Friday, April 14, 2017

From the Way Back

Again, the middle of the month has snuck up on me. Typically, I post a new bit of short fiction around the fifteenth. But I am deep in the dark and spooky drafting cave where the bright flash of short fiction cannot reach. (Translation: All of my writing has been on my current novel in progress, I ain’t been writin’ any shorts.)

The current novel in progress is set in a school of the arts, which has sent me into the land of remembery. Even though I was in the theatre department at my high school, the editors of our literary journal were kind (or pitied me) enough to publish bits of my writing.

I have resisted the urge to edit myself, so here are the bits as originally published in Elan (Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Literary Journal).

Shears and Stripes

We sit in the small stick-shift truck
bumping towards the barbershop
with the candy-striped pole

inside we walk across the soft down of
the newly cropped hair to sit in
the old red chairs lining the wall
with their dull, worn leather
peeling off the seats

we never get our hair cut,
just chatter and jabber for hours
while we nibble on
the chocolate frosted donuts
that only taste good in the
small little shop with
the red and white pole out front.

Note- This poem is about five-year-old me visiting the barbershop with my grandpa. I miss you, Valter Vance.


He talks to me, and it becomes difficult to keep from jumping off the cliff. Even though I hate to fall, I think that eventually someone will catch me at the bottom and make it all worthwhile. But, that someone may not catch me and I’ll fall to the ground. Then I’ll have to pick myself up, wounded though I may be, and come face to face with the person who let me fall. If he let me fall to catch another, I’ll have to face her too. Sitting snugly in his arms, where I know it’s very comfortable to be. We’ll have one last long look and he’ll turn to walk away, carrying the princess in his arms. Then I’ll stand at the bottom of the cliff, watching him go. He might look back, or throw a word over his shoulder that will give me the motivation to turn to the cliff and begin the struggle to climb back to the top.

As I climb I think of the fall, the not knowing if he’ll catch me, or let me drop as he’s done before. I near the top and I swear I’ll never fall for him again. But in my heart I know that all he has to do is say my name, wrap his arms around my waist as he likes to do, or flat-out ask and I’ll gladly jump again. I’m a lemming, only a whole lot worse because I know what I’m doing and what it means when I step off the edge.

I’ve reached the top, and I look down. There he is. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him, yet it feels like only yesterday. I step closer to the edge to get a better look, thinking all the while, “You’re too close, step away from the edge!” Do I listen? No. I waver there on the edge watching him looking up at me. He holds out his hand. I start to cry as I take the final step over the edge, and I’m falling again, again, again……..

Note- This one is about sixteen-year-old me and that’s all I have to say about that.

What writings do you have tucked away that you might rather forget you ever wrote?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bad Blood and Other March Reads

I finished twelve books in March:

Feversong by Karen Marie Moning
Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (reread, audiobook)
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Green-Light Your Book by Brooke Warner
Duma Key by Stephen King
Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (reread, audiobook)
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

I had some thoughts while reading (and after I finished) Bad Blood:

This is the fourth (and final, I believe) book in The Naturals series. Once you let yourself fall into the premise (a group of teenagers who are profilers for the FBI) the series is very good. It’s pitched as a young adult version of Criminal Minds.

Most of the series focuses on the crimes surrounding this group of teens, both the crimes that gave them the skills they use as profilers and the crimes that continue to swirl around them. It features an interesting cast of characters, who are very well developed (the teens more than the adults around them, which is appropriate).

There was one exception to the general rule of well developed plot and character for me, though. The relationship between Cassie (the main character of the series) and Dean (who she is finally calling her boyfriend by the end of book four). We hear Cassie’s thoughts about Dean, and we see his actions toward Cassie. But the extent of their relationship is a bit fuzzy. There are a few moments where hints are given, scenes fade to a close without reaching their end.

Some of the same hints and fuzziness surround another couple in the story.

There are a lot of reasons not to give specifics regarding a physical relationship on the page. Especially if you are writing YA. While the “acceptable content” for a YA book has changed a lot over the years, there are still people who have strong feelings about what can and can’t be in a YA book. Swear words, violence, and sex are usually the focus of these proposed restrictions.

As an author of YA, your goal is to present the world in a realistic way, which means cussing, sex, and violence happen. The sticky bit is knowing when are you representing reality, and when it isn’t necessary to the story.

It may come down to an author’s personal choice in the end. It may be the publisher’s choice in the end. I have no idea which was the case in Bad Blood. Maybe Jennifer just wanted to leave some things up to her reader’s imagination.

Maybe the more interesting piece of this, to me, is what is included in the series. There is violence. A lot of it. The ending of book four had a moment that actually made me gasp. It was horrific, it was violent, it was not what I expected. But it was exactly what had to happen.

So tons of violence. But no sex.

Then I realized that this is really a cultural thing. Across the board, I think we are more comfortable with kids being exposed to violence in TV, games, movies, books, etc. than we are with them being exposed to sex or other displays of love. This is often true in real life as well. Many of us would be more comfortable with our kids witnessing a fight on the street than a passionate kiss at a bus stop.

This is disturbing. Essentially we are saying that violence and hate are acceptable but love is not. It is okay to display your anger, but don’t show anyone your heart.

Given that this seems to be spread throughout our society, I’m not sure how we change it. Maybe instead of encouraging acts of defiance, we should start encouraging acts of love.