Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Birds, the Bees, and the Corn

Good afternoon, net-friends!

Wow, it's been awhile, hasn't it? This summer was just crazy -- we took our toddler on road trips to Maryland, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio, I worked on more revisions to The Real Friend and had another (minor) back surgery, my mother got married -- but I can't believe it's already almost autumn Pumpkin Spice Latte* season!

(*Love it or hate it, I'm starting to think that in a hundred years, first world countries will refer to the seasons of the year as Winter, Spring, Summer, and Pumpkin Spice Latte. My local Starbucks has a simple sign on the door: "PSL: It's Here." It's attained a level of ubiquity that took Cher five decades to develop. But I digress.)

Anyway, the summer was so nuts that I neglected to post anything here! So here's a little bit of short fiction that I dreamed up during our road trips. If it sticks with me, I might develop it into something bigger, but for now it's just a fun little nugget of a story. Hope you enjoy it!



One innocent bet had led to this catastrophic afternoon.
“You’re only twelve, son,” Dad said. “There’s no rush—we just want to give you the information you’ll need later.”
“I saw you with that Jenny Strathmore two weeks ago, Greggy,” Mom added. “Your hand was up the back of her shirt. I saw it.”
            I rolled my eyes. “It was a bet, Mom.”
Jenny and I had been friends since second grade, and we’d been secretly watching her older brother Paul and his girlfriend making out. Paul had slipped his hand up the girlfriend’s shirt in one fluid motion and unfastened her bra strap.
After we’d retreated to my house two streets away—and stopped laughing—Jenny had made a bet with me. “If you can unhook my bra one-handed without looking in under… thirty seconds, I’ll give you my Turbo Soaker XL,” she had dared. “But if you can’t, I get your Indiana Jones hat.”
It was a week into summer vacation, and the XL was the best water gun we’d ever seen. I had handed Jenny my wristwatch and ordered her to keep time.
Thirty seconds later, defeat had stung. “That strap has more damn hooks than a tackle box,” I had protested. “How do girls even get dressed in the morning? Do you get up at five?”
“And that’s not even counting styling my hair,” Jenny had added. Then she had snatched up my Indiana Jones hat and perched it on her head, smirking at me as she adjusted her strap back to normal. All of a sudden the sun had gotten really hot and I’d had to run inside and take a shower. But that was beside the point.
The worst part wasn’t the information itself. I had already heard what I figured I needed to know at school. The worst part was that Mom and Dad had decided to give me the talk during our family trip to Nannie’s farm. In the middle of a cornfield. Together.
“I know at this age you are starting to have… urges,” Mom said. “Some of the girls in your class are starting to… develop.” She glanced at Dad, probably because she realized she was incapable of completing a sentence without a torturous pause.
“It’s normal, son,” Dad added. “I remember back when I was in junior high, this one girl, it was like overnight she—”
Mom’s glare stopped his words on a dime.
“Aaaand that’s why it’s important to learn about this now,” he continued, “because you always want to be respectful. And part of that is learning to control your impulses. I remember when I met your mother, she was in this red bikini—”
“Please no.”
“—pretended I had forgotten my goggles back in the locker room. If you need a moment, just pretend you’ve forgotten something somewhere else. Girls believe it because guys don’t have purses.” He nodded knowingly, like he’d just said something really profound.
“Oh, darn it all,” said Mom. “We forgot the book.”
“It’s called ‘Inside Your Changing Body,’ and it’s very helpful. Lots of diagrams. Oh, well. We did shadow puppets when you were little, Greggy. This shouldn’t be much more diffi—hey! Wait!”
That was when my survival instinct kicked in. If I sat there another minute to see Mom and Dad’s cornfield shadow puppet show, my brain would explode. I rocketed off the ground and took off running. I pulled off my bright red shirt as I ran, hoping I’d be harder to find among the tall rows of cornstalks. For once I was glad to be short for my age. If I could find my way to the highway, maybe I could hitchhike out of the state.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday: How Things Change

Happy Throwback Thursday!

People occasionally ask me what the processes of writing and editing are like. Since I'm currently wrapping up revisions to a beloved, previously shelved project, I thought today would be a good chance to answer those questions with a real-life example.

The Real Friend is a project that I undertook during National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) all the way back in November 2011. NaNoWriMo is a worldwide writing initiative that takes place in November every year. The common goal of participants is to write the first draft of a novel (50,000 words or more) in one month. That works out to about seven double-spaced pages each day, thirty days in a row (one of which is Thanksgiving).

Crazy, right?

