Locked Down with Walter Dean Myers – a book review

I am so thrilled that Walter Dean Myers is our current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and that his focus is how reading will affect your life – telling parents that it is vital to sit down and read to their children every day. It will make a difference in their lives. What an obvious and yet necessary thing to convey to kids and parents. Reading is important.

I was a fairly new writer or at least  new to accepting the label of “writer” to myself when I first heard Walter Dean Myers speak back in 2007. It was also the first time I had attended the SCBWI LA Summer Conference. I was a happy, glowing sponge, soaking up the atmosphere of so many people talking in a language that I understood – who understood me. I felt for the first time that I had found where I belonged. These were my people!

Mr. Myers’s Keynote address was called “A Passion for Details” and in his talk, he said the thing that made one writer more successful than another was the details.

“You need to recognize the details as the truth.”

You know you have accomplished this when the reader walks away from the story and can think about it further knowing what the character is doing beyond the story itself – how his life will progress beyond the ending. He also said that the internal landscape of the character is much more important than the physical attributes. You should understand the details that comprise your characters so readers can recreate them in their own minds.

He went on to say that every story is about a character with a problem. We have to know enough about that character to make his life interesting to us and we have to be able to create his problem in our minds. Why is that person’s life important? Give us the details.

In his one of his latest books, Lockdown, Myers does just that. He puts us right into the mind of Reese, a 14 year-old kid struggling in Progress juvenile detention after stealing prescription pads to help his family with money problems. Reese is trying to follow the rules to get an early release and get back home to take care of his younger siblings left at home with his drug-addicted mother. With guards that turn the other way when bad things happen and old men who think you’re going to steal from them just because of the color of your skin, Reese gets pushed to the brink every day. But Reese can’t just sit by when his friend Toon gets jumped. He risks his freedom and his future to do what he thinks is right.

Myers pulls you inside this dreary world and makes you feel what life is like, being misunderstood, being neglected, ignored, and having no one to count on but yourself. You care for Reese and want to scream at the people not helping him and not seeing what he’s going through and you hope that he can rise above his circumstances and somehow things will turn out all right. Any book that can illicit that much emotion from me is stupendous and well worth the read.  Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

To learn more about Walter Dean Myers and his other books, visit his website.

#writemotivation check in

This check in is going to be brief and to the point. I’ll do a final wrap-up next week.

My goals for March:

  • Complete my novel revision: Progress made, but still have a ways to go. I may not get through the entire manuscript this month, but I’ll probably make it through at least 2/3rds if not more by the end of this week. I’m happy with this progress, so I consider it a win.
  • Post two blog entries each week: One goal completed! Woohoo!
  • Update my journal project and keep it current: Utter failure. Not even going to talk about it. Need a total do-over for next month.

Two out of three’s not bad – better than I thought I’d do, actually. I have thoroughly enjoyed participating in K.T. Hanna’s #writemotivation for March. I would like to do it again some time. The fellow writers I’ve met have been fantastic and supportive in a million different ways. Cheers, everyone! Thanks for all of your help and encouragement. Here’s to an even more productive April!

I laughed, I cried, I Became a Victim on Cupid’s Literary Connection!

I am now a firm believer in the powers of Twitter.

Oh, I’ve been paying lip-service to Twitter and dutifully tweeting every few days, saying random things I think you’re supposed to say, announcing my new blog posts over the past month. Everything a new young writer is supposed to do. Most of the time that I’m on Twitter, I feel like I’m riding an uncontrollable wave made out of people that don’t care for my comments, don’t get my sense of humor, and would rather I just browse quietly so they don’t have to acknowledge my existence – with the exception of my #writemotivation supporting crew.You guys have been awesome. I know it can be a powerful tool once you get the hang of it, and sometimes I can almost see the end of the enlightenment tunnel, but then someone uses something differently than I’ve been using it and then I know I’ve probably pissed somebody off by the wrong hashtag placement. So basically, it feels like high school all over again. Awkward.

