Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Glad Someone Read To Me, The Outsiders

Today there is an event called, I AM GLAD SOMEONE READ TO ME. It's on Tumblr and Twitter using, #GSRtME. I'd like to share with you my story.

When Sister Edward William read the words, “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home,” I was hooked. It’s not easy getting an entire 8th grade class to pay attention but we did. We were all hooked by S.E. Hinton’s words, about kids our age from another era but who felt so much like home. The kids from the wrong side of the tracks, outcasts, misfits, poor, and with the weight of the world against them. I grew up two blocks from the Philly elevated train, in a neighborhood known for drugs and prostitution. Kids from a richer neighborhood also went to my school and it always seemed like it was us against them. Soc vs. Grease was a battle I knew well.

I knew kids that came from broken homes and often wandered the streets like Johnny. I knew kids like Dally, angry at everyone and the world. I knew class clowns and thieves like Two-Bit, dreamy drop outs like Sodapop, hardworking kids made to be adults too soon like Darry, and I knew too many kids taken from this world far too soon. Ponyboy was my kindred spirit. A kid who didn’t fit in anywhere. A kid who liked poetry and books. Sunsets and movies. A kid who wanted so badly to be accepted by his hood-rat peers but wanted so much more out of life at the same time.

It was here, where a passion ignited inside of me to write about broken characters, pained by life, but determined to keep their head held high and carry on. Sister Edward gave us an assignment afterward, to write the beginning to a novel of our own, about kids like us, much like S.E.Hinton did at the age of sixteen. My story was titled, Stay Gold. Not very original but it became a fan fiction of sorts. A story where a boy like Johnny lived to see a better life and where a boy like Dally found the beauty in a life worth living. A story where everyone got their happy ending. I couldn’t re-write my own family history, where my brother lived and my family wasn’t forever fractured by the loss. But I could write about kids that survived the impossible. Defying the odds thrust against them on the hard concrete streets of a neighborhood long forgotten.

I am so glad Sister Edward William read the Outsiders to me and my class. I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for the words of S.E Hinton, “Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold…”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How I started writing YA

Once upon a time... in a genre far far away... was a cynical newbie writer who scoffed at the Young Adult authors of the world. Yeah, that was me. I thought, who'd want to write about teens as an adult? I didn't get it as I was too wrapped up in my grown up Women's Fiction world. It bugged the crap outta me that these authors were getting all the mad props. For what? Writing about angsty teens with their mouths forever gaped open? So, I decided to read Twilight. And I loved it. Damn.
Then I became the parent of a teen. A female one. Double Damn.

Such strange creatures I tell you. With every sullen stare, heavy sigh, and roll of the eye I remembered those days where I too was an eye rolling, angst filled, temperamental bitch with zits and body image issues.

I've wanted to strangle my darling teen on more than one occasion. Always ridden with Catholic Guilt after such murderous thoughts I call my mom and tell her how sorry I am for being such a horrible teenage witch and that I love her so very much. I figure if I give a heartfelt plea for forgiveness the gods will change my fate and give me a teen who does all her chores and hugs me often.

That hasn't happened yet. God, I hope she doesn't grow up to write a tell all Mommy Dearest about me...
So, what did I do with all that rage filled parental woe? I plotted out a story where a mother tries to kill her kid, fails, gets self killed, and then haunts kid for the rest of her days. Yes! Revenge by pen is oh so sweet.

The more I brainstormed this macabre tale the more I liked it. The more I loved this teen with a scarred face and wounded heart. One day on the El-train I took out my handy dandy notebook and scribbled some musings. 250 words. A possible opening. I took said scribblings to a Writers Conference and read it aloud to my crew of fellow geniuses. They loved it. With all their praise and encouragement I knew I had write this tale. It took a year to flesh out the full story before writing a single word. (I did this in between writing another novel.)

I pulled together other story tid-bits I had collecting dust in my brain, ideas I thought would make good fiction one day. A haunted house reality show had this little girl who'd been haunted for years by the shadow of a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt, just hovering over her bed. Creepy. And it stuck with me. A little girl forever haunted. What if the person haunting her was her mom? Even creepier. The movie THE RING totally freaked me out. Those big eyes, gurgling sounds, and jerky body movements of that long haired thing inspired my ghost mom.
Other stray thoughts weaved their way into my tale; a friends true story of almost dying when she was ten, a local school for the blind where students worked side by side with kids who could see, and the Spielberg movies I'd grown up with -those tales of an eclectic group of kids defying the odds. Marty McFly and his oh so fly two-toned jacket. (I had to write a tale where I could have hammer pants and two toned jackets!) My inner-city Philly neighborhood is a character in itself, with its graffiti speckled skyline and the diverse people who live in it. I wanted to give it a voice and a place in the literary world.

My brother's death in the end is what truly inspired this tale. The what if factor. What if he lived? What would've been different? If I could go back would I change his fate, knowing it may and probably would forever alter my own. My annoyingly awesome teen may never have been born. Such thoughts once bombarded me. Regret and what-ifs have their place in the grieving process. But I can't play in the world of make believe with my real life. I wouldn't be me if one thing were different and I couldn't live with that. So, the what ifs I'll save for my fictional world.

