In recent years, the YA market introduced readers to a broad spectrum of young people with super-human powers. I admit, some of these powers are pretty snazzy and would probably come in handy in a war-plagued dystopian universe. Like reading minds, or talking to dead people, never missing a target, manipulating the weather, or shooting laser beams from your fingertips.
All very cool.
All worthy of great tales of heroism.
A little known fact about me? I also wield a great superpower. It’s probably not worthy of a best-selling YA novel. And it would only come in handy in a post-apocalyptic world involving way too much water and Kevin Costner at the helm of an ark.
But it is a gift. And I am proud of it. So I will share my secret power with you.
I can catch fish.
Lots of them.
And I don’t need an expensive reel to do it. (Sorry, I had an Allison Reynolds/Breakfast Club moment. Picture me digging a shiny Penn reel, a bag of frozen squid, and a package of double bottom rigs from my overstuffed handbag…)
I don’t know the meaning of the word skunk. And I’m no girlie-girl. I bait my own hook.
Ask my father or my sons. They’ve watched with wonder and amazement as all species of sea life found themselves snagged by my infallible hook (insert evil laughter sound clip here). True story of a mother’s love… I once caught a tropical fish in the shallows of a tidal pool using a tiny plastic sand bucket and a PB&J sandwich for bait. How could I say no when he looked at me with those big watery eyes and said, “Please, Mommy. You’re the only one who can catch him for me!”
And that’s no fish tale.
I like to think it would be an advantageous power to have if I suddenly found myself struggling to survive in Panem’s District 4.
I’m a believer that everyone has something they do really well.
So I’m curious. What’s yours?
(Disclaimer: This post is about masturbation. All those too chicken to talk about it may abort now. I promise you won’t go blind. But you may stay ignorant. I can’t help you with that.)
So here we go…
I have a Facebook page with a small clan of loyal followers (mostly friends, family, and old colleagues). My “Average Daily Users” hover in the neighborhood of five. One of them is usually my mother.
It’s cool. I get it. I’m not very important.
This morning, just because I was curious, I checked out my Insights Report, neat functionality that allows me to see a snapshot of activity (or lack of) on my page.
Here’s what I saw…
My “Average Daily Users” and my “Average Post Views” shot up to 85 on February 7th.
From 5 to 85 in one day! WTF?
What did I post on my page on February 7th? So I went back to my Wall and looked.
This huge spike in traffic occurred the day I posted a link to “Sticky The Movie” — a documentary about masturbation. I can’t embed the trailer, but here’s a link. If you haven’t watched it, go ahead and check it out now, and then come back… I’ll wait.
So I crunched a few numbers with a calculator (cut me some slack… I failed Basic College Math 101 all three times) and then I threw the calculator out the window. But here’s my best estimate:
Video link + masturbation theme = a big freaking increase in traffic in one day… for one post.
And yet, not one “Like” or one Comment. And not one person shared the link. Hmmm…
Obviously, everyone is very interested in the subject of masturbation. And we all know everyone’s done it. (Any brownie points you think you earn by denying it are wasted. You just wipe them out by lying about it.) Is it possible, that in this modern day of progressive and liberal thinkers, we are still too afraid to talk about masturbating? Seriously?
So, you might say “Elle, your followers are all teens who are probably just too embarrassed to talk about “it” [giggle into your hand and insert creative euphemism of choice here].”
But you would be wrong.
The vast majority of my followers are not teens. And I’ll prove it…
So now you say, “Big deal. We’re grown ups and we don’t have to talk about it.”
To which I respectfully call bullshit.
Those of you in the big, fat column marked “Ages 25-44” are also probably parents. Many of you are parents of teenagers, or will be very soon. My guess is most of you have not, and will not, talk about masturbation with your kids. Most don’t. And we can’t rely on MTV or American Pie (as awesome as that movie is) to do the job for us. These are just vague references, watered down in bathroom humor and flashy lyrics. (Most of my adolescent friends and I thought Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” actually was a dance move or a day-glow plastic o-ring bracelet, and The Divinyls “I Touch Myself” didn’t come on the scene until I was college-bound.)
