Listen. Think. Speak. Write.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Motherly Advice

Mother’s Day is almost here, and my Facebook feed will be filled with pictures and poems and favorite mom memories. It’s one of my favorite social media “events” because I love seeing how much my friends look like their moms and reveling in the impact mothers have.

When I do school visits, students will ask me why I wrote The Haunted House Project, they always ask me why I wrote the book, what inspired me, and what the ultimate message is.  I usually stumble through an answer about hope and love and tenacity, but this close to Mother’s Day, I realize how much of it is a book of Mother’s advice.

It’s making me think about the best advice my mom ever gave me. As a teen, of course, I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever heard. I probably even told her that.

I went a few rounds in the ring with depression. Negative self-talk punched me in the head (you’re stupid), in the gut (You’re ugly), and in the side (No one likes you) over and over again.

My mom used to say, “Smile more.”

I used to think, “You don’t get it. It’s not that simple.”

And let me say for the record, no it’s not. Obviously, depression isn’t that simple.

But I’ve learned that despite thinking my mom was ridiculous for saying it to me, she was right.

Smiling more is good.

I teach emotional contagion theory in Interpersonal Communication class. An oversimplified explanation is moods can be contagious. I find that when I smile at people, they smile back. I know I tend to gravitate toward people who are smiling. I perceive them to be more positive.

Sometimes, it takes effort. If I’m tired or engrossed in work, and my child runs up excited to tell me something, I may have to remind myself to smile back, knowing that the scowl on my face signals to her that I don’t care. It’s a combination of emotion work and self-monitoring. And I fail. Quite a bit, actually.

And know that I’ve been there. When you’re down, smiling seems stupid. Certainly, it won’t solve depression either.

However, more often than not crabby begets crabby; happy begets happy. So, I’m going to keep on trying to smile more.

Because my mama told me so. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Change the world ... again.

Yesterday, I took my youngest daughter to the polls with me, fully believing that I was voting for the first female President. I’d been pretty emotional about it for two days. We talked about the process.  We talked about why it was so monumental. We talked about all that had been lost for women to have the right to vote and how long that took.

Last night I drove three teens to dance. We all laughed as they pulled up funny videos of both candidates. They bust a gut on Hillary’s “seizure” video. We giggled at videos of Trump’s speeches talking about Jay Z’s language while overlaying recordings of him using similar or worse speech. Still, these totally a-political girls were essentially begging me to tell them he would not be President.  I told them things were looking good.

Two hours later, our car mood had shifted.  Early results were not, in fact, looking good, and we all lamented the things were couldn’t believe he’d said. We talked about fears. I told them it was still early. I also told them our lives would probably not fundamentally change no matter who was President. That many of the big claims made were unlikely to happen.  

Still, we understood what this meant, for us.  For women and girls.

I’ve spend my life—there may be an archive somewhere of my little feminist self on WEKZ spouting how girls were just as good as boys—studying and teaching about gender and culture. The last six months have been incredibly hard to watch.  Public political speeches, Facebook posts, Tweets, and comments on news articles revealed that racism and sexism were not only not gone (though I knew they never had been) but were shockingly no longer embarrassing to admit, that people were proud to use those words and to demean others again.

This morning, I read a victory speech from a candidate whose campaign unearthed some very cold truths about what Americans believe regarding race and gender.

His speech was as humble as any he’s ever given. He espoused ideas about improving infrastructure that we can all get behind. I have to hope for good things to come. But hope is not enough.

Many of my friends are asking “What do I tell my kids? What will I say to my daughters? How do I explain this to my son?”

One responded, “Teach him how to be a good citizen and he will grow up to change the world!”

What’s hard today is that I thought we already had.  I thought Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had changed the world.  I thought Martin Luther King, Jr. had changed the world. I thought Barack Obama had changed the world.

Hell, I thought I’d done it, one hundred students a semester at a time.

I thought my girls could feel confident that they would be rewarded for their competence.

But she’s right, of course.  That’s what we must do.  We have to continue to be a voice of light. To support each other.

Trump can win the Presidency, but hopefully we can all still lose the hate.

May hope and love find you. May they be the tools you need to change the world ... again.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Sending your babies out into the world

In less than 2 weeks, The Haunted House Project officially releases.  However, Amazon started shipping pre-orders this week, so my book is about to be in the hands of friends and family (and eventually, perfect strangers).  I always tell my students in public speaking that I'm a little odd.  Most people like audience filled with people they know.  I'll take a roomful of strangers every time.  I feel less pressure.  I worry less about disappointing.