Then, one day a few weeks ago, all my fumbling awkwardness paid off. While browsing through the tweets, I stumbled upon a post by Cupid for Writers re-tweeted from a fellow #writemotivation participant. It was about a contest of sorts called “Surprise Agent Invasion” that sounded very interesting and it had a fast-approaching deadline. The only downside was that I would have to write a query. I loathe queries. I have yet to feel comfortable writing queries. (Why can’t agents and editors just take my word for it that I am fabulous and just read my manuscript, right?)

The good thing about such a short deadline was that I didn’t have time to psych myself out; I had less than twenty-four hours to prepare an entry and submit it. Since I really needed the practice writing queries (stop being whiny and just do it because it’s good for you) this would be a great test-run for my manuscript before I started submitting earnest in April, I jumped at the chance. (Well, actually I closed my eyes and then leaped off the cliff.)

After I submitted my entry, I waited along with 200 others for two weeks to find out if we made the final cut.

I just received the e-mail today congratulating me on my entry becoming a “victim” for Cupid’s Literary Connection “Surprise Agent Invasion” . My entry along with 50 other lucky participants will be displayed for three weeks starting tomorrow. Invited agents will then make comments on our manuscripts and queries or even request our manuscripts. Pretty exciting, eh?

I know it may seem like a little thing, but any positive reinforcement my manuscript gets is like watching my baby taking her first step. When I read the acceptance e-mail, I laughed and cried at the same time, just like when my children were born. Happy tears; overwhelming feelings so hard to describe.

Will I make that ultimate cupid connection with the agent of my dreams? Will she (or he) knock me off my literary feet with an offer I can’t refuse? Who knows what will come of this unusual contest, but I’m ready for it. Wish me luck! (Oh! I better go tweet about it!)

UPDATE: My entry can now be viewed at Cupid’s Literary Connection at the above link. I am #17.

#writemotiovation check in – where did spring break go? or how do you entertain the caged teenager?

Somehow I thought I’d already posted this. I blame the chaotic air of spring break on my scatterbrainedness.

Life can sometimes be unfair for our two children – not only because the lottery draw of life gave them to me and my equally insane husband. No, this week, when they finally got a chance to take a break from school, recharge their batteries, enjoy the lives of sloths and do what they pleased, Mother Nature threw them a curveball; four days of torrential downpours and gloomy, depressing skies. One can only watch so much crappy TV and soak up so much  Twitter and Facebook feeds – with breaks for reading one’s favorite books, of course! – before one’s brain goes numb. Two teens cooped up with only their mother for company? UGH!  And then the unpredictable spurts of energy and hormonal surges can make captivity even more unbearable. Inevitably every few minutes one of them would come pester me – during prime writing time – for something to do. Hard to concentrate under those conditions. Eventually I threw them outside in the rain and let them jump on the trampoline to exorcise their inner teen demons – who cares if they get soaked and the trampoline cuts trenches in the lawn if I can have a few moments of quiet? They came back in shivering and sated, if not just a little bit calmer. There were other moments of pure insanity brought on by the cabin fever that I cannot even mention as my daughter would die of embarrassment if I revealed them.

When I escaped in the middle of the week for my critique group, I pointed at my kids and said to my husband, “You’ve got to do something with them before they blow a gasket. Good luck.” Then I bolted. Hey, sometimes, it’s survival of the fittest, even in the family group. I knew my husband was strong enough, besides, he’d escaped most of the week at work. He’d been around other fairly normal adults and had somewhat intelligent conversations. I NEEDED TO GET OUT, DO YOU HEAR ME?  In the end, he had a brilliant idea of turning the house into a thumping rave party. He wore the kids out by cranking up the stereo and making everyone dance till they dropped. I’m sure the neighbors loved it. Everyone was worn out when I returned, so that’s all that mattered.

Today, all that’s left in our pantry are the last bits of granola bars, aging blueberries, some leftover stir-fry, and the rest of the (eeew!) healthy snacks – everything else was scarfed up days ago; no one wanted to venture out for more provisions. The dogs are getting wary of us. Finally, this morning the rain has stopped, the sun blinding our weak eyes. We are preparing to leave this place that has become too cramped and go anywhere else but here. Just in time. I think we might survive.

