Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolutions and Goals and Overcoming Fear.

I love the New Year. Each year is like a time capsule, a moment in space and time marked by people, events, animals, emotions. Some are better than others. Some are marked by tragedy. Some marked by joy. Most marked by a little of both.

Chelsea Rose, Me, and Druid, aka "Little Man". Both are old-style Morgan horses.

Because I love resolutions and goals, I'm going to put them here. Maybe we can cheer each other on as we try and do simple or complex things in our lives.

So without further ado - my resolutions and goals:
  1. Work with my horses, regularly, like once a week. This year, I think I was on a horse's back all of three times. I had a bad wreck in the fall of 2009 and have had horsey PTSD since. Plus the two guys pictured above are youngsters. I've started the bay, Chelsea, but have not ridden her out at all and the chestnut, Druid, has been saddled but I've never thrown a leg over. It's time. He's four. I'm even going to chronicle my progress here - a way to hold myself accountable for not letting fear defeat me when it comes to something I love.  More to come in a future blog post.
  2. Read many books, again. This year I read 85. I don't have a number goal in sight for 2012, but a content goal. I want at least every other book to be either a 2011 or 2012 release. This is difficult for me because most of my financial extra goes toward feeding the guys in goal #1 and our library isn't so current. But I'm going to try, even if it means heading to Asheville to the library there.
  3. Continue to write for 45 minutes to an hour, five to six days per week. Last year this habit served me well, I want to keep it going.
  4. A cheesy one - I really dislike weight loss and exercise goals, but I did put on weight this year and it's threatening to send me clothing shopping for a larger size. Nope. Nipping that one in the bud. Hopefully Goal 1 will help with Goal 4. I know it will.
  5. Be intentional, thoughtful, and loving with my family and students. This goal is always there.
  6. Keep growing and learning in my craft as a writer.
Then of course, along with resolutions, there are dreams. I had a dream realized last year when I signed with my awesome agent. I had another dream realized when I went out on sub - that's right, my manuscript's on the desks of real-live NYC editors. So of course, my dream for this year, is to actually sell a book, to know that something I wrote is going to wind up in the hands of readers. That would make 2012 a real year to remember. (and hey, let's hope the Mayans are wrong - I'd like to stick around to see if my goals pan out!)

And you - any goals or dreams? Fears that stand in your way of doing something you love?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Interview with Mindy Hardwick, author of Stained Glass Summer

As an artist, art teacher, and writer, I'm always interested in books that use the arts thematically. So when I heard about Mindy Hardwick's upcoming middle-grade novel, Stained Glass Summer, I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions. I hope you'll take the opportunity to visit her Facebook page and website after stopping in here. And as always - thanks for stopping by!

Tell us briefly about your new book, STAINED GLASS SUMMER.
STAINED GLASS SUMMER is the story of twelve-year old Jasmine who adores her photographer Father and wants to be an artist just like him. But when Dad abandons the family, Jasmine is sent to spend the summer with her Uncle on a Pacific Northwest Island. Soon, Jasmine is learning stained glass from island glass artist, Opal, mentoring five-year-old Sammy, and thinking she might just be developing a crush on island boy, Cole. But, can Jasmine truly let go of her Father and call herself an artist by her own terms?
What led you to use the vehicle of an artistic mentorship to carry your story?  Are you an artist?
I am an artist in terms of writers are artists!  I also work a bit in collage, mixed-media art journaling—but it’s nothing that I show professionally or sell!  Artistic mentorship was something I became interested in during my study at Vermont College. While I was working on my MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults, I was mentored each semester by a different children’s writer including: Lisa Jahn Clough, Sharon Darrow, Liza Ketchum , and Kathi Appelt. After I graduated from Vermont College, I began facilitating a writing workshop with teens in juvenile detention. I also did some mentoring with local high school kids who were working on their final senior projects in writing. I saw how important mentoring was to the creative process. My role as a mentor for young writers feeds so well into writing for tweens and teens. Mentoring is a win/win, and I really encourage other writers to get involved with mentoring.  
You mentioned you took a stained glass course as part of your research for this project.  How was the experience for you?
Frustrating! Geometry has never been my strong suit, and all those measurements and fitting the glass to the pattern was hard for me. But, I do think that taking the class helped in writing the story. Jasmine makes a sun-catcher, just like the one I made in my class, and knowing how the process of stained glass works helped me in the writing of those scenes.   
I noticed on your website that you use art and writing in your work with detention center youth.  How do you think creativity affects young people in general?  How does creativity affect your main character, Jasmine?
Art heals is the motto of Jasmine’s story and also for the kids in detention. Creativity gives kids an outlet to express emotions, ideas, and thoughts that they might not be able to express in words. There is a scene in STAINED GLASS SUMMER where Jasmine is snapping glass and five-year-old Sammy is breaking her crayons. Both girls are expressing their emotions about larger situations which they can’t control—namely that their Fathers have either left or died.  
Jasmine is the child of a photographer, with the desire to be an artist herself.  Does she ever suffer from creative self-doubt? Are there ever moments where she feels like her work just isn’t good enough. I ask this, because I see my own art students struggle with these feelings.
Yes, she suffers from self-doubt.  This is a huge part of her story! Jasmine is always comparing herself to her Father. She believes that in order to call herself an artist she must win awards like he does. But, Jasmine can never seem to win an award. Part of Jasmine’s art journey is about learning that she doesn’t have to win awards. Jasmine discovers that her definition of an artist is someone who contributes to her community.  
How and when can we find you and STAINED GLASS SUMMER?
STAINED GLASS SUMMER will be released on December 30. It’s available as an e-book, in all formats, at Musa Publishing, and all your favorite on-line bookstores. 
A free reader’s discussion guide is available for download at: http://www.mindyhardwick.com/books/stained-glass-summer/
Readers can find me at:
Twitter: @mindyhardwick 


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays and a Happy Tail (er Tale?)