But by the fall of 2011 I had finished drafts of my first two novels (the second of which was Ugly Stick), and my husband and I had just taken a ten-day trek through France and England, in what we supposed would be our last big pre-child-rearing adventure together. And over dinner in a cafe in Paris, David and I talked through a new story idea for me: the story of an imaginary friend who got accidentally abandoned, and everything he would go through to find his creator again. I felt on top of the world, like I could absolutely write seven pages a day for a month straight. Right?

Spoiler alert: I hit the 50,000 word mark at about 11:40pm on November 30. :) It was a beautiful first draft--full of plot holes, parts that dragged and parts that zipped, characters whose hair changed color between chapters, the works. I set it aside for a few months, revised some, shopped it around a little bit, and set it aside again. I knew The Real Friend was special, but something was missing from the story, something that would make it stick. Something that would make it a genuinely important story.

Fast forward to this past winter: my publishing partner and dear friend Samantha, who had read the original draft in its entirety, gave me a little push. "I really think you should do something with it," she said. "Those characters deserve to get out." It was one of the best pushes I'd ever received.

On New Year's Day 2014 I sat down in front of my laptop with a bunch of index cards and basically made a patchwork quilt of all the ideas, scenes, and characters that were changing and how they would fit together. Then I started fixing things. I added a whole new, terrifying Big Bad to the story and learned to wield that valuable virtual editing machete, the delete key, more fiercely than I ever had. Thousands upon thousands of those 50,000 original words have been cut and replaced over the past few months. And I have gotten really, really, really excited.

Here's the pitch for the revised version of The Real Friend, in case you're curious now:

An abandoned imaginary friend will do anything to find the boy who created him: he’ll uncover secrets, cross realms, and even fight the darkest monsters that children have ever faced.

I can't wait to share the final, completed story with you, whenever that exciting day might be. For today's Throwback, though, here is the opening scene of The Real Friend, circa 2011 and 2014, to demonstrate how the editing process can change things.

2011 (Original Draft):

The first day of my life was a cold, rainy day, and Ricky was sick in bed.  I later learned that he was three years old at the time, but when he imagined me I had no thoughts other than the shape of his pink face and his big blue wondrous eyes staring at me.  Ricky imagined me with mossy green hair and fuzzy blue skin, wrapped up in a fiery red tunic, and there I was.  I had twice as many toes as him and half as many teeth.

The moment Ricky illuminated me and brought me to life, he spoke my name: “Samby.”  I think now that he was trying to say “Sammy,” but he had a cold and a stuffy nose.  I pointed at myself, and he nodded.

Ricky wiggled his hand at me.  I raised my own hand and wiggled it back.  He clapped his hands gleefully.  I clapped mine.  He waved for me to come closer.  I took my first few steps, but my feet weren’t used to the slick wooden floor.  I slipped and knocked into a cup of juice on the night table. 

The plastic cup clattered to the floor as purple juice splattered everywhere.  Ricky’s eyes got big, and I heard footsteps for the first time. 

“Ricky,” a pretty woman scolded as she hurried into the room, “didn’t Mommy say to be careful with your juice?”  She scowled and pulled a towel off the dresser. 

“Sorry, Mommy,” Ricky said.  “It wasn’t me...  it was Samby.”

“Samby?” Mommy repeated.  She looked around. 

I thought she might like me better if I helped to clean up, so I dropped to my knees and tried to lap up the juice.  It didn’t work, though—my tongue slid through the juice like it was nothing more than mist on the floor. 

Ricky giggled again, and Mommy stared hard for a minute. 

“Is Samby a new friend?” she asked. 

Ricky nodded, bouncing in his bed. 

Mommy’s face changed into a smile, and she set down the towel.  “I’m glad you made a new friend, Ricky,” she said.  “Samby can stay as long as she likes.”

“He, Mommy.  Samby’s a he.”

“Of course,” Mommy said quickly.  “As long as he likes.  And as long as he doesn’t spill any more juice, okay?”

Ricky and I nodded together, and Mommy finished cleaning up the mess.  I haven’t spilled a drop of juice since that day. 

I often think about that very first day.  I wonder what life was like before it—pretty much the same, I expect—and I occasionally ask myself what would have happened if Ricky hadn’t caught that particular cold.  I’m glad he did, though.  Whatever happened afterwards, I am very glad he did. 


2014 (Revised Draft):

I was born on New Year’s Day in 1975. It seemed like a good day to be born, when the year was just starting. A pink-cheeked boy sitting in a bed shaped like a race car was the first thing I saw.

“Hi. I’m Ricky,” he said, and he waved at me. “You’re Samby. We’re friends now.”

“Okay,” I said, waving back. He grinned at me.

I looked down at myself: two hands, two bare feet, and striped pajamas. My skin was peachier than Ricky’s. There was a mirror over the dresser, and I saw my own face—I had a round squashy nose and light blue hair. At once I liked myself almost as well as I liked Ricky.