Under these conditions, I did not make as much progress toward my goals as I had hoped. Next week should be much more productive, and much more peaceful.

Goals for March:

  • Complete my novel revision - Closing in on the halfway mark at page 149 out of 325. Really need to pick up the pace in the final week! 
  • Post two blog entries each week – Goal met! At least one out of three still made, not ideal, but I’ll take it.
  • Update my journal project and keep it current – Not even close. No progress made on this goal at all. Notes in my head don’t count.

How are you doing on your writing goals?

I win my first blog award! (What shall I wear when I give my acceptance speech?) and then I pass it on.

I am a newbie blogger, just closing in on my first month, so it’s hard for me to tell how this experiment is going. I’m enjoying it and the feedback I’m getting is positive, but let’s get real, no one’s going to say “you suck! quit now and spare us all your constant moaning and endless babbling drivel!” right to your face. So I was run-around-the-house-screaming-like-an-insane-teeanger happy to receive my first peer blog award.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! to Lissa Clouser for nominating me for the Kreativ Blogger Award! That was so thoughtful. I am new to this sensation so if I mess this up at all (or forget to thank any little people I’ve trampled on my way to the top) please forgive me.  Here’s what I’ve been instructed to do as part of my duties for receiving this award:

1. Thank the blogger who gave you the award and provide a link.

2. List 7 interesting things about yourself that your readers might find interesting

3. Nominate 7 other bloggers, provide links, and let them know!

So Lissa, thank you again. (Wiping tears out of my eyes.) On to the seven interesting things about me…

  1. I once was runner-up in a beauty pageant when I was three years-old. (There were two of us in my category.) My only memory from this glorious event was being onstage and making the people laugh. When I asked my dad about it, he said that I had almost walked off the end of the stage. I think my mom realized that I was not meant to be a beauty queen as that ended my brief stint on the pageant circuit.
  2. I once worked as a nanny in Albany, New York, for a little over a year. I took care of a sweet young boy who belonged to two eye surgeons. He would now be over twenty years old, which makes me feel ancient. It was a fascinating experience in so many ways.
  3. I have some talent for drawing, although I’ve only taken one art class in my life – while in Albany, interestingly enough. My drawings and my writing ability actually helped me gain admittance to a college I really wanted to go to when my grades wouldn’t quite get me there. That’s when I realized that maybe I had a talent for both writing and drawing. Although drawing takes a LOT more time and effort for me to get right.
  4. I was NOT the best student in high school (ergo, the reason my grades needed help getting me into that college). I skipped school. A LOT. (Sorry if you’re reading this , Dad.) I was very creative about how to get around the limit of days you could miss. Once they realized I was forging my dad’s signature, I started getting notes from my doctor’s office. I’d drop by early in the morning after missing THREE DAYS IN A ROW! (I know, I was awful!) I would tell the secretary that the doctor said I could pick up a note for whatever illness I could think of at the time and she’d just write me one without question. So, most of my absences were EXCUSED. I wasn’t out doing anything naughty, I was really just depressed and couldn’t handle being there.  Most of the time, I’d stay home and read or watch TV. Boring. Too bad I didn’t put my evil powers to good use back then.
  5. I have a child with autism. This affects every facet of my life and my son definitely keeps life interesting. A simple trip to the grocery store or to the movies can become an adventure. One thing living with a child with autism has done is make me fearless. When his anxiety is high and the stimuli around him is overwhelming causing him to freak out or he does something odd, I honestly do not care what others think of me or my son. When I notice someone gawking, I realize that they truly do not understand him or what is happening and it does not matter. My son and his needs are more important than anything a stranger may think of me or my parenting abilities.
  6. My best friend in the whole world is the most amazing person (and he’s not my husband – I put husbands in a separate category). David and I have been friends since about the first grade. We’ve had many adventures together including night-time photography experiments where we got eaten alive by mosquitoes and our short-lived band, Johnny Sheet and the Pillowheads, that I hope one day will have a revival and maybe headline with the Geek-o-ramas. Our friendship has been tested a few times including a rather thoughtless midnight serenade by me and a bunch of my friends when David had to get up the next day at the crack of dawn. David is the most dynamic person I know and has always influenced me to be a better person. He accepts me with all of my faults. As an example, whenever we went out somewhere, knowing that I was always, ALWAYS late, he never bitched at me or complained about my lateness, he would just tell me I needed to be somewhere thirty minutes earlier than I had to, so I’d show up on time. Brilliant, eh? I never knew until a few years ago (after I stopped being chronically late – I swear!).   Everybody needs at least one person in their life who has their back no matter what. Besides Tim, David is mine.
  7. Finally, although I am very liberal, I have many friends who are not – staunch republicans, in fact. The hell you say! How is that possible? Maybe it is the writer in me, but I find people of every kind infinitely fascinating. I love listening to each person’s life story. Every person has a unique story and I am surprised by at least one thing I hear when they tell me about their lives. What I’ve found most interesting when I take the time to listen, is that I can find a way to relate to each person on some level – something we have in common. We may not always agree on politics or on religious issues and many may think I am extremely weird for something as simple as not taking my husband’s last name, but humanity in as universal concept, no? Besides, if I expect to ever be heard by anyone else, shouldn’t I be willing to listen?

