A Brief Tale

Today I went to the bookstore to grab a quick gift for my niece’s 20th birthday. As I was inching my way around the YA section, I came upon the pretzeled body of a teen-something. All legs and sideways messy pony, with chipped nail polish the same color as the surface of the sun, and lean tanned shoulders sticking out from a deliberately loose tank, she sat tapping at a list with a hello kitty pen and checking it against the sprawled stacks of books in front of her. Switching and re-stacking and re-prioritizing said hard-backed and slick-jacketed intellectual food, her concentration twisted her brow. I hovered behind her, debating between stepping over her flip-flop adorned, toe-ring accessorized foot, or going around, when her focus faltered. She suddenly turned, clamping her syrupy brown eyes on me and her pen in her teeth.

“Sorry,” she said, drawing a leg out of my path.

I smiled back. “You’re fine,” I glanced at her stack of books. “Summer reading?”

She shifted her gaze back to her stacks. “I have to pick one,” she answered, releasing a choked sigh.

And right then, I was simultaneously thrilled that one book in ten was the mountain she had to climb and ruffled that one book in ten was all she could buy.

“Good luck,” I said, taking another sweeping scan of her choices. I knew what I would pick, if I were her and this was my greatest feat for the day.

Her shoulders fell. “Thanks. I want them all.”

Yeah, I do too. 

“They’re not going anywhere,” I offered and she nodded. “Good to have something to look forward to.”

Later, when I was leaving, she passed me with her mother. Her eyes were bright as they met mine. She flipped the book cover into my view, sideways, but I’d recognize it anywhere. I nodded approval. If you’re going to read just one, The Fault in Our Stars is choosing wisely.

Week One as a Teacher

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I am doing a writing and acting workshop with a group of local teens. Our first day we attempted to make the elements of Story Arc and Character Arc both interesting and accessible to a group of teenagers whose summer brains are operating at full-force.

Aside: Summer brain is the slush your gray matter changes into over the break from school due to the sweltering heat, the many hours spent playing video games, your transformation into a creature of the night, and all the slushies/Frostys/Acai Berry Bowls you can eat while still not getting your ass up off the couch. Being a teen on summer break was, seriously, the best!

Their brains seemed relatively intact, which made our jobs a lot easier. (And way more fun.) The first thing I learned about teaching teenagers comes from the wisdom of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and is poorly paraphrased here, by me: Success depends on winning decisive engagements quickly. 

I’ve yet to meet a teen, or a 28-year-old writer spright, with a tolerance for blathering. My co-teacher (who is a more patient person and a highly trained actor) and I divided to conquer. We also talked really fast and tried to make them constantly answer questions so they wouldn’t fall asleep or yank phones out of pockets to Tweet about their lame-ass teachers. We knew they would stay awake, but what we wanted was them to care. Teens, as a rule, can’t openly care. But there are subtle hints they give you that show they do (again, not getting on their phones) and that means you’re winning.

Our second tactic for holding their interest comes from my belief, and strong support for this belief from educators and scientists, that finding a common interest breeds trust. In our breakdown of the story arc, we went through a very popular book and film that every teen in the world has read or seen: The Hunger Games. Whenever we saw interest waning, we brought it back to Katniss. Not only was I thoroughly impressed by their knowledge and understanding of the story, but by their nearly spot on evaluation of the plot based on the formula I had given them for story arc.

When discussing common character arcs, we opened it up for them to try to figure out which films or books followed which arc. And mostly, they nailed it. These exercises proved to me that they were learning, and to them that these skills could result in their own brand of awesomeness. In a story they can actually be proud of. In characters we actually might care about.

The goal of all of this was, of course, not just to gush over The Hunger Games. The goal was to lay a foundation for understanding character and story so that when they began writing their own short-films, they would have knowledge beyond instinct and personal desire to draw from.

We then put the plan into action. My co-teacher played a piece of instrumental music and the kids brainstormed what they saw, or felt, or interpreted from it. Next, we broke them into groups and played another piece of music, giving each group the task of creating a story — with a beginning, middle, and end— to the music.

They attacked the task and all managed to pull together a story — largely consisting of some kind of superhero or galactic battle at either a wedding or dance.

Next week — screen tests and rough drafts. Woo-hoo!

What’s Up Wednesday

whats up wednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom Jaime’s post. We really hope you will take part!

