A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Mistletoe Mistake--My Christmas Gift To You

Merry Christmas!!!

It has been a long time since I attempted a short story. Short is not one of my strong suits, all of my completed manuscripts are over 80K words (that's long for a Young Adult novel, not TWILIGHT long, but long). But, I wanted to have something to give all of my blog followers and, since this is a writing blog and I thought short story.

You may read this and decide it isn't complete. You may wonder what happens next. (I hope you do. ) You may want to LEAVE COMMENTS (hint hint) about what you think the main character should do next. You may even want to critique this and tell me what you think is wrong with the story. PLEASE DO!

I'm not a perfect writer (thank goodness, perfect is boring). Whatever I write is up for critique, interpretation, and comments.

I present for your reading pleasure (I hope it's pleasure)....


The Mistletoe Mistake

by Jennifer Wolf

“Rachel!”

I duck and pretend I’m looking for something on the other side of the hall so I don’t have to acknowledge Eric waving at me from the doorway of the Chem Lab. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to him. Talking to Eric used to be the best part of my day. But now, well, I don’t want to talk to him about what he wants to talk about.

“Rachel!” He says it louder and adds a hand wave. He’s harder to ignore now. When we were freshman, he blended in—stood a couple of inches below the crowd, his head bent over a book, with thick glasses, an over sized t-shirt and baggy jeans. Sometime in the last couple of years, my long-time, comfortable, geeky friend shot up a good six inches, joined the wrestling team, and filled out the t-shirt.

He stands above the crowd now, but some of the geekyness has stuck with him. Enough that he’s waving both arms to get my attention, oblivious to the looks that he’s getting from the people trying to pass by him and into the Lab.

I keep my eyes on the opposite wall, bump into a crowd of basketball jocks and bounce back, smashing my face, (ironically), into a poster for the Christmas social. It looks like I’m not the only one who’s had a close encounter with this poster. It’s wrinkled, smudged, and dangling from one and a half staples. But still, in bright red letters it begs the question,

“WHO WILL YOU MEET UNDER THE MISTLETOE???”

I want to tear out the remaining staples and leave it to be trampled in the mud and bits of rotting leaves that dot the concrete floor of the hall.

I don’t get the chance. Before I can pull myself away, Eric has his hand on my shoulder. “Ouch. Are you okay?” he shields me from the press of bodies so I can stand up straight and step away from the wall.

“Fine.” My eyes meet his chest, but the words from the poster might as well replace the logo on the front of his black t-shirt. “Who will you meet under the mistletoe?” screams at me every time I look at him. Because I know the answer.

And it isn’t me.

“I got it.” He waves a little white box in the air. He still has a little whistle-wheeze in his nose when he gets excited, left-over from the nasal issues that plagued him in grade school, back when I was the only kid who would sit by him on the bus. He always sounded like he had a bad head-cold. A tonsillectomy and adenoid removal two summers ago fixed most of the problem. I’m probably the only one who notices the wheeze now. After so many years, it’s become one of his odd-but-endearing qualities.

“What?” I fold my arms across my chest and lean against the wall so I’m covering the poster. Like I don’t know. Like it hasn’t been the only thing he’s talked about since before Thanksgiving. Like I don’t care.

He answers by opening the box. Lying on a bed of spun angel hair silk is a bracelet made of silver dolphins swimming nose to tail in a circle. It’s so beautiful that I gasp, but cover it with a cough.

“Do you think she’ll like it?” His slate-blue eyes gleam behind the glasses he still wears all the time, except when he wrestles. I breathe in, but he pushes forward before I can say anything. “I thought dolphins because she misses San Diego and Sea World and because she talked about swimming with the dolphins when she was ten and how they felt like wet balloons and how cool that was.” He whistle-wheezes with the last couple of words.

“It’s nice.” I manage. My heart stings with sharp irony. Swimming with dolphins is another event on a long list of things my cousin, Ronnie, has done and dismissed as “whatever” with a head shake and rolled eyes. A list of things I’ve only dreamed of—the wanna-be marine biologist who has only seen the ocean twice.

You’d think Eric would remember the report on dolphins from sixth grade. Who could forget me, attired in full dolphin costume, (borrowed from the preschool my mom runs), making high-pitched chirps in front of a snickering class? That was the first of many nails in the coffin that sealed my social death, back when I was too young to realize I was too old to stand in front of the class dressed like a marine mammal.

I shouldn’t be surprised that he wants her. Ronnie has been one-upping me ever since she was born, two days after me. She was the chubby cheeked, blue eyed cherub with tons of the “family” red hair. I was the bald, (my hair grew in a disappointing brown), greyish, alien-child with a bad case of baby acne. The proof is in the first photo taken of us together—one of a million where she looks poised and serene and I look like I have diaper rash.

Our mothers are twins so even though my mom married the stable accountant from their hometown and Ronnie’s mom, Aunt Daphne, married an up-and-coming commercial producer from California, they got together for everything. Including (Dad says), toilet training. I think Ronnie beat me at that by three months.

When she lived in San Diego, my cousin was a minor skin irritation, but this summer her parents finalized a messy Hollywood-style divorce. Now she lives two houses down from me and is a full-blown case of poison oak.

Mom keeps telling me to be nice to Ronnie, that it was tough on her when her mom caught her dad in the hot tub with the actress from a deodorant commercial he had just shot. An affair I know more about than any sixteen-year-old should, thanks to thin walls between the living room and my bedroom and long (loud) talks over coffee between my mom and Aunt Daphne.

Ronnie got a little red Miata in the divorce settlement, and she doesn’t act like it was hard on her. When she talks about her parents it’s with the same “whatever” and eye roll that she talks about everything. Unless she’s trying to impress someone.

“Or maybe I should have got the galloping horses.” Eric touches the bracelet reverently. “Because she had to sell her horse when her dad moved into a condo in the city. But I thought that seemed a little too young.” Her own horse, ridding lessons, dressage camp, more dreams of mine, all cast aside by Ronnie when she hit puberty.

“Could you maybe hint to her that someone,” he puts the lid on the box, “not me,” he tucks it back into his pocket, “just someone, might be wanting to meet her at the mistletoe on Saturday? Or maybe say something about me and feel things out—”

The bell rings, saving me from listening to him gush about how great my cousin is.

“—we’re late for class.” I start towards my next class, drama, (just to fill my performing arts credit). The only class I have with the drama queen herself.

“—put the note in her locker.”

“Wait.” I whirl back around, not sure if he said, ‘I already put the note in her locker’ or if he was asking me to feel her out on the idea before he puts the note in her locker.

“Move along to class you two, or you’ll have detention.” The vice principal sweeps me down the hall with a wave of his hand. I hesitate and look back at Eric, dying to say something, anything, to stop his plan and save him from the humiliation my cousin will surely heap on him, but I don’t have a choice.

I can get out of a tardy slip with Ms. Leineger, the drama teacher, if I can come up with a dramatic story about why I’m late. Ronnie rocks at that, (she’s always late), but I can’t do it. Maybe if I told the class the truth. The guy I pitied, supported, helped, befriended, and finally fell in love with last year, is in love with my cousin. Ronnie the Great—with her brilliant-blue eyes, fiery red hair and Barbie-doll figure (which I suspect was also part of the divorce settlement, a year ago, she was as chestless as I am)—could probably have any guy at school. But by some evil design, she tolerates, flirts with, and sometimes even hangs out with Eric. A guy who, (by her own reckoning standards), should be gum on the bottom of her Italian leather pumps of popularity.

