Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New short story!

What's this? A second post in less than six months? That is just crazy.

Recently I was asked to write a short story for young adults to be published on Rainbow Rumpus, a webzine for kids with LGBT parents. It's a really intriguing concept: fiction (and some nonfiction) for kids and teens that depict households with parents who are not straight or what we have always considered "traditional." The parents' sexuality and relationships are mentioned in an almost offhand way, casually, and are not used as the basis for the conflict. In this way, the LGBT parents are normalized.

For instance, in my story, "Benny and the Jetes," the narrator is Benny, a high school junior caught between wanting to play basketball and wanting to dance ballet with a beautiful girl he likes. His parents just happen to be two men. Now, the conflict for Benny with his parents is not about them being gay. The conflict is like all kids and their parents: they want what he doesn't and he wants their approval.

The temptation for writers of stories with gay parents or anything beyond the "norm" of a straight household is to make the conflict and focus on the sexuality, whether it's bullying of the kid or resentment on the part of the child or some other divisiveness that needs to be addressed and ultimately resolved. But then the kids who have parents like that think, "Oh my situation is not normal and will always be looked at as weird."

Rainbow Rumpus serves the goal of taking away the stereotypical "gay-themed" "issue-oriented" story and focuses on the stories themselves, and really, it's the kids in the stories that other kids want to read about and identify with.

I hope you'll take a look at "Benny and the Jetes," and share it with your favorite teens and tweens.

Happy reading~

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Get your priorities straight, woman!

Ah, a twice-yearly blog. Perfect for the digital age. The last post I wrote here was about the end of the year musings, the looking-forward-to-2015 optimism. A take-stock of what's happened and get-excited about what's to come.

And, 6 months later, here we are. Much of my life for the last half-year has revolved around my zombie ballet, Sweet Sorrow. At the end of January, Nancy Evans Dance Theatre performed 2 short pieces from it and then at the end of May, they did the entire first act. I was thrilled! A ballet based on a novel that I wrote!  It was really exciting to see characters I'd written come alive (so to speak) on stage. The costumes and sets and music were amazing and the dancers were outstanding. They and Nancy were committed and intelligent collaborators on this project. The next step for it is a full-length ballet - 2 acts! Wow.

Now I just have to write it.

Lately it seems like I have the "now I just have to write it" blues. Currently I'm debating about 2 writing projects: rewriting one that is very messy and starting a brand new one that could be very awesome. (Aren't all unwritten projects potentially very awesome?)  Many writers I know would work on both. After all, rewriting and new writing are completely different activities in the brain.

But, you know, time. I just don't have time to write them both. And then there's the zombie ballet - while not technically a writing project, dance does need to be written, particularly dance theater which is story-based. NEDT is counting on me to develop the second act so we can collaborate on it.

I think prioritizing is hard, unless you're being paid to write. I dropped everything when I signed a contract to write a book last year; I dropped everything when I was asked to write a short story for a webzine. Paying gigs have priority. But what about the unpaid ones, the ones you write because you have to? The ones you hope you might get paid for? How do you choose?

Someone wrote an article recently about famous writers who had books that would never see the light of day (we all do, even those of us who are not that successful; they are called "trunk" books). In many cases, the writers put these troublesome stories aside and ended up writing the books that would make them famous. In hindsight, those were the perfect choices. But in the moment, how can you know? It's not as if the idea that will be "the one" has a big sign on it that tells you, "Write me!"

You have to go with your gut. You have to do an honest assessment of what is driving you, what will make you want to tackle the blank page day after day until it's done. It can't be a tiny spark; it must be a raging fire within you. Hopefully the ideas you are choosing among are very different. In my case, they are: one is a very dark and somewhat bleak story that requires some rewriting to make it a little more hopeful while the new idea is still thematically intense but with some more quirkiness and lightheartedness - and romance, which frankly, I do really enjoy writing for teens.

The questions I'm asking myself are:

What is my mental state now? Can I handle bleak?
What sort of research am I willing to do? Will I feel confident in making things up as I go?
Whose voice do I hear in my head: a girl or a boy? An addict or a slacker?
Do I truly know what the rewrite looks like? Or can I bang out a first draft of a quirky love story?

My gut is telling me one thing while my head is telling me another. Logic says do the rewrite but fire-in-the-belly says go with the new book. Hmmm...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ready or not, here comes 2015!

No! I'm not ready! I need more 2014...

2013 saw me get a new dog, a new agent, a new book contract, and new employers.