The final and most awe inspiring inspiration for my tale came from the 2012 Cold Play Mylo Xyloto Concert. I need a soundtrack to write and this tale had yet to find one. The days before the concert the teen and I listened to a contest winner on the radio gushing for tickets. We both agreed how awesome it would be to go. Two days later I got an email; someone had two free tickets. Wurd to ya mutha! Squee! Woot! Now, I'm bad with song titles. I just jam in my car and on the El to work not knowing those important details. I knew very little about the tour and their current album but was stoked either way. I LOVE Coldplay. Who doesn't?

Teen and I get there and gush as they give us bracelets. How cute, a souvenir. Then we see the set and its a graffiti laden paradise, glow in the dark even. My muse perks up and feels a soundtrack coming on. I peruse the interwebz for the set list and apparently the Back To The Future theme is part of the show. Were the writing gods trying to tell me something?
Then the show starts. My hearts leaps inside my chest. It is the single most amazing show I've ever seen. Ever. And I've seen a lot of shows. The bracelets light up and are part of the concert. They blink to the beat of the music, each different color in tune with their own rhythm. And I got to share this with my kid. That teen who drives me to murderous fantasies.
A Touch In The Dark is nearly finished its first rough draft. It's my second novel and I'm plotting it out like a good girl. No pantsting for me this time around. I've wasted far too much time doing that. So, yeah, I'm writing angsty rolly eye ridden YA and loving every second of it.
Here's an amazing clip of the concert. Charlie Brown is my favorite and the first song on my soundtrack. It's where I envision Rori riding her bike through the streets of Frankford... my tale playing out like the opening scenes of a movie... Enjoy and maybe you too will be inspired.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Good Daughter

This book has magical powers. It forced me to read it in one sitting. I was unable to do anything else. Book in hand, I blindly got ready for my day, I huddled by a window seat on the train- nearly missing my stop, and I hid like Constanza at work. Feverishly reading while hiding.

This was me but reading a book.

Nothing gets in between me and a great book. Nothing. And Jane Porter writes one hell of a Good Book.

THE GOOD DAUGHTER is Jane Porter's second novel in the Brennan Sisters Trilogy. THE GOOD WOMAN was the first and was an amazing read of straight up Women's Fiction. It's all about Meg's journey in an unsatisfying marriage and the choices she makes to reclaim her life and be happy. It's at times gut wrenching, loving, and makes us all think about the state of our own relationships. In the end, while you get a feeling all will be okay for Meg, you still aren't sure. You wonder about the other sisters and their story lines. I love that. I love when books mirror life. Not neatly wrapped up into a HEA package. No end credits. Just a satisfying end to the journey of the character.

Meg's tale got me so excited to read about Kit, our lovable Catholic School Teacher in the THE GOOD DAUGHTER. This is a more of a Romantic Women's Fiction read and I LOVE that its different from the first in the series, doesn't follow some archaic formula. I loved getting to read from not only the other sisters POVs but the guys too. There is a villain in this story and it's no where near a romance novel cliche where the woman needs to be saved by the hero.

The secondary plot lines are seamlessly woven into Kit's story. Kit is tired of being so good that she neglects herself. So worried about pleasing others that she puts herself in harm's way. For once in her life, and after ten years of living with someone who had no intention of marrying her, Kits sets out on her own. She finds out what Kits likes, loves, and won't stand for. She takes time to get to know herself again and the people she meets along the way, like a very sexy bad boy named Jude, only make her journey all the more enjoyable.

Jude is no cliche either. While yes he has long hair, tattoos, rides a motorcycle, and has a mysterious job, he's not this wounded hero that needs saving either. I really identified with him. The only thing I didn't like was Kit's worry about her family not wanting her with a "low life". I hated that Kit and those around her would be so judgemental. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and that kind of thing always rubs me the wrong way.

Kit also has some past baggage. Abuse from childhood. And to be honest I could hug Porter for not diving all too much into it. Leaving it there in the background. Something Kit's never opened up to anyone about. Something that keeps her from being able to enjoy intimacy and love. Something she is trying to deal with on her own. Again, no hero needs to save her. I know people who've been where Kit was. Some never told their spouses and dealt with their pain with a quiet grace, in the way that they needed to survive, to heal. Somewhere down the line I can only imagine Kit opening up to others but at this point in her journey that's not the focus. That takes courage to write about. It's honest and it's real.

So much about Meg and Kit and the entire Brennan clan is honest and real. They feel like family.

Maybe it's because I'm Irish from a big city. Maybe it's because I have siblings. Maybe it's because I too have most of my family in law enforcement or civil service. Or maybe, just maybe, like I said above, Jane Porter writes on hell of a book.

I think it's the latter. You should find out for yourself.

Isn't Jane Porter just so cute!