Eric. The one guy at this school who should be mine.

Ms. Leineger looks up hopefully when I walk through the door. I think “Tardiness Stories” are the highlight of her day. When she sees it’s me she doesn’t even ask, just waves me towards my seat. She starts to say something about letting it go this one time when a breath of red-hot wind blows the classroom door open behind me.

Ronnie enters in all her glory—low cut green shirt, body hugging grey sweater, designer, (ripped in all the right places), jeans, more-expensive-than-Ivy-League-college boots, and her long, curly, oh-so-natural-I-just-ran-my-fingers-through-it-to-get-it-this-way, red hair pulled back in a head band.

“Oh, Ms. Leineger, sorry I’m late,” she breathes. The whole class leans forward and Ms. Leineger gets that ‘this is going to be good’ gleam in her eye. I have to admit, Ronnie is quite an actress, probably because she’s always playing a role. Her dad put her in no less than eight of his commercials. He was talking TV auditions when Aunt Daphne put her foot down and said she didn’t want a Hollywood brat for a daughter. The weird thing is, I think acting was the one thing that Ronnie wanted to do.

She waves the piece of paper in her hand far too dramatically for it to be a regular excuse note. “I just got this in my locker.” She puts her hand over her heart and sighs like a young maiden in a Jane Austin romance. “Someone wants to meet me under the mistletoe at the Winter Social on Friday.”

The girls in the class squeal and ooh. The one straight guy in class whistles from the back corner. She waves the note towards me and I strain to see the handwriting. I’m hoping that someone besides Eric wrote it.

He didn’t hand write the note, but for me, Eric might as well have written his name across it in neon green ink. He cut the letters for the note from newspapers and magazines, something he learned from the campy 1940s detective movies he loves to watch.

“Who’s the lucky guy?” Ms. Leineger’s beams, ever the romantic.

“I don’t know. He didn’t sign his name,” Ronnie blushes a pretty pink. I wonder how she learned to do that on cue.

“So are you going to meet him?” A pimply senior girl from the back row asks.

“Of course I’m going to meet him,” Ronnie giggles—playing up the innocent young maiden thing.

“What if he turns out to be a major geek?” Straight Guy from the back asks.

“I can afford one kiss for a major geek,” Ronnie bats her eyes. “I know all about charity. I went to Catholic school for eight years. The nuns were big on being charitable.”

The class buzzes over that while Ronnie slips into the seat next to me. She leans the opposite way, towards Hali, a devoted Ronnie disciple, and whispers loud enough for everyone to hear, “Megan told me she saw Aiden Holt and Kyler Ward hanging out by my locker. It has to be one of them.”

Aiden Holt and Kyler Ward, the only two people at school who spend more time in front of the mirror than Ronnie does. Hot, athletic, popular, but not enough brains between them to power a night light. I wish one of them had sent the note. Ronnie deserves a guy like that.

“Would you really kiss a geek?” Hali whispers.

“As if.” Eye roll, wrinkled nose, and a flip of red hair towards the front of the room. Her audience gone, Ronnie is done playing sweet and innocent.


The snow is falling wet and slushy as I climb into the family SUV after school. Dad insisted I take this today instead of my clunker Maverick. “The roads will be bad, better take the Suburban.” And of course I have to take Ronnie home. Red Miatas weren’t built for snow.

I wait a good ten minutes, wasting my gas money while the car idles, before she emerges. She’s surrounded by an adoring entourage of Ronny-ites. She knows I’m waiting, but she keeps chatting like she has all day. I think seriously about driving away without her. Let one her fan club take her home. But Mom would kill me, ground me, something. Mom thinks I should be taking care of Ronnie, like my cousin needs or wants my help.

Her crew finally splits up with a round of fake hugs. Then they dash through the wet mess to their individual vehicles. Ronnie—to cool to dash—struts across the parking lot with a black umbrella tucked against her shoulder to protect her from the storm. She opens the door, shakes the snow off, and settles herself into the passenger seat without apologizing for making me wait. She doesn’t look at me, just says a sideways, “The weather here sucks.”

I put the car in drive without answering. She changes the radio station without asking, adjusts her sweater over her new chest, leans back, and stares out the window. The windshield wipers slap back and forth in time to the song she chose on my radio, one I will now hate forever.

“Hey,” she says suddenly, and sits forward. “Isn’t that Eric?”

I follow her gaze to the shoulder of the road. A very wet Eric, wearing nothing warmer than his wrestling jacket is walking with his head down, huddled against the storm.

“We should pick him up,” Ronnie’s voice is uncharacteristically concerned, “he looks cold.”

I would have picked him up without her suggestion, but it annoys me that she noticed him first.

Before I’m all the way off the road, Ronnie rolls down the window and sticks her head out into the storm. “Hey Eric,” she says. “Need a ride?”

He turns around, wary—geek habits die hard—but his face splits into a grin when he sees Ronnie. I fade into the background, nothing but a chauffer to the queen. “Thanks. I forgot wrestling practice was cancelled today and I missed my bus.”

“No problem,” Ronnie takes credit for my rescue. He’s heading for the back door, but she slides across the bench seat and against me so he can climb in front. She touches the back of his jacket, “You should take this off. You’re drenched.”

“Oh, yeah, right,” he leans back outside, almost falls off the seat, (Ronnie giggles), peels off the jacket, and puts it in the back seat.

She puts her hand on his arm, and he flexes to her touch. “Your shirt’s wet too, but you probably shouldn’t take that off. We wouldn’t want you fogging up the windows. Rach needs to be able to see.”

Eric blushes and grins. He looks good with his wet shirt clinging to his chest and his wet hair dark and plastered across his forehead.

“So how’s wrestling going?” Ronnie hasn’t moved her hand from his arm. Primal jealousy surges through me. I have to force my eyes back to the road.

Eric mumbles an answer towards the floor. She keeps talking, flirting, drawing him out, until they’re both laughing at one of his stories. Ronnie’s fake-sweet, flirty voice grates on my nerves. I dig my fingernail back and forth along the steering wheel. A voice inside my head is screaming at me to say something—break into the conversation, make them acknowledge me. Fight for him. Say something cute or witty like Ronnie. But nothing comes out.

I pull into Eric’s driveway. He finishes his conversation with Ronnie before he slides out. He grabs his jacket from the back seat. “See you tomorrow, ladies,” but his eyes are on Ronnie. He glances back at me once, “thanks Rach,” and beams like he’s already under the mistletoe, sharing his first kiss with my cousin.

After Eric goes inside, Ronnie uses one of my sweatshirts, slung over the backseat, to wipe up the puddle he left on the seat. She scoots over and slumps back into the real Ronnie—brooding out the window, “whatever” written across her face.

My insides are eating me up. Did I see something that would make me think she really does like Eric? She acts the same around all guys, but her usual targets are higher on the social scale than him. I can’t keep quiet so I let it out, slow, casual, “So. You and Eric?”