And those are hopefully seven interesting facts about me. Now on to the next seven victims, er…lucky nominees. Here are seven blogs that I find intriguing and/or supportive of writers in general and hope you do as well. Stop by and check them out.

  1. Laura Stanfill
  2. Michelle Pierce
  3. Rebekah Loper
  4. Jamie Dement 
  5. Becca Weston
  6. Ashley Nixon
  7. K.T. Hanna

Congratulations, fellow bloggers! I pass on to you this Kreativ Blogger Award!

My Partially Fictionalized Interview with a Quixotic Figure Thinly Disguised to Protect his Identity

As I hope one day to interview fellow authors and other amazing people who have touched my life, shaping my character in various ways – for good or bad to be determined later – I wanted to test out some sample questions that were more probing, more revealing and less banal than the common, “Have you always wanted to be a writer?” and “Where do you get your ideas from?” that everyone else always asks. What I needed was a brave soul to subject to my arduous questions, someone to practice my interviewing skills on. I sent out a call for volunteers. I had one person come forward with the condition that “he” remains anonymous. Reluctantly, I agreed. Herein follows my first attempt at an in-depth interview. Enjoy.

Me: Thank you for joining me today, Mr. Quixote, or may I call you Don?

DQ: Sure, Don is fine.

 Me: Great. Don, could you start out by telling us a little bit about your experiences from childhood? Did you have any hero or roles models when you were a kid?

DQ: Sgt. Rock of Easy Company was my favorite comic book. I saw my brother as the coolest person around and I wanted to be like him. I learned early on to be careful what you wish for. For many years I idolized him. Later I realized my Step-father was the better role model.

Me: Interesting. At one point when I was young, I wanted to be Wonder Woman. I think I liked the idea of her being powerful, deflecting bullets and all that and she was the only girl super hero.

Did you ever have clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

DQ: Yep, one summer’s vacation away from my grade school at Kaiser Elementary. I talked some neighborhood buddies into building a fort in our back yard. We didn’t have any wood but there was a new house being built down the street and there were piles of scrap and new wood laying about. We started with the scrap and quickly realized that wouldn’t be enough so we started walking away with long planks of new wood off their stacks they were using for framing the house. I know the workers saw us doing this but they never said a thing. I remember thinking this was not a right or wrong thing as it was just logical that we get what we needed for the fort. Kinda puzzled to this day as to what those workers were thinking about us kids hauling off all that wood. The fort turned out to be shaped like a pig pen (long and narrow with missing slats to use for shooting Indians from.)

Me: So, tell me Don, what was your most memorable adventure that you had with your friends outside of school.

