Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where's the Story? or How I Appreciate Art--Ellen Jensen Abbott

I have a very low visual IQ. My husband does most of the decorating in our house—choosing paint colors, hanging pictures, arranging curtains. On the day we moved in to this house, the mover kept coming to me: “Where do you want this table, desk, armoire, dresser, ma’am?” I sent him to my husband. I just don’t see things well. I can’t even pack the car.

This month’s prompt, to write about art or media that influences you, is a tough one for me because my approach to any visual medium is always through story. I spent a semester in London while I was in college and my step-sister came to visit me. She was decidedly not into museums but when we took a weekend trip to Paris, I insisted we go to the Louvre because, well, that’s what you did in Paris, right? My sister was, if possible, less into art than I was, but as the tour guide, I felt like I had to make something of her experience in the Louvre. Luckily, the first gallery I led her into had many paintings featuring scenes from various myths and legends that I knew. Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus was not there, but it was this kind of painting we saw and I found that I could connect and help my sister connect because of the stories in the painting.  “Ah, this is Achilles pouting in his tent!” or “Look, there’s Iphigenia going to meet Agamemnon”—and then I would launch into the myth and suddenly the painting meant something to us. Unable to appreciate the craft, skill, brush strokes, we could at least appreciate the inspiration behind these paintings. It was a good thing we didn’t wander into a gallery with Malevich’s White on White or Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red!  

My lack of art appreciation may come from my childhood. I grew up in rural New Hampshire in the 70’s. We got one television channel (CBS), had no internet (of course),went to Filene’s Basement on trips to Boston rather than the MFA. There were a total of 8 kids in my first grade class.  My world was small—except when it came to reading. I think my love for story, and my love for fantasy, must come in part from the bed-time stories my dad used to read to me. He brought two books for me back from a trip to Ireland: The Turf Cutter’s Donkey by Patricia Lynch and Fairy Tales of Ireland by Sinéad de Valera and the richness and detail of these stories seemed to come from a different world! First there were the names:  Connla, Criona, Gormlei, Macha, Donal, Seamus. My classmates were Steven, Jack, Kim, and Joy. The places, too, had names that seemed made-up: Slievebawn, Lough Neagh, Connacht. The magical parts of these stories were totally different from the fairy-tales I knew from the few Disney movies that came to our local theater: teapots that talked (this was pre­-Beauty), lakes that led to other worlds, an emerald ring that turned black when its wearer was about to eat something poisoned. I was hooked. I still am. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Old Heroes Never Die...Damn Them

Reading has always been my friend. Back in high school I devoured anything in print. And a few books...very few...struck a chord.

"That's what I've been trying to say. That's it! That's what's wrong with society...damn."

The heroes of these books were Titans, gods, and incalculably Yoda-like in both wisdom and age.

But book characters never grow old. And I do. I'll turn thirty-nine in May, and I realized, much to my horror, that I'm now older than almost all my literary idols.

*Dave Lister (25) and Arnold Rimmer (31), from the Red Dwarf books:

I suppose I could add three million years to each of their ages, but still...

These two bumbling space adventures were the archetypes of the dudes who would never amount to anything; Lister for lack of ambition and Rimmer for lack of talent. Still, they managed to travel the galaxy and meet girls...and then, one day, I'm suddenly a lot older than both of them.

*John Yossarian (28) from Catch-22:

This shirking World War II bombardier had but one mission, which was to stay alive. He could care less where the bombs landed, he just wanted to come home in one piece.

He even describes himself as old, unable to relate to the younger troops, 'a broken-down old man of twenty-eight.'

And he's ten years younger than me.

*Randle Patrick McMurphy (35) from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Everyone's favorite nutcase and Christ figure, the hero in the ultimate sock-it-to-the-man book. Lobotomized at thirty-five. Hell, I've never even had electroshock treatment.

*Winston Smith (39) Nineteen Eighty Four

The faceless rebel and government employee, an everyman for all us frustrated cogs. I'll be as old as him this  year.

