Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Girl on Girl Crime

This blog goes out to all the girls who've experienced girl on girl crime. I've been seeing more and more of it at younger and younger ages, and I have to ask myself, why? Why are we girls so cruel to one another?

For all of the progress women have made over the last one hundred years, why is it we are still our own worst enemies? Why do we pick on each other so mercilessly? 

It's been getting to me lately because not only family members but also close friends of my daughters have been the object of girl-on-girl crime. I'm not sure what one children's author/mom/ aunt/friend can do about it, but maybe if I share my story, it will help other girls to share theirs. 

When I was in 7th grade, for reasons I still don't understand, a 6th grader started picking on me. Go figure. A kid a year younger than me. She lived in my neighborhood. We went to the same school. Sometimes, we'd play like great friends. And other times, she'd needle me mercilessly. My father, pacifist male that he is, suggested I sock her one. Don't you love old-school parenting? I couldn't quite work myself up to decking her, even though every time she'd start needling me, it felt like she was socking me one.

The whole situation came to a head when my family was moving. Huge change. My parents were out of town looking for a house. Said kid and I were playing together in the snow. When we were both heading back to our houses, she started needling me again. I tried to turn a deaf ear, i.e. my back, and walk away. She pounced from behind, shoving me down in the snow.

I don't know why that day was different. I don't know why my cup finally overflowed. But I sprang to my feet finally ready to deck her. Yep. Not a proud moment. But empowering. I whirled around and the look that was on my face must have been insane seventh grader crazy. She turned and ran like there was no tomorrow. Better still, she never needled me again. And I never had to sock her one after all.

So, is the moral of the story girls should learn to box? Well...I think what happened that day was bigger than boxing. I finally stood up for myself. I established my boundaries. When I did, the bully realized she couldn't bully me anymore and stopped.

How girls establish boundaries without getting into fisticuffs, though? It's a hard thing to do. To be self-confident when hormone-world is like a roller coaster of craziness inside you. When you feel ugly even though your parents tell you you're pretty. When you sure you don't have the right clothes. The right look. The right anything. It's hard.

But it's possible. Because we girls really are strong on the inside. And we all do have boundaries. They're sacred things, those boundaries are. They are worth sticking up for. In sticking up for them, for ourselves, we become even stronger and more self-confident, and the bullies can't touch that.

So here's a shout out to all girls today. You are strong. You are special. You can do it!!!!!!!!!

And if you want to read about great techniques for sticking up for yourself, try, Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. No socking required!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You might be a writer if...

I've been knee-deep in world-creation these last weeks. I'm writing a retelling of Frankenstein set in a dystopian future, which means the world is mine to make (and break). It got me to thinking about DesCartes. Cogito ergo sum...I think therefore I am. As an author, I not only think my characters into being. I think their world into being. Kind of leaves an all-powerful aftertaste.

You might be a writer've developed a god complex.

And society thought only surgeons could do that. How little does the world know about the secret lives of writers. Saving limbs and lives is nothing in the daily routine of a writer. We create worlds. Destroy them. Shape alternate universes for our own. Rewrite history. And make it all so real, readers cry, laugh, rejoice and hate as passionately as they do in the real world.

It can leave a writer feeling a bit like god.

I have to admit, though, the godliness I experience is not only that of a god of great joy but one plagued by  doubt, concern, tears, frustration, and hopelessness. It is an ever so fatally human god. Still, to be a writer means to think like a god. To be willing not only to breathe life into characters and worlds but also to destroy them with wrath, vengeance, or worst of all, for the good of the story. We kill our darlings, in the words of Faulkner.

I giggle to myself guiltily now when my husband (he's a doc himself) talks surgeons and god-complexes. If only he knew, he was living with a writer who suffers than very same complex squared.

At least he hasn't found all of those darlings stuffed under the floorboards yet. Or the alternate worlds that are crammed into the closets. Nobody ever said just because we kill or destroy our darlings we have to throw them away. We writers may be dastardly but we are environmentally conscious. We recycle nixed storylines and characters all of the time. That's the great thing about playing god. We can kill them off one day and bring them back to life the next.

Ah, the joys of being a writer!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Have you ever made pudding the old-fashioned way? I don't mean ancient here. I mean, still packet but with all that stirring.

When I was a kid, I used to beg beg beg my mom to make pudding. This meant, of course, someone had to be in charge of stirring stirring stirring that milk and pudding until it came to a boil. Guess who got that lucky job? Yep, the kid who asked for it.

My arm used to hurt from all of that stirring. Then there was the heat coming off of the burner. And the standing. My God, the standing.

But oh, when that jello was done, the pleasure. To feel it thickening under the turn of my wooden spoon. To smell its rich, yummy goodness. And then to wait ever so impatiently for the refrigerator to finally make that pudding do what is was supposed to do. I could hardly ever wait to finish dinner so I could get my pudding. My hard won pudding.

