November 18, 2013

RIP, Junie B.

Hearing about the death of Barbara Park this weekend almost broke my heart. 

Earlier this year, when Zoe and I were getting ready to embark on our six months of "home-schooling" (in quotes because I had no idea what I was doing...and since it was Pre-K we were pretty flexible), one of her teachers handed me a list of books she loved reading aloud with kids. The Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park topped it.

I tucked the list away for a rainy day and instead we started out with Charlotte's Web. I read it to her for hours on end, snuggled up under blankets on the couch. Zoe listened, wide-eyed and attentive, but very passive.

Since the late spring and early summer turned out to be an especially rainy one here in Charleston, and we spent a lot of time inside, that rainy-day list of books came to mind one day, and Zoe and I headed to the library. 

We borrowed the first book in the Junie B. Jones series - Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Smelly Bus - and even the title made us both laugh. Almost immediately, I noticed a difference while I read to Zoe. Instead of passively listening, she was giggling. Interrupting to ask questions...and often to pass judgment on the behavior or little Miss Junie B. 

We went back to the library for more Junie B. books later that week. She received most of the first half of the series from relatives for her birthday. We read them and re-read them and read them some more, giggling together the whole time.

I know there are plenty of critics of these books. Junie B. is by no means a model citizen, and her slang speech and bad grammar make plenty of teachers cringe. I understand that.

But I don't agree. Because if they get kids reading...there's nothing better than that, in my opinion.

These were the first books Zoe would ask to read, over and over. When she started reading, they were the first books she tried to read aloud back to me. They became our books, the ones we always read together.

They still are.

I haven't told Zoe yet that Barbara Park died this weekend. I'm not sure how she'll react. Recent history says she'll ask some practical question and move on pretty quickly, but if there's one thing I've learned about parenting it's that recent history often means nothing when something strikes a child as particularly sad. 

So I may not tell her, yet. I may ask Santa and the Hanukkah Fairy to round out her collection, to keep our own story going. Barbara Park may be gone, but for Zoe and me, Junie B. Jones still has a lot more to teach us.

Zoe made this picture on the Junie B. Jones web site.
Zoe and Junie B. Perfect together.

November 12, 2013

Some thoughts on volunteering

Every so often I laugh at myself. (Ok, in all honesty I do it a lot.) Here I am, trying to make it as a horror/sci-fi writer, and my blog posts are so often about my family and friends and the random stuff that happens in life. Ah well. If you've come here for blood and guts and gore, try one of my books instead please.

Tee hee.

Anyway, this thought was too long for a Facebook post or a Tweet, so I had to come here to share it. Hi blogging world!

Here's the thing...

I spend about an hour a week at Zoe's school. I go down to her classroom, pull aside a few kids, and play games with them. That's it.

Sure, the games are all letter-recognition- and sight-word-related, but really, that's it. My volunteer role involves playing games. 

And the thing is...I love it. I love it so much. Like, really, really, REALLY love it. I'm working with the children who are struggling a bit, but every week I get to see some growth. A month ago we couldn't have done anything with sight words...we were just working on knowing A is A and B is B!! Today they were reading words like "the" and "up" and "can," and it was amazing.

I worked with three little girls for the first 15 minutes of "center time," and when it was time to switch centers, all three of them begged to stay with me! All to practice sight words.

Kind of crazy.

So then, as part of my volunteering, I help them all get ready for lunch, walk with them to the cafeteria, and hang out with Zoe while she eats. Then I'm done.

But before I go, I get to say goodbye to all my little babies. Some of them come over and hug me. Some high-five. Others fist-bump. But all of them wave as I walk away, and all of them call, "Goodbye! Goodbye!" Just like they're the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.

It's really quite possibly the best hour of my week. I feel helpful, I feel worthy, and I feel loved.

It's funny. As a writer, I spend an inordinate amount of time doubting myself. "Is this story any good?" "Am I where I think I should be in my career?" "Will my books ever amount to anything?"

And as a mom and a wife and I daughter, I'm plagued by similar doubts. "Am I good enough?" "Do I say 'I love you' enough?" "Is my house as clean as it should be?"

Stupid, stupid stuff, I'm sure, but those are my issues plain and simple and I worry about them all the time.

Except for during that one hour every week. For that hour, I know I'm doing the best I can, and I'm making tiny little impacts on tiny little lives, and I wouldn't trade that hour for anything in the world.

So if you're like me....plagued with doubts and fears and worries that you'll never be good enough...go find a place to volunteer. Even if it's just for an hour a week. I promise you, that hour will make a difference.

November 5, 2013

Guest Post: S.K. Falls and the books that inspired her write

Ok, friends. Say it with me. What's my favorite part of being a writer? 

It's talking to other writers! I love love love to hang out with other people who write. I love to hear what they say. I love to dig into what makes them tick.

And I love to open up my blog to them so they can fill it up with random delightfulness.

To that end, today I welcome my good friend, S.K. Falls, who I'm lucky enough to know in real life. She's a fabulous writer, and her Fevered Souls serial is full of action, drama, and all kinds of awesomeness.  She sat down to talk about the three books that inspired her to write...which leads me to ask....what books inspire YOU, dear readers? Let us both know in the comments!!


Here's S.K.'s response, to get the conversation going:

There are so many books I’ve read and thought, “I wish I could suck all the talent out of that writer and infuse my mind with it!” But if I had to pick only three books that really inspired me to be a writer, I’d pick (in no particular order):

1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I am an unrepentant Hemingway fangirl. I love the way he can say, in a sentence, what it would take most people (me included) ten pages. And he says it better, to boot. The man was amazing.