So my point is, no one is really talking about it.
And here’s a true story about that.
When I was a freshman, one of my best guy-friends from high school called me. (For those of you who’ve known me that long, no, I will not share his name, so don’t ask.) For today’s story, we’ll call him Fred. Fred was a little late to bloom and struggled a bit in the cruel and sadistic middle school/high school social mix. He was distraught and crying on the phone (yes, guys sometimes cry).
Fred told me he thought there was something wrong with him and he wanted to kill himself. So I asked him why. He told me he’d touched himself. I asked him if it felt good, and did he make a big mess. He said yes. I assured him his plumbing was fine. There was nothing wrong with him, and not to forget to wear a condom if he had any plans to do it with anyone else.
That’s the problem, he said. Fred assumed his desire to touch his own penis (yes, I said it… go ahead and get your giggles out now. We’ll probably say it again… penis, penis, penis…) must be an indication of sexual preference. He assumed it meant he was gay. And he was devastated by the sudden and frightening implications of what he’d just done to himself.
So I asked him, Fred, what were you thinking about when you got excited? He told me he’d pilfered his Dad’s Playboy (back then, porn came delivered to your house in conspicuously inconspicuous paper sacks) and he was thinking about the centerfold, a blonde with particularly large breasts.
Scary dilemma #2 was solved. No, Fred, you’re probably not gay, I said. And touching yourself when you think of naked ladies is normal. And even if you were fantasizing about boy parts and hot guys, there would still be nothing wrong with you!
But it’s a penis, he argued. He didn’t like penises. Why did he want to touch one? And if it was normal, and all the other guys were doing it, why wasn’t anybody talking about it?
Fred raises a great question. Why isn’t anybody talking about it. Not joking or giggling or making up dance moves about it. Really talking about it. I couldn’t answer that question then. I still can’t. But here’s what still bugs me about this…
1- Fred was scared to death because he touched himself, and he felt dirty and guilty and wrong for doing it.
2- Fred wanted to kill himself because he thought he might be gay.
Now here’s the real eye opener…
3- What if Fred was your teenager? What would you say to him if you could? What if you never got the chance?
Three really good discussion points. Who volunteers to go first?
I know we can’t expect the schools to tackle this subject in Health Ed. And frankly, there are a few teachers I can think of who might be the exception to the “everyone is doing it” theory. Or maybe it’s just been too long since they’ve tried. Not sure how effective that class lecture might be, and a little afraid to think about it.
So where do we begin having some intelligent adult conversations?
Here’s a start. If you’re curious (don’t lie, we all know you are) here’s where you can watch the trailer, “Like” the trailer, and/or share the trailer. “But Elle,” you whine, “people will see I liked it on my Wall. What will they think?” Who cares what they think! You’re a progressive individual with an open mind, and you’ve got backbone!
And most importantly talk to your kids. If you need ideas, here’s where I plan to start with my boys once they’re old enough to hear it. I’m starting with two Health Ed lessons too often forgetten.
#1 – It’s okay to love yourself, both physically and emotionally.
To those of you patiently awaiting more “Welcome Back Kotter” clips, I extend my apologies. It’s been a very busy week.
I am giddy. I am exhausted. I have an agent.
Thanks to the power of The Query Letter, I am now represented by the extraordinary Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency, and officially promoted from struggling, starving writer to squealing, starving author.
Nearly’s finally found a home. She needs a little work (I’m not gonna lie) and I will be buried for the next several months under a mountain of revision notes. In the spirit of Daniel Day Lewis, I’ll stay alive no matter what occurs, but promise to come find me. And bring me Swedish Fish. All writer survival kits should come properly equipped.
For those following and waiting, Nearly’s book will also undergo a name change. Apropos (for those who already know her story). But fear not, no hotties will be killed in the re-making of the story.
All good things.
So thanks for being here. For helping me heft my bucket. I couldn’t have realized this dream without you.
“Don’t kill it, Mom!” My five year old son stomped his foot on the bathroom stool and fisted his little hands. A snot bubble swelled under his nose.
“My baby!” He stretched on his tip toes and grasped at the soggy dixie cup I held over the open commode.