*Arthur Dent, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I think he was about forty. And I still don't know where my towel is.

It's just going to get worse. My heroes stay forever young, forever wise, and forever imperfectly wonderful. And I'm just getting older.

Damn them.

Oh, and check out my new book, coming out in March:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Art of Writing (by Margie Gelbwasser)

When I was a kid, I wanted to paint. I would watch Bob Ross create his "happy little trees," and take out my dollar store art pad and water colors and copy his strokes. When he was finished, his canvas was a masterpiece, and mine was a series of greens, browns, blacks, and blues all clumped together in a vivid mess. Maybe I was an abstract artist just waiting to be discovered and did not know it. :-)

Eventually, I grew wary of art implements. In elementary and middle school, I tried to complete the assigned art projects, but no matter the effort I put in, they were far from great. The art teachers I had never worked hard at fostering confidence in my own abilities. They didn't encourage me to enhance my pictures so they could be the best versions of themselves. Instead, they gave me Bs and Cs and praised the landscapes that resembled Bob Ross's, rather than Kandinsky's.

The thing was, I loved art museums and watching others create (still do), and I kept trying. Each time I picked up a crayon, paint brush, or charcoal pencil, I hoped my next drawing would match the picture in my head.

Writing, on the other hand, was something I loved doing and was good at. Funny thing was I never thought that of it as an art. When people talked about art, I envisioned sketchpads and canvases. It didn't occur to me that the scenes I created with my words were art too.

As I got older and read books that vividly described sunsets, forests, and landscapes, something clicked. Writing was art. I was also an artist! Now, while I still wish my drawings could be good enough for display, I know I can paint too. My medium, however, is a pen or the keyboard.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Early influences: Marilyn Sachs and The Truth About Mary Rose (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

The books of Marilyn Sachs were some of my favorites growing up. I'm convinced that my reading habits influenced the purchasing decisions at the tiny public library I patronized back then. The librarians noticed that I checked out the Sachs books over and over (those were the days when they had to hand-write my library-card number on the check-out card, and stamp the due date on another card that fit into an envelope in the back of the book). They would tell me whenever a new Sachs book came in, and they said they recommended the books to other girls my age, based on my zeal.

Sachs wrote a series of books about linked characters: Amy Moves In; Amy and Laura, about the original Amy and her sister; Laura's Luck, about the two sisters at summer camp; Veronica Ganz, about a girl who had bullied Amy and Laura; Peter and Veronica, about Veronica and her friend Peter Wedemeyer; and Marv, about a friend of Peter's. All of these books took place in New York shortly before World War II. It would be interesting for writers to look at this chain of books, because it's not quite a series, but rather a set of stand-alone books whose enjoyment is enhanced if you recognize the overlapping characters from book to book. From an author's standpoint, it's a way of building an audience and using a consistent fictional world without doing a formal series.

The character Veronica Ganz had a sister, Mary Rose, whom I liked because she had built an imaginary world out of magazine pictures. It was much like the imaginary world that I, a budding writer, had constructed for myself. (Also, I liked the character's name). Mary Rose was only a minor character in those books, so I was thrilled to find Sachs's book The Truth About Mary Rose in the library one day, because it promised to give a whole book to Mary Rose. In fact, this is the cover that my library's version had:

But The Truth About Mary Rose is set a couple of decades after all the other books. Veronica Ganz is grown now, married with three children, one of whom is named Mary Rose after her sister. It turns out that the original Mary Rose perished in a fire while still a young girl.

The book revolves around the second Mary Rose's quest to find out as much as she can about the girl for whom she was named. She hunts for a mysterious box that belonged to the first Mary Rose--the only thing that survived the deadly fire. Thus, Sachs uses an an authorial device I call the "mystery box". A device that works wonderfully, I might add. Along with the box, the second Mary Rose uncovers unexpected truths about the fire that killed her aunt, and she has to accept a certain amount of ambiguity about the events of that night.