What I’m Reading

I will admit — honestly and openly and with no shame — that I put Legend down for the moment. I am hoping it has to more to do with me than the book. Maybe I just don’t want to read that kind of story in that kind of world right now. I intend to pick it back up in the future and try again because I can’t NOT finish. Instead, I am reading The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I think I’ve said this before, and to everyone in my life, but Maggie’s writing is some of my favorite. Everything she writes is so alive and pulsing. The Scorpio Races is much different than her other books, but in no way is it less vibrant. Plus, she writes guys better than any chick out there. I am still beta reading, and am still so impressed and loving it. Hope to have notes for her by the end of the weekend.

What I’m Writing

Other than blogging, and some stuff for a class (which I will elaborate on below) I am not writing anything. That should not be taken as saying I am not writing. My brain is whirling again, and mostly, it’s about the sequel to the book that’s out with agents. I am trying to keep the ideas in order until I actually can start on the sequel. In the meantime, I am doing a lot of pre-plotting and hopefully next week I will begin working on an idea I have had that is totally different (genre, world, kind of story) than the book I spent the last nineteen months writing and revising.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Readers. I recently spent time chatting with a teenage girl who gets excited about reading. I have had beta readers come back to me in a panic after finishing my book because the sequel isn’t written yet. This may be contributing to my growing urge to begin work on the second book. Readers make us want to write more.

This article featuring snippets of Veronica Roth’s speech at BEA. She shared her own experience of stifling the excitement over the new Harry Potter (whichever came out while she was still in high school) due to the ennui of her boyfriend at the time. She later learned to be true to the reader inside, and clearly that has translated into being a phenomenally accessible writer. I think what she has done with Divergent is so impressive, not only because she is a first time author, but because she is a clever business woman.

The Fruit produced by a good book. Because when that teen’s (Who was at our house with her parents so I’m not just a creeper hanging out with a teenager, guys.) face lit up at the sight of The Hunger Games trilogy sitting in esteem on the top bookshelf, she couldn’t hide what it had done in her. And when she started asking questions about other YA books on my shelf, my gushing was so not cool but totally awesome still.

What Else I’m Up To

I am teaching a writing and acting workshop for teens. It’s a six week course in which they will write four 5-minute episodes of a web-series, cast the episodes they write, and film them to be shown on the web. My job is to impart my storytelling and character development wisdom while also inspiring them to tell their own story. One of the kids in the group is my working actor nephew, Ben J. Pierce, who is crazy talented. I’m pumped to be working with this group. No doubt next week I’ll be writing about them in the “What Inspires Me” section.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

 

A Round-up of the Internet and Life

So, it’s Friday, and I’m running out of time to post anything today. Here is a round-up of sorts, in which I digress into ranting, fangirl, and reflect. I am nothing if not varied in my interests and my moods.

1.

Libba Bray rules. She is a brilliant public speaker, funny as hell, and her writing is both totally accessible and mind-blowingly intimidating. There is nothing in YA she can’t write, to my knowledge, and I think if you told her she couldn’t write it, she’d see that as a challenge. Here is a post from her blog about getting over slumps in writing, or the depths of despair to quote Anne Shirley: On Writing Despair.

2.

Judy Blume broke boundaries with her books. To this day, you can sit down with a Blume book and be schooled in awesomeness and the art of writing transparently. The controversy that followed many of her books around after their pub date also makes her a super badass. Books should be a reflection of the hidden places, not the easily seen, and what Judy Blume touches on again and again, is that which we all want hidden. From Judy Blume: 13 Things We Learned from Judy Blume

3.

Rarely do I soapbox. Here, for a moment, I will. Rape culture is bullshit, and by bullshit I do not mean untrue. I mean dangerous and foolish. The conversation about rape in our society is painful, a weapon, and built often on prejudice or misrepresentation. It doesn’t matter how it happens, a man or woman forcing someone to have sexual intercourse or any other form of sexual act is a crime and should be viewed that way. Please, stop trying to make a case for sexual assault. Stop justifying it. Stop taking it lightly. Stop turning a blind eye. Stop making the victim feel like trash. Shame leads many to live with their assault in silence. Stop. And for that matter, stop under-educating teenagers about their bodies, what is and is not acceptable, and when or how to say no. There is such a skewed view of sex in the media, such a lack of education in our schools, such a head-in-the-sand approach for most parents, that many who end up assaulting do it from a place of ignorance and a false perception of power, dominance, and expectation.