I looked into the cup. One of his little ‘sparements (translation: experiments).
“What is it?” I squinted at the unidentifiable blob where it lay drowning under an inch of cloudy tap water.
“It’s Baby Bob!” The snot bubble burst. “You can’t put Baby Bob in the toilet!”
My son, Doctor Frankenstein, was making imaginary friends out of tiny balls of toothpaste, which — when soaked in water overnight — transformed into a swollen, marble-like substance. He assured me they were only ‘sparements, but it didn’t surprise me to see one fly through the house at warp speed only hours later. In his twisted amateur laboratory, he’d not only created a companion, but also invented a unique reproducible form of ammunition with which to pelt his unsuspecting older brother in the back of the head.
Of course, it all made sense. I understood completely why I couldn’t kill Baby Bob (and why — I noted, as Bob grew before my eyes — flushing him into our septic system might be a mistake I’d come to regret).
I set the dixie cup back on the counter, and his little shoulders relaxed. I identified with his pain. Because, figuratively speaking, I have Baby Bobs too.
My own babies aren’t terribly different. I collect little wads of sticky ideas. I paste them in empty notebooks and hope by adding enough sustenance and letting them rest in their literary petri dish, they’ll swell into something wonderful. Something bigger and harder-hitting. Something I can throw at the world, to make people scratch their heads and think “hmmm….”. My babies aren’t called “Bob” but they have identities. They speak to me and keep me company, taking up friendly residence in the quiet corners of my mind while they brew.
For all the reasons I understand my son’s obsession with his Bobs, I decided to let his babies take up residence in their quiet corner of my bathroom. For his sake, I hope they grow big, I hope they make him proud, and I hope his tiny dixie cup never dries up.
Facebook is such an odd juxtaposition. It’s all of our memories and histories brought to the surface using a technology we never could have dreamed about in those way-back years. I recently found my 5th grade teacher — the greatest teacher I ever had — here on Facebook, and have laughed and reminisced watching her reconnect with my old elementary school clan. Old stories are coming back to me, and I am feeling inspired to share.
This post is just a teaser really. Next week, I’ll roll out a series called “Lessons With Mrs. P.” And since I am a child of the 1970’s, my readers will suffer through clips of one of my favorite 70’s TV shows, about an inspirational teacher and the wacky students who loved him.
I won’t leave you guessing. If you’re a Kotter fan, stay tuned next week.
Your dreams were your ticket out.
To that same old place that you laughed about.
Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.
Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)
Yeah we tease him a lot cause we’ve hot him on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.
Copy of an upcoming Guest Blog post for the popular parenting blog “The New Perfect.” Release date to be determined.
What, you ask, is a Pajama Road Trip?
Think of it this way… If you could go to a rock concert without fighting traffic, worrying about who will be the designated driver, scrambling for on-street parking, doing your hair, scheduling a sitter, cover charges, and worrying about the kids while you’re gone, would you go?
My answer was yes!
As a mom, I miss the freedom of a night out with the girls in the big city. I miss live venues and being near adults who talk about things other than diapers and formula and which dangerous teether toys are on the recall list. I work from home and live in the middle of nowhere. I have two small children and a fabulous babysitter who’s not yet old enough to drive and has an early curfew. Needless to say, I don’t get out much, and most of my relationships are cultivated online. Some may argue that I have no life.
So last month, I attended my very first Pajama Road Trip into the world of Second Life to attend a live performance by one of my favorite bands. Second Life is a virtual world, in which you can assume a body, a costume, and a name, and role play in social hot spots via a totally online experience. Bands can book stage time at the various virtual clubs within the Second Life community, and live-stream their performances over the internet. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it a few times, I must admit, there are some very appealing benefits for those of us who are socially challenged by the daily burdens of parenthood.
