Saturday, September 22, 2018

"You have WHAT caught in your braces?" by Patty Blount

This is me on Fred's lap back in the day. Yep. It was the '80's. 

Oh, embarrassment... a teen's first enemy. There are so many cringe-worthy moments, like the time I got a zit on my already-oversized nose...or the time I walked right up and INTO a car that wasn't my parents' but belonged to some random person stopped at a stop sign by my school...or the time in high school when I was the first person to arrive in class, took my seat all way by the window, didn't notice that all the people filing in were strangers. Nope, it wasn't until the bell rang that I noticed I was in the wrong room and had to endure laughter from 30 strangers as I high-tailed it out of there.

All worthy contenders and all worthy of a few grins. But no, the one story that chases me, that I will never live down, happened when I was 16 years old.

First, the set-up: I wore braces until I was 19. Second, Fred, the boy in this story, is now my husband.

Okay, here's the story. My boyfriend and I went out to dinner with a large group of friends. I believe there were 6 or 8 of us there that night, a restaurant with a notoriously long wait called Cooky's Steak Pub. Cooky's was famous for its soup, salad, and dessert bar, included in the price of your meal.

After a long wait, we are seated at a large round booth and our orders taken. The line for the soup and salad bar is long but eventually, we're all back at the table, sipping soup and nibbling on salad and bread. We're enjoying ourselves and hardly no time passed before our meals arrived.

It was a Saturday night and I suppose the restaurant was doing its best to turnover tables quickly. As soon as our meals were cleared, we noticed that the line for the dessert bar was wrapped around the dining room. It was as if everyone present finished their meals at the same time.

So...we came up with a plan. Half of us would endure the line and bring back enough dessert for the whole table. Each person would load a plate with ONE item. One person would grab several scoops of ice cream, another would grab toppings, another would take several slices of cake, etc.

It took nearly 20 minutes, but soon, everyone was digging into the little mini-bar we'd created back at our table. I'd made the most incredible sundae ever constructed. Chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles/jimmies, nuts, a cherry ... it was worthy of a food magazine centerfold.

Those who know me well know how much I adore all things chocolate.

There I was, floating on a delicious chocolate haze, when one of the girls began to cough. "I have Tom's sprinkles caught in my throat," she managed to croak out.

Without missing a beat, I chimed in. "I have Fred's nuts caught in my braces."

The entire table exploded into belly laughs. Fred, my poor boyfriend, gaped at me. A passing waiter, who'd heard my unfortunately phrased remark, had to put his tray down to avoid dropping it all on us while he laughed. People at nearby tables laughed.

But me? I didn't laugh. I didn't laugh because I didn't understand why this was hilarious. There were nuts on my sundae, they were caught in my braces, Fred was the one who'd brought the dish of nuts to the table... They had to EXPLAIN it to me. It took a solid minute for me to finally catch on, which only made everyone laugh that much harder.

A lot of decades have passed since that night. I can laugh about this now. Cooky's Steak Pub is long since shut down. I married Fred but we're no longer in touch with anybody else at dinner that night. But every once in a while, we run into someone and the first question they ask is, "How are Fred's nuts?"

People will tell this story at my funeral, I have no doubt. I wish I could tell you that was the last time I was ever so mortified, but nope... just a few years ago, I almost knocked myself unconscious when my hand slipped while trying to squish myself into a sports bra. That moment ended up in an author friend's manuscript.

I remember the awkward way I laughed and the way my face burned. I remember wishing a hole would open up and swallow me alive. Though none of my characters have ever had their boyfriends' nuts caught in their braces, I think the emotions that surround such profound embarrassment are universal and I often use this to infuse my writing.



Friday, September 21, 2018

CONVERSATIONS WITH WATER FOUNTAINS (HOLLY SCHINDLER)


It wasn't so much an embarrassing moment. More like an embarrassing year.

A bit of backstory: I was nine years old when the worst, most tragic event of all time came crashing down upon my slender little third-grader shoulders:

I could no longer read the chalkboard.

It happened suddenly, actually—I came back from spring break to find that my desk had been moved by well-meaning floor-sweeping janitors from the front row to the back.  And the daily handwriting assignment, which our teacher put up on the board for us to copy each morning, was a complete and total blur.  I couldn’t see.  Period.