She turns from the window, looks startled, but covers it with a lemon-sour face, “What? Me? Eric? Geek of the wrestling world?’ Eye roll. “No way.”

Her easy dismissal of Eric infuriates me. How can she flirt with him like that and then brush him off like he was nothing?

“Eric’s a great guy,” I defend. “And he’s not a geek, he’s nice and he’s...he's not bad looking.”

“If you like lost puppy-dog cute.” She sighs and looks back out the window. “I mean he has the muscle thing going on a little, but those glasses? And just, the whole…” she waves her hand in the air, like she’s flicking him away, “I don’t know. He’s just a geek.”

I should say more, should continue to defend him, but why try to convince her that Eric’s a good guy? Better to convince him that he’s made a mistake with Ronnie that he needs to give up the whole Winter Social thing before she shatters his heart into a million pieces.

She turns back outside and draws little curly q’s on the window that Eric’s wet clothes fogged out. “Still,” she draws a little flower that Dad is going to make me clean off the windows as soon as he notices it, “he is a nice guy. Okay to hang around. Kind of like a comfortable sweater.”

Her tone gets lower—dreamier. “The kind of guy you could trust.” Something in her voice pricks at me, like she’s letting something past her actress fa├žade, a smudge on her perfect mascara, a chink in her armor. “The kind of guy who would never hurt you.” Her curly-q morphes into a heart. “The kind of guy you wouldn’t catch in the hot tub with—” Her drawing becomes all sharp edges and she brushes her hand across the glass to eradicate it. Her expression sets again. I grip the steering wheel hard. For a second I saw something that scared me, a piece of my cousin I’ve never seen before. A piece that might go for a guy like Eric.

A little green monster bubbles up in my throat. “Speaking of your dad, when do you leave for Hawaii?”

“Hawaii?” The lemon-sour face is back.

“Mom told me you were spending Christmas in Hawaii, with your dad.”

Pain, then anger, flashes across her face. She jerks at a lose thread on her jeans. “I’m not going. Ve-ro-ni-ca will be there.” She pronounces every syllable of her Dad’s girlfriend’s name with disgust. As much as I dislike my cousin, I can’t help but feel sorry for her on this one point. Who wants their dad to run off with some woman who is only eight years older than you and has your same name? She shrugs her ‘whatever.’ “Awkward right?”

I mumble my agreement, feeling the terrible weight of pity for my nemesis.

“He sent me a big fat apology, though,” she fingers one of the rips in her jeans. “Wish there was someplace decent to spend it in this frozen wasteland. I could get something new to wear to the Winter Social. Not that I care what I look like. Nobody around here worth impressing anyway.”

I pull into her driveway. She picks up her umbrella and her backpack and opens the door. Then she looks back at me with a gaze that makes me feel the full weight of my inadequacy. “You should think about getting something new for the Social if you’re going. And get an eyebrow wax. Those things are scary.” She gets out and slams the door behind her.

“Thanks for the ride, bye cuz.” I mutter under my breath. The eyebrow comment was enough to chase any feelings of pity I had for her away. My bushy brows have been a sore spot for me since sixth grade when a boy caught a wooly caterpillar and told everyone he had found my lost eyebrow.

As her perfect figure disappears into the house, one thought curls around my brain. I have to find a way to save Eric from having his heart stomped on. I have to find a way to save him from the claws of my evil cousin.As much as I hate to admit it, the eyebrow waxing has done wonders to bring out my eyes—plain brown, but with the eyeliner Aunt Daphne used, they look kind of dark and mysterious. The “moms” insisted on joint make-overs for me and Ronnie, (although I’m the only one who needs it) to get ready for the Social. My mom and Ronnie’s mom are so happy to be back together, that they’re oblivious to the fact that Ronnie and I hate each other. We’re forced to listen to a million ‘when we went to the Winter Social’ stories while Aunt Daphne does my face. She’s good. Before he was big, she used to do all the actors’ make-up for the commercials Ronnie’s dad did.

My mom pulls me aside while Aunt Daphne argues with Ronnie about the shirt she’s wearing, (too low cut, or not low enough, I’m not sure) Mom feels like she has to remind me to be nice to Ronnie. (When is someone going to remind her to be nice to me?) “Stick with Ronnie tonight, k? She’s upset about her dad bailing on her for Christmas, and she needs a friend.”

I shake my head. “Ronnie has plenty of friends.”

Mom looks at me intensely. “Girls who like her because she has money, or because of what her dad does. I don’t know if she has any real friends here. Aunt Daphne says she’s pretty lonely.”

I doubt my cousin has any clue what it means to be lonely. But I shrug. “Yeah, sure mom. I’ll take care of Ronnie.”

I turn away, but Mom grabs me in a hug. “I knew I could count on you.” I shake her off, but a twinge of guilt lingers in my chest.

After that, Mom focuses on my hair, straightening it until it’s sleek and shinny. When look at myself in the mirror, I look older, prettier. The red and black blouse Mom bought me, (half off at a store in the mall Ronnie would die before she entered), makes me almost look slim.

I feel good until Ronnie floats in like a snowflake on the breeze. She’s wearing a fuzzy white sweater with matching boots, ultra-skinny jeans, and a sparkly blue shirt that matches her eyes. Her hair is pulled up in a sloppy bun, with little curls falling over the back of her neck and around her ears. When she slides the cuff of her sweater off her long wrist, I can’t help but imagine Eric’s bracelet there.

But I’m not going to let that happen.

Dad insists on taking a bunch of pictures (so embarrassing). I sure they’ll come out with me—mug shot stiff—and Ronnie—catalog model perfect. We can add it to the collection. Then he tells me I look beautiful and tries to kiss me on the cheek. I blush and duck away. Ronnie stares at the wall and her face twists.

The Winter Social is held in a barn outside of town. The people who own it once had kids that went to our high school. The kids have grew up and moved away years ago, but they still let us have the Social here.

The yard is full of cars and Christmas lights. A full moon makes little crystals glisten on the snow. Everything looks so pure and beautiful, it’s hard even to dislike Ronnie. Then she makes me drop her off at the front so she won’t get new boots wet. We’re late, (early or even on time are not in that girl’s vocabulary). I have to park clear in the back and trudge through the snow by myself.

I catch my breath as I walk inside. The barn looks magical. This year it’s decorated with sprayed white branches and clear lights. The center is opened up for dancing. Long tables on either side are heaped with cookies and crock pots of hot cider.

The farthest corner of the barn holds the biggest tradition of the Winter Social—sprigs of mistletoe tied with bright red bows. The dance is heavily chaperoned so parents can't complain about school sanctioned make-out sessions, but the tradition of exchanging gifts and first kisses under the mistletoe goes back to the beginnings of the Social. The mistletoe is tucked away, private, but not really. The biggest source of gossip for our school post-homecoming through Prom is what happens in that corner.

Ronnie is easy to spot, surrounded by her adoring fans. Eric is too, standing close enough to watch her, but not close enough to draw her attention. Not that she'd pay attention to him anyway, not in public.

