Last month while I was having a chat with fellow writer, Doug Soulter, I was reminded of a childhood memory.
When I was a kid I used to hang off the end of my bed so I could look at the world upside-down. I would do this for ages. After awhile, something kind of magical would happen; the world would shift and all of a sudden I was living like some kind of upside-down creature, pinned to the ceiling by reversed gravity. My perception of reality changed. I could see a whole different world around me. High hurdles to jump over every doorway, dangerous ceiling fans to dodge, light fixtures to swing on. Outside my window, trees seemed to be dangling into a vast nothingness. I wondered what would happen to me if I ventured out my front door.
I was a weird kid.
With maybe too much time on my hands.
The reason the aforementioned conversation had sparked this particular memory was directly related to the topic of changes in perception. While we were waiting to hear an author speak at a local library, I asked Doug about his current writing project. I’d heard he was reworking one of his novels as a screenplay and this decision fascinated me.
Why would he choose to do this?
He explained that his writing roots were firmly entrenched in screenplay writing and for several years, he’d departed from that format to pursue writing full-length novels. That in itself had been quite an adventure. He was interested to see how much he’d learned from writing novels when he returned to screenwriting. I asked him about some of the differences.
For one thing, he said, screenplay writing really helps you tighten your focus; if you can’t see it, you can’t write it. Meaning, if you can’t visualize something happening, then it can’t be in the script. It can’t happen. The entire story takes place through the eye of the camera – your POV character, as it were. He said that’s why screenplay writing is so great for helping you see things visually.
Talk about a change in perception.
That really got me thinking about how changes in perception can effect our stories, our ability to stretch as writers.
This year, I finished working on a YA project and then switched to revising an old MG project I’d had in a drawer for a few years. The change in perception from YA voice to MG voice was startling. I could see some of my mistakes right away. In some areas, the voice was too old, too adult in tone, in others, too young. I needed to stabilize it, make it consistent. One thing working on the YA novel had helped me find was a strong voice. I could now see where the voice in the MG was going wrong in this story and I was better able to fix it. Once that issue was addressed, the rest of the revision started to move along quite nicely.
Spending time studying and working in a different style, working with a change of perception, helped me see my writing in a clearer light – the good and the bad.
Some of my favorite authors write in different styles and I love when they stretch in unexpected directions. Usually it makes their writing stronger, better. One of my writing mentors, after having 19 young adult novels published, decided she wanted to write a picture book. Even though she was a master craftsman at the young adult historical fiction genre, she started at the beginning with picture books. She read a ton of picture books, went to conference talks about picture books, and studied how to write picture books before delving into this new style of writing. Her first picture book comes out next year and it’s really amazing.
And she’s not done learning.
I never want to be done learning either. How about you? Do you write in more than one style? What have you learned from cross-training your writer’s brain?
(FYI, the awesome picture above is from a 2012 French- Canadian romantic science fiction film called Upside Down starring Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess that I stumbled across while mindlessly searching through Google. My daughter and I have vowed we must now see this movie.)
I am at this tumultuous point in my writing life where my days vacillate between sad departures and happy beginnings. I’m wrapping up final edits before prying my over-protective hands off my newborn YA manuscript, kicking it out of the nest into the big, scary world to fly on its own where it will be rejected, requested only to be rejected some more, requested again, and then hopefully, FINALLY to be adored by just the right person. The more exciting, joyous parts of my days are when I’m moving forward on my next YA manuscript. I think I’m enjoying the beginning of this new manuscript because it is much lighter in subject matter than the last novel. No longer am I trapped in the psych ward with my main character, Sara, struggling through the ugly situations that I put her through. I do love her story, but I’ve lived with it for a very long time and, man, was I brutal. She should never forgive me. With this new novel I get to be funny and explore new things. I’m also I’m dying to try out what I learned while writing the last novel.
First, I want to write my rough draft without constantly editing myself. I’m going to follow some wise advice from a dear writer friend and give myself permission to write a very bad first draft. Although I’m not a big Hemingway fan, I did love this quote I read from him recently that said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Succinct and to the point. (Maybe I will give The Old Man and the Sea another go after all.) I want to have fun with my new manuscript without constantly correcting.
