Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'll Tell You What

First let me say welcome back. After feeling under the weather last week, I had no choice but to take some time to heal. During that time, I had plenty of opportunity to come up with things to talk about. Today's discussion fell in my lap by accident.

Many times I've talked about joining an online writer's site.  A great number of the writers on this site are young and tech savvy and often have Face Book pages or blogs devoted to their writing. In that capacity, they're often seeking new people to interview. I've done quite a few interviews for these sites, which has been invaluable in increasing exposure for my work.

Just yesterday, I did another interview with a budding writer. One of the questions she asked was what I liked so much about writing. The hair trigger response is to say it gives me an escape and makes me feel proud to produce something other people like. While this is true, it's not the thing I like most. The thing I like most about writing fell into my lap by accident.

This weekend, while feeling under the weather, my older daughter pulled an act of teenage stupidity. What she did isn't something I feel like going into, but I can say it had me fuming. In a matter of convenient timing, I was asked to do an interview about writing and asked what I liked most about writing.

I'll tell you what I like about writing. I like being able to have total control. My characters do what I want when I want them to. Their lives are at my disposal. If I don't like what they're doing or how a scene is going, I can change it, including and up to deleting it. Writing is the only place I have this kind of control and freedom. I can discipline my child or tell her what to do and when but ultimately, the decision of compliance is hers. Not so with writing. In my writing I have the control.

And I'll tell you what, I like that having that control. Since I can't have it in real life, I'll enjoy my chance to experience it through my writing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kids are reading What?

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but a few years ago an independent publisher offered to publish one of my novels. There was just one catch. No, I didn’t have any upfront fees and it wasn’t a scam. The editor liked the novel but wanted me to remove the sex scenes. They were a conservative group, and teens engaging in any form of sexual act didn’t sit well with them. In some of my novels, it’s a key factor of the plot and necessary to the story. This wasn’t one of them so I agreed to the revision.

Before you jump on the conservative band wagon and tell me no story involving teens needs sex to make it complete, I disagree. Whether we like it or not, teens are having sex. To omit these issues is to omit the ability to connect with teens. Not to mention, I try to avoid gratuitous sex scenes and keep them as tasteful as they can, keeping in mind teens don’t always have a tasteful approach to sex.

All of that aside, the novel wasn’t published. It turned out that wasn’t the only revision the editor wanted me to make. She wanted to rewrite nearly every scene in the first few chapters of my story, and no I don’t mean she wanted me to rewrite them. The editor rewrote them herself and sent me the revisions as an example to follow for the remaining chapters. I was both appalled and puzzled. Why offer to publish the work if you didn’t think it was acceptable as written? I understand the need to tweak a few things here and there, but this was too much for me. This story was becoming her story with my characters so I graciously bowed out before the contract was ever drafted, which by the way was delayed months on their end due to a leave of absence of their contract writer. Seemed no one else in the office could do it, not that it matters now.

After this experience, I made the decision to write my stories the way I felt they needed to be written. In the first draft, I always write freely. I may have some offensive language or over the top sex scenes that never make the final draft. I just don’t want to censor myself too early and wish later that I’d written it a different way.

As I’ve shared with you numerous times, I post my work to an online site where kids of all ages can view my work. All work posted is required to have a rating much like that of a movie rating. The work is also closely monitored by site moderators who will flag the work if it’s rated incorrectly. In extreme cases, they will remove work that’s offensive or inappropriate. With so many checks and balances, I’ve been comfortable posting my teen novels with some scenes of intimacy. If this rubs you the wrong way as a parent, I think you might be surprised at what your kids are reading on line.

Not only do I write and post on line, I read the works of numerous aspiring writers who want my experienced opinion. There are a lot of cliché vampire/human and werewolf/human love stories as well as the hot jock falls for nerdy girl standard fare. Then there are those jaw droppers that give me the willies as a parent.

Did you know kids are writing incest stories? They are, and the titles are the obvious: I’m in Love with My Brother, and Twincest, and so on so forth. And if the titles make you cringe, you should try reading the stories. Siblings kissing and having sex are graphically described in some of these. Sorry to say, but the readers’ comments aren’t much better. Readers are eating this stuff up and identifying with these characters. And if you think incest is bad, there’s the even more disturbing student/teacher relationship. Most of these are wholly unrealistic. The writers put the teachers in their very early twenties. Those of us who’ve been around know that’s virtually impossible unless the teacher was a genius who graduated both high school and college early enough to enter this profession, but that’s not the point. The point is the readers seem to think it’s acceptable for the characters to have this type of inappropriate relationship.

After reading the stories today’s teens are not only reading but writing, I’d say it makes my sex scenes seem pretty tame and maybe even a bit justified. Right or wrong, I’m going to write what speaks to teens. Rest assured, there are some lines I won’t cross, but don’t be surprised if you read one of my novels and run across a teen sex scene are two because the answer to the question is yes.

Yes, kids are doing it. Yes, kids are writing about it. And yes, kids are reading about it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Life Lessons

Have you ever wanted something so bad you’d do anything to get it? Have you ever worked night and day to get it only to find out your efforts were in vain?

I have. I’ve spent the last seven years trying to get a novel published. The publishing game isn’t even following the same rules now as it was when I started out. Seven years ago, digital books were the wave of the future. Now they’re the norm and paperback books seem to be heading the way of the record album or eight track.

For seven years, I’ve queried agents and publishers with the hope of being offered a contract. I’ve entered contests in an attempt to beef up my resume and all the while I’ve kept writing and kept at it. Sure, there have been times when I’ve wanted to quit, but this dream has been with me so long that it’s not in me to quit. Every time I fall down, I stand up and I stand at a crossroads. I ask myself if I have it in me to keep going or if I should just let the dream die. So far, I’ve kept going.  

Something happened this weekend to remind me that I’m not alone in this struggle. My thirteen year old daughter failed to make the school cheerleading squad after trying out. She spent the week leading up to the tryouts pouring her heart and soul into practice. After four days of putting all her best efforts into learning, she went to the try out on Friday and waited more than three hours before her turn. She was in the last group to be called. By the time she’d been called, they’d changed the way the tryouts were structured. Rather than see three girls at a time, which was how it began, they were herding them in six at a time to speed up the process. Still, she did her routine and gave it all she had only to learn at 10:30AM the next morning, she hadn’t made it. Worse was that in her mind there were girls who did make it whom she felt she’d done better than.

I fully understood her heartbreak. The writer in me could identify with this unjust feeling. It still curls my toes when I see celebrities publishing novels without having to pay their dues. To this day, I find myself reading published novels and wondering how it is that I can’t break in when this piece of junk or that pile of garbage isn’t just published but on the best seller list.

I gave my daughter a choice. She could either quit cheer altogether, or she could push forward and not give up. You see, my daughter is also a competitive cheerleader and has a new season of that coming up. Failure to make the school squad didn’t mean the end of her cheer career. It just meant she had to watch her friends achieve something she couldn’t. My daughter’s response to these choices was: ‘Why should I give up? I love cheerleading?’ When I told her she could always skip the school squad and just stick to the competition cheer, she told me she intended to try out for and make the high school cheer squad. Kudos, and I hope she does.

I like to think maybe my perseverance in my literary endeavors has inspired her not to quit. Either way, I guess we both have some tough life lessons to learn about the heartache that comes from having your dream in someone else’s hands.