I check my watch. Eric’s note to Ronnie said 8:30. That gives me about eight minutes to get into position. Eric will be early, Ronnie will be late. I know she’ll show—her appointment at the mistletoe with the anonymous admirer has been the only thing she and Hali have talked about in drama all week.

This is only my second Winter Social, but I know this barn well. Mom has her fall party for the preschool here. To the left of the mistletoe is a little nook that was once used for hanging saddles and stuff. If I can get there quick enough, and someone isn’t already there in a post-mistletoe make-out session, maybe I can intercept Eric before he makes a fool out of himself.

I brush off a couple of my friends who want to talk, and make my way, casually, towards the nook. My only plan is to get to the mistletoe first. After that…?

A strategically-placed chaperone eyes me suspiciously, but since I’m alone, she doesn’t say anything. The nook is empty, cold, and dark. I rub my arms, check my watch, and wonder how long it will be before Eric gets here.

Ronnie is on the other side of the room. She has this look on her face like all of this is beneath her--not even looking towards the mistletoe. When Eric figures out what she’s really like, he’ll thank me for this.

At 8:23, (exactly), Eric walks towards the corner of the barn, the mistletoe, and me. He keeps his hand in his jacket pocket, probably hiding Ronnie’s present. I step out in front of him, just before he reaches the mistletoe.

He stops dead when he sees me. “Hi.” Swallows. “Rachel.” He glances over his shoulder, towards where Ronnie was, but she’s not there any more. “Um, I'm waiting for—”

“She’s not coming,” I blurt it out quick, like ripping off a band-aid, (or like the wax Aunt Daphne used on my eyebrows).

“What?” He takes a step forward and stumbles. I catch him by both arms. The muscles in his arms flex and clench under my hands. The muscles in the side of his mouth are working too, like he’s trying to keep from crying.

I grip his arms harder and look into his eyes. “She’s not coming, she…she’s not like you think she is. She’s not…” What? How can I explain how mean and shallow and selfish my cousin is? How can I explain that she’s had everything I’ve ever wanted and never appreciated any of it?

His eyes glisten behind his glasses. (Please don’t cry, please don’t cry.) His arms tremble. (Please don’t cry.) Over his shoulder everyone is looking at us, looking at the mistletoe, waiting to see what will happen next.

I do the only thing I can do. Stand on tip-toe, (eyes open so I don’t miss), and presses my lips against his. He freezes for a horrible split second, then leans into me and kisses me back.

It’s the movie-moment I’ve been dreaming of; when the stars align and friendship morphs into love, when the cheesy music plays, when all is right in the world, when Eric finally realizes we’re meant to be together.

But it doesn’t happen that way.

His kiss feels awkward, empty, forced. And when he pulls away I see Ronnie, only few feet behind him. Her hand goes to her mouth, eyes wide with shock and…Relief? I’m waiting for relief, because I saved them both—him from the humiliation of her rejection, her from the horror of being caught under the mistletoe with a geek.

But I read betrayal in her eyes. Betrayal and tears. She turns around, pushes through the crowd, and flees into the snow.

Eric doesn’t see her. He keeps his head down and fumbles for the box in his jacket pocket. He thrusts it at me, “I guess this is for you now.”

I take it and force a smile. “Thank you.” He won’t look me in the eye. I open the box and slip the bracelet over my wrist, where I wanted it to be, where it should be. But somehow, it feels heavy, and it doesn’t shine as much as it did before.

The look on Ronnie's face haunts me. Is it possible that my horrible cousin is human? Is it possible for me to hurt her?

Did I make a mistake?

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Guess What's Under My Tree?

If you had asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year I would have told you, "An agent and a publishing contract." A year later, both of those wishes have come true, (I can still hardly believe it,) with the help of a lot of wonderful people.

So, when I got a package on Christmas Eve from my editor at Walker, Mary Kate Castellani, I was thrilled. Even though this package isn't exactly a Christmas gift. (Mary Kate already sent me three Walker books. Thank You!) The package contains Mary Kate's editing notes for my manuscript. For me, this package is a concrete reminder that this is real. I means I'm one step closer to my dream of having a book published.

(Excuse me for a moment while I dance around the Christmas tree.)

I wrapped the editing notes up last night and put them under the Christmas tree to remind myself that everything that has happened this year has been a gift. I've been truly blessed and I don't want to forget that.

Yes, it scares me so much that I've left that package unopened for now, but I'm excited to move forward with Mary Kate and Walker and make my manuscript the best it can possibly be.

I can't wait to see what 2011 brings.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Books for Kids

The kids are home for Winter break, they're driving you nuts, it's raining/snowing outside, you're trying to clean the house before your mother-in-law gets here, make cookies for the neighbors, wrap presents, and do last minute shopping, and if you have to listen to the theme song for SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS one more time you are going to SCREAM.

Or, in another scenario, you just realized your five adorable nieces and nephews are expecting Christmas gifts from you and they already have EVERYTHING.

I've been there, and I'm here to tell you there is an answer to both problems, and that answer is BOOKS!!!

A visit to your local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Boarders, or Amazon.com and you will have all of your keeping kids entertained/last minute gift-buying done.

I know it can be overwhelming. How do you know what books your kids and or nieces and nephews will like? I asked a bunch of other moms, fellow readers, and fellow writers to tell me some of their favorite books for kids from picture book up to YA and this is what they came up with (by age).

Picture Books:

If you Give a Mouse a Cookie books.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight.
Mike Mulligan'
s Steam Shovel.
Guess How Much I love you.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Owl Moon.
What can I say, I'm a classicist!--Val Serdy

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner,
Wet Dog! by Elise Broach,
If Elephants Wore Pants by Henriette Barkow,
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.--Anna Hellyer

THE VELVETEEN RABBIT,
ALICE THE FAIRY,
KNIGHTS OF THE RIGHT Series--Natalie Malm

THE CIRCUS SHIP by Chris Van Dusen, amazing picture, great poetic flow and the story line is captivating for all ages, even adults!--Stacy Shaw



A B
AD CASE OF STRIPES, David Shannon--Kristin Amrine

From my kids:

OLIVE THE OTHER REINDEER by Vivian Walsh
FIRST DAY JITTERS by Julie Danneberg
WANDA'S FIRST DAY--Mark Sperring
STORM BOY--Owen Paul Lewis
A TREE IS NICE--Janice May Udry

My Picks:

Anything by Jan Brett, (Although for the holidays GINGERBREAD BABY is my favorite.)
Anything by David Shannon,
Anything by Kirby Larsen
MOMMY MINE (love this for a new mom)--Tim Warnes

New this year:

HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE--Jonah Winter
A BEDTIME FOR BEAR--Bonny Becker

Middle Grade:

REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOERINGS.--Miranda Keneally

JUNIE B. JONES Series,
BOYS ARE DOGS
, by Leslie Margolis--Kristin Amrine

From my kids--
39 CLUES
Anything by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Anything by Willo Davis Roberts
Percy Jackson Series (Anything by Rick Riordan)
Harry Potter (of course)


Young Adult:


GONE
MOCKINGJAY,
NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL,
TWISTED by Laurie Halse Anderson,
PAPER TOWNS
(though in general I liked SEARCHING FOR ALASKA better),
THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN
.--Val Serdy

NIGHTSHADE,
SHIVER,
LINGER,
The Gallagher Girls Series by Ally Carter (Up for a Goodreads top chioce award).--Natalie Malm


BEFORE I FALL,
REVOLUTI
ON,
I AM NU
MBER FOUR,
A MATCH
MADE IN HIGH SCHOOL.--Miranda Keneally


My Picks:
SING ME TO SLEEP, Angela Morrison (Up for a Goodreads Reader's Choice Award.)
Anything by Sarah Dessen
Anything by Laurie Halse Anderson
DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, C. J. Omololu
HATTIE BIG SKY, Kirby Larsen
MY FAIR GODMOTHER, Janette Rallison

Whew! This list ought to get you started and give you plenty to read into the new year.