I know what you’re thinking… only RPG geeks and basement-of-the-science-building types play around in virtual worlds. But honestly, what’s keeping moms from trying it too? Nerves? Fear of the unknown? Prejudices about the types of people who live in virtual communities? If that’s all that’s stopping you, let’s tackle a few myths…
I am afraid of online strangers. If you are reading this blog post, then you already understand the power of social networking, and have an appreciation for how the internet shrinks miles and brings opportunities within reach. You may even have online pen pals, bulletin-board BFF’s you’ve never met in real life. Really, when you think about it, it’s not that far-fetched a notion that you could take one more step into a virtual world. And I ask you… what is so different about the people you would meet in a club or a bar in real life? There are as many strange people out in the real world as there are inside the web. And there are potentially an equal amount of people just like you, who are just trying to enjoy themselves. Same safety and common sense rules apply. You don’t have to interact with anyone you don’t want to. And no one online is going to steal your wallet or slip a ruffie in your drink.
I’m afraid to go alone. Then don’t go alone. If you’re not the kind of person who would feel comfortable going to a concert by yourself in real life, chances are you might not feel comfortable doing so online either. Bring friends. Make it a Girl’s Night Out. Help each other pick hair styles and clothes and silly names. Dance and hang out together. It’s a social world and you don’t have to break into it alone.
My Significant Other wouldn’t approve. So take a date with you! My last date night with my husband was almost ruined by a case of the sniffles. It’s nice to know we could have cancelled dinner reservations, put the kids to bed early, and gone to a concert together on the couch, sitting in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine in our pajamas. Date night is just time spent together doing something fun. It doesn’t have to mean leaving the house. And for some couples, a virtual date in an exotic place in dressy clothes, can be a romantic escape from the tedium of parenting. We tend to think of cyber worlds as a secret place, something to hide, but there’s no rule saying you can’t explore these worlds as a couple.
What If I’m Not That Social? If you’re just in it for the music, then there are solutions for you too! Many bands now offer live-streaming audio of their shows through online chat rooms and even through Facebook. You can lurk, if you’re more comfortable doing so, or you can participate by “chatting” directly with members of the band. I regularly attend streaming shows of one of my favorite bands. I can comment on the performance, and even request my favorite songs as they play. It’s an intimate venue in the comfort of my own home. And best of all, if the kids wake up and need me, I can step in and out of a chat performance with the click of a mouse.
I’m not very technically savvy. How would I get there? Online road-tripping is a lot easier than I originally expected. Chat rooms are a great way to get started. My favorite band, drumfish, posts a link on their Facebook wall with simple instructions before each performance. It’s literally 3 clicks to hear the live-feed and jump into the chat room, and I can continue surfing other sites simultaneously. To actually attend a virtual show, Second Life offers a free membership into the online community. Once inside, you can search for music performances, times and locations, and then “teleport” directly into the shows. It takes some practice, and may be a bit confusing the first time, but once you have the knack, it’s easy.
I’ve learned countless lessons as a parent, but perhaps the most valuable are those that have taught me the importance of preserving and nurturing my sense of self and my own happiness. I try not to let my lack of physical freedom restrict my ability to make new friends or experience new adventures. Sometimes, by stepping outside our comfort zone and trying something new, we find we’re really not as isolated as we often allow ourselves to feel. My version of the Pajama Road Trip might not be perfect, but it’s a life, and I’m making it more satisfying every day.
Image shown is a screen shot taken during a live rehearsal of drumfish in Second Life.
Note: I will be attending their real live concert this weekend at the 8×10 in Baltimore.
Anyone who knows me knows my penchant for Chinese food (specifically Moo Shu Chicken with loads of hoisin, extra pancakes, and enough scallions to invoke dragon breath). I also look forward to my fortune cookie after every Chinese meal. I couldn’t resist writing a few scenes — complete with chopsticks and fortune cookies — into the manuscript for NEARLY MISSED.
Normally, my fortunes are pretty innocuous and I can’t say I’ve ever received the “tall, dark and handsome stranger” message when I’ve broken into one. But in January, I did receive two fortunes (back to back) that made me reconsider the power of this otherwise bland token treat…
Fortune #1: It is a great piece of skill to know how to guide your luck. Even while waiting for it.
Fortune #2: Today is a day to focus on one thing from beginning to finish.
Hmmm…. I opened these fortunes on the same day a very wise agent asked me to send her my full manuscript for review. Coincidentally, her advice to me when we met back in December? “Focus, young grasshopper.”
