Thursday, March 31, 2011

A is for Auntie Mame

So if you recall, I am valiantly attempting to blog my way through the alphabet in the month of April.  I have now spent 27 minutes thinking about this so rest assured, it's going to be good.  Before I get into today's post, I should tell you that I have decided to theme my alphabet blogs.


I have always sort of lived this Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  I am certain I get this from my mom who never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.  I see things and create stories out of them.  (i.e. Yes, he may look like a postal carrier, but at night, he becomes a half-demon intent on eradicating the female teen population).  I take my somewhat ordinary life and make myself into a LEGEND.  Think Buffy meets La Femme Nikita meets the little girl from Kick Ass---only, you know, a tiny bit older.  

Therefore, my April blogs will somehow (I haven't quite figured out the whole thing yet) revolve around my own Secret Life.  They will be about characters I wish I could somehow channel in my real life or possibly in my future fabulous life. (Please do not think this is a reflection of how unfabulous my life is right now because that just isn't true!  My life is incredibly fabulous and filled with tons of love.  But every once in awhile -okay, every day- I can't help but imagine what may have happened if I took a different path. Instead of blogging, could I maybe right now be completing a 12 hour shift at Denny's? Who knows? The possibilities are endless.)

So without further ado, I give you A is for Auntie Mame

How many of us didn't want to be Auntie Mame after we read the book (or okay, saw the movie)?  I mean I created the entire scenario in my head wherein my sister dies tragically in a freak golf cart accident and her seven children come to live with me.  I wear gold lamé leggings and ridiculous heels and chain smoke while eating Hostess products and complaining about never being able to find a decent au pair.

Before you laugh in my face, ask yourself: Can one really have enough kimonos?

Notable Quotable from Patrick Dennis's AUNTIE MAME---

"Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

"Oh, darling, you know we writers must occasionally stretch a point to heighten the dramatic situation." (Do you see how much I am like Mame?)

"I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind."

So, tell me, who are your A characters of inspiration?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing Rape: My Weekend at the Testimonial Writing Workshop

I went to this Testimonial Writing Workshop this weekend.  It was sponsored by this incredible organization I am involved with called the Voices and Faces Project. The advanced reading packet included works by Primo Levi, Adrienne Rich, Martin Luther King, Sandra Cisneros.  You know, light stuff.

I went with the agenda of learning to write responsibly to a young adult audience about sexual violence.  After reading Kody Keplinger's blog about victim blaming, I realized how much work still needs to be done in the area of writing rape for YAs.

I was the only YA writer in the room.  In truth, this actually lightened what could have potentially been a way too intense weekend.  For example, in talking about endings and beginnings, we read the beginning of a Langston Hughes story and the workshop teacher asked us what possible things could happen next.

Me:  He could turn into a half-demon and tear down the entire church, effectively squashing all his oppressors in one half-demon fit of rage.

In case I haven't said it enough, I love the genre I write in:)

I wouldn't say I came out of the workshop ready to tackle the issue of rape in my next book.  But I did come out with an understanding of the power that writers have in testifying on the behalf of others.  By tackling the issue of sexual violence in YA writing, whether we intend to or not, we are speaking for teens who have experienced it (and perhaps haven't been able to tell their stories).  This is a large responsibility and we should treat it as such.  Writers need to understand that when we are telling a story of rape (even if it is a fiction story), we are speaking to people this may have happened to and what we write will have an impact on them.   I sat in a room full of women this weekend and realized that fictionalizing rape did not make the story any less important to them.  For many of them, it still somehow felt like their story too.  The collective memory of sexual violence is strong indeed.

Below is something I wrote for one of our workshop exercises.  It is rough because we only had 20 minutes to write but it gives a fairly good example of some of the things we were working on this weekend.

The exercise was to write a narrative from the POV of the opposite gender where the main character doesn't know/understand something but we, the reader do.  So here goes:

“Where’ve you been?” I asked, pulling her into my kitchen.

“I don’t know. Figuring stuff out, I guess.” She dropped onto a stool next to the large island.  She barely looked at me.  Her fingers squeezed the fake grapes in the ceramic bowl my mom had made. 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  I didn’t want to be angry but she’d disappeared for 3 days, completely MIA.  She hadn’t returned my calls, texts, or emails. 

“Things have been pretty stressful lately and I needed to unplug.”  She let out a deep breath and my heart squeezed.  Had I been putting too much pressure on her?

“Well, did it work?  Did you figure out what you needed to?”

The grapes rolled through her fingers.  She didn’t look up.

“Sort of.” 

The conversation was going nowhere.  Ambivalence wasn’t Mia’s strong suit.  She was a straight shooting no bullshit kind of girl.  When I first met her, she told me my haircut made me look like an asshole.  I sort of loved her then. 