What about you? What are your favorite books for children? What are you getting your kids to read for Christmas? (I won't tell.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Writer's First Attempt

I had a moment of mommy triumph tonight as I tucked my 6-year-old into bed. You know one of those--"Wow, I might just be doing okay at this raising kids thing." It wasn't a huge moment like:"My kid just graduated with a 4.0 and is trying to decide between the four Ivy League colleges he's been accepted to." But it was significant to me. The moment was this, as he climbed into the top bunk he had to move a bunch of stuff out of his way. But it wasn't just any stuff, it was BOOKS!!!

Yes, at the tender age of six my last child has become a reader. YAY me! And more than that, when I asked him what book he wanted me to read him, he said he wanted to read HIS book to me. One he had written himself called, THE SNOWMAN.

The (Proud) Mom Review

THE SNOWMAN is a well-written (for a 6-year-old), and beautifully illustrated (again for a 6-year-old), 8 page picture book about a boy who builds a snowman in his back yard and then shows it off for his friends and family.

The most compelling line for me:

One time a boy made a snowman,
and he named it Bob.

Mom came and said, "Bob?"

No, he didn't punctuate it correctly (he did spell "snow clothes" right on page 4 though) and the story was basic, but he wrote a book. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I love that he feels like he can do that, and I like to think he's following in my footsteps.

It made me think back to one of the first books I wrote. It was called AND THAT'S NOT ALL. (Although I was about 12 when I wrote that one.) I have a brother who is 9 years younger than me. I used to read books to him sometimes at bedtime. I got tired of it after a while so I wrote a rhyming picture book and made him memorize it. When he asked me to read him a bedtime story, I started the story and then said, you know the rest.

As a gift to him later that year, I wrote the book down, sewed the pages together, and had my friend do illustrations for each page. Essentially, I published a book.

It started like this:

There once was a mouse,
who lived in a house,

in a hole in the wall,
And that's not all...

I still have that book. When I got my book deal, my baby brother (now about 6 inches taller than me) posted on Facebook that he was proud to know that the first book I had ever written for was for him.

As long as I can remember I've wanted to be an author. At my mom's house there's a drawer full of my writing. My mom says she keeps it just in case there is a HARRY POTTER in there somewhere. (I doubt it, but it's a nice thought.) I've always thought of myself as a writer. So I guess I can say I've been honing my craft for some 25 years or so.

For all my writer friends out there, I want to know...

What was your first attempt? Have you always been a writer? When did you first put pen, (or crayon, or typewriter, or word processor) to paper with the design to create a story?

***Note, the illustrations for my first book were done by my friend Cheri Reynolds, when we were like 11 or 12? Cheri just finished her Nanowrimo novel. Congrats!***

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, has been on my "to be read" list for a long time. Then on Sunday, September 19th, (just in time for Banned Book Week), Twitter went crazy. Everyone was posting about what a professor in Missouri had to say about SPEAK:

Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University is cautioning parents of the Republic School District against what he refers to as "soft porn" books used in the curriculum, including Speak, which is about rape. --(School Library Journal, September 23, 2010)

This prompted a slew of Tweeters to put "Speak Loudly" around their Twitter icons in support of Laurie Halse Anderson and SPEAK.

When I heard about what was going on, I was determined to read this book and form my own opinion about it. (I'm ashamed to say, it took me until now to get to it.) Having now read it, I must say I am SHOCKED--completely SHOCKED that anything in this book could be construed as soft-porn. I keep wondering if maybe there's a different version of SPEAK out there that this man read.

And honestly, I have a pretty conservative take on what should or shouldn't go into young adult books. I recently had a long discussion with my agency-mate Miranda Kenneally (SCORE, Sourcebooks, 2011), about what is and isn't appropriate (sex-wise) for content in YA. I commented extensively on her blog post on the subject, (written for the YA-5 blog,), and I am planning my own blog post about it soon.

I am NOT in favor of banning books. I think most books are banned by uninformed people who haven't actually read/or don't understand the book. I am, however, in favor of parents being informed about what their kids are reading. (Um, that's why I mom-review books.) I'm also in favor of kids being given a choice to read something else if they're uncomfortable with the material they're asked to read.

BUT... SPEAK is not soft-porn by any stretch of the imagination. It is inspiring. It is real. It gives a voice to thousands of unheard victims.

Rape is a horrible, violent, heart-breaking crime. It happens. And it happens to people of all ages, even kids. We can't afford to pretend that it doesn't. We don't protect our kids when we refuse to acknowledge that bad things exist. We set them up to be victims. We set them up to be silent--exactly what this book is fighting against.

Synopsis:


The main character, Melinda, is raped at a party just before she begins high school. She doesn't tell anyone what happened, in fact, she talks less and less as the story goes on. The book follows her through her freshman year of high school, as all of her friends desert her, and as she tries to come to terms with what happened. Even without the rape, this is a poignant story about the struggles any teen has trying to fit in and survive a crazy time of life. With the rape, it becomes an important story that should be told.

The writing and symbolism in this book are beautiful. It's a good read that tackles a hard subject with sensitivity and realism. I laughed and cried and hurt for Melinda. Even nearly 30 years later, I saw a piece of my high school self in her struggles.

MOM REVIEW:

I honestly didn't see anything, even in the two rape scenes, that would make me uncomfortable sharing this book with my daughter (she's 12). In fact, I feel an obligation to share this book with her. I will, however, make sure she's aware of the content and comfortable with it before I have her read it. (I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under the age of twelve.) I felt like Laurie Halse Anderson handled both scenes well. As a reader I got a sense of how horrible they were, but the description wasn't graphic for either--nothing close to what I would consider soft-porn.

The portrayals of high school life were accurate to the point of being brutal. (Loved, and laughed out loud over "the top ten lies" they tell you in high school--so true.) There is some "language," and conversations of a sexual nature, (like the writing on the bathroom wall), but nothing over-the-top. And parents are kidding themselves if they have kids in high school and they think they're ignorant of that kind of language or conversation.

As a mom, one of my biggest fears is that something terrible will happen to my one of my kids and they'll be afraid to tell me about it. I actually address that issue in my book, TIGERSEYE, (Walker, tentatively 2012). For that reason, I feel like SPEAK would be an excellent book to read with my older kids (12 and 14 years old). When kids get into a bad situation they're often afraid that they'll get in trouble or be blamed, or that parents just won't understand. In this book, Melinda worries that some of the rape was her fault--she was drunk, and she had gone to the party behind her parents' backs.