2. Any of Jodi Picoult’s books. She’s a fantastic writer, and I’ll be a diehard fan for life. When I picked up the first book I’d ever read by her, it felt like a transcendental experience. So THIS was what good writing, writing that really touches the heart, was all about! By the end of my career, if I’m half as good as her, I’ll be really thrilled.

3. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. The first full-length book I ever wrote was a chick-lit, and it was unabashedly inspired by this book. I love Sophie Kinsella’s humor, and wholly credit her for inspiring me to finish that first novel.

So now it's your turn! 

November 4, 2013

On writing like a child

Here's a fact for those uninitiated into the Writing World: November is an important month to writers all over the country (and dare I say...the world?). Known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short...though I can never say that without smirking because it sounds REALLY WEIRD DOESN'T IT??), November is the time when writers throw caution to the wind and commit to writing an entire book in a single month (goal: 50,000 words, or about 1500 per day).

It may sound impossible, but it's really rather accomplishable, as evidenced by the growing number of participants each year. Some people do it year after year, and the results of this mad dash of writing can be found all over the place.

I wrote most of the first draft of what eventually became Zombie Days, Campfire Nights during NaNoWriMo 2010. Only for me, it was more like "Write 60,000 words in about six weeks and then spend the next six months turning them into something even vaguely resembling a real book." But I was new to the scene, and it was my first attempt. 

What NaNoWriMo provides, at its most basic level, is a sense of community. A sense of, "Well, if my friends are doing it, maybe I can, too." A framework for putting your ideas into long-form fiction, regardless of consequences, and seeing if they pan out like you want them to.

I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. I think it does awesome things for awesome people. But no...I don't think I'll ever do it again. I'm much to much of a "slow and steady" kind of girl when I write these days...

But last night I was thinking about it, and I decided to offer out these words of friendly advice to all my friends participating this year, in hopes that maybe I can help keep you guys inspired.

So...here's a little story for you...

****

Last week, I picked up Zoe from school in our Jeep. I knew Charles would be driving the Jeep the next day, and the gas tank was almost on E, so I decided to be sweet and fill it up. Zoe and I headed from school to the gas station.

Now, this was the day of her end-of-season soccer party, and she was super-pumped for it. I was super-pumped for her to FINISH HER HOMEWORK (yes, there's homework in kindergarten) before the party so we could go and have a good time and not worry about it. So we both had big plans for getting home on time and getting stuff done. 

Alas, it was not meant to be. For while I was stopped at the gas tank, I set the gas cap on the Jeep's rear tire. I do this every time I fill the tank. But I had an overly-excited, overly-chatty five-year-old in the back seat, one who kept saying, "Mom, Mom, Mom," and I let myself get distracted.

I left the gas cap on the tire...and promptly ran over it as I pulled away, smashing it to bits.

Oops.

Well, I couldn't exactly leave our gas tank gaping wide and expect Charles to drive it the next day. So thus began a journey to find a new one. With an increasingly grouch five-year-old in the back seat, mad at Mommy for having done something that screwed up our afternoon plans.

(Wondering where the writing part is? Don't worry...I'm about to get there!)

There's an Auto Zone about 10 minutes from where the gas cap lay smashed on the ground. When I told Zoe we were going there, she turned on the Epic Pout Face, and there's not much that drives me crazier than the Epic Pout Face.

I started to get mad. Why couldn't she just understand that these things happen? That sometimes plans change, and sometimes Mommy doesn't have a snack or a drink in the car, and sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.

Oh, right, I remembered. She's five. No way will she understand it.

So I shifted gears (ha!!! The Jeep's a stick!!!), and looked at Pouty Zoe in the rear-view mirror. "Ok, babe," I said, forcing myself to smile. "Let's pretend....um....I know! Let's pretend we have to find the super-magic part to save the Jeep...and save the world!"

Her eyes lit UP.

"What are we saving the world from, Mommy," she said, tension and excitement suddenly palpable in her voice.

"Um..." I said. "Ummm...."

Zoe to the rescue! "I know!! I know!! There's a bomb, and we have to stop it! And we need the part to plug into the bomb and that'll keep it from exploding over...over....New York City!! Drive faster, Mommy! We need to get that part!!!"

She was bouncing in her seat, and, even better, her imagination was off to the races.

We spent the next thirty minutes saving the world from various dangers of her imagining. There were giant bunnies descending upon London...we needed to throw a bus across the Atlantic to stop those things from wreaking havoc on the London Bridge. There were trains running off the tracks over giant ravines. There were underwater creatures swimming up on the shores of New Jersey.

At some point in our adventures, we DID manage to buy a new gas cap for the Jeep, but by then it was clearly secondary.

We saved the world, over and over again, and we had a fabulous time pretending together.

And it made me think....how fun would it be to see a full story told from a child's imagination? I mean, a grown-up would have to write it...but can you imagine if he/she let a child dictate where the story goes? Because why can't there be giant bunnies attacking London? And why can't it be possible to throw something across an ocean to save the day? Isn't that what writing spec fiction is all about? Making the impossible....suddenly possible?

So...to those of you participating in NaNoWriMo (and for those of you writing in any other format this month...or next...or the one after that)...I say this: write like a child. Imagine with reckless abandon. Because I can think of no better way to throw curveballs into your stories that may jet you off in directions you never even imagined.