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