And then the instant kind came out. And all of that complaining and moaning about having to stir was replaced with a whisk and a few strokes.

The weird thing is, we stopped making pudding.

I'd forgotten all about this until I got together with a writer friend of mine the other day. He's a script editor for Hollywood. Has worked on some of the biggest films of our generation. I could tell you his name, but then he would probably kill  me. So let's just call him, Hollywood. H for short.

I was moaning about how movies are getting so incredibly predictable and boring, and how that has slowly eeked its way into books. You know if X is writing a book, it's going to be a mystery/thriller/drama. Pick a genre. But pick only one. Because all of us in arts and entertainment are getting typecast. Every. Last. One.

H said it's because we've moved into the instantaneous society. I buried my head in my arms and moaned, where will it all end? (and felt very much like my grandmother as I said this).

H mentioned a movie I'd actually seen a few years ago. An "off-Hollywood" production called Idiocracy. It extrapolates present society 500 years or so into the future where the president of the United States is a professional wrestler, you can buy everything at Costco, including degrees, and the average IQ has gone so low, the average Joe of today who gets frozen and wakes up in the future is actually a genius who tries to save mankind from his own stupidity. It is black humor at its blackest, and yet with a thread one can see developing in our present society. Kids and adults attached to computer devices of all sorts all the time. Monies being poured into science that solves hairloss or increases breast-size most "naturally", rather than finding new sources of energy. The arts getting less and less attention as video of all nature takes over. And those video shows getting dumber and dumber with each season.

Where will it all end? (Again, feeling a lot like my grandmother).

And that's just it, Grandma Julie. Does the aging generation begin to feel like progress is not necessarily good, or have we really begun to overturn the technology screw and underturn individual thought and development? Is the future looming before our eyes Idiocracy? I cannnot be that pessimistic, even if I wanted to. Trouble is, I'm more fatalistic. I see us so individualized that we lose our sense of community. That what Thomas Jefferson said - I do not agree with you but I will fight to the death for you to have your opinion - will no longer apply and democracy will go the way of the dinosaurs, as will society (now there's a ya novel just waiting to be written). That we will all be linked in, facebooked and co-joined cybernetically, but forget how to interact in person. There's actually already a book on that - Feed, by M.T. Anderson.

There is the smallest part of me, however, that optimist of my youth, that believes mankind might actually still have some chutzpah lurking somewhere deep down that's going to explode out when the instantaneousness gets to be too much. It's the part that wants to make jello from scratch. That does not want everything immediately, right away, yesterday. The one that likes delayed gratification. And it's there. Just look at the book we all love to hate, Twilight. Delayed gratification cubed.

I hope so very much that part of me is right.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Book Review Club - Speak vs. Wintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson
Young Adult


Laurie Halse Anderson
Young Adult

I read both of these books back to back and did not give up on life entirely, which speaks highly to Anderson's talent as a writer. These are not easy reads. Speak, celebrating its 10th anniversary in print, is about rape. Think that's edgy? Wintergirls is about bulimia and anorexia. This is tough stuff. Anderson does a fabulous job with protraying real, troubled teens. For any girl who has been through rape or is battling an eating disorder, these pieces must feel empowering because they let the individual know, you are not alone.

The reason I review them together is because, despite Anderson's skill at real, gritty portrayal of these issues through a teen character, after finishing the books, I was left feeling much like I had after a spree of John Irving books in my early twenties, i.e. like the main characters were the same person over and over. Lia of Wintergirls, birthed ten years after Melinda of Speak, nonetheless feels like the same teen. Anderson's writing chops are much improved, although the symbolism in Speak is incredible, the writing in Wintergirls will leave you rereading again and again to pick up craft points, turns of phrase, ideas on how to take mental illness and make it real for readers. Still, Melinda and Lia are interchangeable.


Their voice feels very similar. Their reactions, similar. Lia feels like a more mature Melinda, going further in her personal psychosis, more unstable, more suicidal, more detached. Yet still, Melinda.

Which leads me to ask the following questions: What results in similar characters across novels by the same author? Can we authors only get so far from our own perception? Are we slaves to our own hermeneutics? Or do similar driving motives across different stories nevertheless lead to similar characters?

I am not sure what the answers are, but I would like to know more because I find myself falling into that pattern in a present novel. Certain secondary characters feel similar to ones in an earlier novel I wrote. How do I avoid that? Should I? Or does such similarity define an author much as a defining brushstroke can define a painter?

Food for thought.

For more great reads, hop over to our fearless leader, Barrie Summy's blog.  And for those of you in the Kansas area, if you get a chance, stop by the Kansas School Librarians Conference Thursday and Friday of this week. Barrie Summy, P.J. Hoover, Zu Vincent, Suzanne Morgan Williams, and I are the guest speakers for lunch on Thursday. It's a whole panel of characters just waiting to share!