These are two of the faces I love. On the left is Bosco. We found Bosco running down the middle of a highway, in the rain, when he was about 8 months old (he's 10 now). Nobody came forward for him, so this lovable goof of a Boxer/Hound mix has been with us ever since. He's the kind of dog that loves everybody and everybody loves him. My kids' friends all pick Bosco as their favorite. He's that kid/dog that can seamlessly work his way through groups and get a clap on the back from everyone.

Next to him, in similar colored clothing, is sweet Hazel. Her story is cool. From college into my 20's, I shared my life with a dog named Peanut. I met him at 3 weeks old, took him home at 6 weeks old, and lived with him for ten years, through single life, married life, divorced life, moving across state lines, finding my soul mate. And then he was poisoned by a cruel neighbor. I was devastated. Two years ago this coming March '12,  a neighboring Humane Society posted adoptable pictures. And that face above stared back at me. Holy Reincarnation - that was Peanut! I kid you not.

I called the shelter and the woman told me she'd already put this dog's brothers down because they were feral and fear aggressive. She planned on taking Hazel home over the weekend because she saw a  "glimmer" and hoped for the best. I said that I didn't care what happened over the weekend, not to put her down till I could get there on Monday.  Of course, I adopted her. And she being a she, was christened Hazelnut. Also known as Biscuit, or Poochanetta (to go with Bosco's Boscarelli), or just Netta. (All animals have multiple names in our home).

For the first week (after she escaped) we couldn't get her in the house. Bosco finally got her in. For the first six months she hid under the bed or under the chair in the office. Bosco gave her confidence. For the next six months, she slowly allowed me to be her mama as long as I made no sudden moves. Bosco told her it would be okay. For the next six months she allowed my partner to get to know her. Bosco said what's the big deal. And now, she cuddles in the bed ('cause Bosco does), she wags her tail at my son (a big deal because she's terrified of men), and yesterday she begrudgingly gave in to a Christmas bath - without fear. Then she gave me one paw at a time to towel off. Bosco smiled and said, "See, I told you it'd be all right."

So Happy Holidays from Boscarelli and Poochanetta - Italian Love Hounds, also known as Mutt and Jeff, Smooth and Scruffy, Goofy Dog and Little Dog, Bosco and Hazelnut. Oh and yes, Happy Holidays from me!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

High School Tuesday - The Teacher, Friend or Foe?


Friend or Foe - Do teachers work for or against your YA characters?  As I’m finishing my first semester as a real life high school teacher, I’ve thought a lot about this idea.  Prior to this, I’d been teaching K-8, where the art teacher is generally well-liked.  I was nervous about high school.  All of a sudden, I was one of THEM. The infamous THEM.

I think of John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA - the teachers at Pudge’s boarding school were merely road bumps in the way of living a true and good boarding school life.  In Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK, Mr. Freeman, the over-zealous art teacher, helps the MC work to let her inner tree grow and blossom and speak.  In UNDONE, by Brooke Taylor, Doc Ramsey is both concerned, interesting teacher and worrisome meddler.  

Middle Grade books I think of (Mrs. Granger in FRINDLE and the wonderful faculty at Hogwarts) tend to show more well-rounded teachers, real people, with bumps and bruises, warts and smiles, but usually with the student’s best interest at heart.

So how is it in real life?  This is what I’ve figured out from my one semester.


  • Teenagers can spot a phony.
  • Teenagers will laugh at you if you try and show off a tramp stamp or wear a thong - but they think small piercings and small tattoos are super cool on a teacher. (in other words - act your age - not theirs)
  • Teenagers want to be heard.
  • Teenagers can tell if you’re truly seeing them - and that matters.
  • Teenagers don’t want to be talked down to.
  • Fair matters, but most understand that fair does not equal same.
  • Teens are reasonable (usually) if given reasonable logic.
  • Teenagers know if you care and if you care about their learning.
  • Teenagers appreciate laughter and the chance to socialize.
  • Teenagers respect teachers we will admit mistakes.
  • Teenagers respect teachers we are firm with their policies (if those policies makes sense).
So, if a teacher can remember and act on the above- you end up a Mr. Freeman or a Doc Ramsey. But if you’re not, you end up foe.  

Can you think of fictional teachers that fall into these categories?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sick Day Contemplations - What I've had to give up to be a writer

Today, the day I was supposed to be baking copious quantities of bon-bon cookies, preparing my great--grandmother, Baba's, cardamon bread recipe and writing 1k in the new WIP, I am instead, in bed, sick with a coldy-fluey thing.  I am not happy.  I am a terrible sick person. Why? Because I'm a go, go, go-er.

