Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In Memory of Shark Week

If you suffer from selachophobia, the fear of sharks, I suggest you read this article while hiding under your covers. Shark week is a wonderful motivator. Wouldn't you agree? We can face our worst fears, watching 4,000 pounds of Great White slice through the water like a missile and rip innocent seals in half, all from our living rooms. We psyche ourselves up to think we would actually climb into one of those cages in the middle of the ocean and toss bait to a creature who can sense fear. No, thanks! I've seen enough sharks to last a lifetime.

When I turned twelve, my family moved from Illinois to Florida. The white sands of the Gulf of Mexico became my home for over a decade. Sharks remain at the top of my favorite creatures list along with kittens and butterflies. Whether we see sharks or not, they are ever present, swimming not far from us in the ocean. We dive into the cerulean waves, risking our lives as we swim obliviously in shark infested waters. The coast guard says it's never a matter of if sharks are in the water with you. I remember watching them perform practice drills near my swimming spot and thought, Wow, that's comforting.

One morning I woke up and realized I wasn't getting any younger. A part of me was unfulfilled. No, I didn't want to swim with the sharks. Here's the back story. By the way, in your novel, never place back story in the opening paragraph or in the opening chapter. It stops the story when you need it to move forward. Your story should begin with an explosion of action, causing widespread addiction to your novel. Remember to pace yourself; you have the entire novel to pepper back story throughout. 

OK, back to my back story. In my last blog entry, I reminisced of my golden school days in private education. Did I mention during my eighth grade year our main teacher quit? Was it something we did? The same blood vessel-popping principal took over. Nightmare! He taught history like the professor on Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Boring, boring, boring... (Say it like, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller...)I loved History and Geography, and he was ruining it for me. 

I grabbed my spiral notebook and pretended to take notes, but instead, I wrote short stories, mostly mysteries, because I grew up in the Remington Steele and Magnum P.I. days of television. The principal never caught me writing for fun, but he did catch me secretly passing a Skittle to my best friend. He demanded, "Why are you eating in my class?" When I didn't answer him right away, he popped another blood vessel and yelled, "Answer me!" It was impossible with all the Skittles in my mouth. 

Found this little guy "shark bait" swimming in the St. Louis Zoo!
Now I am driven, like a shark on a feeding frenzy, to fulfill my dream of writing. But when I first began this journey almost a year and a half ago, I had no clue where to begin. In the vast sea of writing, I was so far out in the middle of the ocean, I doubt even the coast guard could locate me. Well, I took the risk anyway and started with non-fiction, writing a middle-grade biography for the Wisconsin Historical Society. But after I finished the project, the series was discontinued and I went back to square one. I decided to dive into fiction, my first love. Joining a critique group has been a wonderful and necessary experience for my first step into writing fiction. Reading great writing blogs, visiting websites and pouring over articles and books about the craft continue to sharpen my skills and enhance my knowledge of writing for teens. Having two teenage boys at home helps a little too. OK, it helps a lot!

I encourage you, if you are a writer, don't quit. Take a break if you need to, but come back to your first love. Because in order for you to be a writer, I think you must love everything about writing. You may not like some things. But whether it's researching, editing, or the way the words form in your mind and flow from your fingers to your paper or computer, a writer loves his job! Remember, if you are a writer and you aren't writing, you're just treading water. Watch out for those sharks.

In the news a few weeks ago, I saw a video of a teenage boy jumping out of a boat, into the ocean and onto the back of a whale shark. He said he thought that he may never get another chance to ride a shark. Huh? (Sounds like my fifteen year old son.) CRAZY! RISKY! But if you don't jump into your dreams of writing (or anything), you may never get another chance. No one is guarenteed tomorrow. And remember to keep your hands and feet in the boat at all times, especially if you're a teenage boy. Oh, and I highly do NOT recommend riding sharks. Until next year, Happy Shark Week!!!
A photo from long ago taken off the pier in Destin, Florida

Monday, August 5, 2013

Golden School Days...Filled with Detentions and Demerits

My four-year-old daughter posing for a "back to school" photo.

The annual migration of children heading back to school starts in less than a month. I would like to take a moment and reflect on my golden school days. Do you think I was a model student? Why are some of you laughing? Maybe because you know me too well. I was born in Wisconsin but grew up in Illinois. Being raised in the mid-west, in a middle-class neighborhood, I lived in the middle of the Great Recession. (Notice I did not say the Great Depression!)

I recently came across a writing article that said, "Your protagonist should want something, even if it's only a glass of water." If your hero or main character doesn't want anything, then he'll be wondering around aimlessly in your novel in search of nothing and your novel will be going nowhere fast. I think back to my childhood. What did I want?

This is me heading out the door on my
first day of Kindergarten!
(Is that a 70's haircut or what?!)
I crafted my first novel several months ago and now remain in the editing phase with hopes of moving into the publishing phase soon. When I created my character, fourteen-year-old California native ??? (his name is still under wraps), I asked myself, what does he want more than anything else in the world? And how can I make it almost impossible for him to get? Because we all know we can't make it easy for our heroes to accomplish their goals. Where would the fun be in that?

In my contemporary action/adventure novel, my protagonist lives a relaxed surf's-up kind of life. But by the second chapter, I propelled him straight into a private school setting half-way around the world. As he leaves behind his sloppy surf attire, he must now wear the school uniform, which includes a noose, I mean, a tie. (Don't worry, my novel is not about wearing uniforms!)