Rape, as a word, covers a broad spectrum. Many believe it’s too broad, but I am not one of those people. Rape, whether violent or because you both got wasted and stuff got out of control, is still rape. Whether you’re a twenty five year old grad student, or a teenage boy in the locker room. Here are two, very different articles on this subject. First, how serial rapists on college campuses are evading punishment. The other is about Patton Oswalt, a well-known comedian, and his thoughts and apologies about former statements regarding the right to make rape jokes. A quote from him:

“Just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn’t mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club.”

Note: There are hundreds of valid articles and blog posts about rape, which should tell you, we have problem here.

4.

In case that makes you question the state of the world (and you weren’t already with the Snowden thing and our powerlessness, or the revolts in Brazil and Turkey, or everything happening all the time in the Middle East) here is a picture of my son dressed as Wolverine and his cousin, an Angry Bird, making pizza’s.

IMG_3844

There is hope for the future. 

5.

Friday’s my family celebrates Shabbat. Now, if you’re wondering why we gentiles would take part in a Jewish tradition, I assure you we do Shabbat light. We honor the Jewish people, and the concept of Shabbat rest that was part of creation from the beginning, but we do it by coming together and consciously resting, listening, and reflecting. And wine. Wine is a must, for reals. Food and candles, too.

If you would like to change up your Friday routine, here is a Shabbat prayer you can use to welcome rest. (FYI this needs to be said by a woman if you happen to have one. If not, I guess you may use your discretion.)

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Shabbat. (Amen)

Happy Friday evening!

What’s Up Wednesday?

whats up wednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of this post. We really hope you will take part!

If you read my post about Hawaii, you’ll know why I’ve not been participating in awesome blog hops like this one. I have been keeping up with what everyone is up to, so, don’t stone me. Anyway…

What I’m Reading

I seem to be only capable of reading one book at a time. This trend follows in writing. I’m not someone who can work on multiple projects at once. I tend to get consumed by one, and everything else will fall to the wayside. This may be a discipline issue. Hmm, not sure. Currently I am reading Legend by Marie Lu. So far, I am casually attached. There are things I do like, and then there are things that almost (but only in the teensiest way) remind me of the epic space opera Farscape — if you haven’t watched it, shame on you — which then makes me grab it a little closer. I’m invested, but not sure yet if I’ll fall in love. I am (when critiquing the aforementioned two book rule doesn’t seem to apply) beta reading for a writing friend. Her book is seriously clever. With what I know going in, (got to read snippets in the workshop we both took with Nova Ren Suma) I feel like I’m in very capable hands.

What I’m Writing

So, as I said in my post about Hawaii, I have been taking a writing break. It’s been like two weeks since I’ve done any real writing. The wheels are beginning to turn again. Characters are beginning to nudge me for attention. But I remain firm in my break taking, at least until next week. I, very politely, tell all of those shiny new ideas (and plot points for the sequel to my novel that’s out with agents) to shut the hell up.

What Inspires Me Right Now

The things I learned and experienced in Hawaii. Here are a few, very important, lessons you too can glean from:

1. Hula dancers do not always wear coconut bras, nor are they swaying their hips. Rather, they have incredibly powerful leg muscles that make the hips move, and the movement is very controlled and intentional. I am a very awkward, slightly scrawny mainlander. Here is a picture of me poorly hulaing. (The very tall guy next to me is my brother who married a beautiful Hawaiian. The man cackling off camera is his father-in-law.)

2. The Hawaiian word for thank you is mahalo. I love this word so much more than thank you. I feel you can say almost anything, then follow it up with mahalo, and the recipient will somehow walk away smiling. “You’re a bitch, mahalo.” Just feels different.  Try it, I have.

3. The Hawaiian people didn’t have a written language until the English Colonists (invaders and plague bringers) showed up. This meant that the recording of ancient history, customs, pastimes, etc. was maintained orally. Talking stories remains to this day to be a valued pastime among the native Hawaiian’s.

4. The Hawaiian Islands are home to some of the most beautiful, warm, genuinely kind people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I grabbed onto the arm of my brother’s mother-in-law and cried, “Please don’t make me leave.” They are that spectacular.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Did you get that I went to Hawaii? Have I made that clear?

Black rocks and blue water.

Black rocks and blue water.

*Sighs* Other than that, I am spending time getting my house settled. We’ve been back in Texas for four months, and still our living room is unfurnished, our walls need touch-up paint and pictures, and I just discovered two boxes that need to be unpacked. Yeah, lots to do on that front.