So, I've thought about all the things from this year. And am dividing it into two categories. The Things I Did and The Things I Had to Let Slide.

THE THINGS I DID

  • Finished a Young Adult manuscript, CAST IN GOLD
  • Graduated a daughter from high school (no mean feat since she was illiterate when she came to us at age 13)
  • Took two creative writing courses with Joy Neaves
  • Taught 350 3rd-5th graders in an open studio art room, 5 day x week, December-June
  • Interviewed and got the high school art position in my county
  • Joined the #wipmadness gang on Twitter
  • Taught an art summer camp
  • Signed with a literary agent.
  • Watched my daughter make some really bad, game-changing decisions and learned to live with the worry while realizing she has to live her own life
  • Cleaned out a thirty-year teacher's art room and made it my own
  • Finished an Upper Middle Grade manuscript, MARKS OF A HORSEKEEPER
  • Started teaching high school
  • Read 77 books as of today's count
  • Critted for lots of CP's
  • Blogged regularly
  • Took care of family
  • Went out on submission
  • Celebrated my son's soccer achievement as Goalkeeper of the Year for his conference
  • Celebrated his acceptance to his college of choice
  • And all the everyday stuff like grocery shopping, animal husbandry, finding time for friends
THE THINGS I HAD TO LET SLIDE

So the above list is impressive and because of it, there are a few things gone (for now) from my life.  It makes me sad and my goal for next year is to pull at least the horses back in more. A new job has added stressors, as has my daughter.  Son will leave in the fall for college, but he's a huge help on the farm.  But here's what I've had to give up to be a writer:
  • personal Facebook - there is just no time.
  • Volunteer duties at our local Humane Society - I was responsible for photographing all the animals for adoption and though I loved the job, the bi-weekly all-day event finally just proved to be more than I could keep up with
  • training my two young horses. I have two oldster retirees and two babies. I can't ride till I get the babies trained. This wasn't the year.  But at my age, a year off from riding is not a good thing.
  • Friends - I've been so myopic it's been hard to do things like get birthday cards or calls done, or even quick hello's. Facebook helped with that, but to write, teach, and take care of a farm - that's all there is.
  • personal health - agh - 6 pounds more of me. This has got to change.
  • My own artwork - see first list.

Now, if you've read all the way through to the end of this self-indulgent list - thanks.  It helps sometimes to get it all down in writing. To see what you have done, and where you want to go for the next year...but that will come on New Years! 

What have you had to give up to follow your dream of writing?


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Memories of High School You - Pat Esden

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion, and music have changed but that overall quest for self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  Fellow MG and YA authors will share their own spin on the hallowed halls.  If you're interested in participating just drop me a line in the comments.


This week it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Pat Esden.  I first met Patty on Verla Kay's Blue Boards last winter. Since then, she's become my go-to critique partner. And fabulous she is, both in helping out her fellow writers and in the gothic and thrilling stories she crafts. I can't wait to celebrate her successes in the near future. Patty go be found on her own blog and at the group blog, Cabinet of Curiosities.  But without further ado, here's high school Pat!



Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location? 
I went to Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester, Vermont. It’s a private school which was founded in 1829. However, all the local kids attend Burr and Burton because there’s no local high school. The really cool thing about this is that, as a private school, Burr and Burton doesn’t have to follow the same regulations as public schools.  In other words, we had some awesome teachers like retired college professors who’d come in to teach fulltime or to work with a few students—aka great teachers and professionals who don’t necessarily have the certification to teach in public schools. 
My graduating class was under 100 kids. And we had an open campus—which meant we could leave the school and go anywhere during study halls and lunchtime. http://www.burrburton.org/
Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
I floated between cliques from the rednecks and farm kids, to the pot-heads, jocks, outcasts and greasers.  It always struck me odd that there were a lot of kids I like to hang out with that I didn’t get to see much of because I was in the college prep/ AP classes and they were doing fun stuff like tech classes or smoking in butt alley. 
Also, in Vermont there is a distinction between Vermonters and out-of-staters (and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in Vermont, you are never a Vermonter unless you were born here). I had lots of Vermonter friends, but I was born in Western Massachusetts so that was one clique I never could belong to. I did however marry a full blood Vermonter.
(J.Ro here - that reminds me of growing up in the South and now living in Appalachia - being born somewhere is the mark of being a "from here.")
Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
I had a calculus teacher who was a young, single guy and a coach. There weren’t very many girls in the class and he spent a lot of time talking to the football guys about things like how gross it was when girls didn’t shave the backs of their legs. I never shave my legs without thinking about that class. (This made me laugh so hard!)
In freshman year, I had an English teacher who gave me a bit of practical advice which was life altering. He told me that my hand writing was holding me back. He suggested I buy a typewriter and take typing class. His idea was that if I typed all my papers, my grades would go up significantly and I’d be a better speller because I’d be able to see my mistakes. He was right—and that was before computers were common place.
Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
Yes. When I was deciding what to major in for college it was a toss-up between English or Plant and Soil Science. The publishing world was not as accessible as it is now and so I chose the more practical degree. Once I got to college, I took creative writing for several years and went on to take it as independent study, so I could fit it in with my Plant and Soil classes. But I had a professor who was convinced fantasy was trash, so I put the writing aside. I respected him and was too easily brainwashed by the idea there was no future in writing the genre I loved. 
What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
Oh, my. This is a tough one.  On my own, I devoured Georgette Heyer, Victoria Holt, Mary Stuart and any book with a vampire or werewolf in it.  In class, I read oodles of classics. In my senior year, I did an independent study of Irish writers and had a fairly long love affair with James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (I blame him for some of my comma issues) and John Fowles’ Magus.  Hermann Hesse’ books appealed to my teenager-ish desire to think about the esoteric. And pretty much any book which had a sex scene in it—they were the best. (You mean I can blame someone else for my comma errors? Oh, freedom!)
I think all the books I read taught me a joy of playing with words and language, and about the wide variety of ways stories can be told.  
What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember? 
This is pretty much like the clique question. I listened to all kinds of music depending on which crowd I was with at the time, everything from country to acid rock, rhythm and blues. Wild outdoor concerts and fiddler contests (I’m talking serious weekend long parties of public drinking, drugs and braless dancing) were common when I was a teen, so there were a lot of popular local musicians.
The album cover is an easy question. One Christmas, my best friend’s brother got a copy of a Linda Ronstadt album (at least I think it was her). His mother claimed she was aghast because Ronstadt’s nipples showed through her shirt, so Mom put two Band-Aids on the album cover before giving it to him.  It actually was a fairly tame cover as I recall.
Kate and Anna McGarrible were one of my favorites when I was in a tragic no-one-will-ever-love-me teenager mood. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Enc8KEzdYY
I recall my father banging on the wall and telling me to stop playing this song—like for the 1000th time  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjZ5Hkk2fvI&feature=related