For many reasons, this was my favorite of Sachs's books. It takes some familiar characters and shows them in a new light. It also differs from the previous books because it is told in first person, which helps eliminate the confusion of having two characters with the same name, and shortens the narrative distance. It covers family conflict in a humorous way. But mostly, it revolves around a mystery and a tragedy. It's about a passion to know the truth, and an acceptance that sometimes we can't know the full truth. It's about realizing that different people see us differently, that there is no one "true view" of ourselves in the eyes of other people. 

This book was first published in 1973, and it's interesting to see how short middle-grade books were back then--this book is only 159 pages. (In the pre-Harry-Potter era, MG books were about that long, and YA books were about 175 to 250 pages). Since it's also set around 1973, some of the references in it may puzzle today's readers--does anyone still know what a peignoir set is? But if you can find a used copy of this book floating around, it's worth checking out because it is, quite simply, an example of a darn good story: a story that has stuck in my head for years.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Yeah, I Was in a Band... - Kristin Rae

Music was my first love. When I was something like four and five years old, I was obsessed with Madonna. She was taking over the world. I didn't understand her words then (thankfully), but I danced around the house singing at the top of my lungs with plastic cupcake tops shoved under my shirt because they were pointy (it was icing with a cherry in the middle) and I thought they looked like those cones she wore. My grandma made dress-up clothes for me, and my friends and I would act out our own music videos. We were dramatic. And loud.

Then I got into art. Drawing, mostly, which I've lost all talent for now. But I came to look at things more closely as I'd try to copy them. I was more observant. I remember taking this little timed quiz for school where you stare at a picture for ten seconds or something, then you write down everything you can remember about it. I'd find all these little details others wouldn't. I was beginning to notice the world differently.

I got interested in photography just after high school. My parents got me my first fancy Nikon before my graduation trip to Hawaii. I took something like twelve rolls of film worth of pictures. Instant addict. It got to where I started looking at my surroundings like I always had a camera up to my eye. I frame things out, notice symmetry, angles, colors. All those years teaching myself photography, I had no idea I was helping my future writing career. (And now that I'm digital, twelve rolls of film has turned into hundreds of photos per trip).

Speaking of careers, at one point in time I thought music was going to be my career. I was in a band through college. We wrote our own stuff--I usually wrote the words, the guys came up with the music, the other singer came up with the melody. I don't have a fantastic voice, really. I can stay on pitch, sure, but there's nothing unique about it. Our band fizzled as everyone got married and started having kids.

My band. I'm the girl on the left.

I still love singing, but eventually I figured out that what I loved most was writing the songs. So I started writing novels. Something that clicked more than anything else I ever tried my hand at, yet without the influence of music and photography, my writing wouldn't be the same. Now I look to music as an emotional informant for my characters and scenes. I look to my photographic eye for crafting settings I hope the reader feels like they're seeing with their own eyes.

How dull life would be without music and the arts. How dull writing would be.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

first pages...More Than Good Enough

Crissa-Jean Chappell reading More Than Good Enough from crissachappell on Vimeo.

As I wrote More Than Good Enough, I wanted to show "the real Miami" that I remember from my childhood. The main character, Trent, moves to the Miccosukee reservation in the Everglades. He feels lost. Trent doesn't know much about his Native American family. His only connection to that world is a father who has forgotten where he came from. As Trent begins to create a documentary for his film class, he learns there is more than one truth. Not one perspective...but many.

Growing up in South Florida in the 1980s, the TV show, Miami Vice, was everywhere. I didn't relate to the images on the screen. It looked nothing like my backyard—the oak trees draped in Spanish moss. The blue crabs scuttling through the grass after it rains. The sing-songy music of the bufo toads in a tropical storm.

When you visit a new place, you often see the surface of things. The keychains. The t-shirts. The pictures in your head shaped from movies and television. The neon-soaked streets of Miami Vice give one perspective that many know of my home. But there are layers of complexity to the Magic City that are often unexplored. It's not just the postcard of sandy beaches, but the handwritten words that tell a personal story of a place.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sing me a song (Patty Blount)

Hi and Happy New Year to all!