My first glasses were fairly strong (for 20/200 vision).  And—I hated them.  Talking hate here.  Hate.  The fact that it was 1986 didn’t help, either.  Remember glasses of the ‘80’s?  The enormity!  The hideousness!  Uuuugh!

And it officially began: the battle with my mom for contacts. 

I didn’t just want contacts.  I lusted after them, especially as my eyes grew progressively worse.  By the time I was headed for junior high, my prescription was creeping up toward a -5.00 (20/500 vision), and there was no way I could just take my glasses off at that point and navigate the majority of my days without them, haul them out of a backpack pocket to read the board once I got to class.  Not if I didn’t want to start having long, heated conversations with hallway water fountains, anyway.

So, the summer before seventh grade, I came up with my infinitely brilliant plan:  I would get the ugliest pair of 1980’s glasses I could find.  I mean, ugly.  Proof:



I just knew what would happen: when we picked up the glasses, and Mom saw how awful I looked, her eyes would widen in sheer horror.  She’d insist we exchange the glasses for contacts immediately, if not sooner.

Yeah.  Didn’t work.  As my seventh grade picture up there reveals.

Sure, I did get my contacts—the summer before high school, actually.  And I wore them until I gleefully pitched the lenses and all the unending vials of cleaning solution in the trash shortly after my thirtieth birthday. 

Mom and I still laugh about my plan...and the fact that in the end, the things that are important to us as teens are never the things that are important to us as adults.  I now wear my glasses the same way I wear jewelry--all different colors, shapes, sizes. Can't really imagine planning an outfit without them:






Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Run, Alissa, Run (Alissa Grosso)

Not all that long ago I was reading a comment that someone who was much younger than I am had made about the Netflix show Stranger Things, which is set during the 1980s. I don't remember the commenter's exact words, but they expressed disbelief that middle-school-aged children would have been riding bikes all over town without their parents knowing where they were. A bunch of my fellow Generation Xers chimed in to say that this detail in the show was one hundred percent accurate.

Safety did not seem to be a big concern in my childhood. We rode our bikes without helmets,--probably couldn't even have bought a helmet if we wanted one. Our parents only ever had a vague idea of where we might be at any point in time. Child carseats didn't exist except for the very smallest of infants. Strangely enough, most of us survived into adulthood.

I feel like I need to preface my embarrassing story with this explanation, because I know that there are going to be some young'uns out there who will declare the story a blatant mistruth since they could never imagine a sports coach doing something so unsafe.

When I was in high school I ran cross-country. It was a small enough team that the girls and boys teams practiced together and had a single coach. She was a good but demanding person. She also came up with some questionable "fun" activities to make out practices interesting.



One of those activities was something called caterpillar runs. For a caterpillar run, a group of runners were arranged one behind the other in a line and tied together at the waist. This being cross country our caterpillar run was also a race with two caterpillars trying to race each other. Our coach divided us into two mixed gender groups, then arranged each caterpillar group by height.

In my particular caterpillar this meant that I was the second to last set of legs in our group. Although it's not always a one to one calculation in this case it also happened that I was the second to last slowest runner in our group. Right now you might be thinking to yourself that this "fun" activity sounds more like torture. Yes, welcome to the world of cross country.

One small mercy was that on this particular day we were running our caterpillar race on the track and the track was made of rubber. So, I guess it all could have been much worse. Our race got underway, and things were fine at first. Those of us at the back of the pack were running as fast as we could to keep up and those at the front were breezing along at a slightly slower pace than they were used to. Then something went wrong.

Somehow too much slack developed between me and the boy immediately in front of me. Maybe my coach had left too much rope there when she was tying us up or maybe I was running at a slightly quicker pace and was too close to him. I'm not really sure. What I do know is that I was intensely focused on running the race and not so focused on what was going on down at foot level.

I didn't realize that the rope had somehow gotten looped around my ankle until it was too late. I made a valiant effort to stay upright even as my one leg was being jerked violently forward. The girl behind me and the boy in front of me realized what was going on, but also realized that nothing could be done to fix the situation until we stopped. There were shouts and attempts to jerk on the rope to get the front-runners to stop, but the message didn't reach the front of the line before I lost my battle to stay upright.

I went down, but the caterpillar kept moving forward and I was dragged along the rubber track like a tin can tied to a newlywed's bumper. It felt like I was dragged a good fifty meters, but it probably wasn't that far. With my deadweight pulling on the rope, the message reached the front of the caterpillar soon enough. We lost the race that day and I lost a fair amount of dignity and some skin on my leg, but thankfully I lost neither my leg nor my life.