What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
 I wouldn’t say it was all the rage, but my low-cut black leotard rocked my world. That last You Tube with Linda Ronstadt pretty much summed up my high school wardrobe--except for the really short dress, I never went for shorter hemlines.
What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
I wasn’t ever into organized sports. I belonged to the drama club, the archeology club, student council and the haunted house club (which was supposed to explore the paranormal).  Also I was worked on the school newspaper. After school, I put time in at my parents’ gift and greenhouse business. On weekends, I cooked at the drive-in movie theater and sometimes sold stuff at flea markets. I also had a love of bird watching. Those years definitely influenced my writing. (A haunted house club? How cool is that! And having been privy to your manuscripts, I can see all this early stuff play into your writing.)
Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
Both. I probably wasn’t as good of student as I could have been because I had other things on my mind—like partying.  I never had a full-fledged high school boyfriend; in fact I went to dances stag, except for my senior prom when I went with a guy friend who shortly afterwards came out of the closet. I turned eighteen early in my senior year (legal drinking age at the time), and after that got into the bar scene and older guys.
Who was your bestie?  Your frenemy?  Your sworn enemy?  Did you ever have one that switched to another?  Why?
I had several best friends in different cliques, but I never recall having any enemies of any kind—sorry (Nothing to apologize for there!)
If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
Forget about the older guys. The high school guys you have the hots for are just chicken shit, ask them out! And ask Mom for some cash to go clothes shopping—and don’t take Mom with you, take a friend to help you pick out some cool outfits and buy those funky boots you always wanted. ;O)
How do we find you now? 
I’m around Twitter @PatEsden
My main blog is here: http://patesden.livejournal.com/
I also belong to a group blog: http://fivecuriosities.blogspot.com/

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What's in a name?

This week I had a book sitting on my desk that I'd just finished reading.  A student picked it up and looked at the cover.

"Is this any good?" she asked.
"Freaky scary good," I replied.

She returned it to the library and checked it back out and returned to the classroom.  After a minute she said, "Can I go take this back."

"What, you're not going to read it?"
"No, I don't like the names."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't like the names, they're like Carlos and Joey and Alex."

I was stumped.  This is a cool kid, not likely to be turned off by ethnicity other than her own.

"Is it because they're Hispanic? Boys?"
"No, it's not that.  I just don't like the names so I don't want to read it."

When I think about the books I've read and loved this year and the protagonist's names I come up with Katsa and Katniss and Marcelo, Peeta, and Gael.  Names are grittier in lots of ways.  Unusual.  Even in my own WIP - I have Roan and Slight and Whisper - names I don't hear in the halls at school.  Susan's and Gordy's don't show up much in MG or YA fiction these days.

Think about Katsa and Katniss - both start with crisp, strong consonants.  The 's' sound is like a hiss or a slither.  They sound strong.  They sound otherworldly.  And maybe that's what it's about.  When we read we want to escape, to experience life or another world through someone else's skin.

What are your favorite names from this year's fiction?  Do you think names make a difference?  Are you surprised by my student?  Do you think it's true of most young readers?  Looking forward to your thoughts!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fah-git-a-bout-it!! (Yeah, right)

So this is a break from my normal High School Tuesday post.  The reason is simple.

I'M ON SUBMISSION!!!!!

And though I should take my own advice and forget about it, I'm finding it to be nigh unto impossible.  It's like this wormy anxiety that's living just under the surface of my skin.  I try to ignore it, but it's like a constant bleep or brain worm or a tic.

Friends ask me, "Aren't you nervous?"  And no, nervous isn't really the right word, because I'm still so completely flabbergasted that I'm at this point.  Sometimes I just giggle at the surrealness of it all.  Me, an agent?  Me, completed manuscripts?  Me, on submission? That in itself, ladies and gentlemen, is akin to winning the lottery these days.