“Do you want to play?” I asked.

Ricky nodded, but then shook his head. He was sick with a cold on that New Year’s Day. “Mommy says I have to stay in bed until I feel better,” he said.

I paused to consider this first obstacle to our friendship. “Can I just stay in bed too?” I asked. “We can still play. We could… pretend the bed is a boat?”

Ricky scooted over to make room for me, and I climbed into the race car bed.

“Okay, now we’re in the ocean,” he said, waving his hands slowly around us, and the floor began to shimmer and swell. I sniffed and smelled salt in the air.

“It’s a pirate ship,” he added. “I’m captain, and you’re first mate. Raise the Jolly Roger!”

A black flag with a skull on it unfurled and rose upon a wooden mast at the foot of the bed. I watched it whip in the breeze that was suddenly blowing through the room. I had never seen a pirate ship before—or any ship, for that matter—but I could see what Ricky saw. The bed sheets disappeared, replaced by wooden planks and heavy cannons. We began to rock from side to side as waves tilted the bed.

“Shiver me timbers!” I said. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew it was something a pirate would say.

Ricky laughed, but then his face suddenly turned serious as he gazed over the ocean. “Ahoy, look out! Over the starfish side… it’s a sharkodile!”

“What’s a sharkodile?” I asked. My timbers, whatever they were, felt shivery at the very name. I looked into the water and saw a big scaly fin sticking out over a wave.

“Half shark, half crocodile,” Ricky answered solemnly. “The fiercest beast in all the seven seas. And it’s headed straight for us! Ready the cannons, matey.”

“Aye aye, captain.” I jumped towards the closest cannon, and we prepared for battle.

Years later, when I was alone, I often thought back to my very first day. Sometimes I wondered what the world was like before New Year’s Day in 1975—pretty much the same, I supposed—and sometimes I wondered what would have happened to me if Ricky hadn’t caught that cold. I was glad he did, though. No matter what came afterwards, I was very glad he did.


Happy Throwback Thursday! What's changed in your work in the past three years?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Throwback Thursday 1998: The Author of the Moment

Happy Throwback Thursday!

The year was 1998. I was obsessed with three things: origami, Hanson, and Olympic figure skating.

(Not as a career aspiration. I still hold onto the wall at least 75% of the time when we go skating.)

Oh, and Cleopatra. I was mildly obsessed with ancient Egypt, too.

Today's post is going to be a little different, because this picture merits more description than my previous throwback photos. It was the end of sixth grade, and I was presenting my project on Cleopatra in an after-school fair. We had been instructed to dress in costume, so my incredibly talented Grandma whipped up a beautiful Grecian-style robe and headpiece for me. I felt very princess-like that day - I still remember the feel of the sandals I was wearing when this picture was taken, and I was so proud of all the information I could rattle off about Cleopatra to anyone who asked.

The only problem was that my after-school fair was the same day as my mother's annual voice recital, an event, planned months in advance, that my whole family attended. The preparations for the recital needed to happen at the same time as the fair, so my Grandpa volunteered to attend the fair with me and take me to the recital afterward. He's the one who took this picture. And this was one of the last pictures Grandpa took of me. Later in 1998 he faced kidney failure and other health problems brought on by complications from a heart bypass, and he passed away right after Thanksgiving of that year.

This photo was taken long before digital, so pictures were not as easily taken, stored, and shared as they are today. I don't know if this was the last picture my grandfather took of me, but if it was, then I think it's a pretty perfect one: a photo of his granddaughter, who was unabashedly thrilled about her school project, wearing a costume his wife made for her, before he took her to his only daughter's biggest professional night of the year. Whatever other worries or cares were in Grandpa's mind at the time, I believe he was happy when he took this picture.

The next time you look at a Throwback Thursday post, or look at a throwback photo of your own, don't only say, "Aww, you were so little then!" or laugh at the awkward dated styles. That's part of Throwback Thursday, but not all of it. Take a minute to think about who took that picture and why, and if you can, remember the author of that moment.


In 1998, I was reading these books. What were you reading back then?


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1997?

Happy Throwback Thursday!

The year was 1997. A lot of other important stuff happened that year, sure, but for me 1997 was basically THIS:

"Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!"
(Ten points to Gryffindor if you name the speaker in the comments)

Here's my own throwback picture, courtesy of the Hastings Middle School spelling bee. (Now that I think of it, this picture was actually early 1998, but let's just roll with it.)

"All true grammar ninjas start out as spelling ninjas." ~Jet Li

Here's what I was reading in 1997!