So…what’s up with you?

Break Taking

I’ve been gone. Literally, and mentally, for about 10 days. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will know I have been in a state of bliss. Seriously. I was in Hawaii, a place of magical sunsets and mysterious beauty, a place where the smell of saltwater and plumeria mingles in your nostrils, where your tongue is flooded with savory, moist, sensuous flavors, and your mind is captured by rare and treacherous beauties. It’s Paradise built on dangerous black lava fields and volatile ocean waves.

Need proof?

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The funny thing about being gone is that I now have to come back. While on the Island, (Yes, I thought a lot about LOST too, while hiking. No smoke monster sightings though.) I found it within myself to let go, and hold on to the experience at hand. When you work on a book for 18 months with almost no breaks, soaking up other experiences becomes difficult. The lives of your characters can take you over.

Before we left for Hawaii, I was frayed. I was worn out. The last two years of my personal life have been filled to the brim with change. We moved to New York with our then two-year-old. I wrote a novel and then revised it four times. We flew back and forth from New York to Texas 14 times. We moved back to Texas, bought a house, and sent our son to school.

There wasn’t a moment in the midst of that where I didn’t also have to find a way to make my son’s world consistent and stable. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t wonder what the hell we were doing? There wasn’t a day in there that I wished I could go back to a simpler time in my life. To a time before change became my normal.

It did take its toll. When I finished this last draft, the agent I’ve been working with (who happens to be a good friend and supercool chick) advised me to give my brain a break. This was hard advice to take, and in a lot of ways, I think I would have ignored it if not for my time in Hawaii. The week before I left on that trip, I had a panic attack at the dentist. I freaked out about traveling without my son (who had informed me he would not go to Hawaii with me), contemplating not going at all. In that moment, the need for control became more powerful than the possibility of new experiences. The reality of missing my brother’s wedding, was outweighed by the chance that I might take a wrong step.

With grace, and wine, I got on that plane and got to spend 9 days with my brother’s new ohana. The open arms we were received with, the beauty and kindness I met at every turn, began to melt away the hard shell. The shell of survival. The weariness created by yanking myself up again and again even when I didn’t have the strength. The passion it took to press through four (often MAJOR) revisions. The challenge of living in two places, and then leaving one, and then not always feeling at home in the other. The loneliness created by realizing that while I was changing, so was everyone else, and now very little is the same.

What was left was softer, and more recognizable. It was someone closer to being ok with living and breathing and not always moving. I went parasailing with my brother a couple days before the rest of our party arrived. Flying over the deep blue water off the Kona coast, the wind whipping my hair wild, I felt strangely at peace. Settled. And I realized it wasn’t going to kill me to feel that way.

What’s funny about that is I know it doesn’t last forever. I know a part of me must be restless, must be unsettled, must be searching. A part of me will never cease the need for new discovery. That part makes me a writer. But that part can’t always be in control. That part doesn’t stop to stare at the sea just because it’s beautiful. That part can’t sit still and finish a meal, or listen rather than speak.

So, as I reemerge into the world, I am trying to hold that in my head. As new words begin to fill new pages, and new characters begin to surface, as I try to place a finger on the next story I want to tell, or the way to continue the story I am already telling, I remember to look out. To see the stories developing in front of me, not just inside me. To be inspired, but to be available. The writing cave is somewhere to go, when necessary. That isolated space, where nothing can take you away from your world, is vital. But it’s not somewhere to live.

When I got home, and I saw my son’s face, and I listened to his stories about his time without me, I was glad I could listen. I was glad I didn’t feel the need to open my computer or worry over word count. I was glad that, for just a little longer, I was free.

Many times the life we choose can force us to sacrifice that freedom. The concept that we can have it all, all the time, is a false one. We can’t. Some days I can’t write because I have laundry to wash, or a son to engage, or a house to maintain, or a friend or a sibling or a parent that needs help. There have been times when that made me angry, when I wanted, secretly, to be alone in the world so I could be surrounded by my characters without responsibility. I’m not proud of that, but I won’t pretend it’s not true. And the best I, or you, or anyone can do is recognize that without grace we are all colossal failures.

Try just once, to live on island time. To sit too long at a cafe. To read a book when you should be ironing. To listen to a stranger who just needs an ear to bend. To say mahalo, thank you, even when you’re not feeling it. There will always be time to be unsettled, but giving your roots a chance to establish is how you grow.