 A year later, the dog and agent are still awesome, the book contract has been signed and the first draft of the book written, and I found a new employer - myself.  From the outside looking in, I'd say things are about the same but I do believe I'm moving forward. Eventually the steps I've taken should lead me closer to where I want to be.

Some of the steps even appear to be backward but, as a dancer, I know you have to do a lot of sidesteps and pivots if you want to cross the stage. Simply walking from one end to the other is boring!

I feel like I'm slowly stripping away the things that don't make me happy. I've tried to disengage myself from people and situations that don't benefit me intellectually or creatively or spiritually.

And so, I hereby declare 2015 to be the Year of Less.

Less stress.

Less pain.

Less stuff.

The late comedian George Carlin used to do a very funny bit about having "stuff."

The message being that stuff, whether it's yours or mine, tends to rule our lives. But why should it?

Excess baggage, both literal and figurative, weighs us down and causes us to take jobs or spend time with people that we really shouldn't. And this baggage compounds itself: the more time we spend on things and people we don't respect, the more we resent those people and things. And truly, it's our own fault for making those choices in the first place. If we didn't have a shopping/videogame/drug habit that needed to be funded, we wouldn't need to do things that ate at our souls.

So in 2015, I want to be LESS. Less vulnerable to bad decisions. Less aggravated by people and situations that are out of my control. Less dependent on anyone but myself for happiness and financial stability.

Happy holidays and have a blessed and Be Less year!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sketching & Writing

If any of you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have noticed some sketches I've been posting. So far they are all ballerinas and they are all pencil sketches, very simple things. I chose ballerinas as my subject because they are something I feel passionate about. I don't feel the same way about cars or flowers.

Let's get one thing clear: I am not a visual artist. Oh, I've done my share of abstract paintings but I've never been able to draw something that looks like something else. That to me is a real artist.

Let's get another thing clear: I have no intention of pursuing visual arts. This is strictly a hobby for me, something I want to enjoy and not take too seriously.

So why bother at all?

First, I wanted to learn something new and I wanted to do something that I could see marked improvement (or not) over time. I thought it would be cool to draw reference images for my characters, particularly in my zombie novel, Sweet Sorrow, and my steampunk novel, Mystic Chords of Memory.

Second, there is a direct correlation that I see between learning to sketch and my writing:

I don't expect perfection the first time. I draw, revise, draw again. I use my eraser a lot. I move things around, like an arm or a leg. I sketch a simple head as a placeholder until I can learn to draw a more complicated one. I know that it can't possibly come out of my head and into my hand in the exact right way - and that's okay.

I don't mind criticism from others. I post the sketches each day and welcome criticism, likes or dislikes, advice and suggestions. I appreciate the encouragement from friends but I don't think it means anything more than they like that I'm trying something new. It's very easy to distance myself from the sketches because they don't feel personal to me. As much as I love them, they are simply my creation.

I aim for improvement in a specific area with each new sketch. I don't think I can become an expert at heads overnight - certainly not heads and hands and clothing texture. I look for one thing to work on whenever I pick up my pencil.

I don't wait for the muse to move me. Every night at 11PM, after I am finished work for the day, I decide which image I will attempt to sketch and then I do it. I don't agonize over it. I pick one and start. And the next night I do the same thing. It's only been a couple of weeks but it's already become a habit.

And now, for the first 10 sketches...
Day 1

Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10

Thursday, July 24, 2014

This weather is murder - free short story

Hi everyone! It's been about a million years since I posted here but I have been wicked busy doing the writing thing. But it's a hundred degrees out, which makes me aggravated and anxious and on edge, like many people so I thought I'd post a short story I wrote a few summers ago, called "Murder Weather."

A quick read. If I were a boastful person, I might call it a cross between Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. But since I'm not, well, it's a quick read and it's free.

Click on the title link below the image to download/read.

Enjoy and stay cool.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I am an adult who reads YA...

...and I'm not in the least bit ashamed.

True, I write in the genre but I read it as an adult long before I ever wrote it. In fact, I can remember very distinctly the first time I picked up a novel that was YA - and I had no idea it was for teens. It was Robert Cormier's "Fade," and it was a mass market paperback on a rack in the Glastonbury Public Library. I think I was 25 or so and I consumed huge amounts of fiction in my unhappy-at-the-time life.

I was working a 9-to-5 job in a field I had not studied and didn't really care about. I had my own apartment where I watched "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Star Trek" and painted giant abstracts on canvases that I built and stretched myself. I enjoyed teaching ballet to kids in the evenings and on weekends and was trying really hard to quit smoking.