If memory serves correct, I was back practicing the next day despite my mortification and mild injury. But cross country runners are a tough lot. and I feel like those grueling practices my coach concocted for us made us extra tough.

One notable thing about our home course was that it went through a stream, not over a stream, but through it. It wasn't particularly deep. Unless there had recently been heavy rain it was under a foot deep, but it was wide enough that you couldn't jump across it. It was a nice thing because it gave us a slight advantage over the runners from the visiting team who would often pause ever so slightly when they came upon the water hazard as they navigated a way across. It also meant that you always finished the race with one sopping wet shoe, or in the case of one of the boys on the team, with only one shoe after he lost his wet shoe sometime after traversing the stream during one race. Another boy on our team crossed the finish line a little later carrying a shoe in his hands and shouting, "Did anyone lose a shoe?"

A year or two after I graduated the parent of one of the runners on the team built a bridge over that stream. It ushered in an era of bike helmets and child carseats, and I can only hope an end to torturous caterpillar runs. I'd like to think that my own embarrassing high school moment helped to make the world a little bit safer for the generations that have followed.


Alissa Grosso survived cross-country practice and a remarkably unsafe childhood and now writes books for teens and adults. Find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Testing, Testing... (Jodi Moore)


This month, we’re talking about embarrassing moments. I’ve known about the topic for quite a while now but admittedly, have had trouble coming up with something.

It’s not that I haven’t anything to choose from. I’m a bonafide klutz, have a terrible sense of direction and was painfully awkward in high school, which undoubtedly leads to a treasure-trove of material. I’ve fallen down stairs, tripped over my own feet and suffered (at least three) concussions. I (still) have trouble distinguishing my left from my right, have gotten lost in my own neighborhood and in my own mind. And during my first “real” kiss? I was so shy and awkward, I giggled. Although in retrospect, that may have been more disconcerting for the boy…(is it too late to apologize?)

No, I would have to say my most embarrassing, rather humiliating, moment as a teen would have been after the SATs. You see, the one thing I thought I could control in my gawky teen years was my studies. And yes, I studied. I wasn’t a brain. It didn’t come easy. Test days tied my intestines in knots. But I took the honors classes and achieved those ‘A’s.



Several days after we received the SAT results, my English teacher thought it would be a good idea to have everyone in the class state their scores out loud. He nodded as each student announced theirs. No surprise, some had achieved perfect scores. And then he looked at me. To be honest, I don’t remember my number, but his expression of grave disappointment and words will be burned into my mind forever: “Really? I expected you to do much better than that.”

I wanted to crawl under the desk. His words devastated me. I felt like a failure.

It may seem ironic that an English teacher didn’t realize this, but words matter.

How will you use yours?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Launching Kids

I know I'm supposed to write about embarrassment this month, but I just haven't been able to focus on that. Or on anything much related to writing, to be honest.

I'm launching my kids in some pretty dramatic ways, and I'm rather emotional about it.

My son turned 18 this year and graduated from high school. But we all agreed that going straight to college was not going to be the right path for him, so he spent much of his final semester deciding on a gap year scenario that would work and figuring out how to afford it. He chose working in Africa -- three months in Kenya, six months in the Gambia -- and worked basically full time all summer to earn enough money so that, along with gifts from family, he could go. And come back.

The equipment costs alone were astounding. And the vaccinations. Not to mention the flights, of course.

This is my son -- my youngest, my 18 year old child -- in the airport on September 2 -- heading off on a series of international flights all by himself.



He made it to Kenya safe and sound after 30+ hours of travel. Thankfully, there was WiFi in the Mombasa airport so we were able to Facebook chat (he has no cellphone there) and learn that it was nearly 90 degrees at 4 am and he was exhausted but okay and had all his stuff.

And there were monkeys in the airport.

What an adventure he is on.

I'm thrilled for him.

If we're lucky, we'll get Facebook posts from him once or twice a month from Kenya. When he gets to Gambia, he'll have more regular internet access so we'll have more contact, but that's not for a long time.

I'm in a place where I want to look at his pictures all the time, but I can't look at his picture because it makes me cry. You know? But he's doing what he wants and needs to do, and I'm doing what I need to do as his parent: letting him go.

