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Saturday, February 26, 2011

On Writing Something Completely Different

I don't really know how to start this I guess I'll start by admitting that the first novel I wrote (in this case novel is synonymous with a whole bunch of dot-matrix printer paper that I put in a box) was a vampire novel inspired by Anne Rice and my fascinating experiences as a 10th grader.

With that being said, (mostly because I tried a lot of other ways to start this post and discarded all of them) :) I will address the fact that in the last couple years, I've changed many things about the voice, style, and scope of my stories.

I guess the best way to understand is to drift back to the circumstances in my life when I wrote Handcuffs. I had a one year old and a three year old. I wanted to do something for myself, to get back to the creative self that I had sort of left behind in graduate school and marriage and being an intern teacher. But I wasn't ready for intense world building. I hadn't slept for a full night in 3 years!

And there were a lot of things about Handcuffs that were cathartic. High school demons exorcised (okay that was a bit too dramatic), how about impressions about the awfulness of high school that I wanted to try to express.

And there's a lot of me in Parker, the main character in Handcuffs.

A few years later, I had an idea. I wasn't sure if I could carry it out. I questioned myself constantly. But I jumped into it, and the results have felt pretty right.

What I came up with was a mix of gothic, historical, dark, with some romantic/sexy elements. Now that my kids are older, I have enough sleep to tackle world building! I'm not planning any more big changes. I have a new idea bouncing around in my head. Haven't talked about it yet, except with my poor sounding board husband and my favorite YA librarian, but it's very gothic/victorian, dark, and sexy, with no reference to Edgar Allan Poe at all. I'm very excited about it.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering...I have less desire to ever write about the vampires I envisioned in 10th grade, than I do to try to load my laser printer with yellowing dot matrix paper... :)

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

In Defense of Teens

This assignment was to explore three teen stereotypes. I think she did a fabulous job!

We’re Not How You Think We Are

By Leah Byars

“No!” she screamed. The door slammed shut as the mother raced toward her daughter’s room.

“Young lady you open this door right now or I’ll-“

“You’ll what? God, you’re so useless! I hate you! I just wish you’d go away! NEVER talk to me again!”

This is what most people think when they hear the word ‘teenager’. Moody, angst-ridden, unappreciative, lazy, immature idiots who can’t understand anything beyond what’s happening on their Twitter account.

Well, just in case you adults out there have forgotten a thing or two about when you were a teenager- and yes, you were one once- let me clear things up.

For one thing, we are NOT lazy, we’re tired. Let’s break down a typical teenager’s day:

· Wake up at 5 am to shower, get ready for school, and finish last minute homework you didn’t have time to do the night before.

· Spend the next eight hours at school trying to learn while keeping up with who’s dating who, why your best friend is suddenly mad at you, and trying to avoid your long time crush that you accidently spit on yesterday.

· School’s over. Now it’s time to stay after two hours for tutoring, play practice, basketball practice, and to finish that term paper due tomorrow.

· If you have a job, you spend the next four hours slaving behind a driv-thu window listening to the complaints of the customers.

· Time to go home and do at least an hour of homework.

· After your parents complain for the third time, it’s time to do your daily chores of walking the dog, doing the dishes, and taking out the garbage.

· Now check Facebook. You don’t want accidently miss something and be accused of ignoring your friends.

· Shower again and fall into bed around 11 at night. Be prepared to start the whole thing over again tomorrow.

With all this on our plates, can you blame us for wanting to take a nap instead of folding the clothes? Can you blame us for wanting to spend 10 minutes doing what WE want to do instead of doing something for YOU?

Second, we’re not unappreciative. We love the fact that you care. We love the fact that you buy things for us. The thing is, sometimes we get things we don’t want nor need. That sweater you bought us last Christmas? With the light up Christmas tree? The one that you wanted us to wear to school the day before Christmas Break? Really, we appreciate the thought, but there’s no denying the fact that that sweater is an eye-sore and you know it. Of course, when we try to tell you this, we’re called unappreciative. Spoiled. Ungrateful. We’re being honest, but you don’t want to hear it. This doesn’t just stop at clothes, though. If we say one thing that you really don’t want to hear, then you lash out.

