Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Reads

This book was such a pleasant, amazing surprise. As an author who writes issue-driven fiction, I thought that Gail Giles executed RIGHT BEHIND YOU with perfection.

RIGHT BEHIND YOU is the story of Kip--a teen who, when he was nine, murdered a seven-year-old neighbor. I wondered, when I first picked up the book, how Gail Giles could make Kip a protagonist I could root for, but she does, beautifully. The book follows Kip on his road to wholeness--first as an inmate at a teen correctional facility, and then, as he tries to transition back into society, and living with his dad and new stepmother. The book is written in first-person narration,and I thought that she captured the voice of a teen boy amazingly well.

I thought that all the references to therapy, his time in the mental institution, and his general awareness of his own inner growth, gave the book an air of authenticity (made me wonder if she is a therapist herself or how much research she did.)I loved that she showed the step-mom as such a positive, supportive person, and I loved the romance thrown in--Sam was the perfect counterpart to Kip/Wade's character.

Recommended for the older teen and adults, especially teachers, mental health professionals, and any parent.

Monday, July 25, 2011

First Drafts, Part II

I've been working on two first drafts for two different projects. It's funny, looking at this blog--I noticed that back in April I wrote a post about how much I love first drafts.


Not so much, this time around. I think that what's been stopping me up has been my inner editor, and boy, is she one mean, nasty shrew of a person. She doesn't let up, catching all of my echoes, horrible dialogue tags, and laughing at each and every cliche she finds, only to have me running in a corner and hiding.

I think I've found a way to chain her up. Well, three things. One, a new author friend I met told me that she likes to write late at night, because she finds that when she's a little sleepy, and the kids are in bed, that inner editor is not so cranky. This has been working fabulously! (so far). Secondly, with FINDING PONY, I discovered a way to write very quickly: when you have a scene in your head, just write free form, no capitalization or punctuation, fast, fast, fast, until you have that little sucker of a scene down. Later you can go back and puncuate, if need be. This has worked very well when I have dialogue in my head, and once I can get the characters talking, I can just record what they say. Lastly, is a technique I learned from reading Stephenie Meyer's blog one time: write your scenes out of order, if you want. This is very liberating. Sometimes when I'm going on with my day, and I get a brilliant idea for something that happens perhaps, not until act two or three, I'll just write the scene out of place and save it somewhere, until I need it.

What works for you guys?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Always do what you are afraid to do

Confession time: I've been suffering from a little bout of writer's block. It is really very, very annoying. And the funny thing is, I don't really believe in writer's block, I subscribe to the B.I.C. philosophy of writing, i.e. Butt in Chair concept of just get it done. Put the words on the page and no more sniveling about it, you big cry baby.

But anyway, here I am not writing very much. FINDING PONY is being submitted to editors right now, and in the meantime, my agent and I decided that the next project I should begin on is a companion title, tentatively titled AURORA BEGINS. Aurora is an important character in my first novel and her backstory is so interesting that I just knew it should be the next book. I actually even told my agent, "This will be easy--I already know her character. I can whip this book out really quickly."


Aurora is seventeen years old, a tough Latina girl who grew up in East L.A. Her whole family is somewhat involved in the gang lifestyle and her boyfriend Manuel is the head of their gang. Okay, so...I'm white. And yes, I've been a social worker for some time, I've worked with kids in gangs and a little in L.A. even, and I've been doing research---lots of it--to make sure that my MC's voice will be authentic as it can be, to the best of my ability. I also know that there are so many writers out there who have written their MC's who are different races than they are, different genders, even different sexual orientations, and have done it well, very well.

But it's still scary. Really, really scary. Because, more than anything, I don't want to get it wrong. I want to do justice to my character, and to the people who will eventually read my book.

"Always do what you are afraid to do." This quote shows up on Twitter periodically, mostly I think because it resonates with us writers so much. I know that there can be greatness in doing something that terrifies you with the possibility of failure, but still, there's that niggling part of me, sitting on my shoulder this whole time whispering: it's crap, it's garbage. The cognitive side of me knows that every writer (at least I hope) goes through this--it is something we must all endure.

Here's a couple questions for anyone who may be reading: How much research do you do before you are comfortable writing your story? Are you ever, truly comfortable? Would you feel confident writing a MC with a different race than you? Gender? Sexual orientation?

Hope you guys have a great Wednesday.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Friday, everyone!

 Apparently July 6th was National Kissing Day and I missed it...what? Really? Well, I came across this delightful video and was entranced--thought you all might enjoy as well. Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Child Abuse and the Death of Caylee Anthony

I suspect most of the nation has been mourning the passing of sweet little Caylee Anthony. I know I have. It's horrifying, isn't it? The possibility that a mother could murder her own child (I know, she's been aquitted, but still...). It goes against every instinct within us. And yet it happens every day, all around us. Even within our very own neighborhoods.

Consider this. In 2009, approximately 3.3 million child abuse reports were made involving over 6 million children in the U.S. That's a lot of children, and that only reflects a very small portion of those cases that actually were reported to authorities.

There are four types of child abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. Believe it or not, but neglect often times has the most devastating psychological effects on a child. As sick as it sounds, when you are beaten or sexually abused, at least you are getting attention. As a social worker, most people, I've found, believe child abuse happens just to poor people, or children of the drug addicted. What they don't realize is that all forms of child abuse cross over every socioeconomic level, ethnic and cultural line, religions, and all levels of education.

Here are some other disturbing facts:

--a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds

--almost five children a day die from child abuse

--60-85% or child fatalities due to mistreatment are not recorded on such on death certificates

--90& of child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way

--over 60% of people in drug rehab centers were abused or neglected as children

--abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy

--children of sexual abuse are 2.5 times likely to abuse alchohol and 3.8 times more likely to develop drug addiction
--14% of men and 36% of women in prison report being abused as children

For writers (and readers), there are some great YA books out there that tackle different forms of child abuse very beautifully and eloquently. Recently I've read Beth Faulbam's beautiful books which follow a girl's journey to recovery from sexual abuse: Hope in Patience and Courage in Patience. Another amazing book also dealing with sexual abuse is Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. A book I'm reading right now is called You Don't Know Me by David Klass, about a 14 year old boy being abused by his stepfather.

The list goes on, but the reality is the same: children being abused are our children's classmates, our neighbor's kids, our relatives. We don't want to think that it's in our back yard, but it is. What I've learned most from being a social worker, is that most of the time, parents who abuse their children tend to look just like me and you. What can we do? Educate ourselves, and try and keep our eyes and ears open. And of course, please, even if you are not a mandated reporter, report any suspected child abuse to your local Child Protective Services Hotline.

Here are some signs that a child is being abused:

Warning signs of emotional abuse in children
Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantruming).
Warning signs of physical abuse in children
Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
Warning signs of neglect in children
Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
Is frequently late or missing from school.
Warning signs of sexual abuse in children
Trouble walking or sitting.
Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
Runs away from home.