“What the hell, Mia?  Are you pissed at me or something?” 

Her hands dropped to her lap.  She stared at me.  She’d been crying.  I’d missed it when she walked it.  I walked over and sat next to her, taking her hands into mine. 

She shook her head sadly.  “No.  Just figuring stuff out.”

I searched her face.  I shouldn’t have asked her to have sex with me.  It was too soon.  She hadn’t worked through everything that happened two months ago.  I bit back the familiar anger and squeezed my eyes shut. 

“I shouldn’t have asked you.”  I rubbed my thumb along her wrist.  “It’s too soon.”

“No.  Well, maybe.  I don’t mind that you asked.  You’re a guy.  We’ve had sex before.  I get why you want to again.”  I felt like I had been slapped.  Was that how she saw me?  As just a guy interested in having sex with her?  Her words cut through me.  I wanted to understand, but I wanted her to understand that I wasn’t the guy who raped her.  I was the guy who loved her.  I swallowed back my retort and laced my fingers through hers.

“You know that’s not why I want to.”  She nodded her head but I could tell she didn’t get me, didn’t get how having sex with me, being safe with me could make things better for her. “It’s okay.  I can wait.”

She smoothed out my eyebrow, I had one hair that always liked to stick out in the opposite direction.

“It’s more complicated than that.”

I waited, the space between us growing.  I wanted to reach out and pull her towards me but she had this distance around her, one I hadn’t been able to get past since the rape no matter how close I stood to her. 

“I’m pregnant, Trevor.”

The world around me stilled, like all the molecules in the air had frozen.  Pregnant.  I couldn’t believe it.  Pregnant happened in movies, in crappy teen Lifetime specials, in books only girls read.  Pregnant didn’t happen in my world.  I opened and closed my mouth, looking for my voice, trying to find the right thing to say but I was paralyzed and the only thing that came out was “Mine or his?”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yes, I heckle librarians....

Storytime librarians love me. Really. I am like a heckler at a comedy club. As if trying to entertain 3 year olds for 30-45 minutes isn't difficult enough? I am truly the most vexing of storytime moms.

And to mix things up, I never go to the same storytime.

I should feel guilty for my behavior. But I don't.


Librarian: Okay, boys and girls, today we are going to read Knuffle Bunny.
Me: It's Kuh-nuffle.
Librarian (to children through hemorrhoid smile): It looks like Kuh-nuffle but the Kn- is pronounced N-.
Me: No, it's not. Haven't you read the second book? It's Kuh-nuffle.
Librarian: Knuffle (pronounced with N) Bunny by Mo Willems.
Me: My sister met Mo Willems. It's Kuh-nuffle.

Bookstore employees also love me. I feel if I must brave carting 3 kids into the bookstore instead of just "buying with one click" on my Amazon iPhone app, bookstore employees to need to work for it. I know, it's not fair because Amazon is making them obsolete so I should give them a break. But I don't.


Bookstore Emp: Can I help you find something?
Me: Yes, I would like to know where THE LIAR SOCIETY by Laura and Lisa Roecker is?
Bookstore Emp: Let me see if we carry that. (clicking on computer, probably tweeting about annoying customers) Sorry, we don't carry that. Would you like me to order it for you?
Me: No, I already got it from Amazon but I think you should carry it.
BE: Oh.
Me: Do you have Jessica Z. by Shawn Klomparens?
BE: Let me check. (more "searching"/tweet updates) Yes, it's on the first floor in the fiction section. Would you like me to show you?
Me: No, I just wanted to make sure you had it. I got it from Amazon too.
BE: Is there anything else I can do for you?
Me: As a matter of fact...
BE (rudely interrupting): Are you going to buy anything?
Me: Of course, I already have what I want to buy. I just wanted to provide you with a list of things you should be carrying.

Whatever. I still dropped $57.

Is this my incredibly high standards or are other writers with me?


Monday, March 14, 2011

Talking Like A Teen...

The only problem with writing YA is there is a side of me that is losing my adult filter.  Grown-up selflessness and empathy have been severely compromised since my characters entered my head.  And don't even get me started on the way I talk.

The other day I was talking to some friends of mine who are soon to be married.  I asked them about their wedding plans.  The woman has a million friends so I asked her if her bridal party would be family only or if she was going to have to supply the groom with a few friends to balance things out.  She explained that he has a lot of brothers.

Me:  "And he must have a bestie, right?"
Bride (smirking): "Yes, he does have a best friend."

My YA speak is also filtering down to my kids.  A part of me is secretly delighted but the other side of me is sure it is only a matter of time until I get phone calls.

This morning my 8yo displayed less than attractive behavior due to a long weekend and daylight savings  hell (why is it so much harder on kids?).  My 6yo held his tongue as she verbally lashed him for his bad morning breath.  But on the way to the car, he pulled me aside and said: "Mom, I don't think Jojo is doing much this morning to decrease world SUCK."