I'm grateful for any book that I can use to open up a discussion of sensitive topics and how I would respond. The story give us common ground, and talking about fictional characters and situations is often easier than talking about real events.

Discussion Points for Kids and Parents:
(And some of the answers I think are important.)

  • Why did Melinda feel like she couldn't speak up about the rape?
  • Who could or should she have told in the beginning?
  • What could her parents have done so she would have been comfortable talking to them?
  • At what point in the story should the parents have worked harder to listen or figure out what was going on with Melinda? The session with the counselor when Melinda's grades were slipping and she had been cutting class. They didn't ever ask why, they just assumed laziness. (Ouch, I've been guilty of that.)
  • How could her friends have been more understanding/open/loyal and helped her speak up or get through this?
  • How important is popularity? How important is friendship and loyalty?
  • What ultimately lead to Melinda telling someone? She wanted to protect her friend.
  • Are their any guys like Andy at your school?
  • Tell me what you thought of this book.
  • Tell me some of the things that go on in your school.
If the message in this book for victims of sexual assault and teens in trouble is to SPEAK, then the message for parents is to LISTEN.

I loved this book. I'm in awe of Laurie Halse Anderson's writing and story telling skills, and in her ability to take a reader inside the mind of her charters.

Regarding the controversy over this book, I believe in letting an author "speak up" for her own work. Here is Laurie Halse Anderson's response to Wesley Scroggins' evaluation of her book.

So I want to know... If you've read it, what is your take on SPEAK? On banning books in general? On books for teens that have sensitive subjects?

Has a book like this ever helped you through a difficult time in your life of given you the courage to speak up?

***A quick addendum. A testament to what can happen when someone does speak up! Elizabeth Smart's Triumph Empowers victims.***

Friday, December 3, 2010

Teens Doing Great Things--Aspire Middle School, Breast Cancer Walk

Kids these days...they're awesome.

I'm thrilled to say I've gotten tons of ideas for my Teens and Kids Doing Great Things posts. (Please keep them coming.)

I'm playing catch-up so this one is from a while back, but I wanted to recognize ten kids from Aspire Middle School, in Lacey, Washington (and three amazing teachers) who took part in the Tacoma, Washington, "Making Strides" Breast Cancer Walk, on October 9, 2010.

They worked hard to raise money for breast cancer research and gave up their Saturday for a 5k walk. The combined total for all the walkers in Tacoma was $72,795.16.

Great job Firebirds! Way to make a difference.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Countdown to the Call: (Results Not Typical)


You know those miracle diet ads where previously overweight people gush about how easy it was to lose the weight and how much better they feel and the whole time they're gushing there's this little disclaimer in the corner of the screen, "Results not typical"???

I ALMOST feel like putting that in the corner of this blog post. Almost. (But apparently that has been banned from advertising and I don't want to get in trouble and...)

What are typical results for a writer anyway?

Every writer's journey is unique, and I don't want to derail someone's progress because they think they aren't moving fast enough. I know writers who have taken ten years to sell a manuscript. KUDOS to them for hanging in there. I know writers who were picked up out of the slush pile on there first try and...wait, I don't know anyone like that.

Anyway. I've debated for a long time whether I should even put up a post describing my journey to this point. I decided to do it because I want to give other writers HOPE. It CAN happen. It DOES happen. You can be picked out of the slush pile. A debut novel can sell in this economy. And most important you CAN and SHOULD enjoy ever little step in this journey.

So here's how my journey went down (results not typical).
Countdown to the call:
April 2008—(Kind of out of the blue, after years of wanting to and not being able to or not making the effort due to being swamped with life), I decide to start writing again.
July 2008—I finish my first manuscript.
July - December 2009--I send the manuscript out for critiques, rewrite the entire thing changing point of view and tense, join SCBWI and work on a sequel.
December 2009—I send out the first query for my 1st manuscript (ms). Received a bunch of rejections before I decided it needed some serious revision. (Still working on that one.)
January 2009—I finish the sequel to my first ms.
Septemberish 2009—I join a critique group and an on-line writing class from Ann Gonzales.
Octoberish--Writing prompt from Ann's class, “Describe something using every sense but sight.” When I present my paragraph to my group, I get a great response. The seeds of a story based on that prompt work their way into my head.
Decemeber 2009—Over Christmas break I start messing around on the story based on that prompt, despite having two other works in progress waiting. TIGERSEYE is born.
2010
January—I take TIGERSEYE to my critique group and to “The Great Critique” at the Western Washington SCBWI meeting. Both groups tell me to keep going on this one.
January-April-- Many late nights of writing, many trips up to the ski hill passing the time by writing, many piano lessons/soccer practices/play practices writing in the car while I wait. (Let's just say, my laptop went with me EVERYWHERE.)
April 2010—I finish TIGERSEYE.
April-May 2010—The full manuscript of TIGERSEYE goes to my sister, husband, sister-in-law and my critique group.
May 5—Impatience gets the better of me and I send off the first query for TIGERSEYE before getting feedback. * NOTE: I actually wrote the synopsis and query before I finished the manuscript. *
May - July —I send out 14 more queries for TIGERSEYE. The third query goes to Sara Megibow (my future agent).
June 1 - July 20—Query results: Six requests for the partials of my manuscript and five requests for the full manuscript—long, exciting, stressful couple of months. Four agents offer representation—(see blog post, "The Other Side of Send.")
July 28, 2010—Accept representation from Rock Star Agent Sara Megibow at Nelson Literary.
*CELEBRATION*
September 1, 2010—A few revisions, edits, and a website later, Sara puts TIGERSEYE on submission to 14 editors. Because she is AWESOME all fourteen agree to read.
September 9, 2010—We receive our first “no thank you.” (Sounds so much nicer than rejection.)
September - October 10, 2010 Four more “no thank yous” but some interest from two editors who want revisions before they will go to acquisitions.
October 12, 2010—Conference calls with two wonderful editors from two great publishing houses. Each editor has revision notes that are completely different.
October 13, 2010—I start revisions for the editor who wants to change TIGERSEYE the least.
October 13 - 27th —Working on revisions, but I’m sick, my kids are sick, and things aren’t coming together the way I had hoped.
DISCOURAGEMENT
October 28th—I get THE CALL from Sara!!! We have an offer from Mary Kate Castellani at Walker!!!
October 28th—(Later that day.) I talk to Mary Kate Castellani about TIGERSEYE. I’m excited about her editing notes and excited to work with her.
November 4th—We accept Walker’s offer (after waiting for a response from the other editors who were still reading).
November 4th –The deal goes up on Publisher’s Weekly!!! See post: "I Got a Book Deal!"
*CELEBRATION*
From conception to the call (and the deal announcement) was about 11 months. It sounds really fast when it's not broken up into days, hours, minutes of agonizing waiting.
But like I said, RESULTS NOT TYPICAL. Your journey can be longer or shorter. I have been writing, learning, and querying for close to three years now, still I know this has been very fast. I know how blessed I have been. It has been an amazing journey with a lot more amazement (and work) ahead.
I will say this about TIGERSEYE. From the beginning it felt right. Of the three I've written this one felt like it was THE ONE. I don't know how to explain it beyond that, but I've heard that same comment from other authors about their manuscript that finally sells.
For my writer friends in whatever stage you're at: DO NOT GIVE UP. Every "no" is one step closer to "yes". Every moment spent writing is a learning experience. Every manuscript that gets filed in a drawer is one step closer to the one that will get picked up.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Enjoy the journey!
This is just an outline. If you would like to know more specifics about how all of this happened, I'm open to questions. Please ask!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Vetran's Day Tribute, Kids and Teens Who Have Served Our Country

When I was thinking of my "Teens Doing Great Things" post in relation to Veteran's Day, it occurred to me that there have been a lot of kids and teens who have served in the Military at a very young age. History is full of kids in their teens and younger who have served their country during times of war. Many lied about their age so they could be soldiers. Many of those child and teen soldiers paid the ultimate price.