And then I remember, "Uh, lady, lest you forget you sat butt in chair every morning for a good year and a half - religiously - no breaks for good behavior."  Right.  I did work hard.  And for years before that I stuck my toes in and out of the water before I finally committed 100% to this writing thing.

But like that kid I was who would tear away the corner of the Christmas wrapping so I would KNOW what I was receiving (hi mom :0)), now I'm an adult who can't stand to wait.  And this waiting is killing me!  What's more, I really, really want to know if I get to keep writing about the world and characters I created in this novel.  Because my real hope is, this book will lead to two more.

So fingers and toes crossed, good karma thrown to the wind, whispers, dreams, luck, and maybe a smidge of magic that my horsegirl and her horse will live to see readers.

In the meantime, I'm going to try and forget about it by working on something completely different.

And you, how do you deal with the waiting game of the kidlit world?


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Memories of High School You - Kip Wilson Rechea

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion, and music have changed but that overall quest for self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  Fellow MG and YA authors will share their own spin on the hallowed halls.  If you're interested in participating just drop me a line in the comments.


This week I'm pleased to introduce Twitter, Blue Board, WIPMadness, and Critique partner extraordinaire - Kip Wilson Rechea, aka Kiperoo.  Kip is a fabulous YA author whose books I know we'll be plucking off book store shelves sooner rather than later.  But in the meantime, I'm ready to read about high school Kip.  How about you?



Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
I went to an almost stereotypical rich girls' boarding school, in Troy, NY (outside of Albany). But no, my dad isn't a diplomat or anything. :-P Both my parents were chemists, and my mom was the school's chemistry teacher, so I got to go there for free. We had a small class—about 90 girls from all over the world. 
(J.Ro here - Oh man, I escaped all girl's school after ten years (K-9). Teenage girls in groups can be tough!)
Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
Not really. People hung out with other girls on their residence halls, and I was a day student, so I mostly hung out with other day students. Other than that, it was really easy to talk to most anyone you met, in classes, sports, activities etc. I didn't “do” sports, but ballet was my “sport” and it was a lot of fun.
Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
Yes! My high school German teacher was so good that it made me want to continue with German and study other languages. I ended up going all the way (hahaha) with German, getting my Ph.D. in it. 
(I love this story - must have been an amazing teacher)
Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
Not really. I loved to read, and I loved languages. I had written a fair amount in my earlier years, but once I hit high school, I was having too much fun to write. 
What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
Two things, both from German class! I read about the White Rose resistance movement, which I found fascinating (university students in Germany, including a girl, who were captured and killed by the Nazis for distributing anti-Hitler leaflets). And I also got my taste of real German literature. I first read some Goethe, Rilke, and Kafka, which totally blew my mind.
What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
At first, J. Geils Band, especially the blues stuff, Beatles, the Clash, Led Zeppelin. Later I got into everything from electronic stuff like OMD and hardcore punk like Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag. Oh yeah. All I wanted was a Pepsi.
(Okay, you could have ridden in my car and brought your tapes)
What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
OK, this might sound weird, but I pretty much wear a lot of the same stuff. I was never into trends, so my favorite clothes back then were my army cargo pants and black turtlenecks, and I still wear tons of army clothes and black now. The colors of the olive!
What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
Ballet! I've got a ballet thread in my current WIP. I would have done yoga had it been around then—love yoga now! I hate sports (except I love watching the Red Sox), so I doubt I'd ever be able to pull off a sporty character. I loved music, and spent hours playing guitar or just listening to music. 
Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
I was good about my academics. *coughs* Got good grades and really liked my language classes. But I was definitely wild too. I had a Very Cool Aunt who introduced me to Interesting Things, and I loved to experiment. My world also revolved around my boyfriend senior year. We totally had the same taste in music, moshed in the pit together, and both got really into photography. Plus other secret stuff. Which our parents found out about. Which got us in trouble. Sssssshhh. 
(teenage J.Ro is giggling and wants you to tell her all about it after school)
Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?
I'm sure lots of things were “wicked” or “wicked awesome,” but they still are now, right? RIGHT?
Who was your bestie?  Your frenemy?  Your sworn enemy?  Did you ever have one that switched to another?  Why?
I had a few people I considered my bestie. Probably my best friend through most of the high school years was another tall, skinny chick like me. We spent our time talking about boys, wild hair, music, and stuff like that. One of my other best friends was a really funny Filipino girl who loved—and still loves—good clean fun. She's still one of my best friends today. Then of course there was my boyfriend, who totally rocked my world. We went out for my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. He was the first person who really understood me. We had a blast!  
If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
Just keep doing what you're doing. :-)
How do we find you now? 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The problem with (bad) adult fiction

My father is a voracious reader and I grew up in a household where stacks of books on open surfaces were considered decorator chic.  His taste runs toward history, mystery, and science-fiction.  Occasionally, when I'm visiting, I'll read one of his books.

This trip home he gave me a sci-fi novel - post apocalyptic that is set at the moment the "change" occurs, when all technology as we know it disappears.  Since there are some similarities to my Upper MG novel being shopped, I thought, "hmmm, this might be an interesting read."

I got exactly to the bottom third of the first page when I realized I could never stomach the book.  I will paraphrase what I read.

