Fall First Page Critique Blog Hop

Here is the info on how to join this blog hop hosted by the lovely Michelle Hauck, which sounds like fun and a great NaNoWriMo distraction if you need it.

My first page is below:

YA Fantasy

They performed the ceremony like all others, standing at the roots of the Great Banyan tree. Smoke from the fire pits stung my nose. Beetle swarms crawled along the leaves — tick tick tick. The light shifted between shadows and sunlight. Branches and leaves and vines were the Banyan’s tangled hair.

Mother’s hands trembled.

“We must go to your uncle now, Aliyah.” A thick wave of her hair swept over her shoulder to tickle my cheek. She smelled of salt, like her tears, like the ocean where, just days before, my father’s body had been set to flame.

He was released to the Great Ones. I was trapped here without him.

Uncle Talin was not my uncle at all. Not by blood. He was my father’s friend, and my new guardian. As was tradition in the Tribes, I must call him Uncle to represent his place in my new life, but the law could not rule my heart. Uncle Talin would never replace my father. He stood on the roots, watching and waiting for us to come to him. His eyes did not laugh like Father’s had. They roamed over our faces, dark and narrowed, unsettling me where I stood. I could feel the heat of his gaze touch us, moving between us, lingering on Mother, coming back to me.

This was the man who would bear the mark of our ho’omalu.

The Kahuna’s grass skirt hissed as he moved through the village toward the Great Banyan. My skin shivered when he passed me.

She was loved.

weep

I remember when I was a little girl, but I can’t always remember everything. Memories are like dreams that way, blurred at the edges, bleeding into one another, squishing together like clay. I remember when I was a little girl, but already my grandma was becoming an old woman. To me she had never been young, because of my newness, maybe, or because I knew no better.

She was permanently this way. She was a creature made of wrinkled skin and curving bones. I didn’t understand that once she had been like me. Once, my Grandma had been a girl.

She was a daughter, an older sister. She was a best friend. She grew up in East Texas, she lived in East Texas, and she was more than East Texas.

She became…

A wife to a bad husband. A mother to three children. She chose to work. She chose to love someone even though they were wrong. She branded cows and fried bacon. She knew she was cheated, but she was never a victim. She buried that bad husband. She lived in the town she was born in. She left that town, and she never looked back. She was told she was wrong. She was accused. She was exonerated. She married another man, and this time she knew she’d married the right one. She loved her children even though they were crazy, because she knew crazy came with youth but didn’t usually stay. She was brave.

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She became a grandma. She made sure there were Easter egg hunts and jars filled with candy. She let the grandkids watch whatever they wanted on TV (unless her westerns were on and then they could all go to hell). She never spanked them, but she did fill their ears with knowledge and her two cents and the Republican Agenda. She saw that they were wild and foolish, but she didn’t tell them they had to grow up. She lived up to her own standard, and she let them live up to theirs. She wore fancy dresses to their weddings, and nail art and got her hair done. She gossiped and knew how to shoot the shit better than anyone.

She got the last word. Always.

She got older. She started to feel older, too, but she still cared for the cows and tended her garden. She became a great-grandma, and she kept track of those new kids as well as the old ones. She remembered birthdays and anniversaries. She remembered everything, but let you slide when you needed to. She started to give her granddaughter jewelry because she wanted to see her face, and tell her why it mattered. She wouldn’t rely on whoever was left behind when she’d finally gone. She wanted her to know, rather than be told.

She got sick more. She lost weight, but not beauty. And finally, one day, she got tired of fighting. She had fought enough. It wasn’t defeat, she said, it was doneness. She wanted to go home. She had made up her mind to go, and that had always been enough to make almost anything possible. She told the doctors no. No more, and then she sat in her living room and looked out over her land.

She went.

