Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Musings of Second Graders

Often at conferences, I hear writers say that if you want to make your characters' dialogue authentic, you should eavesdrop on conversations of kids and teens. I have also heard writers complain that they don't have access to kids and teens and find this hard to do. I guess I am lucky in that regard; I have a constant feed from three distinct age groups: 16, 10, and 7.

So, for those less fortunate than I, I thought I'd share some random things I heard yesterday while traveling to and from Jackson on a field trip with my second grade daughter's class:

**Please note, they were studying colonial times and were all dressed in 1800 garb, so keep that in mind if some does not make sense.

BOY 1: I would not be a girl, that bonnet would mess up my hair.
BOY 2: My hair would be CRAZY! (messes up hair)
BOY 1: (giggles) No, like this. (messes up his hair)
BOY1: If both my arms were cut off, I could get robot arms.
BOY 2: Robot, Robot.
BOY 1: And I would have lollipops come out of my elbows.
BOY 2: I'd have water guns in mine. (Burps then giggles)
BOY 1: (giggles at burp also)
BOY2: I like to burp.
BOY 1: I like to fart.
(giggles from both)
BOY 2: I'd have fart gas come out of my arms.
GIRL 1: Gross! Did you hear what he said? He wants farts to come out of his arms!
GIRL 2: Ewww!
BOY 1: (annoyed, corrective tone) Out of his robot arms!
BOY 2: Yeah, so I could stink you up!
GIRLS: Ewww!

BOY 1: My stomach is eating itself! Are we there? (looks in lunch) Mmm, beef jerky. (to BOY 2) Do you have Dragon Ball-Z? Or Ben 10?
BOY 2: For DS?
BOY 1: PSP is way better than DS. You can download movies, go on the internet, wi-fi.
BOY 2: DS can do wi-fi.
BOY 1: But it can't download movies.
BOY 2: What movies?
BOY 1: Any.
BOY 2: Which ones?
BOY 1: Any I want.
BOY 2: Like what?
BOY 1: I don't know. I'm not allowed. Ugh, my stomach is eating itself again! When will we be there?

GIRL 1: Hey, **(Boy 1 name withheld) are you in love with **(name of girl withheld)?
BOY 1: No! Why do you help her chase me?
GIRL 1 (ignores Boy 1 and says to Girl 2): He is in love with her.

BOY 1: My stomach ate itself five times. I will die! This museum will kill me. Why can't we go fishing?

That concludes my quick peak into the dialogue of second graders for now. This is only a ten minute snip-it of the non-stop conversation that occurred in the 45 minutes it took to drive there. I could write the entire thing, but I won't! And I assure you, Boy 1 did not die, nor was his stomach actually eating itself!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Newberry According to My 10 year old

My 10 year old son was reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin in his Lit Circle at school. As it is one of those books that I hear about all the time, have been meaning to read, but have never actually read (yes, I know, even after getting my MA in Children's Lit I am not fully literate in the 'classics' of children's books!), I was interested to hear what he had to say about it.

After the first few pages, he complained that it was boring. I thought, okay, he's reading it and the fifth Percy Jackson book at the same time. Hard to compete with Rick Riordan, Newberry medal or not. But as he continued reading it, his dislike grew. I have never had to force my son to read anything (well, okay, that's not true. In first grade he wouldn't read any of the fiction stories his teacher gave him - he only read non-fiction - so I did force him to read a Magic Tree House book to get him into some fiction that had non-fiction elements, and I boast, it worked!) but I had to make him sit down and read The Westing Game, even threatened to (gasp!) take away Percy Jackson if he didn't.

When he'd finally finished, I asked him "So, what was it about?"
His answer: "I don't even know. It was so boring, Mom. You would fall asleep. I bet everyone fell asleep reading it. They probably said 'hey this book is boring. It put me to sleep. Let's give it a Newberry. ' They give all the boring books Newberrys."

I quickly pointed out that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won it this year, which my son enjoyed. But, I had to laugh at his comment because I'd heard it before. My oldest daughter had said basically the same thing when she was in fifth grade. She was assigned Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins and hated it. In fact, after that book, she wouldn't touch another that had that pretty gold seal on it. To her, Newberry award = boring.

Before I continue, let me say that I am not putting down any Newberry book. I am not saying The Westing Game, Island of the Blue Dolphins, or any other Newberry winner is boring. That being said, I bet if we had children doing the choosing, the winners would be vastly different.

It sort of comes down to that age-old argument of literary versus commercial, reading for education versus reading for pleasure, writing to enlighten versus writing to appease the masses. Children's books, although written for children, are not published, purchased, or awarded prizes by children. As parents, we try to oversee everything that our children put into their bodies and minds, and literature is no exception. Let them have that cookie (Goosebumps), but make sure they balance it out with some vegis (Old Yeller), right?