This is a great adventure mystery -- imaginative, dark, and extremely well-written. Set in the year 2194 in Zimbabwe (exotic in both time and place to my suburban Ohio self), The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm is the story of the three children of a powerful Zimbabwean general who run away out of boredom, but are immediately kidnapped. They begin a journey from the bottom of the city all the way to the top (literally: the climax of the story occurs in a swaying, mile-high skyscraper), and they are pursued by three detectives with semi-superpowers: the Ear (with extraordinary hearing), the Eye (with extraordinary sight), and the Arm (with empathic/psychic powers). I must have re-read it eight times, because there were so many layers to connect, so many sub-stories among the numerous characters, and so much rich detail of different cultures and places. I recommend it for any middle grade reader, and since it's set in 2194, it won't be out of date for another 180 years!

For some reason, it never bothered me that there was a corpse on the cover of this book. Go figure. But this is a murder mystery made accessible to younger readers without losing any of the puzzling intrigue and esoteric clues of a classic whodunit. Paper products magnate Samuel Westing is found dead, and his last will and testament, read to his "heirs" -- a seemingly random group of people invited to live in an exclusive apartment building -- insists that he was murdered by one of them. I remember taking notes on this book, trying to piece together all the clues and solve the mystery, so maybe that's why I remember it so well. Or maybe it's just a REEEEALLLY good book.

Sure, I read more "scholarly" things in 1997, but I couldn't leave out this classic series. Part of me wished I lived in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, just so I could be a member of the BSC. Not only did this series inspire me as a budding babysitter, but also it showed me the value of writing from multiple points of view. I hadn't previously thought about how stories could be told by multiple characters, and the multi-narrator structure of these books gave me new insight as both a reader and a writer.

Plus, Mary-Anne-plus-Logan was the first fictional romance for which I was an official 'shipper (should we call them Loganne?). Twilight's Bella and Edward, be darned...



Now tell me, what were YOU reading in 1997? And who were your first fictional romance characters?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1996?

Happy Throwback Thursday!

The year was 1996. It was the year of the Atlanta Olympics: the year that I discovered the awesomeness that is Women's Gymnastics. Every four years since then (like many of my fellow Americans), I rediscover it and am full-on obsessed for about a month. It's like the Brigadoon of sports. Anyway...

Headbands and overalls? #GottaBeThe90s

Following my introduction to "RESEARCH" the previous year, I still wasn't back on the fiction writing track. I was getting big into being in plays and musicals, though, which kept my interest in storytelling alive and kicking. Occasionally high-kicking.

Here's what I was reading in 1996!




As you might be able to tell from these covers, I was kind of going through a phase. A lone-kid-versus-wilderness-and-the-big-bad-world phase. It was kind of the forerunner to about seven years later, when I went through a phase of teenage angst -- which, mind you, consisted of listening to Good Charlotte and wearing heavy eye makeup and lasted about twenty minutes.

I don't know if 1996 was when I hit the point of existential crisis that every tween must face or if I just picked off the Newbery award winners list that year, but this point in my reading life was marked by stories about young people who had to face danger, hunger, loneliness, grief, and even death. The writing of each of these stories made them real to me, and I was drawn into the struggles of these characters. Even now, years and years later, tidbits stick with me:

-Brian from Hatchet throwing up and feeling like he was going to die alone after eating the wrong kind of berries, and trying to find supplies in the wrecked plane without looking at the dead pilot.

-Philip from The Cay burying Timothy, his guide and only friend on the island, after a hurricane.

-Sal from Walk Two Moons trying to finish her journey to find her mother by driving her grandparents' car alone (at age 13) along the treacherous mountain highways of the western United States.

-Karana stepping up as a hunter after her brother's death leaves her alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

-Mafatu sharpening his spear point to face the shark he fears, and to no longer be considered the coward of his village in Call it Courage.

-Rifka's anger at the rough treatment of her family by border officials as they attempt to immigrate to the United States, and her realization that she must fend for herself after she is left behind, in Letters from Rifka.

Each of these children (for they were children by age, if not by life experience) confronted so much more in the span of a few chapters than I could imagine facing in my life. Parents and siblings were killed, disease and natural disasters struck, authorities were corrupt, and the basic needs of life were almost impossible to find. But the characters, each in his or her own way, found ways to survive and bring themselves to the last page of the books -- leaving as stronger, wiser, braver, and more capable children than when they began. Their endings were not neat and tidy happily-ever-afters... but you closed the covers of these books knowing that the characters you had come to care for would be all right. If you ask me, that's good writing.


Now tell me, what were YOU reading in 1996? And did you have a survivalist phase in your literary choices (at least, prior to The Hunger Games)?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1995?

Happy Throwback Thursday!

So today we're throwing back to literary preferences of 1995, but first let's make a pit stop in 2013.

One year ago today, my debut novel Ugly Stick was released!