Second, I want to keep a journal of my ideas for changes and questions I have about plot issues or character motivation, etc. I believe I got the idea from Kathi Appelt when she spoke to our Oklahoma SCBWI group last fall. She keeps an ongoing project journal which are conversations with herself about her characters and the choices her characters could make. She writes out where her characters are going mentally and physically, drawing maps to keep directions straight. She turns to her journals whenever she gets stuck while writing to work through the rough spots. I tried something much less organized with notes in the margins of my last book and it wasn’t as easy to reference or to keep track of through all of my edits and it wasn’t remotely conversational. I really like her idea. I have a funky new spiral that will serve this purpose. I must write “hands off!” on the cover so my daughter doesn’t steal it – it is that cool.
Third, I want to handle my stress better. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I’m not going to sabotage myself or stop writing or start doubting that I can do this, I’m just going to take a break and play for a little while. Just play.
My inspiration for this final idea? I found some old pictures of my kids playing a game they made up called Barbie Tossing, which is exactly what it sounds like. Man, were those dolls aerodynamic! This was during a time in our lives when we didn’t have much money, we lived in a cramped apartment while I worked in a very demanding management position that required a lot of travel-time and my husband was still in nursing school, and we were still new to the whole autism diagnosis with our son – juggling all kinds of appointments with specialists and therapists to see what he needed – STRESSFUL! And yet here was this moment when the kids didn’t even notice any of that and just made due with what they had – a bunch of Barbies and a patch of grass right outside the apartment door. They tossed those Barbies for hours. (Finally, a way of playing with them that didn’t make me cringe. I even joined in – yes, I did my fair share of Barbie Tossing, too.) I looked at those pictures and then I remembered how those bright-eyed kids could turn a small corner of our tiny living room into the most fantastical adventure with a blanket and two bar stools and they always, ALWAYS invited me to come along. Once I’m done indulging my need for play, I won’t feel as stressed anymore and all the doubts and worry won’t be able to hold me back.
Darleen Bailey Beard is an active member in our local Oklahoma SCBWI chapter who has published six books including The Babbs Switch Story, Twister, The FlimFlam Man, Operation Clean Sweep, The Pumpkin Man from Piney Creek and her latest book, Annie Glover is not a Tree Lover. Last fall at one of our conferences, Darleen did a fantastic talk on school visits. I was so inspired that I asked Darleen if I could come along and watch her in action some time. She was very encouraging about the idea and this spring we were able to coordinate our schedules. During that fall talk, Darleen said that one thing we as writers could do that teachers couldn’t was get kids excited about writing. After watching her do a school visit, let me tell you, she can also get kids excited about reading.
It’s not an easy thing to hold the attention of a room full of 3rd and 4th graders, especially if you’re a complete stranger, interrupting their day for an hour to talk about books and writing, but Darleen Bailey Beard captivates her audience of readers – voracious and reluctant alike – by reaching out to them at the very beginning. She starts off by telling the kids stories from her own childhood about how she always wanted to find something that she was good at; how all of her friends were great at swimming or great Girl Scouts or being the prettiest, but she was never good at anything. What kid can’t relate to that? She takes them on her own journey of self-discovery through a lens they can understand, just like any great storyteller. The kids are enraptured. She asks them questions, gets them involved, and then tells them a secret about herself that is totally and completely…embarrassing. Do they really want to hear it? YES!!! Oh, she is theirs for LIFE!
I learned so much about how to do a school visit the right way after watching Darleen give her same talk time after time with the same level of
enthusiasm. School visits are not for the weak. Darleen was often surrounded by kids, receiving hug after hug (for being a writer of a book they loved!) and still she found the time to talk to the lingerers who were too shy to speak to her in front of the crowds. One girl barely raising her voice above a whisper told her how much she loved to write, too. Maybe another future author being born. I knew all of this was why I wanted to write. To matter. To make that emotional connection that only written words can facilitate. Now I understand why Darleen has unofficially been crowned Queen of the School Visits. She has earned that title.
Several weeks have passed since that author visit and I asked Darleen if she would answer some interview questions for me. Ever giving of her time to her fellow writers, she agreed.
VL: As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?