"He pulled his car into the parking lot, locked up, and swung his case over his shoulder."
"He walked quickly to the door and opened it with his third finger, a nudge, and a grunt."
"He opened his jacket and stuffed his cap into it."
"He smoothed his hair down with his hand."

OMG - What in monkey scratch land is going to happen?  By the bottom of the first page in any MG or YA book, I have a hint of the conflict, both internal and external.  I usually have a bit of information about the protagonist.  I have voice.  And I don't have to contemplate any freaking navels to get there or read jacket flap to figure it out.

So there my friends is why I love YA and MG fiction.  It makes me want to turn the page.  Why do you love youth fiction?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

High School Tuesday (or the schizophrenia of youth)

The thing that is the most fun about teenagers is you truly NEVER know where the conversation will go.

Today, my rowdy sophomore boys were hanging out by my desk, goofing on the computers since all their work was turned in.  One boy, plops down right on my desktop and starts looking at my bulletin board where he sees the list for the Santa Tree kid I chose.  My kid is 15, a girl, and wants a toy plate set, a baby doll, and a teddy bear.

I  had assumed she was a special needs kid and said this to the boy.  Another boy piped up and said, "Yeah, but maybe she just never had the childhood she wanted."
Boy on my desk says, "Yeah, I still pull out my Buzz Lightyear every now and then."
Other Boy replies "Yeah, when days are really boring, I'll still play with my Hot Wheels."
Third boy pipes up, "And you can never watch Toy Story too many times."

I think my mouth was hanging open, because, literally, moments before, Boy on Desktop was stressing about the courses he'd need to take to get into Super University and how in the world he (podunk town kid) was going to be able to compete with some kid from some place as cool as Japan.

So as writers - we need to remember that as much as the angst and the pain and the heartbreak and peer pressure and questions exist, there is also the quiet Saturday afternoon where a childhood toy just might make a reappearance in a fifteen year old's life.

Word for the Week
Derrrrfy - As in someone who says "Derrrrr" a lot.  Synonoms, dork, nerdy, goofy.  It is by no means derrrfy to pull out Buzz Lightyear if you're feeling blue.  (And # of r's is up to the user)


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bittersweet Days

My son is graduating from high school this year.  He didn't become my son until he was ten, so there were always lots of unknowns.

Like, what will happen as he grows up?

I'm so proud of him.  He's just been brave and awesome and full of perseverance.

Yesterday we went on our first college tour.  Yes, college.  I can't say I ever knew for sure it would happen.  But he's been accepted, and what's more, he has a soccer tryout with the coach on Monday for a goalkeeper spot on the team.  And the college is close enough I could go see his home games.

This kid lives for his team.  Lives for the sport.  He was so depressed after his final senior game.  If he makes it, gets a spot on the college team, I feel confident he will not only graduate from high school, but also from college.  Wow.

And then it makes me sad.  He'll be gone.  The last chicken flown the coop.  As hard as parenting has been, it seems harder to think of not parenting again.

Maybe I should adopt another one. (Just kidding)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Memories of High School You - Angelina C. Hansen


As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion, and music have changed but that overall quest for self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  Fellow MG and YA authors will share their own spin on the hallowed halls.  If you're interested in participating just drop me a line in the comments.

This week, may I introduce Angelina C. Hansen.  Angelina is another Twitter friend and #wipmadness participant.  She can be found at her blog, YAScribe.  Without further ado, please meet teenage Angelina!


Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
I went to public high school in a small artsy theatre town in Southern Oregon. I think our graduating class was around 200. 
Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
Cliques? I suppose there were the usual groups. But I was able to fit in with whomever I chose to hang out with. I’ve always preferred unusual individuals and my hometown bred them. ^_^ Being different was the norm. 

(J.Ro here - that sounds like an amazing place to be a teenager)
Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
My French teacher, who was also a close friend’s mom, was a burly Norwegian who had lived all over the world.  When a severe illness blew my plans for college during my senior year, she suggested I take a year off and work as an au pair in Paris. And so I did. 
Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
I had those inklngs as a child, but as a teenager I aspired to International Politics—diplomacy. As it turns out, I got my BA in International Affairs. 
What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
Not so much a book, but a group of writers—Emerson and Thoreau. The Transcendentalist philosophy sang to my soul. 

(Geez - and I thought Tom Robbins was intellectual when I was 16)

What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
My tastes, even in high school, have always been eclectic from Pop to Opera. But I went through a phase where I couldn’t’ get enough of The Scorpions. Cassettes, baby. 

(But didn't you despise having to roll them back up when your tape player ate them?)
What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
As I mentioned earlier, the spirit of my hometown encouraged individualism, plus I never was one to pay much attention to fashion or trends. The one item of clothing I got that rocked my world was a very expensive hand-knitted  fisherman’s sweater from Ireland. I still wear it! Oh and a pair of skin-tight black leather pants. Outgrew those. 
What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
I played jazz trumpet, composed music for piano, and played basketball and tennis. But it’s the music composition that most influences my writing today. My writing has to sound right and my creative process is very similar. 
Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
For appearance sake, I was the good kid (4.0 GPA, home by curfew, never in trouble). But in reality, I was a wild child who was adept at lying and not getting caught. 
Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?
For some reason, this is a really hard question. The only word that comes to mind is “bitchin”.
Who was your bestie?  Your frenemy?  Your sworn enemy?  Did you ever have one that switched to another?  Why?
I had a few besties, but I also dated an older guy the whole time I was in high school which meant I didn’t spend a lot of time outside of school with my friends. No enemies. My dad taught me to look for the good in everyone and be peaceable with all sorts. 
If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
Listen to your intuition and keep your mouth shut. 