And I read. A lot. I had a library within walking distance so I could come home from work, kick off my pantyhose and heels, throw on some sneakers and start walking so I wouldn't have think about the fact I was trying to quit smoking. In that library, I devoured all of the paperbacks I could find because they were easy to carry home to my apartment when I was walking with them. Hardcovers meant I could carry fewer books and that wasn't good at all.

From the looks of it, "Fade" was not a teen romance or an issue book. In my mind, a teen book was either something written by Judy Blume or one of those drug/suicide/mental illness books, like "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," "Sunshine," or "Go Ask Alice" - all of which I inhaled as a teenager.

"Fade" had a character who could become invisible (or fade) which was pretty cool but Cormier did not use the ability to create a superhero. His characters are seriously flawed, some evil, some cruel, some just plain amoral. When you read this book, you feel like you need to shower. Images stick with you for a very long time. "Fade" is one of the few books that I read in a library and later bought a copy of because I had to have it at home, had to have it to loan to others.

No one in their right mind would call this fluff. The writing is smart and sophisticated, the themes incredibly dark and complex. But there are no messages in the book, no voice of the author tut-tutting and saying, "Now, kiddos, don't do this kind of thing..." Nope. Cormier wrote it and let you sort it out your own damn self. That's what he did with "The Chocolate War" and "I Am the Cheese" - more rich, complex stories with compelling characters.

Many people have tried to figure out why adults read YA. Some insist it's a fantasy life they want to lead, some think it's escapist. Others think adults want simple answers to complex questions. For me, YA books help me figure out who I was which helps me understand who I am now, who I might become in the future. When I read books about bullying and mean girls, I see myself as a teenager doing some of those terrible things, saying some of those terrible things - and it makes me want to be a kinder person now. When I read about girls who dump guys without a care in the world, I remember I had done that a time or two - and it gives me pause when I need to politely turn down someone's request. And as a teacher dealing with all sorts of personalities, these books give me insight into the many types of people I didn't know in high school, the varied cultures and races and genders I never experienced. In other words...

Reading YA novels makes me a better adult.

Could I get the same insight from adult novels? Sure. I can and I do. I don't read YA exclusively, nor do I read contemporary novels exclusively or only watch science fiction TV and movies. My literary diet is varied and complex and I like to feed it whatever it needs whenever it needs it. If someone wants to shame me for including YA (or middle grade if we include the early Harry Potter novels, which were also awesome), then it's their great loss. They probably should check out one of those mean girl books and see if they recognize themselves.

Read on.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

#WeNeedDiversityinBooks & #BeingGenuine

Recently, everyone connected to publishing, it seemed, posted and tweeted photos of books and handwritten signs for the campaign to make people aware of the lack of diversity in children's books. If you're a writer or reader of books for teens and children, you already know this sad truth.

I didn't do much for #WeNeedDiversityinBooks because I assumed you had to be a writer with a current book to flog, money to buy books, and/or influence to talk to kids and parents and the general public, of which I have none. Besides, I'm a middle-aged white woman - who wants to hear what I have to say about diversity? I'm about as average as they come.

But then I realized I do have 2 published novels with prominent Latino characters. In LOVE, MEG, the main character's love interest is Puerto Rican; in ALL ABOUT VEE, the main character's best friend is Mexican (and for those of you who know about that novel, I had intended to write 3 books in that series, one of which would have told Val's story). The diversity came from the circumstances: New York City in the first and an Arizona border town in the second. The backgrounds of the characters just seemed natural to me, much as in my own life, and their Latino heritage influences their actions, dialogue, etc. In stories that I have not published, my characters are routinely Latino, African American, gay, as well as straight and white. Some characters are rich, some poor, some solidly middle class, some working class.

I didn't set out to "create" diversity, only to reflect life. Forcing diversity will never come off as genuine or sincere. So while I think it's a great idea to promote diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation, I think it has to arise naturally from the story. As writers we must not be afraid to populate our stories with characters who might appear to be different from ourselves. We are, for the most part, adults writing in the voices of children and teens. If we are trying to tap into those psyches for a commonality, why wouldn't we seek out similarities between ourselves and characters of different races or religions or gender?

You can't force a reader to choose a book that includes diverse characters but if you create stories that naturally include them, they won't marginalize the books in their minds ("that's a gay book," "that's a black story," etc.). They will simply all be stories - good stories, please, exciting stories, ones without stereotypes and boring parts. Make them fun and silly and poignant and touching; make those characters angry and sweet and conflicted and jealous and able to grow and change - just like your readers. Then we will truly have diversity in books.