This month's blog topic is intriguing. Media and art, how it influenced us when we were young and how it influences us today. I laughed at the first thought that entered my head when I read this topic... I grew up in the '80's, when MTV was new. Music had become, for the first time outside of a concert hall, a visual medium and fourteen-year-old me did her best to emulate those images. When Madonna hit the scene, I rushed to find fingerless lace gloves and religious jewelery. I had Capezios, leg warmers, and over-sized sweatshirts during the Flashdance craze. I wore headbands around my forehead, plastic earrings, way too much pink and gray, even a glitter glove. My hair was high and heavily sprayed, my makeup heavy on the inner eye liner (remember rimming the inside of your lids?)

This was all the influence of music videos.

Want to hear something kind of sad? I can't remember the last time I saw a music video. In fact, today, I'm not a real pop music fan -- my tastes these days lean to classic and hard rock. I haven't heard Miley's Wrecking Ball song because the radio stations I now prefer don't play her music.

But music is nevertheless a medium that continues to influence me. From a child of the '80's to a woman in her late forties, my musical interests have certainly run the gamut. New Wave synthetic beats like She Blinded Me With Science (one of my favorites), classic rock (Zeppelin, Metallica), folk rock (Bob Seeger), country (Zac Brown Band's Toes), Neil Diamond and hard rock like Thousand Foot Krutch, Egypt Central, Avenged Sevenfold, Drowning Pool, Sixx: A.M., Stone Sour, and the like -- all of it continues to influence me in some way. I'm working on a YA paranormal series and the titles for all three books (The Sky Was Scarlet, The Ashes Smolder, The Fire Inside) came from Bob Seeger songs. When I was working on SEND, main character Dan Ellison adored a Stone Sour song called Zzyxx Rd that became my favorite after listening to it so often while I wrote one of Dan's most emotional scenes. After I finished the book, Shinedown released a song called Bully that's since become a favorite of mine, which makes me smile. That's a clear example of my art influencing my choices in music, I suppose!

My days of dressing up like my favorite singers are long gone... but that doesn't mean musicans have stopped influencing me. I'm not a Beyonce fan but one particular song speaks to me: If I Were A Boy. I'm also not a Billy Joel fan but the remake of his We Didn't Start the Fire has turned me into more of activist than I was when the song originally debuted.

Influence is a funny thing. It's transient and tenuous...even when you're not consciously paying attention to the culture around you, it's there, whispering in your ear and infusing your opinions. Sometimes, music I dislike impacts my work, too. I'll even consciously listen to such music to put me in an some sort of a negative mood (angry, jealous, anxious) so I can write a scene that taps into those emotions. For me, that's rap -- sorry to fans but I despise rap music. I listened to a lot of it while I wrote SOME BOYS, a story about rape and rape culture, (coming August, 2014) to intentionally piss me off so I could dig deep enoug to write my protaganist's 'fight-back' scenes.

What music influences you? Do you create playlists for your work? 

Monday, January 20, 2014

People watching ... or is it snatching? (Lauren Bjorkman)

“People watching” sounds more innocent than the thing that I do—noticing people, eavesdropping on their conversations, cataloging their mannerisms, and speculating on who they really are.

The inspiration for the main character of my first novel was a young woman I’d observed over several years—first as my son’s pre-school teacher, then as an actress, and finally whenever I happened to bumped into her in our small town. I’ll call her G.

G’s exuberance drew me in. She seemed not to care what anyone thought of her, and yet had a magnetic presence. I found the flip side of these traits—a degree of obliviousness—fascinating too.

So I thought about G when inventing Roz with her boundless energy, creativity, with a dollop of self-centeredness. Not long into my process, Roz became her own character separate from G, very funny and a bit crazy.

A few years passed. My Invented Life got published by Holt. G still lived in town. So did I. A year after that, I had an idea. Shouldn’t I tell G about her unwitting participation in my novel? Around then, she worked as a barista at a lively café I visited on occasion. So one day, while hopped up on caffeine, I confessed. She didn’t seem too freaked out, so I gave her a copy of the book to read.