My elder child, who just turned 20 and has left their teens behind, departs in two days for their study abroad semester in London. Since they will be in London, we'll have more contact so I'm not as worried, and I'll be visiting in December after the semester ends because LONDON!

Here's a picture of their suitcase. Remember, they leave in two days:



They're so ready. :)

Yeah, I'm not so ready either...

Thanks for listening.



Monday, September 10, 2018

Embarrassing Moment by Sydney Salter



The first (and only) time I wore a padded bra the front clasp failed in PE class, during pushups, giving  me a pair of large back boobs.

Everyone noticed.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Hair Raising Writing Skill--By Kimberly Sabatini

I think finding just one embarrassing teenage moment is rather challenging. The teenage years tend to be fraught with weird trends, snafus, and dumb choices. I wasn't that adventurous of a kid and I'm still finding it hard to narrow it down. So, I thought I'd focus on an embarrassing thing that still makes me cringe every time I take a walk down memory lane.

It's hard to get past the hair.

Really hard.



I was born with a natural side part and thick hair with a lot of body, which I eventually learned makes me pretty blessed in the hair department. (Unless its crazy humid and I look like a tumbleweed.) And yet, for a large portion of my teen years, I permed my hair and tried to part it down the middle. I then tried to blow out those curls I'd artificially put in, and feather the sides so I would look just like this...



I NEVER looked like this. 

And even if my hair had been suited to this style, I didn't have the patience or the skill to make it happen. So now, when I look back at my illustrious teenage years, I cringe and wonder what life would have been like if I'd had the wisdom to know what looked good on ME? 

But with time, I've come to think there would have been a downside to being so self-possessed at such a young age. Years later, maybe it wouldn't be quite so easy to remember and write what it feels like to be a teenager--the lengths one goes to in order to fit in. 

And in the end, perhaps it's not the details of the embarrassment that count the most, but the general feeling of horror that lingers long after the event that makes the writer. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, September 7, 2018

My 7th Grade Diary and Other Embarrassments I Can Now Write About (Joy Preble)

I thought this post would be easy to write. I'm a shy, awkward person just generally speaking even if I do my best not the let the world know this. So how could I not have a billion examples to fill this post?

Turns out it's possible to be shy enough (even if you're hiding it) that you avoid embarrassment at all counts. Which I suppose is its own embarrassment, but that's hard to write about. So I don't necessarily have that one huge moment. But here are some little ones:

  • That time when I was teaching and my ancient half-slip that I wore with this one dress so it wouldn't cling to my tights, gave up its elastic and just dropped to the floor as I walked across the classroom. I picked it up and kept talking like it hadn't happened.
  • That time I got to school in 11th grade and realized that in my haste to get dressed and not be late I'd put on two black shoes, but not from the same pair. I clomped around all day pretending I'd done this on purpose.
  • That time I confused one author's work with another's while talking to author number one and felt like an idiot because I'd started to go on and on about how much I liked the book that she had not actually written.
Probably there are dozens of these. But here's my quick takeaway: To quote my Uncle Harry who said the following all the time: So what? If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's how to laugh at myself. If you spend your life avoiding embarrassment you spend your life avoiding adventure. Okay, you don't always want to be 'that person.' But if you're in the game you will be, at least once in a while.

So go ahead and slip on that banana peel (at least metaphorically speaking). Wave to that person you think you know but actually don't. Mistake something someone says. Write reams in your 7th grade diary about how fate has brought you and David G. together because he wore blue today and so did you. Yeah, that last one is real. David G. -- if you're reading this-- I loved you and your too long bangs. When Mrs. S. sat us across from each other in Social Studies. I knew it was fate, too. And that day I thought you were walking right toward me and I smiled and said hello and you were really talking to someone else? Yeah, I wrote a page or two about that, too.




Thursday, September 6, 2018

Your Bright-Red Face Goes So Well with That Outfit (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme: embarrassing moments (as a teen, as a writer, you name it).

This could be embarrassing.  Which I guess is the point.

As a writer, I tend to embarrass almost every heroine in my YA books, in some cases in every way imaginable.  (Come to think of it, I’ve done this to a few adult heroines, too.)

Why?  First, it gives her something to triumph over ultimately, including the asshats (pardon my French) who laughed at her in her lowest, most embarrassing moments.