DBB: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. The first thing that came to my mind was when I threw my sister’s Barbie doll out the car window. We were living in [Pennsylvania] and our way to visit our grandparents in [Oklahoma]. My sister was five years older, five years bigger, and five years smarter than me. She was doing something and I can’t remember what it was but it was bugging me. I held her doll up by the toe and said, “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to throw this doll out the window!” Well, she didn’t believe I had the guts to follow through with my threat, so she kept on doing whatever it was she was doing. So after I’d had enough, I rolled down the car window and thwack! I threw that doll right out the window! Of course, she had to tell on me and my dad didn’t want to stop the car to go back and look for it on the highway, so when we got to [Oklahoma] to visit my relatives, my punishment was that I had to sit on the bed in the back bedroom at my grandparents house while everyone else got to visit and hug and share in the excitement of our arrival! But I have to say, it was worth it! Ha!
VL: Whoa! Guess your sister believed you from then on.
What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?
DBB: This is an easy one–I knew from the age of 10 that I wanted to be a writer. I fell in love with writing when my fifth-grade teacher would make us write stories with our spelling words every week. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer and have been writing ever since.
VL: Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?
DBB: My role model was my fifth-grade teacher. She made me believe in myself. She was an amazing teacher and did so many creative things in our classroom. She even made a jail cell out of a refrigerator box and put a chair in there and magazines so that if anyone misbehaved in class, they had to go to jail and the only thing there was to do in jail was read…imagine that! She had this amazing bulletin board in the coat closet area where she put current events from the newspaper on it and added to it on a regular basis. She would make us write about these current events and I remember standing in the coat closet just looking and looking at that bulletin board. Somehow just looking at that board made me realize how big the world really was and she made it look so exciting and fun. She made learning and education fun, too, which was something my other teachers had not managed to do (with me, anyway!). She made every single day a day to look forward to in the classroom. She was tall, too, and I really liked that because I was such a tall kid. I was taller than my third-grade teacher and as tall as my fourth-grade teacher, so when I walked into my fifth-grade classroom and saw this six-foot teacher, taller than me, I was thrilled! I loved having a teacher taller than me.
VL: Reading jail! The horror! She sounds like an amazing teacher; no wonder she inspired you so much. I think we can all relate to that one teacher who touched our lives for the better. Teachers ARE heroes.
Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?
DBB: My sister and I had bedrooms on the second floor of our house. In the middle of our rooms was a hallway and a bathroom. We always managed to forget to turn off the hall light and we’d each lie in our beds yelling to the other to “Turn out the light!” until one of us would eventually get up and go turn off that light. How scary it was to run back to bed in the dark!
VL: Who was your childhood best friend? Are you still friends today?
DBB: My best friend was Kathy. Kathy would pick her eyelashes out. A strange thing. And she’d eat her own Kleenexes. Another strange thing. But what fun we had playing tricks on the neighborhood kids and riding our bikes to the 7-11. We are still in contact but not much. Being the writer that I am, it’s easy for me to write or call but it’s harder for her as she works at night as a nurse and sleeps in the day. I wish we were still in touch but we haven’t talked in a couple years. I think I’ll go call her now!
VL: Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?
DBB: Kathy had this wonderful beautiful cherry tree in her backyard. We would play Barbies under this tree. It had tons of cherries and it was such fun to eat the cherries. One cherry would make an entire meal for our Barbies. We also played in my game closet in my bedroom. It was this small closet which my dad had built–around 4 feet by 4 feet. We’d get in there and play games and eat sugar cubes!
VL: Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?
DBB: We lived in a motel for about six weeks. We were moving from [Pennsylvania] to [Arkansas] where my dad had this crazy dream of owning his own chicken ranch. Anyway, we lived in a motel because the van line that was moving our belongings went on strike after it took all our things. So for six weeks we had no furniture, no clothing, no nothing. We didn’t know what else to do, so we ended up living in a motel. We rented two rooms, side by side, with a door that opened between the rooms. And that’s where we stayed. My parents wouldn’t buy me any new clothes (not sure why, but I guess they didn’t have the money??) and so I had to start my 7th grade year with only the few clothes that we took in our car on our move. I think I had a total of three pairs of shorts and three shirts and had to wear these very same clothes for six whole weeks! I also remember wearing a pair of my mother’s shorts which were too big for me and came way down to my knees. Boy was I glad when the van lines stopped their strike and I got my clothes back! During that time I remember being very creative and doing a lot of painting and coloring and jewelry making as there was nothing to do in a motel room except that or watch TV.