I did some Internet research and here's a sample of what I found:

Revolutionary War

John Kitts (joined the Continental Army) in 1776, when fourteen years of age, he was a member of the First Pennsylvania Regiment of the Revolutionary War. (He died at the age of 108, and was possibly the last living Revolutionary War Veteran.)

War of 1812

Timothy Batchelder, a lad of eight summers, watched weary soldiers march by his Allenstown, New Hampshire home.... The beat of the drums had charmed Timothy long before now, but today it made him pulse with excitement. Yes, Timothy was a very real boy and his name is on the War of 1812 muster rolls.
--
War of 1812 Drummer Boy: Timothy Batchelder Off to War and Still a Child


Civil War
An 11 year old who was awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. The official citation notes his birth date. There are records of boys as young as 7 serving in the Civil War.

Civil War Statistics:

More than 1,000,000 (soldiers) were eighteen or under.
About 800,000 were s
eventeen or under.
About 200,000 were sixte
en or under.
About 100,000 were fifteen or under.
Three hund
red were thirteen or under-most of these fifers or drummers, but regularly enrolled, and sometimes fighters.
Twenty-five were ten or under.
Boys in the Civil War



World War II


The youngest US serviceman in World War II was 12 year old Calvin Graham, USN. He was wounded in combat and given a Dishonorable Discharge for lying about his age. (His benefits were later restored by act of Congress). World War II Facts

Vietnam
11,465 KIAs (Killed in Action) were less than 20 years old. One man killed in Vietnam was only 16 years old (RABER, PAUL J.)

Now

In researching for this blog I came across the story of a young Iraqi who most likely lied about his age so that he could serve with the United States Army as an interpreter. He made that decision after al-Qaeda came to his school and killed two of his best friends. He decided he wanted to make a difference for his country. This brave teen reminded me of the young men and women in American history who lied about how old they were so they could fight for their country. You should read the whole story. Here's a link to the Washington Post article, "As U.S. troops leave Iraq, an officer honors the memory of a young interpreter"

An Inadequate Thanks
Even now many of our men and women in uniform are young. Seventeen-year-olds can enlist in the Military, but they're not supposed to go into combat until they're eighteen. Whatever the age, I'm grateful for the service of all of our servicemen and women. I live near Joint Base Lewis McChord so I know a lot of military families. I've attended a memorial service for a soldier killed in Iraq, the husband of a dear friend. These experiences have given me a glimpse into the sacrifice our soldiers and their families make.

I belong to Soldier's Angels, an organization that offers programs to support our troops, like adopting a deployed soldier who could use some mail. I would encourage anyone who's interested in supporting our troops to participate in Soldier's Angels or other programs like it.

As a teen I got to put a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. The feeling and reverence at that sight is undeniable and indescribable. Although there is no way I could adequately say thank you to all of those who have served and are serving our country, whatever their age, I hope they understand that I am grateful.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Kids Doing Great Things--Jump Rope for Heart at South Bay Elementary

How do you get kids moving for a good cause?

Rick Mortlock, the PE teacher at South Bay Elementary, and the American Heart Association have the answer--Jump Rope for Heart.

For the past 12 years students at South Bay have been teaming up, raising money, and jumping to help the American Heart Association fight Heart Disease and help people with heart defects. Every year, 150-180 kids in grades 4th -6th form teams, collect donations for the American Heart association, and practice their jump roping skills for the big day.

This year South Bay's Jump Rope for Heart was held on October 28th. Twenty-two teams met in the gym to show off their jump roping skills, hang out with their friends, and then enjoy healthy snacks provided by the PTA. During breaks between jumping, Mr. Mortlock drew names for door prizes--t-shirts, jump ropes, footballs (all of which went to girls) and lots of other cool stuff.

The event is fun with a purpose. Not only are the kids learning a great way to keep their own heart healthy, they're helping other people, even other kids who have heart defects. A poster on the wall reads, "I am jumping in honor of..." The participants added the names of people they were jumping for. The names weren't limited to people with heart problems. The list included cancer survivors, personal heroes, and soldiers deployed to Iraq andAfghanistan .

Every year South Bay students raise between 5,000 and 7,000 dollars. In the biggest donation year, South Bay raised over $11,000!

They're working to top that. Donations are still being accepted for this event through November 12th. You can click here to donate. (Yes, I know it's my son's donation site, but this is my blog and I'm allowed a few shameless plugs. And it is for a good cause.)

Beyond November 12th the American Heart Association could still use your help. You could even organize your own Jump Rope for Heart event.

Congratulations to the kids at South Bay and Rick Mortlock for doing great things for the American Heart Association!

Know a kid or group who deserves to be recognized? Let me know. I love posting about the great things kids do!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I GOT A BOOK DEAL!!!


JUADSOL!!!! (Jumping up and down screaming out loud!)

Now that it has been announced in Publisher's Marketplace, it's official and I can announce it to the world:


November 4, 2010



Children's:
Young Adult

Jennifer Shaw Wolf's debut TIGERSEYE, about a young woman healing from the car crash that killed her boyfriend while hiding the truth of their relationship, to Mary Kate Castellani at Walker, in a nice deal, by Sara Megibow at Nelson Literary Agency (World).

I'm still kind of in shock, but I think this means...
1) People other than my husband/sisters/mother/daughter/friends will be reading my book. TIGERSEYE will be going out into the world!

2) Someone is willing to pay me to write. (Which is the coolest, most incredible thing in the world!)

There are a million thank yous I should make to the people who got me here. These are just a few...

The most amazing husband in the world, my web designer, photographer, and biggest supporter! Love you, David!

My totally amazing agent for picking me out of the slush pile (query her, she's incredible) Sara Megibow and everyone at Nelson Literary.

Mary Kate Castellani and Walker Books for loving my work enough to take it on. I can't wait to work with you!

My awesome sister, Kristin Amrine for her many reads and long phone calls.

My incredible sister-in-law, mentor, coach, editor, and "tough love" advisor author Angela Morrrion.

My inspirational family--my kids, Mom and Dad who taught me that I could do anything, my brothers and sisters-in-law who read for me.

Greatest critique group in the world--Val (totally awesome freelance editor!), Sarah, Blessy, Joan, and Michele (even though she's leaving us to explore the wilds of Costa Rica.)

Ann Gonzales and the writing prompt that made the wheels in my head start to turn.

My darling niece, Ashley who started me on this journey with e-mails like, "Is there any more of the story?" and "Can you write faster?"