Second, I think almost everyone remembers with vivid horror their worst, most embarrassing moments, especially from their teens, so they identify with fictional characters who suffer intense humiliation, especially at the hands of “mean girls” and the like.  We remember EXACTLY how it felt.

For me, high school wasn’t without embarrassment, but it wasn’t horrible.  I played sports nonstop and got good grades, and I didn’t get crap from anyone for either of those things.

But junior high?  Hoo boy.

First, I frankly looked horrid.  I got glasses the summer before 7th grade; they were in the shape of octagons.  Nightmare.  I wore my hair in a ponytail, no exception, and that bad decision lasted two years.  Although I hated the color red, I didn’t yet realize (nor did my mom) that any clothing in the red family makes me look like I died several days ago and they just discovered the body.  And on and on.  I went to school every day feeling ugly and embarrassed and wishing I could crawl into a hole.

On a positive note, those memories made writing Being Mary Bennet Blows — about the ugly duckling in the modern Bennet family — a total snap.

I had many SPECIFIC embarrassing moments in junior high, but here’s the one that always leaps to my mind whenever this topic comes up.

Luckily, I have absolutely no recollection of who the guy in question was.
 
The elephant pants of my story were not this cool. Except in my mind.

I was in 7th grade.  One of the coolest guys in 9th grade (we’ll call him “Rock Star”) rode my bus.  I didn’t have a crush on him, not really, since it would be like a kindergartner having a crush on a 5th grader, but he was cute and cool and, as Gidget would say, the ultimate.

One day we had a fire drill.  At that moment, I was on the third floor of our building.  Rock Star was, too.  I happened to be wearing what I considered the coolest thing I owned:  a pair of brown-and-navy-blue-plaid elephant pants with cuffs.  I’m sure NO one else thought they were anything but hideous, but I owned my style.  As the hallway flooded with kids, all rushing for the stairs down to the first floor, I wound up directly behind Rock Star. At the top of the stairs—

Yeah.  I tripped on the cuff of my elephant pants and fell forward, but I didn’t fall down the stairs.  I fell ON TOP OF Rock Star.  Let’s just say it didn’t end well.

Now, every time I write yet another scene of horrific embarrassment for one of my teen heroines, I think of that excruciating moment — and other moments like it — and I know EXACTLY how my heroine feels:  like a cockroach under someone’s shoe.

Like they say:  write what you know!
 
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

I Really Don't Want to Share This…

by Fae Rowen

Why would I tell you my most embarrassing high school moment?

I've been thinking about this month's topic here at YA Outside the Lines since the spring, when we got the list of topics. I thought about alternative embarrassments, you know, those of a lesser degree of Oh, no, you didn't! But you would have known no one's life could be that charmed. So I'm going to share the details of something with you that I've told no one. Not even my trusted high school girlfriend who shared everything about her first high school romance with me.

It was my senior year. I didn't have a boyfriend. I'd never been kissed. And it was the beginning of the second semester. The prom started looming in the distance. I needed someone to ask me to that dance. And hopefully not one of the nerdy guys that were my friends and study mates.

I was a chemistry lab assistant. That meant I set up the experiments, explained the procedure to the class that were "my" students, and I graded their lab write-ups. The chem teacher teased me mercilessly. About boys.

Several of the students called me at night for help on their chemistry homework, but also on their math homework, since I had the reputation of a kind of math guru. And I loved spending time on the phone explaining any kind of problem. (My dad frowned on me just talking on the phone for hours, but if it was school related "tutoring" he looked the other way.)

One night, one of my chem students, one who'd never called before, said, "Hi," when I answered the phone. I didn't recognize his voice, so I asked who it was. He told me. The he had been the captain of our CIF championship football team and was the captain of our championship wrestling team at the time. He was a favorite to go to the State finals. I asked him what problem he needed help with.

"I'm not calling for help. I just called to talk to you."

Smooth. I let him go on, sure he'd get around to the lab that was due the next day. We had no other classes in common, but he'd done his homework. On me. He knew what classes I was in, who my friends were, what I did for extra-curricular activities. He asked me if sometime I would play my guitar and sing for him.

"Why?"

"Because I like you. Would you go out with me?"

Oh. My. Goodness. I'd never been on a real date. "Um, where?"

"The drive in?"