VL: I imagine starting a new school year like that in a new state must have been very challenging.
What was the worst job you ever had while going to school? Do you have any interesting stories about working there?
DBB: Going through college, I cleaned houses. I had this one customer, Mrs. Kelly, who would follow me from room to room watching me. She watched my every move. When I cleaned her toilets, she stood over me, making sure I did it right. Then she would make suggestions while I cleaned like, “Use only one paper towel” or “Don’t touch the walls with that paper towel” or “Be sure to get that spot off that dish” or “Dust with only one spray of polish, not two sprays.” She drove me nuts. She didn’t even like it if I moved her furniture to vacuum. She’d get mad if I moved her chair one inch. THEN she started going to her bedroom closet and coming out with different clothes on when I was there. I’d be in the kitchen and she’d come out modeling some new dress and new shoes. I’d be in the living room and she’d come in there with another dress and shoes. She’d twirl around and want me to compliment her. Of course, she was just a lonely, old, obsessive-compulsive lady with a touch of dementia but she drove me nuts. After working for her about one year, I finally quit.
VL: Wow. She would make quite an interesting character in a book some day. She reminds me a little of Annie Glover’s Grandma. I think you lasted at that job much longer than I would have, and I’ve had some pretty crazy jobs myself.
What is your current writing project and what can you tell us about it?
DBB: I’m working on a book called “Princess Dandelion of Valley View Mountain” and it takes place in southeast [Oklahoma] during the Depression in 1931. It’s based on a true story about a girl who lives in the traveling lumber camps that existed in that area until 1963ish. She finds a starving mule and tries to keep it from dying and wants to bring it home. Of course, her parents don’t want a mule or have money to feed a mule so the fun begins. How is she going to convince her parents she needs this mule???? She’s also convinced that she doesn’t need a friend–she’s moved from town to town to town and has lost a lot of friends in her many moves–so she doesn’t want to bother with making another friend in her new lumber camp but the girl who lives next door is determined to be her friend. This, too, causes some fun trouble!
VL: I’m really looking forward to that one. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you better!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was once like many young girls who worshipped at the alter of Barbie. I coveted the Malibu Dream House; I longed for the Pepto pink convertible to drive around my less attractive friends. I wanted to accessorize my troubles away. And then one day something in me just stopped believing the hype that my self-worth was tied into my appearance and I couldn’t be one of those girls anymore. I don’t know why it happened, but the glitz of Barbie’s world lost its charm; all that sparkly sequins seemed tacky and life started being about swimming against the current…and it has been ever since.
I blame my father.
He always treated me like I had a brain that was useful for more than organizing sock drawers. We would have long talks about everything where my very inexperienced opinion was just as important as anyone’s. He also made me do everything that my brothers had to do; mow the lawn, cut and stack firewood, and wash the dishes. There were no gender-specific chores at our house.
And reading was encouraged.
My dad was and still is a voracious reader. Not surprisingly, I became an unstoppable reader myself. One of my fondest memories as a child was the night my dad started reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to me. I was so captivated. Not only did I have my dad all to myself, but we were sharing this amazing adventure in Narnia together. If only I’d been patient enough to wait for him to read the rest of the story to me. When he couldn’t read to me the next night, I took off on my own and never looked back until I had devoured the entire series. I re-read those books more than any other throughout my childhood. I even saved up my own lawn-mowing money to buy A Companion to Narnia by Paul Ford printed in 1980 that I still have to this day.
I’m pretty sure that’s when the writing bug sunk its teeth deep into my skin and made itself at home in my soul.
Fast-forward thirty or so years later and it hasn’t let go. Now I’m deep in the process of writing my second book and enjoying (almost) every facet of it. This one may actually be worthy of publishing. We shall see. I’ve learned a few things along my continuing journey to be a children’s writer, mostly from making a slew of mistakes – but isn’t that the most memorable way to do it? This blog is my latest leap into the unknown, trying to push myself further and keep on swimming upstream. I hope you’ll join me.