Monday, July 28, 2008

The Line Where MG and YA Divide

Girls have begun coming over to our house. Now there are new rules about keeping doors open and keeping the conversation wholesome since there is a little sister playing around the house with innocent toys like fairies and mermaids.

Along with the new rules, I have developed new and not entirely wonderful habits. I eavesdrop. I casually snoop. I ask prying questions. When I don't hear talking or laughing, I holler things into rooms like "Yoo hoo, everything all right in there or do you need some company?" and sometimes I've been known to show up at doorways holding popcorn or other excuses. Of course, I'm spying. I freely admit this. I told the kids I have become a hall monitor in my own house. They immediately informed me that the hall monitor in their school is much more understanding (and her nickname is Troll).

So the other day, Emma, the nine year old little sister, gave some sage advice to her older brothers. She explained, very matter of factly, that a boy on the bus told her the facts of life. I froze. Emma went on: "If you hold hands with a girl, and kiss her at the same time...well," she said, blushing, "you could get a baby." The moment passed. Her brothers, who luckily pretty much adore her, thanked her for the advice - and bless their adolescent hearts, they both kept straight faces. "No problem," she told them, and went back to her American Girl magazine.

Two days later, I overheard (honestly, they were sitting right on the deck while I made dinner with Emma) a conversation between my eighth grader and a girl regarding the early signs of pregnancy. So did Emma. It drifted right in through the window.
Emma looked at me and said, "Mom, don't worry."
"I am worried," I said, racking my brain for any time this could have happened.
Emma laughed. "Mom," she said patiently, "Philip is only in the eighth grade. He can't be pregnant."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Just YA Writing Stuff

Recently, a friend of mine who is sort of related to me as well (in one of those inlawish kind of ways) read my novel, and asked why, since I seemed to be able to write, did I "waste" my ability on YA.
It's not the first time that's happened. I don't walk around meeting people, saying,
HI, I WRITE YA.In fact, I rarely tell people I write. But when I do, I see them look away into the distance, and say, "What is YA? Like the Hardy Boys?" This is said with thinly disguised contempt. Okay, maybe it's not so thinly disguised. Maybe it's painfully obvious.
So I can't wait to tell these same folks that I'm almost done with an MG...
But in today's New York Times today, there is an essay that lets me know I'm not alone:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Few Commandments of MultiCultural Writing

Over the past weekend, I tried begging off from reading YA novel first drafts for a friend of mine, a garden variety English teacher, who decided to teach a YA writing class over the summer.
"But you don't write YA," I reminded her, "in fact, you don't write."

I think when you write for teens, people get the idea that it's somehow easier than writing for adults. She seemed really lost, so sap that I am, I agreed to make comments in a separate notebook so the students could see them only if they chose.

Now, somewhere along the line, some editor must have mentioned that multicultural YA is the next hot thing. Maybe it is, but I really think folks should write what they know about. There were 14 multicultural first chapters out of 19. I learned one thing for sure: I could never be an editor. Ever. I'm horrible at it, and bad writing makes me angry which is most likely an abnormal response. I never, ever felt this way when grading students' papers, but these are adults, and they should know better. Here is my small rant:

Do not have characters named Doug and Kyle and Heather use words like " the hood" or borrow any gangstaspeak. I grew up in NYC, and if they went into the barrio and started throwing these words around, they would last about 14 seconds. Maybe not that long. In fact, if Doug and Kyle and Heather went into certain neighborhoods at all, and didn't speak, they would only last 15 seconds tops.

Also, do not have Doug and Kyle and Heather suddenly call their grandma "abuela" -- it's jarring and just plain weird. And it doesn't make your story multicultural.

Hispanic people do not refer to their children as "mi quesadilla." Ever. Trust me. I teach Spanish and ESL, I know lots of Spanish people, and they do not refer to their children with endearments taken from the Taco Bell menu. It's the same as if Heather's mom crooned, "Ah, there she is, my little pot roast." Stop.

Speaking of Latin people, please, please, please, do not use the adjective fiery. It's like something out of a TV Guide listing, and it was bad then. Save it to describe the food. On second thought, don't. Just don't use that word. And don't disguise fiery as "spicy" or "caliente" or even hot.

For some reason, the word "piquant" kept showing up. Horrible word, and teens would feel like they were using an SAT vocabulary builder. Stop that, too.