After that, I panicked. Hadn’t some reviewers found Roz a little too crazy? Too intense? Too unreliable?

I hurried back to the café to explain it all to G. I don’t really know you. Roz isn’t you and you aren’t Roz. You just gave me the idea of her. You’re probably not like her at all.

You don’t have to read the book.

But she still wanted to read it. For the next several weeks, I went elsewhere for coffee. When I finally dared show my face again, though, it was awesome

Not only had G liked the book, she felt I'd hit on some truths about her, particularly regarding her relationship with her sister.

So now I’m less anxious about my evil snatching ways. When someone says, “Be careful what you say around Lauren, it might end up in a novel,” I smile enigmatically and give a slight nod of my authorial head. So true.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Inspiration for Sneaking Candy

I know this is a YA blog, but it's been a little while since I've written YA and inspiration is our theme here. I thought I would share where I got the inspiration to write my latest book which is a contemporary NA comedy.

By now most of you have probably seen the disgusting words of writing Professor David Gilmour, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."
See the full story here.
His word are sexist, racist and unbelievable to anyone living in the 20th century, but they are not an exception when it comes to the world of writing programs.
I can only speak from my experience. I entered an MFA program 12 years ago, ready to become the next Margaret Atwood (who by the way is a prolific, bestselling, award winning Canadian author like Mr. Gilmour), but what I found when I arrived was not a place that read her books, or taught her.
The break out of male to female professors in my program was as follows: Fiction: 2 male full-time, 1 female adjunct; Non-Fiction: 1 female full-time; Poetry: 1 male full time, 1 female full time and 1 male adjunct.
Pretty even as things in writing go, but notice 2 male full-time for fiction. Those men were my main professors. They were the ones who were going to teach me how to write as a woman and certainly they were equipped to teach writing, but not that. As a result, my literature classes were absolutely male heavy. There were females sprinkled in: Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O'Connor, Alice Munro but mostly we read men: Phillip Roth, Vladamir Nabokov, Chekhov, Michael Chabon, Chaucer, Homer, etc.) (You'll notice they were also all white, but this blog post isn't really about that.)
I never really thought about it at the time. I was so excited to be in a writing program (you have to be accepted based on talent) that I never questioned if I was getting an equal education. Additionally, the sexism in my program was never as overt and possibly my professors didn't even realize it. They were men who both went to Iowa, which if you know about the history of writing programs was one of the first and a boy's club from way back.
I know that has changed now and a lot of amazing women authors are coming out of Iowa, but I would guess that they still read far more men in their literature classes. It's what the old guard want.
So what does what David Gilmour said have to do with me, aside from having in a small way experienced it?
A year ago, I started writing a book titled Sneaking Candy about a twenty-something woman in a graduate writing program who writes erotic romance under a pseudonym because she is afraid she will not be taken seriously by her peers. I thought at first it would be a book about a woman trying to find her authorial voice, her sexual voice and finding love in the unlikeliest place, but as I wrote it turned into something much different.
I realized it was my story in a lot of ways. Even having left my program, my peers from my MFA days do not consider me a legitimate author. They don’t say it, but I can feel it. I’ve never been invited back to read or talk about my publishing experience, even though I am one of the 10% or less from the program that have published novels. Truly, I am Candice. I don’t write erotic romance, but all my books have been published by a “romance” publisher and as such their literary value is lessened.
What I was hoping to show in Sneaking Candy, apart from telling a funny, raunchy story was that writing is writing regardless of genre. MFA programs tend to breed genre snobs (I was one) and I think that’s wrong. I think if you have a story to tell people should be able to read it regardless of who published it, or if you published it yourself.
Without even meaning to, I could feel my book turning into the battle cry I believe many romance writers and would-be writers feel.
I am not less important or valid than you for writing stories about love and sex.
I think this applies to YA writers too.
Stories for teens and about teens are no less valid than stories for and about adults.
I hope Sneaking Candy will make professors like Mr. Gilmour might see that there is a problem in what and who is taught in writing programs; that a change needs to come, but probably not because I am a woman who writes romance and YA.