So my question is… what is the best fortune you’ve ever received in a cookie and why does it stick in your mind?
In November, I embarked on a solo journey to Colonial Williamsburg for 3 days of research and exploration in preparation to write THE SUFFERING TREE, my current work-in-progress. In developing my characters, I knew I wanted my protagonist to play an instrument, but I wasn’t sure which one until I attended a lecture/performance by fiddler Dean Shostak.
Mr. Shostak explained that fiddles were the most popular instrument in early colonial America, as they were both affordable and accessible to servants and gentry alike. He then performed a song called “Calliope House” (actually composed in the late 1900′s by Boys of the Lough) which happens to be a great example of the style of jig that may have been played in the southern colonies in the early 1700′s. I came away inspired. It was settled. My character, Nathaniel, would be a fiddler!
Later that evening, exhausted from ghost walks and lectures and tours, I settled in at Chowning’s Tavern for some hot buttered rum and roasted peanuts. Performers drifted in and out of the candlelit tavern rooms, performing and taking requests. I couldn’t resist. I had to hear “Calliope House” again! So I raised my hand and called to the fiddler and asked him to play it for me. To this, he responded he didn’t know the tune, but he promised to return in five minutes.
The performer stayed true to his word and returned with his fiddle, and of all unexpected things, an iPhone. He kindly asked me to hold the screen at arm’s length for him, as he read the sheet music via his wireless internet connection. The fiddler performed “Calliope House” in its entirety and without flaw while I gawked in sheer amazement over the juxtaposition before me. By far, the best live performance I’ve ever experienced and one I will not soon forget.
In The Suffering Tree, my protagonist, Nathaniel, performs a fiddle jig. I searched the web for a clip of the light-hearted piece I heard in the tavern and found this wonderful solo performance of the “cowboy jig” called “Calliope House” on YouTube:
My special thanks and appreciation to the performers in Chowning’s Tavern for indulging my special request and helping to inspire what I hope will become a great story.
One of the questions I’m constantly asked is whether or not I use an outline when I map out a story idea. It seems like there are two basic schools of thought on the “right” way to write… outline or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a textbook Type A personality. I’m an obsessive planner. I am organized and goal-oriented to a fault. So, yes, the obvious answer is I do use some form of an outline. I need a strong sense of the destination, and at least have a map denoting a few key landmarks along the way.
But traditional outlines frustrate me. I find myself scribbling and scratching out and scrapping and re-writing them to accommodate shifts in my thought process or changes in direction along the way. While writing my first book, I abandoned the traditional outline in favor of 3×5 cards. I color code them (because I am ridiculously anal-retentive that way). For instance, the white cards are scene cards. I write down the loose description and bullet points of each scene in the story and put them in order. The red or pink cards are my “hot” cards. These are the critical scenes (you know the ones, that replay over and over in your head and you would never, ever cut from a story because they are integral to the plot or climactic in some uncompromisable way). The blue cards are my character cards, and have tidbits of back story or physical details, which I can then pepper into the scene cards to avoid huge chunks of exposition or flashback. You get the basic idea.
I keep my cards in a small folio sorter… pictured below… which allows me to move them, mix them up, replace them, burn them, shred them, and create whole new ones as the story begins to unfold. It’s essentially an outline, but it’s a living outline. It moves and it bends. It adapts to the impulsive side of my imagination, and can continue to do so as the confines of my research, or restraints of my word count, change the direction of my work.
In my mind, this system of organization parallels the way I try to organize my life. I have a strong sense of where I’m going and what I want to accomplish, and I have my uncompromisable priorities duly noted, but I leave myself flexible to adapt, try new things, and write new scenes for myself along the way.
While at conference, a writerly friend noticed my folio and commented on it. I’d assumed lots of people probably worked this way and I’d never imagined that the question of an outline could be so black and white. But it appears, not everyone has a system that allows them to manipulate their hand mid-play, and still have a tangible plan for a predetermined outcome.
So here it is. My cards are on the table for everyone to see. My question to you… do you wing it or do you outline, or do you have your own kooky system in place?