(Sounds like a story in that line....)
How do we find you now? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

High School Tuesday (on Wednesday) - It's Nifty!

Fashions spin round and round (has anyone noticed the proliferation of mid-thigh wildly-patterned polyester dresses - ala early 70's? ).  Teenagers tend to modernize whatever look it was their parents wore, while at the same time professing how uncool same parents are now.

"Wow, Mom, what happened?  You were like, so awesome when you were my age."

It happens with words, too.  The latest pair making the rounds at my school are nifty and spiffy.  Meanings haven't changed, though I guess it's the intent of meaning we should examine.

Girl gets new glasses.
Boy says, "Wow, Girl, those are so nifty."

Emphasis placed on the so.  Not quite sarcasm, but not true admiration either.  A hinterland compliment - ala - said as if an adult or parent would say it, therein making fun of self-same adult or parent.

Spiffy is so fresh and new that a giggle is often added at the end.  "Hey Girl, did you see New Boy?  He's really spiffy."  Giggle, giggle, giggle.  "I called him spiffy."  "Well he is spiffy."


What recycled trends are you noticing these days?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

When Your Beta Readers Sing.

Abundance and Blessings.

That's what comes to mind when I think of beta readers.  When I started this writing journey I made every first time writer snafu.

Send off first draft to entirely inappropriate publisher. Check.
Send off second draft to entirely inappropriate agent. Check
Send out queries before I knew what the hell I was doing.  Check.

But then, I discovered Verla Kay's Blue Boards.  I read.  I lurked.  I finally joined in the party.

And my world changed.

I scoured posts.  Went to a conference.  Got craft books.  Honed my natural love for writing.  Found a great class with Joy Neaves of the Great Smokies Writer's Program through UNC-Asheville.  Rewrote an old manuscript.  Rewrote a slightly newer manuscript.  Got brave and started swapping with fellow BB'ers.  Joined a crit group.

To this day, and I'm not sure she's even aware how much she helped me, I'm indebted to Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse.  She gave me a scathing critique of a seriously flawed chapter book.  But what did I know?  My aunt loved it.  That painful critique kicked me in the rear.  Luckily, I didn't get all wounded by it.  I took it as a challenge to improve.

I wrote two more manuscripts - each a little better than the one before.  And I started acquiring readers.

Now with my fifth manuscript - I'm hoping I have a winner.  And those abundant blessings I call beta readers - they seem to think so, too.

Folks - Beta Readers are golden.  If you want a good relationship with a fellow writer, be honest.  Remember to highlight writing strengths as well as places to improve.  Be timely.  Communicate.  And be thankful.  Thankful for the community with other people who build words and create stories.  Thankful for readers who suddenly have a relationship with your characters.  And thankful that there are people in the world who want you to succeed.

Thank you (you know who you are :0))

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Memories of High School You - Featuring Lori Parker

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion, and music have changed but that overall quest for self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I am starting a new bi-monthly interview format:  Memories of High School You.  Fellow MG and YA authors will share their own spin on the hallowed halls.  If you're interested in participating just drop me  a line in the comments.

Our inaugural interview is with a Twitter friend of mine, @girlparker1, known in real life as Lori Parker.   She can be found at her GirlParker blog on typepad.



Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
Phoenix High School.  My class was only about 125 kids.  And this is Phoenix, Oregon, so we’re talking verra small town.
Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
All the usual culprits were there:  The pretties, the “I’m too cool to care” crowd, the band kids, the farmer/Ag boys, the “curb-suckers” (druggies and smokers), the athletes…  I was in the band kids.

(J.Ro here - curb-suckers is a new term to me!  And as a teacher, I love my band kids - figure they'll grow up to be interesting adults)
Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
Mrs. Entinger, or Mrs. E.  She was sophomore English and Journalism.  I loved her enthusiasm and she sat me down once and explained why a story I’d written wasn’t “a story” because the point was never made.  That turned me around.
Our social sciences teacher was a joke.  Can’t remember his name, but we could get him off the subject with one well-executed question, and we all knew it.  I also don’t believe he knew the material at all.  Ugh.
The geometry teacher was a cop on weekends.  We lived in fear of being pulled over by Mr. Hines.
Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
I hoped I would.  But I’ve always been practical, so to this day, writing comes after work.
What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
“The Mayor of Casterbridge” by Thomas Hardy is the first time I woke up to a theme and how a character plays a part in pushing the story.  I wrote an essay called “How Elizabeth was Used,” or something like that, and my teacher loved it.
What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
Bon Jovi and Journey…  I still can’t get enough of them!  I loved the “danger” of Billy Idol.  Oh, and I remember how, at one school dance, the gym floor was empty until they played “Rock Me Amadeus.”  It packed out instantly.  