 DQ: It would have to be the night a few of us decided to use my Dad’s car to go hunting rabbits at night. This was, and still is I think, called “spotlighting”. A deer or rabbit when hit with a spotlight will freeze in place long enough to get it’s ass shot off. We were out behind Lake Overholser dam outside of Oklahoma City when we spotted a rabbit. I pointed the car’s high beams at the luckless creature and one of my friends jumped out of the car on the right side with a semi-auto .22 cal rifle and started shooting at the rabbit. Unfortunately for me the rabbit started running to the left of the front of the car and my friend began shooting rapidly trying to catch up to the rabbit. Well, as he swung his rifle towards the escaping rabbit his line of fire swept over the front of my Dad’s 1959 Desoto neatly plugging the left hood ornament three times. I’m pretty sure my first words were something like “Oh Shit! You shot my car!” It took my Dad about a month to discover the bullet holes and when he asked me about it I had a really good story ready.  He bought it … I think.

Me: Wow! That kind of makes any trouble I got into not seem quite so dangerous. At least there was no gunfire involved with mine. I’d love to hear the story your dad swallowed about the bullet holes that didn’t land you in trouble. I’m picturing something about witnessing a bank robbery followed by a police shootout, but then my imagination tends to leap a little on the wild side.

DQ: It’s probably better if that remains a mystery.

Me: I understand. Can’t blame me for asking. Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

DQ: Other than where I live today, which is more wonderful than interesting, it would be when [I] lived in Tacoma Washington. We were poor as church mice; living on food stamps…We were surrounded by beautiful and exciting natural and free things to do. Clam digging on Puget Sound, watching big trawlers unload; crossing the Narrows Bridge after being told of how the last one built was destroyed by wind, sending cars and people to the depths of the Sound. Hiking up parts of Mt. Rainer, inner tube sliding in the snow on Mt. Rainer. Any car trip in that area was a treat. Eventually, [I] began to hate the constant rain, cloudy days, and wood pulp mill smog that permeated the area…

Me: What was the worst job you ever had while going to school? Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?

DQ: [The worst job I ever had was] Bus Boy at Kip’s Big Boy restaurant. It was a special kind of humiliation to be cleaning up the messes that the cool popular guys and their dates from school left. These BMOC’s assholes would come in with the very girls I spent the majority of my waking hours fantasizing about.

Me: Sounds a bit like my least favorite job; McDonald’s. I especially loved working the drive thru when they made us wear these ridiculous foam Chinese hats to promote some new nugget sauce. The stupid things caught on everything and choked the crap out of you. On Friday night, during peak cruising time, every other carload of (intoxicated) popular kids asked me – with dripping sarcasm – if they could have my awesome hat. Thank God they didn’t have Facebook back then. I’m sure my picture would’ve been snapped and uploaded a thousand times.

Along this same line, what is the most embarrassing thing one of your friends ever did? Especially when trying to impress members of the opposite sex?

 DQ: [My friend] Jonny  was always experimenting with weird ways of communicating. He decided to spend the day juxtaposing the letter “F” in front of every word in any sentence he spoke. It blew up on him when he asked the Homeroom teacher, “Say, where’s Bucket Face?”

Me: Ouch! I’m guessing you were Bucket Face?

(Silence, followed by icy glare)

Next I’d like to move on to more serious subjects. Did you ever have to deal with a bully? How did you handle it?

DQ: There was a time I was riding a 50cc motorcycle to school and the only way I had of locking it was with a combination lock. Apparently one of the local n’er-do-wells watched me unlock it enough times to get the combination and I began finding my cycle parked differently each day with extra miles on it. I figured someone was taking my bike at lunch time for rides and then bringing it back. I told the vice-principal about it and he said he would come out with me the next day and help me catch the guys doing it. Well here’s where trusting authority didn’t pay off. The vp didn’t show but a friend and I staked out the parking area and waited for my bike to come back. The guy driving the bike was the local bully and I confronted him (most unlike me) and we got into a shoving match and were about to begin [throwing] punches when his friend who was riding on the back jumped in with some lame excuse about borrowing the bike. About that time the vp finally showed up and took the bully and his friend away. I felt good about standing up to the bully.

