Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
|My lake this weekend!|
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Which means that parents are usually secondary characters. Sometimes they’re even the bad guys. (I understand Barry Lyga has a new book out about the son of a serial killer, if you want a really extreme example!)
But even when the parental characters in a book are loving and understanding and responsible and present, the story isn’t all about them.
And writers can’t parent their YA characters. We can’t protect them from their own mistakes. Sometimes we have to let characters do things we would never want our own children to do. Characters have to make mistakes and experience conflict because that is the essence of fiction. A character who never gets in trouble and does everything s/he is supposed to is a boring character with no room for change or growth.
In Sarah Darer Littman’s newest novel, Want to Go Private? a young girl gets involved with a man she meets online. I heard Ms. Littman talk about this book, and how protective she felt of her character, and how difficult it was to have her character make very bad choices—but it was necessary to the story she was telling.
When we write, rather than parent, our characters, we show how their stories play out as honestly as we can. We show the side of characters that their parents may not even know. We do this so real teens (often with the help of their real parents) can see the consequences of actions, without some interfering author jumping in to save the day.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
How do you decide what kind of parents your main character will have? I suppose this question brings us back to the ever-present issue of whether you start with an outline or fly by the seat of your pants when writing. Maybe you begin with character sketches. Personally, I try to feel my way into the character's skin. Once I'm in there, I look around through her eyes.
What's the first thing she feels when she thinks about mom or dad? Is it a sense of oppressiveness, disappointment, angst, joy, relief, gratitude, or even fury? Most relationships have their positives and negatives, but what is the first sensation the character feels when thinking of that parent? And then, what makes her feel that way? Is it a longstanding feeling or something going on between them right now?
With BREATHING, I knew right away that Savannah's father had been out of the picture a long time and that her mother held an important place in her life. Slipping into her skin, I knew Savannah felt her mother had too many rules, but that she also appreciated how hard her mother worked to provide for her and her brother. It wasn't until much later in the process that I thought to slip into her mother's skin, to see what her upbringing had been like, and how that had affected her own parenting.
My current work-in-progress includes three generations. And it fascinated me to look at the mother-daughter relationships, to think about how each daughter had been brought up and how that affected the next generation. And then also to examine how the fathers came into play, what roles they held, and how their daughters felt toward them.
Thinking this through for my characters made me think quite a bit about how affected humans/characters are by their parents, how this plays out across generations, and that even if the parents themselves do not play a key role in the story we are telling, we should make evident how they impacted their children. Because whether a character's parents are too strict or overindulgent or even absent altogether, parents affect our characters. And we make our stories ever richer when we take the time to understand those relationships.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
This photo of my mom and me sums up our relationship and the best gift she ever gave me: my love of the written word.
We read together every night when I was little. We visited the library nearly every day. When I became obsessed with the pirates in Peter Pan, she attempted to find pirate stories that would be appropriate for a four-year-old girl and when she couldn't, she just kept reading the same stories I wanted to hear over and over. The next obsession was Laura Ingalls Wilder and when I tried to dress up "old-fashioned" in a hand-me-down Laura Ashley dress and moonboots, wore this crazy outfit in public, and insisted on being called Laura, she indulged me.
Shortly after that (because Laura Ingalls Wilder inspired me) came the writing. Mom has been there every step of the way. She kept my first story:
I dedicated my first book to her (even though it's about an absent mother and she's constantly telling people "Buy my daughter's book! The mother is nothing like me!") but I feel like I owe her more. Actually, I know I owe her everything.
So thank you, Mom, and thanks to all the moms out there who read to their children and support their dreams. You are the most important people in the world. Happy Mother's Day!