(This is at my signing event at the delicious Goodie Shop bakery in Upper Arlington, Ohio. The Goodie Shop ended up serving as my setting inspiration for "In Her Sweet Time," one of the short stories in April's Roots!)

In honor of this "bookiversary," Ugly Stick is free for e-book download today only (April 10, 2014) at Amazon.com. Stop by and check it out -- and if you've already read it, please consider leaving a review to help others find my work!

All right, then (wipes tear of nostalgia), pit stop concluded. Are you ready to jump in the Way-Back Machine and head to 1995?

The year was 1995. Yahoo.com, Windows 95, and my younger sister Julianne were all born. The Unabomber's manifesto was published by the New York Times, though it was decidedly not among my choice reading materials. Also, the Backstreet Boys released their debut single, "We've Got It Goin' On." (Yes, they did do.)


I wasn't writing much in the way of fiction in 1995, because my suburban elementary school had just introduced a whole new conception of writing to us: RESEARCH. We learned how to formulate and test a hypothesis -- though, granted, most of our fourth-grade hypotheses were along the lines of "I think I can fit more Peeps in my mouth than you can... THUS PROVED!" -- and I began to realize that writing could be much more than just making things up. Even now I still prefer "just making things up" almost two decades later, but it wasn't long after 1995 that I realized the value of research skills in fiction writing.

Here's what I was reading in 1995!

This isn't a very high-profile book, but it's stuck with me for nineteen years. It's a fictional account of life during the pre-Civil War unrest on the Missouri-Kansas border. Teenage Elijah (Lije) and his family begin the story as Kansan "Jayhawkers," helping escaped slaves towards freedom, until Lije's father is killed by Missouri "Bushwhackers" during a raid. To avenge his father's death and the destruction of their family home, Lije agrees to go "undercover" as a young worker-for-hire among the Bushwhackers, in order to gather information for the Union.

The book is historically accurate and gripping throughout -- what stuck with me the most was the frank concept of children and teenagers, not much older than me, participating in war. As an elementary school student in a first-world country, I was blessed to have absolutely no context for this. War was something far away, something long ago, something adults did. The closest I ever got to war was looking at my grandfather's World War II photos and relics. Jayhawker was one of the first books that opened my eyes to the fact that my childhood experience was a fortunate one, but not at all a universal one.

This is a classic. If you haven't read it, please stop reading this blog, get up from your desk or put away your mobile device, and hoof it to your nearest library. I'll wait.

Truly, though, The Secret Garden is a beautiful, timeless book. I dread the arrival of the generation of children that will be too screen-centric to appreciate this book and many others like it. It's not a swashbuckling adventure, or a terrifying page-turner. It's a story: one with deep, flawed characters, intricate descriptions of nature, and redemption that only comes with forgiveness and patience. The lovely, mysterious setting of The Secret Garden inspired my own first novel over a decade later. Maybe I'll take a couple hours outside this weekend to revisit my battered old copy. I enthusiastically suggest you do the same.

This book was the first book to change me. It took the new awareness that began with Jayhawker and smashed it into a new hemisphere. Unlike the former, The Giver is not a historical novel -- it's classified as science fiction -- but it presents humanity in a completely new context for young readers. The explorations of self-determination in an authoritarian regime, willing relinquishment of freedom in exchange for escape from pain, finding and protecting love in a place where love is essentially a crime... all put into a story that can be digested by a fourth-grader. It's a masterpiece. I could go on, but I won't. You should read The Secret Garden if you haven't yet, but you need to read The Giver.


So tell me, what books have changed you? And what were you reading in 1995?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1994?

Happy Throwback Thursday!

The year was 1994. It was a dramatic year, the year of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, the year that O.J. Simpson led the LAPD on the Ford Bronco chase, the year when prolific, award-winning actress Dakota Fanning was born.

(Let's take a minute to feel old and wrinkly while we let that last one sink in.)

In my family, it was also the year of the personalized sweatshirt... But if we're being honest, that was everyone's family, and it was more of a decade than a year. #The90sCalled

(This family photo is worthy of awkwardfamilyphotos.com. Look closely.)

I wasn't just reading up a storm in 1994 -- I was writing up one, too. This was the year I fell in love with the composition book, with its black-and-white Magic Eye-like cover, and its dozens of ruled pages just waiting to be filled with dramatic third-grade narratives. My most memorable story was a contemporary (illustrated!) epic of friendship, about three kittens named Goosy, Moosy, and Missy, who wanted to travel to Paris. I'd say that gives you a good representation of my oeuvre at that point in my writing career.

Here's what I was reading in 1994!

Not only did I read this charming book about insecurities and girls who trick boys, but also a classmate and I made Freckle Juice for a project! I went over to Sarah's house and we mixed in everything from ketchup to olive oil to grape juice, right down to the speck of onion. It was disgusting and fun, perfect for our third-grade selves.

