked with several police officers as a newspaper reporter, and count many as friends. I would trust any of them with my life. I truly believe that the vast majority of people who enter law enforcement fields do so because they want to uphold the law. [ETA: And as I got ready to close my computer down this evening, I saw the news coming out of Dallas about the officers shot at a rally and my heart has sunk even further.]

But, I’m also aware that we have a problem in this country. Somehow, we seem to have become more trigger-happy, more polarized and opinionated (two minutes scrolling the comments section on any news site is enough to confirm that). I guest it’s easier to spew hate and fear when hiding behind a keyboard. And it’s easier to pull the trigger when you don’t see the humanity of the person in front of you.

I started this post wishing I had answers, wishing people could be good and kind to each other. That we weren’t all so disconnected in so many ways. That maybe if we stepped away from our computers, the 24/7 news cycle, our preconceived notions– if we set down the guns–maybe we could actually connect and see each other’s humanity.

I guess that’s why this tweet from wonderful middle-grade author Kate Messner really resonated with me today:

I agree, Kate.

And I will do my best–as an author and a mother and a human being–to speak out against injustice. To listen–really listen–to what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. To raise my children to do the same.

And I will keep hoping, as well.

 

The Best (Fictional) Mom in the World

Hey, MUF peeps! Mother’s Day is just around the corner (yay for moms!). We all know that being a mom isn’t always an easy job (even more so in literature, where the moms are often clueless, absent, or well, lucky to be alive at all…).

So! In honor of all the awesome moms out there, I’d like to celebrate some of my favorite mothers in middle-grade fiction. Without further ado, here they are!

Caroline Ingalls: What can I say, when I was a kid I really, really wanted to be Laura Ingalls and live in a little house on the prairie with Ma and Pa. I even had the bonnet. See?

The author at age six, in her bonnet waiting to move to the prairie.

The author at age six, in her bonnet, waiting to move to the prairie.

Mrs. Quimby, Ramona’s mom: Another favorite from my childhood, not that I was a pest or anything. Just ask my brother, he’ll tell you… um, I mean, nevermind. Ahem. Anyway, Ramona’s mom was great, because she seemed like a real mom (and I kinda loved that she let Ramona be Ramona–quirks and all).

Gigi’s mom in The Truth About Twinkie Pie: No spoilers, but I loved this charming story about motherly love that is part mystery and part coming-of-age — with recipes, too boot!

But my all-time favorite fictional mom is, hands down: Molly Weasley of Harry Potter. Maybe it’s just that we have so much in common — I mean, MY kids are redheads! And of course, I can cast spells and create a patronus and… okay, well, we do have the redhead thing in common. But I guess Mrs. Weasley just speaks to the mom in me — she loves, encourages and protects her kids, she’s kindhearted but tough (and more than willing to send a Howler when her son does something he shouldn’t…)

Then, of course, there’s this, which is quite possibly the best mom moment in all of book/movie history:

Yeah, don’t go messing with Mama Bear and her cubs…

So tell me, who is YOUR favorite fictional mom! Let me know in the comments below. And Happy Mother’s Day to all of our Mixed-Up Files mommas–enjoy your day. You’ve earned it!

Jan Gangsei is the author of ZERO DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2016), and several middle-grade series for Working Partners Ltd. She’s the mom of two awesome redheads (who are both probably relieved Howlers are not an actual thing…). Say hi to her at www.jangangsei.com.

How social are you?

So today I finally activated my Instagram account. I know! How very 2010 of me, right?!? (I’m just mildly behind the times… Give me another six years and I might actually post something on it!)

Now, I’m not anti-social media. Not at all. In fact, I probably spend a little too much time there. I love the connections, the real-time updates from friends, and communicating with fellow writers and readers. I’m pretty active on Facebook (great for keeping my mom up-to-date on my whereabouts, or so she tells me); and Twitter (which I understand is an excellent place to beg Mark Zuckerberg for money, haven’t tried yet though). And I’m actually rather excited about following the whole #bookstagram community (some of the photographs are truly works of art!).

But.

(And I know I’m hardly the first person to say this… ) But… all of it can be a bit daunting, right? So. Much. Information… In so. Many. Different. Places. And just when you think you’ve mastered one social media site, a new one pops up and takes its place (I know, I know, this is coming from the person who just discovered Instagram. Please, whatever you do, don’t try to Snapchat me, okay?!?) I mean, I haven’t even ventured into Google+ territory. Or Tumblr. And my YouTube presence is limited to watching music videos while I work out. There’s only so much time in the day, and that laundry isn’t going to do itself… (um, is it?)

So, I’m curious — how social are you? Do you do Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapstagramchat… or would you be just as happy if people started communicating with tin cans and strings again? Do you have a favorite social site? And why? Tell me in the comments below… And maybe we can @ each other!

Jan Gangsei is the author of ZERO DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2016), as well as several MG series for Working Partners, LTD. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and yes, now Instagram (where eventually she may even post a picture of what she ate last night!).