Each stage of the publishing process presented a new challenge.  From writing and draft work to querying agents to submitting to editors to revising and waiting, waiting, waiting for this moment.  And now that it's almost here, it's far scarier than I anticipated. Did I do the characters justice? Is it good enough?

Of course the biggest is, "What if everyone hates it?"

This morning I can't help but compare this process to being a parent. Each stage of parenting presents new challenges.  Holy cow I could not wait to get through that awful toddler stage, but my goodness they don't stop talking at around four.  It's hard to appreciate where you are when you're there because you're so busy focused on how the next phase is going to be better. 

Eventually (way too flipping soon!) you have to send those babies out into the world.  Did I do them justice?  Are they good enough?

And of course the biggest is, "What if I failed?"

You know you didn't fail.  You know they're good, but they'll make mistakes.  You know they'll succeed … most of the time.  I imagine you always worry, but eventually, you see them become their own person and the pride takes over.

I'm hopeful anyway that's where I'll get.

I'm hopeful I'll feel that way about my book, too.  I know not everyone will love it. And that's okay, right? 

Because I can be proud what I did, the characters who didn't exist before I brought them to life.

They're ready for me to send them out into the world. 

Be good.  Play Nice.  Make friends. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Pumped up for PitchWars!

I'm so excited to be serving as a co-mentor with the amazing Laura Shovan in this round of PitchWars. You can view all the details of our preferences and interests on her blog. The big day is almost here:  It's down to hours before we'll be open for submissions.  It's going to be interesting to be on the other "side" of things.

I know what it's like to get the email requesting more material. 

I also know what it's like to receive rejection letters.  Lots of them.

I have numerous blog posts about my query journey and then my submission story.  Both requires patience and perseverance. Thankfully, my alter ego is "Tenacious T" because I sure didn't get through this process because of my patience.

Here are a few things to remember (and hey you can use this for more things than PitchWars!)

  • It's not personal.  
It may FEEL personal.  All rejection feels personal, but unless only one person submits to my partner and me, we will have to choose only one mentee.  In our case, we'll also be negotiating two potentially different opinions. We may be equally devastated to walk away from a manuscript and/or author.
  • You are not a failure.
I know people have said this like a million times over, but seriously, you wrote a manuscript.  You're doing great.  If you don't get selected as a mentee, the journey doesn't end.  I didn't.  And less than six months later, I had an agent.  
  • It isn't luck.
I put this in here because sometimes when we face rejection we try to come up with reasons why we didn't succeed, justifications. I often hear people talk about how someone just got lucky.  In the world of book publishing, that's pretty rare.  It's because of the work put in; not just any work, the right work.  I have manuscripts I'm still revising after like seven years because they simply aren't ready.  
  • Relationships are good.
This is another thing I hear a lot--it's about who you know.  A little.  Sure.  It can help.  Relationships are especially good at helping you figure stuff out and finding good critique partners. 
  • But the writing comes first.

Polish that manuscript!

Good luck!  Team TLC cannot wait to read those submissions!

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Book that Stays Gold

In my last blog post, I linked my Sweet Sixteener bio, and I hinted that my next blog topic was in that post.  Did you read it?  Did you guess?

I'm currently gearing up to be a Pitch Wars mentor, and I'll be talking quite a bit about that in the upcoming months.  It sparked reflection on my favorite middle grade novels (some border YA).  I'm going to start with a couple from my youth and then move into some more contemporary options. I already talked about my love for Little House, so next up has to The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

I cannot begin to express the level of freakishness that I achieved in my love for this book.  I mentioned it in my bio post on the Sweet Sixteens, but I lost count of how many times I read it, at least twenty one summer alone.  I really did put Vaseline in my hair in my effort to pretend I was a the long lost Curtis sister.  I went to camp that summer, and people thought I was a total nut job because I wouldn't put the book down (I'm sure they were right). 

If the internet had existed, I have no doubt I would have discovered fanfiction and fan communities more than twenty-five years sooner than I eventually did. 

What was it about that book?  

Who knows why we connect so deeply to some stories, movies, T.V. shows, music, etc. more than others?  Thank goodness for choices that allow us to all find our escapes in different ways.

Ultimately, though, I think there are three things that made The Outsiders so powerful to me.