Last, we are not immature. At least, not completely. We’re young, and still have some growing up to do. Yes, we giggle about sex. Yes, we make perverted jokes. That doesn’t, however, make us stupid. We are just as capable of making decisions as you are and we’d appreciate it if you didn’t use our age against us when we state our opinion.

Let me, the writer of this paper, provide an example. I told a family member of mine that the guy she was dating was irritating and that I didn’t appreciate his sense of humor. She lashed out, saying that I was spoiled and immature, and how did I know what I was talking about? After all, I was only 16.

Yes, I am only 16, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know a jerk when I see one. That doesn’t mean I can’t tell this relationship is doomed. Just because I’m a teenager doesn’t mean I’m incapable of having and intelligent opinion. So don’t underestimate us teenagers. Sometimes we can be pretty smart.

The basic point that I’m trying to drive in is this: Adults, you honestly don’t know what a modern teenager is like because you AREN’T one. You were one once, but you’ve grown up. I’m not trying to say that adults don’t work hard and don’t have their issues, I’m saying teens have a lot going on too, and we’re dealing with it. So before you start up with the stereotypes of what you think we’re like, take some time to actually talk to us. Then you’ll get the real story.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Most Appalling Thing...

The most appalling thing I heard today, from the mouth of a 9th grader, was If Fight Club was a book, I wouldn't want to read that! Ah, such a big if.


Reminds me of a joke my beloved spouse and his used bookstore co-workers have been known to entertain themselves with
Customer- brings up copy of Fellowship of the Ring.
Bookstore worker- Man! I hate it when they take a movie and then make a book out of it. Customer- Um no--
Other Bookstore Worker--I know, right? I hate that too. Like those awful Star Wars Books!
Bookstore Worker- that sucks. Why would they do that?
Customer- I'm pretty sure it was a book first--
Bookstore Worker-- so frustrating...novelizations...(sighs dramatically)

Please note- none of these bookstore workers are even close to as amusing as their (apparent) idol. Jack Black in High Fidelity (see below)


The Fight Club thing came up in a conversation about YA Lit. We were reading an article that suggests that no divisions are needed between YA and Adult lit. One of the assertions of the article was that it's actually insulting to have a separate category for teens.

For the most part, my teen readers (I have two YA Lit classes) did not feel ghettoized by their YA selections. Okay, none of them felt ghettoized. Our school is pretty non-ghetto. A few didn't see any particular reasons for the distinction, and one said he had no desire to read adult literature (this is a kid who has been eating up the books on our list, a smart kid) who said "they" should just make adult books into movies so he wouldn't have to bother reading them.

Oddly, and I know we always hear that teen boys don't read YA argument, I haven't been seeing teen boys read much else lately. My aide is reading Ender's Game, but he got from me recommended shelf. A few years ago I saw a constant stream of boys reading King's Dark Tower series, but I'm not seeing that this year.

I'm also seeing teen boys reading more books with female protagonists. And not seeming particularly worried about anyone knowing it.

Now, I guess it shouldn't be any surprise that students who signed up for YA lit are reading...YA Lit, though some of them primarily signed up for the Speculative Fiction class that I'm teaching in the 9 week term following the YA Lit class. And, it includes my sophomore English class.

We heard more complaints about classes and teachers that do not allow YA books on the curriculum, and honestly, those are mostly AP classes.

I am pleased/thrilled/ecstatic to spend my days among teens who love to read. And that is awesome enough to make the appalling thing a little...a little less appalling.


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Thursday, February 17, 2011


I got a fun taste of high school this week, when I heard a rumor, about me! I heard this week that I can be counted among the ranks of pregnant (there are actually 3 of them at my school) teachers.

Since I first heard the rumor in my afternoon YA lit class, and since rumors do crop up in YA lit, I tried to follow the thing back to the source. But like most rumors, it wasn't easy (and I can't say I was particularly successful in finding where it came from).

Well, here's one tip I can give you if you don't want people to suspect you might be with child...don't carry around a baby name book if you don't want people to think you are pregnant. I was carrying my favorite baby name book, Cool Names for Babies, all last week. Cause I have this idea that won't leave me alone, and I the new characters needed names.