My dad would have a fit at that. I knew Mr. Football-and-Wrestling Star drove a VW van. But I couldn't confess that. Besides, you didn't go to the drive-in when you've never even kissed a boy.

"Not on the first date."

"How about the beach? I'm going with Lyle (his best friend) on Saturday. I can pick you up."

Wow. I knew his friend, so that would be a good buffer if I needed one. But, I'd have to wear a bathing suit. "Okay."

We went to the beach. Swimsuit under my shorts and tank top, I told my parents I was going to the library to work on a term paper with a friend. There were more beach trips, bonfires and some-mores. He taught me how to surf. And I got my first kiss. That guy was a good kisser. But then, I knew he'd had experience.

The league wrestling tournament was at our school. He asked me to wait for him outside the gym locker room when it was over. His was the last match. It was a back-and-forth battle, which, at the last minute, he won. His win put our school in first place. The gym went wild. I was giddy. That was my boyfriend.

I'd never waited outside the gym for a guy, but there were plenty of girls sitting on the lunch tables, combing their hair, putting on lipstick, joking with each other. I sat by myself at a far table, on the side that gave me a good view of the exit from the locker room. Some of the regulars called to me to join them, but I shook my head. I was too nervous to listen to anyone.

Guys started walking out. Girls ran up to them, got a hug and kiss, then arm-in-arm they walked to the parking lot. Okay, now I knew the routine. I wasn't good with PDA, but my boyfriend had no trouble with it. My math teacher gave me a bad time when I was escorted to his door, holding hands. The time I got a peck on the check, my teacher teased me during the whole class period. But I digress. Probably because we're getting to the most embarrassing part.

My dreamboat (did I mention he was dropped gorgeous?) walked around the brick wall and spotted me. Before I could extricate myself from the picnic table, a woman ran toward him. She was  older than either of us, in her early twenties at least. She jumped into his arms, wrapped her legs around his waist and started kissing him. Definitely not his older sister.

A couple of the still-waiting girls looked at me and shook their heads. Thank goodness I'd borrowed my dad's car. How I got to the parking lot through my tears is beyond me. I'd known that my boyfriend had dated an "older woman" before me, but he'd told me he broke up with her because she was too controlling.

I felt like a fool. Especially at school on Monday. I walked into my first period class, government, and the whispers started. The teacher was (it couldn't get worse than this) the football and wrestling coach. He commented on seeing me waiting outside the locker room. Could the ground not open and swallow me?

Third period chemistry. How would I walk in there? Well, I did, but I ducked into the stockroom and started pulling chemicals for the next lab. My teacher came in, watched me, then said, "Why don't you just stay in here today?" I was so embarrassed. He obviously knew.

At the end of the period, my ex-boyfriend knocked on the open chem office door. "Can I walk you to math and explain what happened?"

Nope. The red on my face wasn't from sunburn. My chem teacher came to the rescue again. I still love that man.

How do you survive your first break-up? In public, with the most-loved guy on campus?

Just remembering it paints a deep red on my throat and chest.

But I survived. And that never happened to me again.

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard, putting the finishing touches on P.R.I.S.M. Book Two.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Confessions of Red-Faced Teenager - Janet Raye Stevens



This month, we’re talking about embarrassing moments. There’s a plethora of these moments in my life to choose from and easily quadruple the number during my teenage years. 

In fact, embarrassment was pretty much a state of being for me as a teenager. From the first day of puberty until that last pimple faded was basically one long red-faced adventure. Hyper-aware, self-conscious, blushing and unsure of myself. Unsure of anything except the solid knowledge everyone was staring, judging, and laughing at me.

But, in this overabundance of embarrassing things that made teenaged me want to curl up into a ball and hibernate until I was old enough to run for president, there was one cringe-inducing, wanna-die embarrassment that topped them all—and it happened several times.

Here’s my story:

A long time ago, in a high school far, far away, I was in Spanish class when I felt like Niagara Falls was whooshing out of me. Yup, got my period while in school. Not the first time, probably wouldn’t be the last. I asked to be dismissed to the bathroom. My teacher, reading the latest on the Watergate investigation while her students busily conjugated verbs (or passed notes), didn’t look up from her newspaper. She waved her permission and I fled.