Friday, January 17, 2014

My So-Called Inspiration (Jennifer Castle)

It was fall 1994, and somehow I was back where I started.

In the five years since college, I'd moved to Los Angeles and gotten a job, a boyfriend, an with all the trimmings. Now I was home in New York. In my parents' house. Sleeping in my old room, in my old bed, on my old floral periwinkle Laura Ashley sheets. Even though it was just a self-inflicted four-month break so I could recover from a lingering Crohn's Disease flare-up and spend some intensive time writing, it actually was as depressing as it sounds.

My parents were driving me crazy and I kept running into people from high school, and I had a lot of Questions About My Life. Where I'd been, where I should go from there. Who I was. What I loved, and how I loved it. What I'd learned. What kind of stories I should be writing, and for whom. I had to keep reminding myself that I was 26, not 16.

Then this happened:

Angela and Rayanne. Patty and Graham. Rickie and...Rickie.

Jordan Catalano. Good God, Jordan Catalano. Sweet dreamy overlord of superhot lost boys everywhere, Jordan Catalano.

And Brian Krakow. I was the weirdo who also loved Brian Krakow, because I've always been the weirdo who loves the Brian Krakows. (The one episode narrated from his point of view? Brilliant, and my favorite.)

Rather than word-fumble about why I still adore this show, how it hooked and moved me, I'll just share a handful of moments:

"School is a battlefield for your heart. So when Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. 'Cause she wasn't just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life."
-- Angela

"My dad and I used to be pretty tight. The sad truth is, my breasts have come between us."
-- Angela 

"Seeing a teacher's actual lunch is, like, so depressing. Not to mention, her bra strap."
-- Angela

Rickie: "If you were about to do it, okay, what would you want the other person to say, like, right before."
Rayanne: "`This won't take long.'"
Rickie: "No, seriously."
Rayanne: "`Do I know you?'"
Rickie: "No, like, for real. Like, romantic."
Angela: "`You're so beautiful, it hurts to look at you.'"
Rayanne: "`It hurts to look at you?'"
Rickie: "How'd you think of that?"
Rayanne: "Where would it hurt?"

"It's amazing the things you notice. Like the corner of his collar that was coming undone, like he was from a poor family and couldn't afford new shirts. That's all I could see. The whole world was that unravelled piece of fabric. It's such a lie that you should do what's in your heart. If we all did what was in our hearts, the world would come to a halt."
-- Angela, on Jordan

"Sometimes it seems like we're all living in some kind of prison, and the crime is how much we all hate ourselves. It's good to get really dressed up once in a while and admit the truth -- that when you really look closely, people are so strange and so complicated that they're actually beautiful. Possibly even me."
-- Angela 

Jordan: "Why are you like this?"
Angela: "Like what?"
Jordan: "Like how you are."
Angela: " am I?"

"Sometimes someone says something really small, and it just fits into this empty place in your heart."
-- Angela 

Rayanne: "You wanna have sex with him."
Angela: "Who?"
Rayanne: "Who? Jordan. Catalano. Come on, I'm not gonna tell anyone. Just admit it."
Angela: "I just like how he's always leaning. Against stuff. He leans great. Well, either sex or a conversation. Ideally, both."

"My So-Called Life" showed the hovering-precariously-between-new-adulthood-and-real-adulthood me that we never stop coming of age. That sometimes, the more realistic a piece of art is, the more it captures our imagination. That the big issues of the teen years -- like identity and love -- are the big issues of life at any age. And that writing in a "young" and "authentic" voice can be gorgeous and powerful and strike you to your core.

Not long after the show went off the air -- a cancellation that should go down as one of the biggest TV tragedies ever, in my opinion -- I started writing teen protagonists. I stopped with the pretentious slick bullshit I'd been spinning and began writing from my still-confused, painfully evolving heart. Needless to say, I'm happy about where that's brought me.