I wonder if the Freckle Juice recipe was the inspiration for all these seven-day cleanses floating around...

Okay, I didn't exactly read this by choice. But my brother was reading the Goosebumps books, and I was addicted to books, so I couldn't resist trying out these scary books when he wasn't reading them, and OH MY GOSH WAS I TERRIFIED!!! I was much more into comic misadventures with happy endings. These books, with their suspenseful plots, their gross-outs, and their twist endings, shook my third-grade self to the core. The first one I read, Monster Blood, gave me nightmares. Oh, who am I kidding. They all gave me nightmares.

I guess I've always had a connection to spunky, strong-willed, klutzy female protagonists (See 1993), and Ramona Quimby is no exception. Ramona is a pest, a questioner, an adventurer, a doer. She also has a big mouth and a big sister who rarely gets her. She's curious and fearless, exemplified by when she decided she was "The Baddest Witch in the World," or when she squeezed out an entire tube of toothpaste into the bathroom sink. I mean, come on, who hasn't wanted to do that?

If I were to draw a parallel between Ramona and any other literary little girl, it would be with Laura Ingalls in the Little House series. Yes, Ramona is fictional, but in her Beverly Clearly shows what Laura Ingalls Wilder showed of herself in writing about her 1800s childhood: honest depictions of an "ordinary" child's everyday life, in which "little" things, like toothpaste and going to school, become memorable adventures with victories and consequences.

They're the kind of characters who show children that they don't have to be lightning thieves or dragon hunters to lead lives worth writing about. They show children that their lives are significant, and when you get down to it, I think that's the most important mission of children's literature.


Throwback Thursday is always more fun with friends! Please feel free to leave comments with what YOU were reading/writing during the year in question. If you'd like to be more involved by "guest posting" a complete reader/writer Throwback Thursday here, please email me at joy.eilene (at) gmail.com. I want to see your throwbacks!

So tell me, what were YOUR literary choices in 1994 (or whenever you were nine)?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1993?

Happy Throwback Thursday!

The year was 1993. There were Clintons in the White House, Fresh Princes in Bel-Air, and Lisa Frank supplies in my backpack.

(If only I could still get this tan... but I picked a job that requires hours upon hours in front of a computer screen.)

This was the year I began my participation in the summer reading club at the local library, and the library automatically became the coolest place in existence. Not only were there thousands of books I could read whenever I wanted FOR FREE, but also during the summer there were PRIZES for reading! Stickers, plastic rings, temporary tattoos, Dairy Queen coupons, Borders gift cards (moment of silence for Borders)... It was a dream world, and I was living the dream. From 2:55 on the last day of school until the night before first day of school, it was reading season.

Here's what I was reading in 1993!

I loved the idea of having a twin, I loved the idea of blond hair, and I loved the idea of California. Loved them all like Olaf loves the idea of summer. Plus, the twins were just my age! We could have been classmates! Throw in mysteries and I was hooked. HOOKED! Although, I must confess, the Sweet Valley Kids books were responsible for me almost losing my library card privileges -- one of them (since I tended to check them out by the half-dozen) slipped unnoticed under the backseat of our Chevy van and was lost for weeks, incurring hefty fines and stern parental talking-tos about responsibility before I finally found it. I think it was totally worth it, though.

My second series of note at this time was this fun little companion series to the Babysitters Club (see 1995). Oh, Karen. You were a complicated, brutally honest, sensitive, loyal little know-it-all. At times I shook my eight-year-old head at your seven-year-old follies, but I always admired your joie de vivre and your je ne sais quoi. Not that haircut, though. From the day I read Karen's Haircut, I lived in fear of the surprise mullet. I think it's part of the psychological reason I started growing my hair out. But other than that, I really loved these books.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Karen Brewer of the 1800s!

But seriously, though, I think what I loved most about the Little House books, more than the intriguing descriptions of pioneer life or the adventures of living in what seemed like wilderness to a suburban girl like me, was the way that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote herself as a character. She was honest. She was blunt. She wasn't afraid to show her flaws, her frustrations, and her inabilities. Even as a young reader, I think I picked up on the frankness of child-Laura and thought, "Okay, this girl's for real. It's a Little House in the No-B.S. Zone." She told it like it was, and, far from making the books dry or overly historical, it made Laura a character with whom I could identify, over a century after her own childhood had passed.


Throwback Thursday is always more fun with friends! Please leave comments with what YOU were reading/writing in the year in question. If you'd like to be even more involved by "guest posting" a complete reader/writer Throwback Thursday here, please email me at joy.eilene (at) gmail.com. I want to see your throwbacks!

So tell me, what were YOUR literary choices in 1993 (or whenever you were eight)?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1992?