(Ha!  I had a senior kid telling me about the albums he was "archiving" in his basement - how old they were - there was even Rock Me Amadeus!)
What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
Preppy and England Rocker were fighting it out in our hallways.  I generally went preppy, but one time I got a pair of black parachute pants.  (Good lord!)  And I believe I was dumb enough to wear them twice!  I also got a bang out of wearing my cheerleading uniform (in freshman year).  But then I got “too cool” to be a cheerleader.  Ha!

(Thank goodness for the demise of the parachute pant!)
What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
Journalism and band, for sure.  They were a place where you didn’t have to push yourself to be uber-cool.  Also, I worked after school all four years in child care and once at a retirement home.  Excellent story ideas in both places.
Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
Hopelessly good kid, with a tendency towards being a tattle-tale.  I once watched my two-year-old sister eat an entire bottle of children’s aspirin, which I got down for her.  I waited till she was done before going to tell on her.  An emergency room stomach pumping ensued.  I was only four, but I felt terrible.
Once, I was 45 minutes late on my curfew.  Mom was waiting for me.  I tried to tell her they burned the pizza, which was a lie.  I was kissing a boy in the backseat.  Anyway, she didn’t buy it.  She ordered me to sit on the sofa.  She returned to her armchair, where she was watching JAWS on TV.  Every time there was a commercial break, she got up, walked behind me, whacked me in the head with a rolled up newspaper, then sat down.  For the next hour, I watched people dying by shark attack, waiting…  
It didn’t hurt, but it left an impression.  I wasn’t late after that.  And I’m scared to death of sharks.  Now I always stop and watch JAWS whenever it comes on.  Hilarious!!
(I'll never forget, the opening of JAWS was on my birthday - all those dark ominous previews with "Coming to a theatre near you on June 16th" - and I lived on the Gulf of Mexico)
Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?
“Tubuler” happened in eighth grade.  After that, I think it was just “awesome.”
Who was your bestie?  Your frenemy?  Your sworn enemy?  Did you ever have one that switched to another?  Why?
Annie was my best friend for three years.  But when I got a boyfriend my junior year, she tried to block my becoming the next Flag Team Captain after her, telling everyone I wouldn’t “have time.”  And she was graduating, so what did she care?!  She also had a boyfriend all four years.  Anyways, I was still nominated and we won awards that year.  So there!

(ooooh, Bad Annie)
If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
I’d like to thank the teachers.  They worked much harder than I ever realized.  To the rest: “Read to your kids!”
How do we find you now? 
Http://www.girlparker.typepad.com
Twitter @girlparker1

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday Ramblings (on Sunday)

This week has been a day behind kind of week.  And a week when I realized there's no way I can blog more than twice a week.  So High School Tuesdays now are going to an every other Tuesday format and starting this Thursday, I'll unveil "Memories of High School You" interviews with blogosphere writer friends.  It should be fun!

I finished revisions on Marks of a Horseman, my future-past-post-apocolyptic-fantasy-horse-girl-adventure mash up.  It's sent on to beta readers with the hopes of quickly sending it on to my agent.  Some of you may remember me writing about the fact that I was working on something, eek, commercial.  Well, this is it.  I'm having a little bit of trouble not getting exciting for the what if's - definitely some dreaming involved.

I also spent the week reading Chime - recommended for its voice and world building.  It's one of the first books I haven't finished all the way through in a long time.  I put it on the list to the left because I did manage to get almost all the way to the end, then skimmed to uncover what happened.  It's not that I didn't like it.  I did.  Franny Billingsley's use of language is exquisite - but it's not a snappy read.  I found I had to work at it.  Maybe because I wanted to taste every morsel, but like a too rich piece of cake, sometimes you just can't eat the last few bites.  There are sentences I had to reread and savor.  But the story got lost sometimes in the gurgle and slurp of her swamp.  Maybe it's my lack of sophistication, but I think, like my preference for clean-lined clothing and sturdy cars, the frills of those adjectives took me out of the action.  Funny how genius is not always where you want to hang out.  And I do think the book is genius - just not my total cup of tea.  I'm washing it down with a reread of The Hunger Games.

What about you?  How do you react when a book doesn't live up the expectations you've been led to believe?  Do you finish it - all the way to the bitter end?

Please stop back on Thursday when I will unveil my "Memories of High School You" interviews.  The first interview will be with one of my #wipmadness partners from Twitter:  Lori Parker.

Have a fabulous writing week!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

High School Tuesday (on Wednesday)

This week, in Art II, we've been working on a project about Gothic art - we've talked about how in history, Gothic Art was religious in nature and highlighted both the darkness and light of humanity.

I asked the students to come up with two lists - good and evil.  It follows.

Good                 Evil

Boyfriends                                           Divorce

Friends                                                  Love
Food                                                      Night
Family                                                  Death
Girlfriends                                            Depression
Animals (Pets)                                     Mental Illness
Roosters                                              Bad Health
The mall                                               Family
Love                                                     Frenemies
Roller coasters                                   Pain
Swimming                                            Loneliness
Sunshine                                              Heart Ache
Money                                                   Racism
Sleeping                                                Fighting
Church                                                  Inner Demons
Music                                                           Money



This list struck me, because the good list had so much to do with exterior, where as the evil list was all about the interior.  As a writer, this just reminded me that YA novels really should be about that interior world - so many more questions there.


Word of the Day:  B.A. - acronym for Bad Ass - which can mean awesome, amazing, tough, hardcore, as in "He is so B.A." or "That song is so B.A."