As an author that tends to write more on the cookie-side than the vegi-side of the spectrum, I would be a hypocrit if I fed my children only vegis. Too many kids HATE reading because they aren't allowed the cookies. Where is the fun in reading if you don't read what you enjoy?

But, the teacher-mom in me also sees the value in reading the vegis. I have a great many vegis I love - my BA is in English after all, which would have been torturous if I hadn't enjoyed reading all those classics. And for that reason, we have well-meaning adults rather than children choosing the Newberry and other literary prizes. Recently, those choices have come to reflect more of what kids are enjoying than what adults think they should be enjoying - which is how it should be - so I truly commend those who sit on the committees and make the tough choices.

I tried to tell my son all this, even launching into a history of the penny-press and the whole bad rep novels had when they first were introduced to the masses. I was met with glazed over eyes. I think that must be how The Westing Game felt when he was holding it in his hands. So I ended my lecture with a simple, "Everyone has different tastes. Your sister loves fairy books and you can't stand them, right?"

This was met with a grin and a nod and then he asked, "How many fairy books have won a Newberry? (groan) I hope we don't have to read them next." :)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ahhh, did you miss me?

As Staind would say, "It's Been Awhile . . ."

I wish I could say I've been tracking man-eating piranhas in the Amazon or ghost hunting in Gettysburg or even sipping wine while touring the ruins of Pompeii, but I can't. The only thing with teeth I've been tracking are my three children; the only ghosts I've been chasing exist in my plots; and the only ruins I sip wine in these days are the rooms of my sadly unkempt house.

My blog-absence is due in part to the business of life, but also I've been on a bit of a roller coaster with my writing of late. Writing is both exhilarating and depressing for me. I love the creative part of it: getting so involved with my characters that they are chatting with me while I make dinner or do the laundry, bugging me in my dreams, chastising me when I've left them stuck in a scene for too long. I love the revision process too: getting feedback from my peers, ripping apart my plots, adding layers to my characters, hacking away at unnecessary words and events. But the part that comes next - sending my work OUT THERE- can be so scary that sometimes I forget what I love about writing and consider quitting.

Writing is a personal thing. Like a child, even though you know your book is its own thing, you can't help but take its failures and accomplishments personally. For this reason, it is sometimes very difficult to separate yourself from it and see that the person rejecting it is not rejecting you. Through the years, I have mastered that ability. I have a thick skin. I can take criticism and process it, find the value in it and apply it to my writing. Yet still, rejection is rejection, and after enough of it, you can't help but question your abilities.

I have never been very confidant. I guess if you wanted to psycho-analyze me, you could say it stems from my visual impairment and the inability to do things most people take for granted - like driving. I so often feel like a failure as a mom because I can't drive my kids to and from school, to and from practice and games and birthday parties like every other mother. Instead, I have to coordinate cabs or buses or walking routes or rides with other moms. Sure, people in places like New York do that all the time, but here, everyone drives. So when I show up at flag football carrying a car seat in the pouring rain, I get weird looks from the rest of the parents while they sit in their dry cars. I tell you this not for sympathy - I hate the sympathy - but to show you how idiotic my mind is. Who cares if I show up two hours early for a baseball game because of the shortened Sunday bus schedule? I honestly don't mind the walking or the getting there early (well my kids do I guess) but I still feel like a failure because I'm not like everyone else.

This feeling often carries over into my writing. I see so many others successfully making it in the published world and I think: what is wrong with me? Am I kidding myself? Am I that idiotic mom standing in the rain while everyone else looks on and thinks I have no clue?

The answer is no. Or should be no. I should be saying who cares? Who cares what one person thinks about my writing? Writing is subjective; one man's best seller is another man's stinkbomb - look at the varying opinions among friends in a book club. But even though I know this, every once in a while, rejection threatens to bring me down. How can it not? We all need reassurance that we are okay. We all want someone to tell us we're capable. We're social, emotional creatures, right?

So, how does a writer keep that rejection-downer at bay?
Other writers.
Yes family can rub your ego, but only another writer who has been there, felt that, can truly empathize. I have a great group of writer friends who have all pulled me up by my boot straps (well, flip-flops) the past month or so, brushed off the rejection, put the pen in my hand and shoved me back into the game. I thank you all for that.

In fact, since I may not have much brain matter left when I do finally get published, here's a shout out to all of you on my triage team: Jen, Libby, Su, Patty, Jacqui, Todd, Diane, Katena, Sharon, Alicia, Viki, Steph, Kristin, LInda, and Renee. Thanks for being there always!

Okay, enough of the soap opera. I'm back and I promise not to let so long go between blogs!