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Friday, May 11, 2012
|My brother Dan and me in high school.|
|Dad teaches me to be an acrobat.|
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Her wish came true: twice. Now I'm the mother of teen and almost-teen daughters. And I have so much compassion for all my colleagues in parenting--including those in fiction. I suppose I should feel some sympathy for my daughters for having a mother with a vivid imagination, and maybe I would, if raising them were easier.
|Will these crazy characters turn out okay?|
Every day I walk that fine balance between providing structure and allowing freedom. I dread that minute before midnight on a Friday night as I wait for my teen to walk through the door. Phew! She's alive! I want my daughters to live with passion, but not derail their lives by thinking that passion comes from a guy--especially the wrong guy, you know, the kind populating so much YA fiction. I want my daughters to love their imperfect bodies, rejoice in their intelligence, and ignore the unhealthy messages seen in magazines, TV, advertising, online...and some fiction (No, no, no! Don't sacrifice yourself for a guy/vampire/werewolf).
I've lived long enough to see that not everyone fulfills their potential, so I'm always searching for warning signs. Undone homework sends me into an imaginary spiral in which I envision my daughter, now in her mid-twenties, slumped in my basement watching Reality TV reruns and consuming scary quantities of red licorice. I've freaked out and ranted more than I'd like to admit. I apologize a lot.
I'm so unfortunately, unavoidably human. And that's the way I like to write fictional parents: good intentions, flawed methods. I love the messy dynamic between teens and parents--all those hopes, dreams, fears, and weaknesses churning as my characters work through other struggles.
I secretly hope that my readers will treat their own mothers with a bit more empathy... I know I do!
|My mother thinks watching me raise girls is hilarious.|
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
They also told me that they smoked pot (once, really?), talked about sex (I was given the birds and bees talk at the dinner table as if it was no big deal), had a fully stocked bar and cold beers in the fridge in the garage, they swore (but I wasn't allowed to), my mom wore bikinis and my dad wrestled with us on the living room floor, they went to concerts, went out with friends every weekend and took my brother and I out for ice cream every Sunday night. I was never told to stop watching TV (probably because I read books more than I watched TV), we ate birthday cake with amazing buttercream icing for breakfast (even though it was nobody's birthday, we just wanted to get a cake). We drank soda with dinner, were never forced to eat green vegetables, got our drivers' licenses the day we turned 16, were handed the keys to the car and told not to screw up. I had my first boyfriend in sixth grade and had a boy/girl party that year as well. They never said I was too young or I should wait until I was "older." Basically, as long as I didn't do stupid stuff, they trusted me.
So. Where am I going with this?
I've never related to the controlling, over protective, detatched, dense, almost invisible parents that proliferate YA books. While I understand that the stories are about the young characters, the role parents play in the life of the characters, even if off screen or in the past, is really important to me. It doesn't have to be negative or huge, but it doesn't have to be non-existant or non-influential, either. Parents can be normal and still have impact. In fact, in all my books the parents are there. They don't need to lecture or teach life lessons, but their presence is felt in the person they raised, the main character. They're the invisible thread that runs through the character, a thread that is woven tighty into the complete fabric of the person and yet a thread that is also tugged and pulled and potentially unraveled as the story and person evolves.
My parents have influenced how I write parents and how I look at the interaction between my teen characters and their parents. My own parents were three dimensional - silly, funny, strict, ridiculously anal retentive about stupid things. they were real. And that's the type of parents I want my characters to be raised by. (And that's them in the picture, in this year's Valentine's golf tournament at their club - in matching outfits. Horrifying and yet totally adorable, just like parents should be.)
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The main character in my YA novel, TOUCHING THE SURFACE, is a seventeen-year-old girl named Elliot. She has flaws--she isn't always likable. I'll be honest--I like a complex character. One reason is a selfish one. I'm very aware that I'm not always a likable person myself, but I always hope against hope that my positives outweigh my negatives. There's another reason though... I love characters with complexity because they require you to be heavily vested and they feel relatable. And sometimes they even make you feel better about yourself.
One of my first real life lessons about complex characters came from my own Grandfather. He was a first rate Archie Bunker--even called my Dad Meathead. I can't fault him for that though. My dad was sporting incredible sideburns and polyester suits.
Despite his flaws, or maybe because of them, he was a wonderful grandfather...