Native American teens do not speak like Tonto. They speak like teens in California, or New Jersey, or Florida. They do not give directions to their friend's house by saying, "...west, over the creek where the wolves water." (cringe) And while I'm at it, I might add that I once spent a year researching Native American culture to write an MG book, and I concluded that without visiting and speaking to Native American people, the book wouldn't be convincing. I think that advice is still valid.

Now, this class is in a tony suburb of Philadelphia, with lots of ambitious writers. I know how crabby I sound, so I want to say that writing a novel is always a hopeful,
wonderful event, but you really have to write about what you know. You really do; it's not one of the many writing cliches: this one is spot on.

Doug and Kyle and Heather have their problems, too. They might leave their clarinet at the mall, or develop a crush on their mom's life coach, or they might cut themselves out of grief over the divorce. These could all be made into YA books. Not books I would want to read, but with talent and revision, they could work.

And I am thankful that I read these. A few times, I have thought of applying for editing jobs. It seemed so easy. Now I know.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Say What?

After teaching online classes to homebound teens all winter, I got really good at the lol, omg, brb since we frequently used text chat. But now, I have to TALK to them again since they are home all day. So for those of you who don't have handy access to teens, I offer, in no particular order, part one of words and phrases I am learning:

A bromance = close relationship between two males, especially close if they engage in manscaping, or the shaving of any part of the male skin, and I'll leave it at that

Way = yes or I'll be there in a minute

Biters = people who copy from homework or tests

Flash, as in, "OMG, that was soo flash" = a really dumb or insensitive remark

Flashes are usually said by tools, or idiots. A wingnut would not necessarily say something flash as they are just flighty, sort of not all there. Rents, the quick way to say parents,
are very prone to flash comments.

When food is sick, it's delicious, but this is not usually said by a hater, or a pessimist. An "H" (abbreviation for hardcore)or an intense person (experiences, like watching a movie, can be H as well) is usually adept at asking the rents requestions, which is a new compound word meaning request and question at the same time. "Can you give me five dollars so I can hang out with Mike?" is an example of a requestion.

I still don't have clarity on the essential difference between emos and goths. I did get an email from a 14 year old girl asking if I meant to make my book " know, so emo?" I do know that Goths and Emos require three to five pounds of black eyeliner per day, and that includes the boys.

My fav might be the short form for guilt/apology, "Oh, dude, My B" which means, My Bad or Me Bad, which translates to I blew it -- sorry

I think that's it for today; in the words of the 14 year old who finally just got off my computer, "Got to bounce."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

So...Where Have You Been?

Most blogs I read are happy, funny, pretty light on seriousness. I usually don't like to be serious when I write blogs either, but I didn't answer email or the phone or even the door for about a week a while back. So why was I in the zone of non-presence?
Because my brother was missing. He just left the house one day with a car and an ATM card. It's not something 54 year old real estate lawyers do very often. But he is bipolar and he went off his meds. When something like that is going on, you just don't care about much else. And it's not exactly a secret since the Staten Island Advance published this:

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Thomas Spollen is soft-spoken, friendly, introspective and brilliant -- the engineering visionary in the plucky duo of brothers whose homemade, eco-friendly bicycle is the centerpiece of the current exhibit at the Staten Island Museum.

The 54-year-old real estate attorney turned up yesterday afternoon after disappearing Thursday from the Dongan Hills home he shares with his brother, Chris Spollen.
Spollen apparently had been wandering around Staten Island, staying in motels, camping in parks and sleeping in his Toyota Matrix.

"When you have somebody missing close to you, it's awful," said the elder Spollen. "We were all traumatized."

Spollen has bipolar disorder and had been prescribed medication that made him chronically drowsy. So, several months ago, he decided to stop taking it entirely, his brother said.

As is characteristic of the upswing side of bipolar disorder -- a mental illness sometimes referred to as manic depression and characterized by periods of intense highs and intense lows -- Spollen's energy started to escalate.

But along with his increased stamina and activity, Spollen also became agitated and delusional -- behavior characteristic of the mental illness often associated with Spollen's brand of uncanny genius, and said to have also plagued such intellectual luminaries as Mark Twain, Ludwig van Beethoven and Winston Churchill.

"He's very, very bright, but with the brightness came the other," said Chris Spollen, adding that his brother needs better medical supervision to live more comfortably with the very treatable condition. "I want to get the bright back."

Whenever people tell me not to worry because, omg, Jane Pauley has bipolar, and Dick Cavett, and...I want to tell them that they also have medical insurance whether they work or not.

In any event, when Tom returned, he said, "I was never missing. They were missing me."

It's a line I wish I had written, and the simple truth of it haunts me.