Halfway down the corridor, the first cramp hit. Not just any cramp, but a squeeze of my belly so hard it left me winded. The next cramp followed, then several more, squeezing tighter and tighter, like a giant pair of tweezers squashing a zit. I leaned against some lockers, panting, nausea roiling up my throat. This horrible onslaught had happened before in school, and teenaged me knew—and feared—what was coming next, so I changed my destination to the nurse’s office, hoping I could make it in time.

No such luck. Another round of cramps. My vision dimmed, my skin went clammy cold, and a thousand pins-and-needles prickled inside my head. All familiar sensations, all warning me I was going to faint.

Oh god, teenaged me fretted, the nurse’s office was a hundred miles away. I couldn’t faint in the middle of the school hallway. Not again.

I spotted an open classroom door and dove inside. Mr. Sawicki’s math class, minutes before the bell. That meant the room was full; almost full—there was an empty desk in the back. Every head swiveled toward me as I fell into the seat. I don’t know what happened after that, because I was out cold.

I came to just as the bell rang. I was still seated, but bent over, my fingers brushing the floor. Well, teenaged me rationalized, at least I wasn’t sprawled in the hallway with my books all around me, like last time. Or on the toilet with the paper dispenser as my pillow like the time before that.

I sat up and blinked at the chaotic scene. The bell rang. Mr. Sawicki yelled at everyone to move along to their next class then hobbled over to me, leaning on his cane. Kids filed past me out the door, bumping into kids coming in for the next period. All of them stared at me, some snickered, some scrunched their foreheads in that what-a-lunatic expression that made me want to sink through the floor.

And if that wasn’t mortifying enough, the vice principal came in to tut-tut over the situation. Again. That guy always showed up when I passed out. I guess I wasn’t important enough for the principal to drop his busy schedule and rush over. And where the heck was the nurse? Probably taping up some wimpy football player’s stubbed toe while teenaged me was busting in on Mr. Sawicki’s math class and interrupting his sine and cosine soliloquy by passing out.

Anyway, Mr. Vice-Principal eyed me, looking concerned, and asked, “Are you pregnant, dear?” Gah! In front of all the kids shuffling in and out of the classroom, in front of Mr. Sawicki, in front of everyone! Embarrassment squared.  

No, you moron, I wanted to answer. I was decidedly not pregnant. And I wasn’t in that delicate condition the last five times he’d asked after I fainted, either. Mr. Vice Principal, of all people, should’ve known my cycle better than I did by now.

But being a kid and embarrassed and in tremendous pain, I held back the snark and said, “It’s my period.” In a whisper, of course, because we girls aren’t supposed to talk about such a thing lout loud. As if menstruation, a natural process of a woman’s body, is something to be legitimately embarrassed about. Something to apologize for and whisper about, for fear of offending someone. That was true in the 70s and it’s true today.

But I digress…

My whispering the taboo word “Period” made Mr. Vice-Principal roll his eyes and brush it off, like I was a slacker or a big baby or something, then he snagged some poor girl coming in late for class and made her escort me to the nurse’s office.

I dragged along by Helpful Girl’s side, relieved to be getting out of the public eye. The nurse wasn’t there (still bandaging up the quarterback’s boo-boo, maybe?), so I crawled over to that vinyl-covered bed all nurses have in their office and collapsed, thanking Helpful Girl by throwing up on her feet. The perfect end to a perfect day.

So, that’s my story. There may be some embellishments, but the embarrassment is all true. Luckily, I never repeated the period-fainting-hurling-in-school trifecta after that infamous incident, but I’m sure I found two hundred other ways to embarrass myself before I walked that stage and grabbed my diploma.

Later in life, I was told I had vasovagal syncope, in which stress/pain causes your BP and heart rate to crash suddenly and you faint. Good to know, but a decade or two too late. I wish I’d known back then, so I wouldn’t have been so terrified—or so bloody embarrassed.  



Friday, August 31, 2018

The Three Investigators, by Brian Katcher

YA Book of the Year! (The Year Is 1964) 

When growing up, teenagers were not considered young adults, but older children. Books for teens and preteens were generally very preachy or puerile.  But there was on series that kept me reading all throughout elementary school.

   
Chubby genius Jupiter Jones, athletic everyman Pete Crenshaw, and studious researcher Bob Andrews run a detective agency along the California coast. Together, they team up to fight art smugglers, jewel smugglers, gold smugglers, and counterfeiters, who all seem to hide out in haunted mines and castles. Their investigations are secretly backed up by their mentor/publisher Alfred Hitchcock (yes, the director...though when he died in real life, his character was replaced by the fictional Hector Sebastian). When they're not solving crimes, they're thwarting the plans of their teenage nemesis "Skinny" Norris, or having a rumble with the Hardy Boys.