I remember when I was a little girl, and even with years packed on top, and even with fuzzy lines, I remember this thing for sure:

I told her once that I could not imagine the world without her. She was old then, already, but not as old as I thought, now that I am older. Now that I am closer to grown up. She looked at me, she looked through my eyes and into my soul, and she said, “Someday you will have to, but don’t be sad when that day comes. I won’t go until I’m sure.”

I am still a young woman. Someday, I will be an old woman. That will be a gift. It is not asking too much, even if it is a tall order, to hope to be a woman like her. Our lives are finite, drops in the bucket of time, but they become infinite if we live them with purpose.

She did that. She taught me.

 

Gender Roles & Young Adults: Little Game

ben

As a Young Adult writer, and even more as a writer of diverse fantasy, I consider myself a fairly open-minded human. Creating a world where teens are able to break down barriers, conquer adversaries, and challenge the status quo, is an important part of my writing life. The question of gender roles is one I must examine without prejudice, and even more, I must be alert to what teenagers are saying on the subject.

Listening, writers are always listening. We have to hear in order to tell the story accurately.

So when my nephew, Benny (Ben J. Pierce) a 15-year-old actor with his own YouTube channel and ever-growing following on Twitter and Instagram, debuted his first single Little Game, I paid attention. *Note: I am always paying attention to what my nephew produces. I cast him in his first stage play, I knew when he was nine he was going to be something fabulous. 

A few weeks ago, on his show KidPOV, he tackled a touchy subject for a teenage boy (for anyone, really, because hot button issues tend to make people stupid and use nasty emoticons): sexism in the media. It was thoughtful. It was generous. It was nicer than I would have been.

Ben is not your typical boy. He never has been. So it came as no surprise to me that for his first single he chose to address the pressure placed on young men and women, boys and girls, to conform to societal norms regardless of desire or proclivity.

As a female who always liked dresses and dolls and boys, who was a princess who sipped tea from china, I wasn’t picked on as a kid. But the sweet-faced blonde girl with red patent leather shoes also liked to give bullies bloody noses, and bullies learned to stay away. They learned to stay away from friends and siblings, too.

But it’s cute to be a curly haired tomboy with a crush on Christian Bale in Newsies…when you’re a girl. Reverse this quirk to a boy who would rather tap dance than play football, and regardless of open-mindedness, no matter the change in times, certain names are used. With the pervasiveness of online bullying, these names become a permanent fixture in social media.

As we get older, we are expected to exchange childhood whims for more decidedly adult ones. We are expected to get in line with everyone else, and if we don’t, we are labeled. These labels are damaging. As a teenager, still very much forming who you are and what you want, still trying to wade through all your desires and curiosities, putting a word to a way of feeling or thinking can alter self-image and create self-hatred in a way that becomes irreversible. But not always factual. Not necessarily a true representation of who you are.

Say you are a thirteen-year-old girl who has always played sports, never wears make-up, doesn’t talk about boys you like because all the boys you know are either your friends, or gross. Say someone calls you a dyke. Tells you, you must like girls because of how you look, because you don’t talk about boys. Say you question yourself, and you discover no, you aren’t gay, but no matter what you say everyone still wants to label you that way. And because you are labeled that way, you are treated differently. You are side-eyed.

Or maybe you discover you are. And maybe you don’t want to talk about it yet.

Another person’s label cannot dictate who we are. There is no way to silence voices against you when voices want to be heard. There is no way to make everyone see you for who you truly are without bringing their own preconceived ideas into the mix. The need for acceptance is basic. It is human. Only a few opinions really matter. Ignore the rest.

Getting to that point, though, not so easy. Videos like Little Game, Young Adult literature written for and about teens, talking about these things honestly, helps.

I am not the only one that thinks Ben’s single is worth discussing. This week Buzzfeed picked up the story, and linked to the video. That, combined with others popular in the YouTube world speaking out in favor of his video, the views have jumped to (as of posting) 292,000 views. Ben is not the first to speak this message, as the article notes, and he won’t be the last.

Ben is a teen, speaking to teens, about what it means to be a teen. I am an adult who is listening.