1. The world-building. No, it's not Narnia.  Tulsa is real.  The era is real.  It's that a great story kidnapped me and held me captive even in a place decidedly different from my midwest, middle class, lifestyle. I entered a world of rebellion and youth at a time when I was just beginning to exert independence.  

2. Theme of injustice. I have a love/hate relationship with this theme.  If it goes to far, I get mad and I'll stop reading. This story was more revelatory than anything.  It demonstrated how socio-economics impacts both general groups of people as well as specific individuals.  It was an early and powerful lesson for me about privilege, and Cherry Valence, and identifiable character who taught me about the diffic
ulties of speaking out about injustice.

3. Emotional explosion. Media use theories teach us that one immense value of popular culture is the ability to experience emotions in guilt free environments.  What a roller coaster this story was, with two major character deaths, hints of love, family struggles, anger, and ultimately a journey to catharsis. 

My most-read, beloved favorite childhood book.  I'll be talking about more favorites, but I'm curious.
What book have you read the most?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Meet the Author Post at the Sweet Sixteener Blog

Please take a moment to check me out at The Sweet Sixteeners Blog.  I'm the featured "meet the author".  Read closely because my next post is is going to be about something in this interview. 

Meet the Author, Sweet Sixteeners

Can you guess the topic of my next blog entry?

See you soon!

Friday, June 17, 2016

What would Ma and Pa do?

I'm back.  I think.  I want to be anyway.  Now, that summer is here, I'm trying to carve more time for writing-related activities, and this blog has been pushed aside for too long.

Like most people, my heart has been heavy the last few days.  Politics are frustrating to say the least. The massacre in Orlando is both depressing and infuriating. The internet is filled with bad news, over-reaction, judgement, finger-pointing, pathetic argumentation/rhetoric, self-promotion, and hatred.  I'm tired of it.  And you have to know, I love the internet.  I'm sure I'm addicted.  Even so, I kind of want to run away for awhile, but every day, I feel on edge, and I'm sure it's connected to how much nastiness I'm reading on a daily basis.

I've been wanting to blog or respond to so many things, but I can't think of a valuable or original way to contribute to the conversation.  Plenty of people have said what I'm thinking.  Plenty of people yell and throw stuff at them.  And back and forth it goes.

One of the reasons I read and write YA and MG fiction is because at it's heart, children's literature is hopeful. People make mistakes, and they are forgiven.  Bad people find karma knocking on their front doors. It's a world in which characters experience emotions such as love and heartache for the first time--so many powerful feelings, so many struggles.  Still, in the end, the characters grow and learn and thrive.

One of my favorite book series while growing up was Little House on the Prairie.  
Who didn't love it? I adored the T.V. series, too.  In the wake of so much
cruddiness all around me, I can't help but think, "What would Pa do?'

And you know what's funny?  I'm not the only one to think this way because a quick Google search yielded far more entries on "lessons learned from Little House" (link 1, link 2, link 3)  than I expected.  So, yeah, I guess I'm not that original, but I still want to go there.  I'll keep in short.

1. When new people come to town, welcome them.

Pa didn't care what you looked like or where you came from or how you got there, he would always be there to shake a hand and offer to help each new person who came to town.

2. Listen and respect each other.

People on the prairie didn't always agree, even in the closest of relationships.  Even in a world of traditional gender roles, when Ma and Pa had differences, there was mutual respect and admiration. 

3. Bullies don't win because in the end, they are never happy.

Nellie and Harriet, anyone?  They were cruel and judgmental with others, but it was clear that they didn't like themselves very much, and it never got them very far.  

4. Life is complicated and sometimes doing the right thing is, too.

Remember when Pa made shoes for Olga even though her dad didn't want him to?  Or when Amy Hearn faked her own funeral in order to get her kids to visit? Characters in the show faced all kind of very real problems, from loss to substance abuse to racism and sexism. Sure, it's a T.V. show, and there was always a resolution, but that didn't mean it was easy.  

It means that life is messy.  It means sometimes, we have to step out of our comfort zones and stand up for others even if it would be easier to keep our heads in the sand.  It means we may have to put our own needs above others. It should force us to ask questions like, "How does this benefit my community?  What can I do to help others? Am I fighting because I want to be right or because the cause really is right for everyone?"

I've said before, watching the first few seasons of Little House pretty much teaches you everything you need to know about being a good person.  

Maybe the Internet could have one giant watch-along! 

Did you have a favorite episode?  Or book that helps center you on important life values?  

As a writer, a teacher, a critic, and a parent, I'd love to call for a little less anger and a lot more Little House.