Happy Throwback Thursday!

The year was 1992. Bill Cosby and Johnny Carson were signing off their network shows, Genesis and Right Said Fred were on the radio, and I was on the hunt for Girl Scout badges.

(Note my inability to keep a pair of Keds clean. This has persisted to adulthood.)

This was the year I discovered the delight of story-writing. We were given magical vessels called "journals" in first grade, and once the initial thrill of filling a page by writing "the very very very very very very end" had worn off, it suddenly clicked that I could record on paper the things that happened in my head! My first story was about a hen named Suzy and her chicks. I'm not going to say it was Caldecott-medal material... I'll leave that to my mom, who has lovingly preserved the sole copy somewhere in her basement. 

Anyway here's what I was reading in 1992!

Kevin Henkes is an amazing author-illustrator, and I think this book of his single-handedly awakened my love of enormous words. Other favorites by Kevin Henkes included Julius the Baby of the World and Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse.

This book wasn't just a book to me -- it was the basis for my first foray into THE THEATAH (not counting my dramatic narration of "Goldilocks" in kindergarten -- this time I had a costume). Miss Wells' first grade class performed The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a play for the parents, and we each got to be a different food eaten by the caterpillar during his week-long food bender. I was given the delicious role of the ice cream cone.

My first great literary love: the mystery chapter book. I loved -- still love -- the way these brothers and sisters cooperated and hung together through tough times, and the way that they continually happened to stumble upon mysteries. Nothing encourages a kid's creativity like reading about fellow children finding adventures and excitement in the ordinary world. Also, it surely didn't hurt that The Boxcar Children arrived in my life just before my younger brother Toby. After he came home, the Alden children mirrored my sibling set-up exactly: oldest brother, older sister, younger sister, little brother. That was pretty cool.


Throwback Thursday is always more fun with friends! Please leave comments with what YOU were reading/writing in the year in question. If you'd like to be even more involved by "guest posting" a complete reader/writer Throwback Thursday here, please email me at joy.eilene (at) gmail.com. I want to see your throwbacks!

So tell me, what were YOUR literary choices in 1992?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1991?

Happy Throwback Thursday, everyone!

For those of you who missed last week, here's the plan: each Thursday (until I run out of throwback years), I'm going to share a photo throwback to an earlier year of my life - and in addition to sharing photos, I will also share what I was reading and/or writing at that time. It'll be a fun glimpse into my earlier self: how I became the reader and writer I am today (I promise it won't be THAT harrowing of a journey). Also, it will include awesome 90s fashions.

I'm looking for group participation on this, too, guys. Throwback Thursday is always more fun with friends! Please leave comments with what YOU were reading/writing in the year in question. If you'd like to be even more involved by "guest posting" a complete reader/writer Throwback Thursday here, please email me at joy.eilene (at) gmail.com. I want to see your throwbacks!

Okay, ready for #ThrowbackThursday?

The year was 1991. I was five years old, a studious kindergartner, and I had just discovered the divine gift of Scholastic book orders. 

In between coloring and my attempts to swing over the bars at recess, I was quite an avid little bookworm. I still hadn't attempted writing my own stories yet, though according to my kindergarten memory book, I had decided on at least one of my career goals.  I wrote "I want to be a mommy" beneath a drawing of me in a purple dress and high heels (I just assumed mommies were issued high heels on day one... curiously, though, there were no children in the picture).

22 years later, done and done. :)

(You can't see my high heels, but I assure you they were there.)

Anyway here's what I was reading in 1991!

This book was featured in my kindergarten memory book (alongside my maternal aspirations) as my "Favorite Book." I loved the story of trying something new and finding out you like it - though this book never convinced me to try pickles. I think getting me to like pickles is beyond the power of any literary work. I do not like them in boxes, or with foxes, nor here, there, or anywhere.

This is the cautionary tale of a little boy caught between two worlds... the world of Grandma Nan and the world of Grandma Sal. Even as a child, I liked the assertiveness of Pip, the little boy who decides he's had enough of mixed messages from his double-booked babysitters. However, Grandma Sal seemed to be much more fun than Grandma Nan... #TeamSal

This is another cautionary tale, but one of gluttony. Cookie Monster's dramatic foil is a witch who owns a cookie tree and wants to protect it from him at all costs. I can't tell you how much I loved Cookie Monster in 1991. I had serious dreams of singing and eating alongside that incorrigible yet adorable googly-eyed monster. 

As much as I loved kindergarten, I couldn't wait to come home and watch Sesame Street with my brother while our mom made lunch: grilled cheese sandwiches cut into triangles (never rectangles - we weren't savages) with green beans and applesauce. Aaaaand now I'm hungry.