Me: That must have been a very satisfying feeling – solving your own problem and standing up to your bully. It was nice of the vice principal to show up in time to stop the violence from happening. At least he was good for something.

DQ: Sure.

 Me: As a kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

DQ: There were so many…I guess when I shot a BB gun at a neighbor’s window and broke it. I was about 9 years old. I think I was grounded for that.

 Me: Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

DQ: After watching The Blob at the movies I imagined it was under my bed so I walked on top of my furniture to get out of the bedroom the next morning.

Me: Aah! The slow-moving atomic jello is coming to get you! This leads us to the next question, what was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

DQ: This would be the time when I was younger than 9 (as it happened before we moved to OKC). I was taking my nightly bath in the summertime. We didn’t have air-conditioning so the high bathroom window was open. I was minding my own business when suddenly a monster with huge claws was scraping at the screen trying to get in and devour me. I screamed and everyone came running as I cried, “There’s a monster trying to get in the window!!” While he never confessed to me I’m pretty sure it was my brother using the garden shears to scrape on the screen.

 Me: That sounds terrifying. Why was it again that you looked up to your brother as a hero figure?

(Another silence, punctured by an icy glare.)

Ahem, next question. Have you ever had a near-death experience?

DQ: Yes, being married to your mother.

 Me: We-ell, that answer may have just given away your secret identity, so I think we’ll end there.

DQ: Thanks alot, I’ve successfully repressed all of those things and you just had to dredge them up. I know my mind will work on this and open up those vaults of pain during my sleep and I will visit them again, and again, and again. Like I don’t have enough angst in my life you had to get all this going?

Me: That’s all we have time for. Thanks for being my guest, today, “Don”. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. May some of the windmills you tilt at in the future actually be ferocious giants.

DQ: Bite me.

#write motivation update or how I woke up on the wrong side of daylight savings

It rained all day, yesterday. Since we couldn’t take our younglings to the zoo as we’d (poorly) planned, my husband and I made another fantastic decision: Let’s do some much-needed spring cleaning. Hooray. (Someone really needs to invent a sarcasm font.)

I am not a domestic goddess. My dad did teach me how to use a microwave. (Do not put anything metal in there!) My husband is the intuitive chef who whips things together instinctively in a  symphony of palate pleasing flavors. When forced to cook a meal,  I studiously slave over a recipe and painstakingly measure out each ingredient as it was written and then it still only has a fifty-fifty shot of not turning out disgusting. I cook when I have to, I clean when I have to. And I buy birthday cakes.

I. Do Not. Iron. Anything. That is what the dryer is for.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan of our alternate plan. I would have preferred to spend the day reading or snuggling up to watch a movie or maybe even catching up on my writing. When all of our laboring was done and the house sparkled and the adolescent boy funk and lingering dog fart smell was gone, I had to admit that I did feel great about having accomplished a daunting task. Now we had time to enjoy the rest of our day…oh, no! By the time we were done with cleaning, it was almost 6:00pm. We didn’t have time for anything else really but making dinner (the husband cooked with supervised assistance from me) and then getting everyone started towards bedtime routines. Blah, blah, blah! Thank you daylight savings.

Of course, I wasn’t tired when I needed to go to bed because it felt too damned early. When my alarm went off this morning, I reached over to bitch-slap my snooze button, and found that all of my muscles had seized up during the night from spending the entire day before cleaning. Gah! Nice. Waking up exhausted and in pain – not ideal for starting the new week.

Strangely enough, I’ve already done more work this morning than many days last week. Last week was difficult. I think the second week of a challenge is always more difficult for some reason. The heady joy of starting something new has faded and the real work you’ve gotten yourself into is staring you down in your sobered-up face.

So here is the update on my #write motivation goals:

  • Complete my novel revision – Progress made. I revised close to another 50 pages. I am on page 98 out of 324.
  • Post two blog entries each week – Goal made. I posted three posts last week.
  • Update my journal project and keep it current – Slow progress made, but progress made, nonetheless. I started updating January’s entries. I hope to catch up to February this next week.

How are you doing with your writing goals?