I was starting to get very concerned about the teenagers taking over my head until I had a chat with my friend Bergl who reminded me that on the day that my 3yo was born (2 years before I started work on my YA ms), I called every single person at the hospital "dude."

Me (to triage nurse): Dude, I think I need an epidural.
Me (to labor and delivery nurse): Dude, how are they doing in getting my epidural?
Me (to random med students): Dudes, do you have my epidural?
Me (to woman who walked into the room looking for tape): Dude, are you the anesthesiologist with my epidural?
Me (to everyone in the room): Dude.  Epidural.  Now.
Me (to anesthesiologist): Dude, where have you been?...Dude, what does that question have to do with my epidural?....Dude, you are killing me here....Dude, forget it, you're too late.

Non-sequitir: For those keeping track, I am 3/4 of the way through revisions of GESTAPO.  These revisions are minute revisions (as opposed to the BIG REVISE of a few weeks ago).  They involve taking out 8,432 "just"s and 34,211 "that"s in my ms.

Ex: "It's just that I need an epidural" is now "I need an epidural."

I know, I know.  That's just (G)good craftmanship.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On Japan

Japan shredded me.  It feels as personal as Haiti even though we don’t have family there.  As personal as knowing my friend Carrie was in Christchurch when the quake hit. 

My friend Dan said, “The earth is trying to kill us.”  He is right, of course. We are fragile humans in an evolutionary process that we cannot stop.  It is hubris to think otherwise. 

But every loss is painful. And paralyzing. 

My reaction to this type of tragedy is to hold tighter to those I love, to remember how happy I am in my life. I am happy in my life.  So incredibly happy.

I am grateful for my family, friends, followers.  Thank you for being part of this life with me.

Please consider donating to the Red Cross if you haven’t already.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The House of Cards

My 8 year old is just like me.  Yesterday, I heard her in the other room telling my youngest, "Butter, it's not appropriate to say 'poopy head' to your friends.  That's 8 year old talk and you need to understand that not everyone in your class has older brothers and sisters.  You need to be a better example."  Awesome.  It's like having a back-up mom.  I think that this is fabulous (except for the fact that she was the one who taught him poopy head in the first place).

But last night, she started in with the honesty thing and I started to wonder if perhaps it would be better if she had a bit more of Julio and a bit less of me in her.  

Setting:  Family dinner---all 5 of us present

8yrold:  So it turns out there's no Tooth Fairy.
Me:  Pardon?
8yo:  Yeah, this girl at school did an experiment and found out that she doesn't exist.
6yo:  Yes, she does.
8yo:  No, she doesn't.  My friend has proof.
Me:  What was the proof? 
8yo:  Her tooth fell out and she didn't tell her mom and the Tooth Fairy didn't come.
Me:  Huh.  Well, maybe the Tooth Fairy forgot.  That's happened to you before (Yes, I totally forgot one night...okay, maybe 3 nights but whatever, she got her quarters and a really good apology note the next night).
6yo:  Yeah, she's forgotten with me too.  (Okay, I might have forgotten with him also but it was only the one time.)
Me:  The Tooth Fairy has a lot to do.  She's probably not perfect.
8yo:  Yeah, kind of like you, Mom.  
3yo:  Can I have more butter, pwease?
8yo:  Hey Mom, how come Santa has different writing every year when he leaves me a note?
Me:  How do you know that he has different writing?
8yo:  I kept the notes and compared them.  They are definitely different.
Me:  Maybe he types them on the computer and the fonts are different.
6yo:  No, I saw them.  They are handwritten.
Me:  Well, maybe his staff helps with writing the notes.
8yo:  Huh.  I don't think so. (long pause) It would be a bummer if there is no Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.
3yo:  More milk, pwease.
6yo:  Yeah, that would mean we wouldn't get money OR presents.
Julio (finally):  Exactly.  Better to keep believing.  Is there any more stew?

I am a fiction writer.  I like the magic.  But when do we come clean with our kids?  Montessori school is tricky because the kids are grouped in 3 year cycles.  That means that my 1st grader is exposed to 3rd grader insight.  This can be awesome sometimes, but it also can lead to the following:

6yo:  Hey mom, the F-word was written on the bathroom stall in Chinatown.  
Me:  How do you know the F-word?
8yo:  He heard one of the 3rd grade boys scream it really loud one day at recess.
Me:  What was he doing saying the F-word at recess?
8yo:  He was trying to explain what it meant to one of the first graders in my class.
6yo:  Yeah, but I couldn't hear what he was saying.
Me:  Thank God.
8yo:  Hey mom, what does sex mean?

Damn you, 3rd grader with way too much knowledge!  I'm going to be taking you to the Peace Table pretty soon.