And the book I'm writing now? The one about the girl with the obsessive crush and how that crush eventually leads to something real? It has no relation to Angela and Jordan. None. Zilch. Zippo.

(Oh, Jordan...)

(He really did lean so freaking great.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What I Did for Love (and music) by Jody Casella

Sometimes people ask me why I write for teens.

So I threw together an answer and stuck it up on my website: Because there’s a floundery, confused, angry-at-the-world, cynical-yet-jokey 16-year-old still trapped inside me.

On the surface I may look like a forty-something suburban soccer mom, but plunk me down in front of my laptop and it doesn't take long before I am tapping into the 16-year-old self I once was.

The one who trudged around school yearning to disappear. Or appear.

The one who slammed the bedroom door. A lot.

The one who blared music on the stereo.

I was into music big time. And none of that bubblegum pop music. I liked hard rock and heavy metal. AC/DC. Black Sabbath. Led Zeppelin. But my favorite group was Van Halen.

I trace all of this to a boy, specifically my on again/off again but always in danger of drifting away from me boyfriend. I knew he liked Van Halen and I wanted to impress him by presenting him with their album for his birthday.

I was a naive 14-year-old Barry Manilow fan when I browsed around the record store. I didn't know Van Halen had several albums. I didn't even know they were a they. I thought Van Halen was some guy named Van. I studied the album cover. Four guys. Lots of big hair and biceps. I forked over the 12 bucks.

Turns out my boyfriend already had that album.

Whatever. I'd keep it. I'd show my unimpressible guy that I could like his music too. I bought the other albums. I played them over and over. I read the fan magazines and lusted after David Lee Roth, the wailing singer.

A few years later when I heard that Van Halen was coming to a city near me, I was dying to go. The problem was the tickets went on sale at 10 am the next day, a school day. People were lining up that night in front of the arena. There were rumors the concert would sell out in less than an hour.

My boyfriend said he'd go, but he couldn't risk skipping school again. "Hey," he said. "Maybe you could go?"

I knew it was crazy. It was January. There was a forecast of snow. I had no car. I roped in a friend of mine who did and the two of us made hasty plans to camp out. We had enough of a brain between us to attempt to dress for the weather. Long johns under our jeans. Double pairs of socks. Hats.

What we didn't have:

  • money
  • directions to the city. It was only 15 minutes away, but shockingly, neither of us had ever been there (Side note for teens: GPS and cell phones did not exist.)
  • brains (I was kidding before. We didn't have brains.)

I told my distracted mother I was going to buy tickets for a concert. She didn't ask for details so I didn't share them.

My friend and I got lost on the way there. Then we drove around downtown until we found a big building with a line of about 150 people snaking around it. We got into the line and quickly realized how underdressed we were.

Authority figures yelled at us to stay in line or we would lose our place forever. It snowed. Wind blasted in our faces. I lost feeling in my feet. My friend and I struck up a conversation with two boys standing behind us. We joked about how crazy we were. We discussed leaving, but each hour that passed we'd say, but how can we leave now when we've already been here so long?

At dawn whoever was in charge took pity and let us into the building to wait. One of the boys snuck off and bought me a hot chocolate. He took off my boots and he warmed up my frozen feet.

At 10 am I bought tickets for me and my ingrate of a boyfriend. The concert sold out fifteen minutes later.

My friend and I got lost on the way home.

It was my first time ever skipping a day of school. Luckily, my good student reputation protected me from being discovered; the school thought my mother had forgotten to phone it in. And God bless my mother. She never even realized I'd been out all night.

The concert was cool. David Lee Roth pranced around the stage in--I kid you not--black leather pants with the buttock area cut out.

My boyfriend and I broke up.

And then we got back together like we always did.

Life went on until I could escape to college.

But I will tell you this: every once in a while I like to throw on a little Van Halen. Just like that I am floundering and confused and angry at the world. I am slamming doors and shivering in the cold. I am whirling through unfamiliar streets in the middle of the night. I am blasting music. And sometimes a kind boy is warming up my feet and offering me hot chocolate.

Here's a snippet for your listening pleasure...