Happy Throwback Thursday! Now tell me, what were YOUR literary choices in 1991 (or whenever you were five years old)?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: What were you reading in 1990?

Happy Throwback Thursday, everyone!

I know I'm a little late to the party in jumping on this bandwagon (that's an intentional mixed metaphor - a bandwagon party sounds awesome), but I had a fun thought of how to tie the popular photo-sharing custom of #ThrowbackThursday into my love of writing and reading. Ready for it?

Each Thursday (until I run out of throwback years), I'm going to share a photo throwback to an earlier year of my life - and in addition to sharing photos, I will also share what I was reading and/or writing at that time. It'll be a fun glimpse into my earlier self: how I became the reader and writer I am today (I promise it won't be THAT harrowing of a journey). Also, it will include awesome 90s fashions.

I'm looking for group participation on this, too, guys. Throwback Thursday is always more fun with friends! Please leave comments with what YOU were reading/writing in the year in question.

If you'd like to be even more involved by "guest posting" a complete reader/writer Throwback Thursday here, please email me at joy.eilene (at) gmail.com. I want to see your throwbacks!

Okay, ready for the first #ThrowbackThursday?

The year was 1990. I was four years old, I was rocking bangs and pseudo-moon boots, and (like now) there was a lot of winter happening.

I wasn't really writing too much at that point in time - I preferred crayons, which are customarily used for coloring - though I could write my name. My favorite thing to do was to write my name (it's "JOY," if you're new around here) with a heart instead of an O. However, I wasn't very good at drawing hearts at that age, so they probably just looked like really wonky o's.

Here's what I was reading in 1990!

This was the first book I ever read on my own -- fitting, since it's a tale of a little chick who seizes her independence. I highly recommend it. :)

Who's read this one? I read it until the cover fell off. I can still easily recall the beautifully shaded illustrations and the mouse's clever-not-so-clever attempts to hide the strawberry from the bear (my favorite was the Groucho Marx glasses).

Ah, my seasonal choice book. You can't beat the Little Golden Books for nostalgia, and this one combined all of my four-year-old self's favorite things: Christmas, family, and anthropomorphized woodland creatures (Spoiler alert: those are still my favorite things). I would read this book any day of the year - it could be gross rainy March or dog-days August, and I would still instantly wish for snow, the smells of pine trees and cinnamon, and the absolute delight of knowing that Christmas was coming.


That's what 1990 looked like to me. Happy Throwback Thursday!

Now tell me, what were YOUR literary choices in 1990 (or whenever you were four years old)?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mommy Is in Graduate School: A Love Letter

Dear Baby,

Mommy is in graduate school. You don’t know what that means, so let me explain. Graduate school is for people who have already gone to kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college and (for some reason) still want to be in school more. You might be surprised that there’s anything left to learn after all that, but there is—why do you think all those heavy books and super-fun packets of paper are lying around your playroom?

Graduate school means that Mommy has to leave you for a few hours a week to sit in a room that’s much less fun than ours and talk about things like “methodologies” and “theoretical frameworks”. They’re way less fun than they sound. Mommy would rather discuss red blocks and blue blocks with you. Graduate school means that, when you wake up in the morning, refreshed after your eleven hours of sleep, Mommy’s sometimes running on half that many hours. That’s why you sometimes see Mommy wipe her eyes and blow her nose on the bib you wore at breakfast.

There are many times when Mommy would like to take a nap like you do, but mommies need to use the time when babies are sleeping to get things done (you distract us when you’re awake because you’re so cute and marvelous and brilliant every moment). There are times when Mommy would like to sit on the floor and play music with you all day, but she plays with you for a little while and then goes back to her computer while you play on your own.

Graduate school means that sometimes you hear Mommy say words you shouldn’t say. Not just words you won’t be allowed to say in school in a few years, but also words like “I can’t,” “What’s the point,” and “I give up.” Mommy doesn’t want to teach you those words. But sometimes mommies feel that way.

There’s one other thing about graduate school that you should know. Assuming that Mommy doesn’t let the “I can’t” moments get the best of her, in a little over a year you will get to see Mommy finish graduate school.  She will wear a black robe and a fancy hat, and there will be a big ceremony with music and applause. You will see Mommy receive a paper that says she’s completed graduate school. Mommy will be very happy.

When Mommy was quite a bit younger (long before you were born), she thought that she would finish graduate school before becoming a mommy. But then the best thing happened: the plan changed. You were much too important to wait that long. You were born, and now Mommy gets to have a sidekick in graduate school. And when Mommy finishes graduate school, you will clap with all the other people, and Mommy will get to celebrate that special day with you.

I hope this all makes a little more sense now. I'm going to give you a kiss, post this blog entry, and get back to writing the assignment I sat down to work on in the first place. Because for now, I'm still in graduate school.