When I was young, I attended Hebrew school, every week, twice a week. I learned Torah, I prepared to become a Bat Mitzvah, and I learned the holidays, celebrations, and history of my people. For the most part, these were happy lessons. But not all periods of human history are worthy of celebration.
I recall many a Saturday morning, sitting in a darkened room watching video footage and documentaries of the Nazi work camps and death camps of the Holocaust. At the time, we all asked why? Why must we watch these horrifying images over and over again? The crimes committed in those camps were terrifying, offensive, and difficult to accept.
The answer, our teachers told us, is because we risk repeating the atrocities we choose not to remember. Remember it all, they told us… especially the ugly parts, the times in human history that shame us most, so that we never let them happen again.
Some interesting discussions have recently come about regarding the new version of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. For those who may not be aware, a proposed new version will replace the controversial “N” word with the word “slave.” The word “Injun” is likely to be replaced as well. The literary community seems torn on the question of whether it is better to get a “scrubbed down” book into the hands of more libraries, schools and teens by presenting a “less offensive” version of the tale, versus the moral and ethical argument of whether it is acceptable or appropriate to alter the published work of a deceased creator.
While I understand both sides of this debate, my concerns lie less in the literary implications than the social and historical ones. What risks do we run when we justify “minor” edits to the stories that reflect our nation’s history? Twain’s book was written in such a way to accurately depict the mindset and prejudices of our country during that time period. We all know and understand why the “N” word is offensive and should never be used today, but I fear that when we “scrub” clean the ugly face of our history, we risk something worse than offending readers. We risk forgetting. And what we forget, we could very well repeat in future generations.
Why is it necessary to polish away the ugly parts of who we were? Why talk down to teens and insult their capacity to have an adult conversation about prejudice and racism? Why not use these books as a launching pad for real conversations about hatred and intolerance and how they shaped the history of our nation?
I worry that this new version of history… this happier, shinier face we paint today… may one day become the only “acceptable” version of our past. What if Twain’s original version eventually disappears, falls out of print for lack of an interested audience, forever to be replaced with the less offensive version we find so much easier to swallow? One hundred years from now, will we forget how much damage name-calling and bigotry can do? Will we look back on the ugly parts of our past less critically? Will we be more accepting of who we were and allow new cycles of violence and atrocity to take root?
Am I over-analyzing the possible impact of erasing two words from our literary history? I don’t know… for now, maybe it is only two words. But what happens when two minor edits become acceptable? And then two more? And then two hundred more? Will we risk forgetting who we are?
Coincidentally, I just finished reading a remarkable dystopian YA tale called MATCHED by Ally Condie. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it, and I apologize in advance for any ***SPOILERS*** in the thoughts I share with you today.
The story takes place in our not too distant future, in a Society that is rigidly controlled. The Society has been completely purged of all historical evidence of anything that could be construed as imperfect, controversial, offensive, or reflects poorly on the image of their world. Entire libraries are destroyed, all artifacts collected and controlled by Officials who ultimately determine what books are allowable, what poems will survive, what music is socially acceptable, and what the people are permitted to know of their own history. The goal of the Society is to present a clean, uniform, content people who are blissfully ignorant of conflict, oppression or rebellion. All members of Society carry pills on their person, by the order of the Officials. The green pill relieves anxiety, and ensures all people are sedated into numb compliance. The red pill makes them forget, and is the band-aid Society uses to cover up the occasional discoveries or ugly memories by those who doubt that the world is as rosy as they’ve been led to believe.
I have to ask myself, is a new version of history our own form of medication? Do we read the new version because we feel more comfortable, less anxious, and better about ourselves? And by doing so, are we also taking a pill that will make us forget?
It is no wonder to me why dystopian fiction has become such a popular genre for teen readers. There are so many comparative lessons to be learned in stories like MATCHED. I hope we don’t let our history “go gentle into that good night” and risk becoming complacent in our fight to preserve our own humanity. I hope we don’t take that red pill and forget who we were — even our ugly parts — so that we never have to relive them again.
Note: These milestones of our nation’s history are memorialized along the walkway to Great Hopes Plantation in Colonial Williamsburg so that we never forget.