But...everyone in my school knows I'm a writer. Writes get to be eccentric, right? I have an entire rack of baby name books for creative writing class! So, according to my bff the librarian, a student was asking how a certain author came up with names in a book, and she mentioned my baby name book, and someone else interjected, oh, I thought she was pregnant. Case solved?

I don't know. I also said the word pregnant in my 3rd block literature class. It came up innocently. We were discussing my mismatched contact lenses. I'm stuck with a clear and a blue, because I've been too lazy/distracted/phone-phobic to call and order new contacts. One of the kids asked why I wear colored contacts. I could have given the real answer (eyes are the window to the soul so I got shutters for mine) or um, vanity! but, instead I launched this long and quite boringly true explanation of how, during my pregnancies, I did not want to color my hair, but I needed some pizazz, so, I got colored contacts. Lame? probably. Did I say I am pregnant therefore I am wearing these mismatched contact lenses? No. But, I may have said the word pregnant. So, maybe I started the rumor myself. Teens are rather famous for their selective hearing. Teens and my late grandma, who couldn't hear anything anyone said to her, but could hear anything anyone even muttered ABOUT her.

So two days after I first heard the rumor, I still don't know where it started. I do know (snuggling the baby name book) that I would have loved to name a few more kids. Naming kids was the BEST part of the actual 9 months of pregnancy.

But since there are not going to be any more kids, I guess I have to find solace in naming characters. Looking forward to starting a new book soon!

Look, a new edition of Cool Names for Baby! I can't wait to carry it everywhere!

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Character Arcs- Avatar (the Last Airbender)


So, I have two little kids, and a full 2/3 of the movies I see are kids movies. And, I don't really mind because kids movies are awesome. I am so impressed by the storytelling in movies from Pixar, and some others (it's no secret that I LOVED Megamind).

But I've never loved children's shows. Until Avatar the Last Airbender. I actually remember when the show came out (this is embarrassing) because I'd just learned the term avatar, and was trying to use it in as many sentences as possible. Sentences like, have you seen the rockin' avatar I'm using on Myspace? Yeah, my avatar? It's awesome, right? In my own defense, my myspace avatar was awesome...

See it, it rotates, my avatar rotates! And yeah Myspace was the PLACE TO BE. But, back to the point, I never watched the show until some friends shared it with us. And even when we started watching, I wasn't hooked. But after halfway through the first season. Yeah, I was.

Here's the thing...most children's shows have stagnant characters, and, that's probably somewhat kids understand that SpongeBob is clueless, that Squidward is mean, that Mr. Crabs only wants money. I got them through a terrible live rendition of A Christmas Carol by comparing Mr. Scrooge to Mr. Crabs...but as a more sophisticated viewer (and my six year old is a more sophisticated viewer) gets bored by cardboard cut out get introduced to something like Avatar the Last Airbender.

Prince Zuko was my favorite character transformation, but all the main characters grew and changed over the 3 seasons of the show. I do not usually love sweet goody goody characters, but Aang, is probably my true favorite character.

The conflict between Zuko and Aang, set up perfectly in season 1, the Storm, is just amazing. Because you feel for both characters and you know that however much you feel for the characters, they can never both achieve their current goals, because they are in direct opposition to one another.'m not a big expert on antagonist/protagonist relationships...but after watching the show from beginning to end many times...well, I know more than I did before!

I won't talk about the movie. It makes me sad for multiple reasons, has no bearing here.


AS a writer, if you want to learn about transforming a character, watch for Zuko's episodes...if you want to see a wise and humorous mentor (hero's journey, anyone?) watch for Uncle Iroh. If you want to see a great example of a character struggling with an impossible moral dilemma, watch the last four episodes as gentle vegetarian Aang deals with the possibility that the only way he can bring peace is to kill the the fire lord. If you want a female struggling with a patriarchal society, watch for Katara. And if you want a funny guy who never stops being endearing, well, if you've watched the show, you know that's Sokka. The episode in season 3 where he trains with the swordmaster is so great!. And Toph? I love the season 2 episodes with the scams, called The Runaway, has great character building and relationship building between Toph and Katara.

I really can't say enough good things about the show. Except...that there should be more episodes. I'm really looking forward to the new series, but I'd love to see more with the characters that I already know and love.

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