And to my writing organizations SCBWI, Western Washington SCBWI, South Sound SCBWI, and ANWA for the support and information!

Okay, I know I'm not receiving an Academy Award, and I know I have a lot of work still ahead of me. I know this is just the beginning. But it's a beginning that is a long way from where I started.

I have a lot to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review: WINTERGIRLS


I talked to an editor recently who said she doesn't care where a book takes her, as long as it takes her away. WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson, is a book that definitely takes you away. But it's not a journey to a specific place or another time. Reading WINTERGIRLS is like taking a trip inside the mind of a teen aged girl with anorexia.

The book begins when the main character, Lia finds out that her best friend, Cassie, has died alone in a hotel room. Lia and Cassie have been friends since childhood. Their mutual need for acceptance and competition with each other lead both of them to eating disorders--Lia to anorexia and Cassie to bulimia, (ultimately the cause of her death). Although they haven't been close for months, Lia knows that Cassie called her 33 times before she died. Lia is plagued by guilt because she didn't answer Cassie's call, and she feels responsible for Cassie's self-destruction and death.

Lia's hates herself and is "hungry" for her parents' attention. Her self-loathing manifests itself in anorexia and in cutting herself. In Lia's world every food is reduced to it's caloric value, and every bite she takes (or doesn't) is an exercise in self-control and punishment.

The story is told through Lia's thoughts. Her daily battle with food and her parents' apathy is shown by crossed-out words in her stream of consciousness. She's haunted by Cassie's ghost, and shows signs of mental instability that go beyond hunger or guilt-induced visions.

This book is beautiful and poetic. Laurie Halse Anderson is a master of imagery and words. The story is dark, but anorexia and self-mutilation are dark and they are real problems. This leads me to my

MOM REVIEW:

The dark subject matter in this story may be disturbing for younger readers, (actually, it would probably be disturbing for anyone who reads it,) but it is heart-breakingly authentic. There were moments when I was reading that I recognized myself in Lia, both now and especially when I was a teenager. I think that the negative self-talk that plagues Lia is typical of many teenagers. (If not most at, least at some point.)

Because it is graphic and dark I would recommend this book for fourteen or fifteen-year-olds and up. Again, know your kid. I told my 12-year-old daughter about WINTERGIRLS and she has no desire to read it, at least not now. However, one of her friends has read this book and loved it.

Discussion

This is an important book for parents to read with their girls. Just explaining the plot to my daughter brought up a good discussion about eating disorders and the idea of self-mutilation. She didn't even know what anorexia or bulimia was, and honestly I wish it was something I could keep from her forever. Unfortunately, the way things are...

A moment of ranting

At age twelve my daughter is already very aware of body image and the idea of size 0 (she has some very small friends). On a recent shopping trip I literally couldn't find any jeans that were over a size 2 at a popular clothing store. A clerk helped me find larger sizes (and by larger I mean 5s) after I said (loudly) that there were no clothes for real people in that store. The unrealistic ideal that we see in magazines and on TV, I believe, is a big contributor to eating disorders on both ends of the scale--anorexia and obesity. (See my post on Creating Strong Female Characters.) I don't see that image changing anytime soon, so it's important that girls are educated about the dangers of eating disorders and the importance of liking yourself the way you are now.

There's a message in WINTERGIRLS for parents as well about being aware of what is going on in our kids' lives. We all have busy lives, we all have our own issues, but we can never let our children feel like they are invisible. Many of Lia's issues in this book seemed to come from a need to be noticed by her parents. (May I suggest reading and discussing books with your kids as a way to get to know them and strengthen relationships?) As a mom I'm grateful for books like WINTERGIRLS that allow me to open up a discussion with my kids and help them learn a lesson without me always being the teacher.

The dark reality this story paints is a clear vision of the dangers of eating disorders and how much you miss out on or lose when you allow an obsession to rule your life. The hopeful ending shows that there can be a way out, not an easy way out, but there is always hope.

WINTERGIRLS is a powerful read. I highly recommend it. Laurie Halse Anderson is amazing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I am a Writer

First let me apologize for being lax in getting my blogs up. I have the usual excuses, I've been sick, my kids have been sick, I had a big video project due...yadda yadda yadda. I actually have been blogging. I was working on a post about teens and grieving following the death of a senior at our high school. I couldn't get it right, and I didn't want it to be a rushed post. I decided to shelve that one for a time when the emotions aren't so raw.

The title for this post came from two things. First was from a class that Liz Adair taught at my ANWA retreat. The class was called "Finding Your Inner Matryoshka." Unfortunately I wasn't able to fit in every single class so I didn't get to go to that one, but I heard it was wonderful. I was happy when she put the gist of the class on her blog. The blog talks about the different stages of being a writer as compared to a Matryoshka, (a Russian nesting doll). It is an excellent post, I suggest you read it.

At the end of our retreat, some of members of the group stood up and said, "I am a writer." I thought that was great, but maybe a little superfluous, after all, we were at a "writer's retreat," isn't that the same as admitting you are a writer?

I don't think I got it until last week. I was sick, my kids were sick, I was struggling with revisions and keeping up my blog, and my house, and trying to finish my video project, and I started to wonder if all this writer stuff was worth it. The black cloud of doubt crept into my mind and that little voice inside my head started in on "What were you thinking? You can't be a writer." and "You don't know how to do this?" and "Who is ever going to want to read what you write?" Anyway I have reiterated it over and over on this blog, but I'll say it again...

Writing is hard work!

It's a lot of time, a lot of commitment, a lot of sacrifice, and especially if you want to be published it's a lot of frustration and rejection. AND you may never be published and then no one but your mom/husband/sister/dog/bird will ever read what you have written. Or so I thought...

Then I got this e-mail:

Hi Ms. Wolf - My name is Dwight Jackson and I am currently an editor at English Weekly. English Weekly is a newspaper in mainland China for student who are learning English (the largest of its kind in China). I am in the process of starting a website with content for our readers that is more than grammar exercises. I want to bring fun into the learning equation. I also want to give them some American culture that they don't get from movies or state run TV. Thant being said, I saw the blog post written by your sister about the Juvenile Diabetes walk. It's great. I think its perfect for the site.

This e-mail made me realize two things: 1) Because I blog, people are already reading my writing. (And not just any people, people from the other side of the world!)

2) I'm already a writer.

It's kind of a scary/cool/weird feeling to realize something I posted is/was/will be read by people outside of my little corner of the world. Okay, yes I realize that Mr. Jackson was talking about something my sister wrote (thanks K), but still...

I already have an audience, and it doesn't matter how big or small it is as long as something I write helps/touches/affects someone else. That's why I decided to be a writer in the first place. That's why I write. And that's why I'm THRILLED that Chinese students can read about REAL American teenagers doing good things because of something I posted. It's not necessarily something you would find on a television show, in a movie, or on the news, but it happens A LOT. (I have a stack of "kids and teens doing great things that I'm trying to incorporate into this blog and I would love to have more.)

I'm proud to say that my sister's writing and my blog were able to touch (even in a little tiny way) the perception that people on the other side of the world have about teens in the United States.

I'm proud to say I'm a writer.