I mostly attended private schools my entire life. I hated, despised, detested uniforms. I wanted one thing: desperately to wear normal, cool clothing. Hmm, maybe that's why I love shopping for clothes? Private schools have their advantages and disadvantages. My lack of conformity to the rules earned me many disadvantages like demerits and detentions and left me labeled a rebel. OK, I admit, my fun-loving-disregard-for-the-rules-spirit clashed with many of my teachers. I was young. I included a detention scene in my novel, and of course, it was my personal experience in detention that led me to add this fun chapter!

I longed to be free to choose what I wore to school each day. Let me insert an example here from my eighth grade year. I will refer to it as The Jelly Shoe Incident. My dear best friend (I won't mention any names--she knows who she is!) and I decided to ditch the "black dress shoes only" rule on the last day of school. At that time, the jelly shoe/bracelet craze was sweeping through the 80's. We both decided to wear our new matching jelly shoes on the last day of school.

What are they going to do, give us a detention? Besides, they won't even notice. We got busted the minute we sat down at our desks. The uniform police sent us straight to the Principal's office. We both sat up in our chairs, waiting for the headmaster to hand us our heads on a platter. I had the giggles, which set off my friend's giggles. We got yelled at for our silliness first, then on to worse matters, like our complete disregard for the rules by wearing white jelly shoes instead of black dress shoes. You would have thought we wore swimsuits to class! I think the principal busted a blood vessel in his head that morning when he shouted, "You two better get your dress shoes back on before the awards assembly!"

We left his office and looked at each other terrified. "Did you bring your dress shoes?" My friend asked me, because obviously she didn't bring back-up. I dug around in my backpack and pulled out one pair of black dress shoes. "I guess we'll have to share." I tossed her a shoe and, with one shoe on and one foot barefoot, we giggled all the way to the assembly.

With a harsh hand of punishment, these types of schools often lead children to the exact opposite of what they are trying to accomplish. It's by God's grace I turned into a decent, medication-free, law-abiding citizen. And, boy am I thankful for a wealth of insight into private education, enabling me to give a first-hand account of the fear and the fun they can fuel!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

You Know You Have Boys When...

Devil's Lake Wisconsin

Having a summer birthday rules! As a child I bragged about having a summer birthday to all my friends who had birthdays during the school year. Just think of the advantages: shoes were optional, sleeping in was a requirement, and no homework. My birthday gift last week, a new touch-screen laptop, rates as my top (and only;-) gift. Now, you see my level of technology has risen to new heights...I have pictures in my blog articles! Woo hoo!!

With my new laptop, iPhone, Instagram and Facebook,(is that TMI?) I feel like a teenager. BTW, I am not, because I have two teenagers of my own. LOL!! I'm not making fun of them;-)

As a mom of two boys and a four-year-old girl, my summers stay suspended in a circle of craziness. The above photo reminds me of a rare family moment on our Wisconsin vacation to the Dells and Devil's Lake. With everyone's crazy schedules, it is getting harder to be together as a family. I took this photo right before our entire family hiked the bluffs at Devil's Lake. There was one  exception--our thirteen-year-old ran ahead of the group and took the wrong trail back down. He actually beat us back down the mountain!

"You know you have boys when..." is a great way to begin a blog entry, don't you think? Here are some examples:

1. You know you have boys when...they don't know how to push the start button on the dishwasher, but they have more technical knowledge of their iPhones and computers than an MIT grad.
2. You know you have boys when...your oldest son breaks his arm at wrestling camp, has surgery the next day, a week before your long-awaited summer vacation.
3. ...then asks if he can drive, even with a broken arm.
4. You know you have boys when....their bedrooms look like a tornado dropped in, long after the real tornado (that touched down in our town a few months back) is long gone.
5. You know you have boys when you go grocery shopping one day and all the food in the house is gone the next.
6. You know you have boys when...you get a text at 2 am. from your son, reminding you that he's going to work out in the morning. Isn't it already morning?? And thanks for the heads up?!
7. You know you are crazy when...you take your two teenage boys to the grocery store and by the time you reach the cash register, you realize you have a cart full of Mountain Dew and Oreos.
8. And you know you have boys when...your two boys have multiplied into four or five boys camped out on the living room floor for an X-box all-nighter.

I hate to be that mom who always tells my kids, "I told you so." But when my youngest son went off to summer camp in June, I became that mom. Before he left, he packed his own bag. Throwing clothes, Twizzlers, Gatorade, and a bottle of soap into a sleeping bag, he was ready. I encouraged him to take a suitcase, but he assured me, as he slung his sleeping bag over his shoulder like Santa Claus, that his way was best. Not even five minutes after his arrival, I get the phone call. "MOM! My soap exploded all over my stuff!" (Insert evil laugh from me.)

Has your summer been as exciting and interesting as mine? Could you write an entire novel on your family's summer vacation? Or maybe turn your vacation videos into a short horror flick...

With only a month until school starts, (Yes!) I look back at my beautiful children and thank God I am their mother. With the summer winding down and basketball, wrestling, and football camps almost finished, along with a successful family vacation, I pray my boys have boys of their own someday (insert another evil laugh), so they too can experience the joys of boys and summertime!

...even with a broken arm!

July #IWSG: Summer Mode Activated

           Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and the Insecure Writer's Support Group. We discuss our fears, insecurities, ups and downs of the...