Monday, May 7, 2012
The novel is the story of the Jarrett family, wealthy—perfect, wanting for nothing—whose world and lives are fractured by the death of their oldest son Buck in a boating accident. The younger son, Conrad – not as popular, not as athletic, not the golden boy—survived and his resulting guilt has caused a spiraling depression and a suicide attempt, all before the book opens. Ordinary People is Conrad’s story mostly – of his fall and his redemption and healing, his ultimate understanding that it was okay to be stronger than his brother and that people do the best they can.
But when I think of this novel, it’s also the parents that I think of, particularly Beth Jarrett the mother (played with ice cold brilliance by Mary Tyler Moore in the film) who ultimately cannot exist in the imperfect world created by her older son’s death. It’s not that she doesn’t love Conrad. It’s that she can’t love him enough, can’t get beyond either the Buck’s death or Conrad’s survival. She cannot – for reasons both nature and nurture—live with a damage, imperfect family, a younger son who sees a psychiatrist, who was hospitalized after his suicide attempt. Like a cracked plate (and the film has a great scene with exactly that) that can’t be glued together, Beth’s own sharp-edged pieces cannot be mended. She cannot be the mother than Conrad needs. It is both her failure and the family dynamic of perfection that in large part informs Conrad’s personality. It is a tragedy writ both large and small, that one change unearths these weaknesses and nothing can ever be the same.
As a writer, I tend toward stories of flawed, imperfect characters with equally flawed, imperfect families. My mc’s do not exist in a void. Even though they are the main focus, their parents’ roles and own stories inform how my mc’s behave, how they feel about themselves, what they want. Other things do this as well: school, society, peers. But even when relegated to the background or largely non-present in the story, the people who raised my characters do have an impact. And I think it’s the case in so many books and movies and tv shows that I enjoy. What the parents did or didn’t do; what they see or choose not to see – it’s all pretty crucial.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for my parents.
My dad taught me to read when I was little - by the age of three, according to family lore. I still remember being shown white flashcards with a letter on one side and an image on the other - like an A and the word “apple.” Those flashcards called to me. They seemed magical.
My parents were big readers. Books were scattered throughout the house, and they were fine with us reading whatever we picked up. It could be Tess of the D’ubervilles (they had a set of paperback classics) or pop fiction. I still remember the shock I felt reading The Godfather in sixth grade - people could have sex standing up!
When I started to write seriously, my very conservative father read sexually detailed stories starring thinly disguised versions of myself without too much flinching. And I’ve always counted on my mom to give me honest feedback (although I will admit I like the praise much more than the alternative).
When I first got published, my dad gave me several writing books he had had since the 1950s, including Characters Make Your Story. That’s when I learned that he had once dreamed of being a novelist himself, before three kids and 60-hour weeks as a TV newsman got in his way.
When I grow up, I want to be like my parents.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Even though I committed parenticide, I'm always a little bugged when I read YA books where the parents are absent, either by killing them off for no reason, or by sending the teen away to boarding school. Now I have to admit, some of my favorite books are set in boarding school and many of them require the setting, but in a lot of cases, it's just a way to get rid of the parents so that the kids can run wild and have their own adventures. There aren't many kids who have either had their parents die or are sent to live at boarding school (okay, my husband has had both of those things happen - and he says that Hogwarts aside, life in a co-ed boarding school in England was as awesome as it sounds) but there are lots and lots of kids out there who have to deal with their parents every day.
Which is why I'm committed to not getting rid of parents anymore. In my new book Transcendence (not out until June) my main character not only has to worry about flashbacks of her past lives and saving the world and the boy she loves from someone out to avenge a wrong, but curfew, homework and cello practice. Her boyfriend's mother is a main character and is the confidant through all the craziness in the plot. It wasn't easy. There were so many times I wished I could just off them and be done with it, but I wanted it to ring true for kids.
Now I'm not saying that your parents have to be on every page. If they're wealthy, they might even go on a long safari in Kenya where they are basically unreachable for weeks at a time <whistles>. But I think it's good to have them lurking in the background providing an extra challenge for your main character. Can she go out and develop her special brand of magic powers and save the world from certain doom? You bet. She just better make sure her chemistry homework is done first.