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

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