 

Not in the book, by the way.


The boys' ages are never explicitly stated, though a safe bet would place them around thirteen or fourteen. While their youth would seem to be a detriment to crime fighting, the series manages to avoid the Lord of the Flies syndrome. Hitchcock is always there with funds or information, and while they can't drive, the investigators have convenient access to unlimited use of an antique Rolls Royce sedan, complete with a British chauffeur (a gift from a grateful client, via Deus ex machina Rent a Car).

Still, they never rely on grown ups to solve the mysteries. It's always Jupiter's ingenuity, Pete's bull-headed muscle, and Bob's penchant for research that save the day. As a kid, I often found myself projecting onto Bob, wishing my friends were called upon to exorcise ghosts and prevent rebellions in Eastern Europe.

 



Jupiter's aunt and uncle own a salvage yard. The boys run their agency out of an abandoned RV which they buried in the junk, outfitted with everything from a telephone to a darkroom (two things which would sadly be unneeded today). They reach headquarters through a series of secret tunnels and passages. And, as I mentioned before, this takes place in a more sanitized time, so they're not down there drinking beer and reading Playboy.

And then I'd close the book and look at my sad little fort built out of sheet metal and a live thorn bush, and sigh.


  

According to the never erring Wikipedia, these adventures have been released all over the world. However, they are especially big in Germany. Not only have they been translated and re-released, but the German authors have added brand new adventures in Deutsch. This involved changing the characters somewhat. For instance, Hans and Konrad, the Bavarian brothers who work at the salvage yard, are now two Irishmen, Patrick and Kenneth. The boys also apparently have girlfriends in the European issues.

It's been thirty years, but I'm still waiting for that Rolls Royce to pull up, so we could all go off and bust up another ring of international jewel thieves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"It Is Only with the Heart" by Dean Gloster


            Truth will break your heart.
            That's one of the tragedies of being a storyteller.
            Because our job is to tell the truth, in the form of stories.
            Today I’ll tell you a story, about a book I gave my heart to, which ends in an actual death, caused by a man who regretted it.
            Out topic this month is the projects that hooked us as writers. The first book that hooked me as a future writer was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. 

            The Little Prince is a children’s book about a marooned flyer in the desert and the little prince—a visitor from far away—he encounters. It’s one of the 50 best-selling books of all time and has been translated into 100 languages. That’s true even though it’s a book suffused with sadness. As is true of characters in good fiction, not all goes well for the little prince.


            I loved that book. I still do. And I saw myself in that book when I read it. Not only because my best drawing of a python that ate an elephant would also look to most grownups like a hat:

            I saw myself because the narrator of that book—and the extraordinary Prince he met—regarded the world of adults as deeply off-kilter and messed up. Which it was then, and still is.

            You don’t have to look much further to prove that, than to consider what happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry himself. He was a pilot as well as a writer, and he wrote so eloquently about the joy of flight that he inspired an entire generation to take up flying, including the German fighter pilot who killed him.

            On July 31, 1944—during what was supposed to be his last flight of WWII even if he had survived—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flew a Free French reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean and was shot down and killed by a devoted fan of his, the German airman Horst Rippert, who didn't find out until after the war that he had personally killed his favorite author.
            You can consider that as an indictment that war is terrible. Or that it’s even worse if you let your country be run by Nazis. Or see it as a resonant coda to the book The Little Prince itself.
            The wonder—and tragedy—of good stories is that they do not provide simple answers. They expand the soul.
            The Little Prince taught me lessons, which I’m still exploring in my stories (and life), including:
o   Adults often don’t know what they’re doing.
o   Do not underestimate young people.
o   There are many wrongs in the world; try to right them.
o   Lots of people won’t understand your pictures, but some of them will. 
           So today, just over 74 years after his death, I’m thinking of the lessons Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had to teach, and how much we still have to learn. Good luck to us all. Be well.
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean’s hobbies are downhill ski racing and Aikido. He’s currently at work on a novel about a 15-year-old boy who gets a sketchy summer internship and finds out it’s with Death herself.

Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster