Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I'm a Total Bastard (Brian Katcher)

I love April Fools Day. It's a great way to release the inner child in a way I can only do on fifty or a hundred other days of the year.

When I taught English in Mexico, my kindergartners had never heard of April Fools day, so it was great fun hearing their jokes.

"Look! A spider! No, is a joke!"

Upon return to the US, I continued making everyone's life hell by sending out realistic e-mails to my coworkers. One year I announced that all photocopying would have to be done at an off-site location. Teachers would merely have to submit their copies for approval two weeks in advance and their papers would be delivered the day before they're needed. It would, of course, be necessary to plan ahead.

Hee hee

My best prank was when I had been tasked to videotape every flippin' item in my school for insurance purposes. Teachers were concerned that their personal equipment would be considered school property. I assured them that this would not be the case. Then, on April 1st, I emailed that, as it turned out, anything on the video WOULD be considered school property. In order to avoid confusion, anything belonging to a teacher should be removed from the classroom by the end of that school day.

Those of you in education realize how much stuff a teacher can acquire during a career, including furniture. I think someone actually threatened to tar and feather me after the dust settled on that one.

I decided to stop pranking when I accidentally made a new teacher cry. I sent an email saying that I had overheard the superintendent saying she was in big trouble for misuse of the school internet, and she should click this link for advice on how to do some damage control. Of course, the link led to a page that said 'April Fool!' but the poor woman (who had spent about ten seconds online checking her NCAA bracket) broke down in tears.

Joke was on me.

Just remember to take everything with a grain of salt and a smile this month. My eight year old daughter didn't seem happy when she woke up in her old crib on the first of April, but someday she'll laugh.

We took pictures.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Just an April Fool (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Our topic this month is “fools,” and I have a great opening here, because no post by me has appeared on YAOTL in two months. Where was my post in March? Did I flake out? Had I nothing to say about March's topic, the weather?

Well, I wrote that post, far in advance as I usually do. And scheduled it. It is a quirk of Blogger’s software that it sometimes takes “scheduled” posts and converts them to “draft” for no apparent reason. And at the end of March, when I realized I hadn’t seen my post come up, I checked the list of scheduled posts. Sure enough, there mine was, still unpublished and listed as “draft,” thanks to the Blogger gremlins.

Foiled by technology again!

Maybe the gremlins were playing an April Fool’s joke on me, a little early.

Incidentally, I loathe April Fool’s Day. For every truly clever joke I see, there are 99 others that just seem plain cruel. Don’t we have enough days on which we lie to and make fun of one another? Don’t we shame one another enough? Do we really need another day set aside for just that purpose? Maybe I’m extra sensitive to this because humiliation was a huge part of the bullying I endured growing up. Humiliating someone—pulling the rug out from under him or her—just isn’t funny to me.

I like this rule of humor: make fun of yourself, or make fun of the powerful. Humor directed at those with less power than you is just mean.

For me, humor is also about the absurd, the unexpected. If April Fool’s encouraged us just to be silly and playful, I’d be on board.

But I doubt my opinion will have much influence on the culture. Me, I’m just a fool defeated by the gremlins of Blogger!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Making Mistakes (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

When I first learned about the theme for this month, I was stumped. I couldn't think of a single embarrassing moment. At least not one I felt I could build a whole post around. I'm not hiding anything, either. I really couldn't think of a good, flat-on-my-face pratfall. And there, I realized, was my story.

I'm too careful.

I need to stop that. Really, I do. I'm so afraid of making mistakes that I often miss out on the messiness of living, on taking chances, on making a fool of myself in the service of something greater than myself.

The control freak in me has a chokehold on my life, and sometimes on my airways in the form of lung-crushing panic attacks.

I can laugh about this, fortunately. In my office, there's a picture of a dog stranded on a rock in the middle of the sea. The caption is a quote from John Ravenscroft Peel: "I never make stupid mistakes, only very clever ones."

That's me all over.

Maybe it's the root of my extreme care: I'm smart. I am. I can humble-brag about it now that I know it gets me exactly nowhere. Being smart has been part of my identity for such a long time, almost since before I can remember, since I hit every standardized test thrown at me out of the park and won any award my brain could win. But if I make mistakes, then maybe I'm not smart, after all. And if I'm not smart, then what am I? And what will people think of me?

My all-time favorite book, Johnny Tremain, is about a boy in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution, but for me as a child, it was about dealing with that "gifted" label, something I don't think was even around when the book was written in 1943. When I returned to the book as an adult, it was about the ways giftedness fails us. Because, really, being smart has never gotten me anywhere, but my fear of losing that label through doing something foolish has held me back more times than I care to count.

The publication of my first novel, THE LAST SISTER, has been rife with people thinking I've made mistakes, not in the writing (though I know those are there and I know there are plenty of people happy to tell me about them), but in my choice to write a book set in an obscure time and place, the frontier south during the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1759-1761. I can't count the bemused smiles I've gotten from people in the industry when I tell them I've written straight historical fiction for young adults and there are no pretty dresses or noblemen in it, just people living and dying in a war no one's ever heard of. The number of times I've been asked, "Why? Why would you write a book this hard to sell?" Not always in so many words, but sometimes straight up, exactly like that. When the book turned out to be critically well-received, I was told I'd made a mistake in publishing with a small press because, you know, these days, a book is either a blockbuster or a failure.

Except, just, I really don't think either writing the book in the first place or publishing with a small press was a mistake at all.

Anything in writing and publishing is a risk, and I've never gotten anywhere except by taking them. Being smart by itself has never gotten me anywhere. What has moved me along is taking risks and making mistakes and sometimes falling flat on my face.

So, as a writer, I find myself on the verge of not being careful at all. This is old wisdom, but I'm going to write the books I want to write, and if they lead me down the path of bemused smiles, then so be it.

I'm currently making another mistake in the form of a standalone companion to THE LAST SISTER, a book I put off writing because I was afraid of those bemused smiles. I'm going to keep writing about the eighteenth century because I love writing about the eighteenth century. And then I'm going to keep making mistakes, stupid ones and clever ones, because the real mistake is being too careful and caring too much about what people think and ending up with no embarrassing stories to tell. And now, I think I am going to have a cup of tea and write a book about it. Tea, that is.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Fool in Fur -- by Natalie D. Richards

A Fool in Fur
Considering how ridiculous I am as a person, I’m shocked I don’t have any really good embarrassing stories. As a rule, I lean toward silliness.  Just ask any of my YA author friends.  Jody Casella can tell you about how often I lose my phone/sunglasses/keys in my purse.  Romily Bernard can tell you about all the times I leave a sentence dangling halfway through so I can look at something shiny.

But everybody who knows me knows I’m a goofball, so that’s boring.  Let’s talk about the real fool in my life: Yeti.

Yeti is a seventy-five pound Goldendoodle who knows a thing or two about acting the fool.

Yeti likes to protect us from terrifying dangers, like robins.  Joggers. Squirrels. Skateboards. That horrible stranger in a ballcap who dares to check our electric meter.

In Yeti’s mind, the relentless pacing, frantic barking, and slobber slinging is a thoughtful gift of protection that his family should be grateful for. In our minds, he is a moron who could use another Dentabone. (Can't they make Orbit or Mentos for dogs or something?)

Yeti recently got a haircut and now his tail fur sometimes tickles his bum so he occasionally sprints out of a room, with a dirty looks at anyone nearby. I think he’s convinced one of us is trying to violate him with a feather duster. 

But in his mind, this is a valid worry. It couldn’t possibly be his own tail tickling him. After all, it’s never happened before. How could a haircut change things so much?

So, maybe acting a fool is all about the perception. I think unless we start howling and bouncing when our neighbors take a walk, we should just cut ourselves some slack and be as silly as we want.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


The first time you do anything, you look like an idiot. No first kiss ever didn't involve a nose-bump. No first-time driver ever shifted gears perfectly. No writer will ever tell you their first novel was BEAUTIFUL (most of the time, they’re in a shelf somewhere collecting dust).

Here’s the thing, though: the first draft of every book makes me feel like a fool. Doesn’t matter how many books I’ve written and published. The first draft always makes me feel like I’m fifteen again, behind the wheel for the first time. 

Right now, I’m revising my next YA for HarperCollins. As I read my editor’s comments, do I see some wrong turns I made the first time around? You bet. I’ve got a better grip on the wheel, a better sense of where I am in the lane, and I feel great about where I’m headed. I'm working my way toward a book I'm 100% proud of.

...All thanks to the fact that I was willing to look a little foolish the first time around...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fooled by my boss (by Patty Blount)

All month long, we're blogging about fools (as in April!). I thought I'd share one of the hilarious things that happened to me at work once.

This happened quite a few years ago. I'd just started a new job, after leaving my previous employer because my boss was a colossal jerk who'd made my life a living hell for a solid year because he heard a rumor that I was interested in him ( I was not) and he wanted to "address it."

(The fact that he addressed it in a way that hurt me while establishing him as completely innocent is why I left that job.)

After I left, I obsessively replayed every interaction I had with this man, trying to see how that rumor got started. He told me it was my flirting, which gave me pause because I don't flirt with my coworkers. He gave me specific examples and that's when it hit me. When you work with groups of men, you learn to take their frequently inappropriate attempts at humor with a grain of salt. You also learn to give it back just as inappriopriately. Every time I engaged, he interpreted that as flirting.

Apparently, so did many others.

So, I entered this period of second guessing everything I did, said, or laughed at. When I began the new job, one of the first tasks I was given was to write an instruction guide for software that inspects solder balls on the bottom of computer chips. It was called Partial Ball Detection Software. (Very original, no?)

I worked on this project for about two weeks and was invited to a progress meeting with my immediate supervisor (female), the instructor who'd be teaching a class using the guide I was writing (female), and the head of development (male). I sat in the conference room with my pristine print out of the instruction guide, pens in two different colors to record feedback and make improvements, waiting for the head of development to arrive. My supervisor was happy with the document and so was the instructor so I was confident I'd done a good job.

After about five minutes of waiting, the head of development strode into the room and said, "Ladies, how are you all doing with my balls?"

Inappropriate? Completely. Hysterically funny? Oh, yes.

My supervisor burst into laughter. The instructor burst into laughter.

I'm sure you're dying to know how I responded, aren't you? Well, after spending a year in hell following Colossal Jerk's treatment of me, I sat there, paralyzed for about a minute. And then I stood up, fled to the ladies room where I dissolved into giggles so powerful, I got hiccups and had to repair my makeup. By the time I got back to the conference room, everyone was gone.

My supervisor handed me the document I'd left behind. She said the head of development loved my work and wanted to see me.

Oh, hell.

I timidly entered his office where he escorted me to a seat and then delivered the most serious and heartfelt apology I'd ever received. I kept trying to let him off the hook and admitted I laughed like a loon in the ladies room, but to no avail.

From that day forward, I was called Saint Patty. No one ever made another joke in front of me again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

At Least There Were Cupcakes ~ Delilah S. Dawson

You'd think I'd be too old and wise to ever feel foolish, but you would be extremely wrong.

I felt foolish when I fell off my horse and broke my back. I felt foolish when I walked naked out of the shower a few days ago to get a t-shirt, sneezed, and heard the window washers said, "Bless you." And I felt really, really foolish when I planned a big party last week and... no one showed up.

Part of being a professional writer is putting yourself out there even knowing that you're going to be embarrassed every now and then. There are people who won't like your books and can't wait to tell you, in painful detail, why. To your face. There are people who will pick up your book, frown, and put it back down while standing right in front of you. There are people who won't like you or what you stand for. But the most painful truth is that the vast majority of people will never even know who you are.

I live in Georgia, but for the last five weeks, I've been on sabbatical with my family in Washington, D.C., which means that when HIT launched, I was nowhere near my hometown bookstore.

This is HIT, by the way. 
It's about a teen girl yarn bomber turned assassin in a bank-owned America. 
You can read an excerpt at

But I wanted to celebrate, so I reached out to bookstores in the D.C. area to plan events. The first one went great-- a full crowd, lots of fun authors, plenty of books to sign. And blondies, because you have to have snacks. The third event was likewise amazing, right down to the cupcakes with our book covers on them pictured above.

But the middle event?

I wish I could forget that it ever happened.

It was at a beautiful indie bookstore, and I invited three other authors to join me for a panel and party. We made an Event page, created a splashy graphic, and ordered three dozen cupcakes. I told everybody-- Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, Instagram. All told, over 16,000 people follow me, and I shouted to the rooftops about this book signing.

And the only person who showed up was my high school boyfriend, and he didn't buy a book.

The situation is mortifying on a lot of levels. I feel like I embarrassed the other authors while making them pay for cupcakes that no one ate. I worry that the bookstore owner will not only think poorly of me but also be reticent to give another unknown author space and time in her store. I hate that so many books were ordered and will be sent right back. I fret that my publisher will think I'm a loser. And, from a personal standpoint, it doesn't matter who you are--if you throw a party and no one shows up, you feel like crap.

But that's okay.

Know why?

Because even that kind of ego devastation can't make me stop writing. If I stop looking at it as something that I did wrong, I recognize that I got to meet three amazing women, buy their books, and connect as professionals and friends. I took my leftover cupcakes to the front desk staff of our apartment building and got to brighten their day. I have three new books to read. And I have an indie bookstore who might doubt my ability to pull a crowd but who at least recognizes my book and has a few signed copies on hand. I also bought some amazing coffee from the shop up the street.

The thing is, I can't control who shows up. I can only control what I do when I leave. And what I'm going to do is strive to be a better writer, to craft even more compelling books so that one day, if I ever go back to the store, I'll have a line around the block.

And that's why "At least there were cupcakes!" is my new motto. It's hard to be sad eating a cupcake.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pathetic Level of Optimism (Laurie Boyle Crompton)

We’re talking about fools this month, and I was reminded of the way my blind optimism once led to my biggest “Gotcha” foolish moment on my road to becoming a published author.

After a rocky start with several rounds of revisions with my exciting new big-name agent, my first novel was finally out with a swoon-worthy list of publishers. As weeks and then months rolled by I imagined the silence we were hearing from the sub-list meant they were seriously considering making offers. After all, offers take time to put together, right? There could be MULTIPLE offers coming. So one morning when I woke up with that excited, “Today’s the day” intuition that I’d be hearing from my agent, I assumed he’d be calling with super-great-fantastic news.

My intuition was right. He did call. But it was not with good news. My breathless, “Hello?” when I answered the phone was met with a moment of silence, probably while he tried to figure out why I sounded so dang happy. He was calling to tell me that the manuscript that I’d worked on for two years had hit a dead end. He’d forgotten to forward me the rejection emails telling me of the growing doom along the way.

I tried to rally my positivity and optimism and hope and act like everything was fine, but WOW did that one phone call sting like a mother sucker. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. But even that harsh experience couldn’t come close to squashing my dream or my certainty that I would one day be a published author. As this post is titled: pathetic level of optimism.

That agent half-heartedly shopped another book for me, but he clearly didn’t have much faith in it or in me at that point. I tried to keep hope alive, but our relationship eventually reached a point where he was like a boyfriend who was trying to make me break up with him with bad behavior: mean comments and ignored emails. Except that I wouldn’t break things off because I thought I could make him love me again. I also felt that having the wrong agent was better than having no agent at all. Wow, was I ever wrong!

He finally broke down and dumped me and within a few months I had multiple offers of representation on a shiny new manuscript. My new incredible amazing fairy-dust-filled agent sold that book, along with two more and she continues to be an encouragement and inspiration as she champions my evolving career. I finally got that super-great-fantastic news phone call and it was every bit as wonderful as I'd imagined!

I guess having bottomless buckets of optimism didn't make me so foolish after all. Now for that Best Seller I’m hoping for…

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Well, this is embarrassing (Alissa Grosso)

I was supposed to upload this post on Saturday. It's actually Monday. In my defense Saturday was the nicest, warmest, sunniest, most perfectest day we've had so far this year.  So, like pretty much every birthday card I've ever mailed this is a belated post. (Though I should point out that the way that I realized that I had missed posting this was because I knew today was the 20th and thus Mom's birthday, so I'm not a complete dunce when it comes to remembering birthdays!)

It's certainly not the only embarrassing thing I've ever done, and it won't be the last. Hey, just the other day, on Saturday, that most perfectest day, I managed to spill iced tea all over my face and hair, shortly after announcing that the can I had been drinking out of was completely empty, and then yesterday I managed to choke on some water I was drinking. Thankfully, in both cases, the only witness to these events was my boyfriend. Though I have now posted them out there for the entire world to see.

So, the problem with being given the assignment to share embarrassing moments is where to begin? Should I go with an embarrassing moment that has a literary flavor?

How about back when I worked in the children's department of the library, and I and a coworker bravely sat ourselves in an inflatable boat precariously balanced on the library's staircase all in the name of encouraging children to read?
Although in an effort to avoid embarrassment (and lawsuits) we held this photo shoot before the library's regular hours of operation, what we didn't take into consideration was the fact that it was during the time when the library was filled with folks helping to set up for the big annual used book sale, so roughly a thousand people lugging used books out to the book sale room paused in their duties to look up in wonder at the two crazy ladies on the boat. Right about now, you're scratching your head trying to figure out how any of this could have encouraged kids to read, but believe me, it all made sense at the time.

Or, maybe I should go back even further. Back before the internet, youguns might be surprised to learn that people still tried all sorts of desperate tactics to sell other people stuff, and there was always an idiot out there who fell for these stunts. Enter eleven-year-old Alissa who saw a card that said "Get a Free Dictionary & Thesaurus!" in a magazine and decided to fill it out. Free books? Hell, yeah. Of course, what I didn't count on was the encyclopedia salesman who came to our door as a result of that little card I filled out, and who my parents had to politely turn away.

Perhaps being a YA author, I should pick an embarrassing moment from my teens. But aren't our teen years just one big endless embarrassing moment? The embarrassing moment I shared in my high school yearbook, concerns something that happened during a memorable cross country practice.
Note those black spandex shorts that I wore under my red running shorts. That was because our uniforms were about 20 years old, and the elastic on the waistbands of those shorts was so dried out the black spandex were necessary to prevent an embarrassing shorts falling off moment.
I really feel that my cross country coach should share some of the blame for this embarrassing moment. She came up with a bizarre plan to split our team in half (well technically it was a girls' team and a boys' team, but we were such small teams, it was really just like one co-ed team) to race against each other. So far, so good, right? There was one catch. Everyone on each team would be tied together. Not making this up. So, picture a team of about 12 kids all tied loosely together with rope and another team of 12 kids tied loosely together with rope, racing each other around a track. I mean, it just sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? It seems pretty much inevitable that one of those kids is going to get some of the slack from that rope caught around her ankle, get yanked off her feet, and then because of the difficulty in the tail end of the caterpillar communicating effectively with the front end of the caterpillar that unfortunate person is going to get dragged along the track for maybe 20 yards or so. Want to guess who that unfortunate runner was?

The good thing about embarrassing moments (at least those that we survive - thankfully the tail end of the caterpillar was able to get the front end to stop so I'm here to tell this tale) is that we can look back on them and smile. As this weekend's experiences with beverages prove, I'm still busy making many more moments worthy of future smiles.

Okay, I'm off to call Mom and wish her a happy birthday. Then, maybe I should get started on next month's post, so that I can actually post it when it's scheduled instead of two days later.

Friday, April 17, 2015

11 Times You’ve Made a Fool of Yourself (In Which You=Me)

by Natasha Sinel

(with run-on sentences and in no particular order)

  • When you almost missed the deadline for that April Fools blog post on YA Outside the Lines, but then you figured you’d just write a list of embarrassing stuff really quickly.
  • When you hooked up with that guy the first week of college freshman year, and you had so much fun hanging out, you figured you were now boyfriend/girlfriend. You were very very wrong. Sadly, it took you a long time to learn this. On the bright side? You were persistent.
  • When you had that meeting about your book release party, then got home and realized your fly was down the whole time.

  • When you were seeing “That Todd” guy in your early 20s—and even though your friends hated him, you liked how weird he was plus he introduced you to the lesser-known yet brilliant UB40 album Signing Off (and you still can’t hear “Burden of Shame” without thinking of him and his shaggy blond hair, and wait, didn’t he have a skateboard too? Yeah, he was kind of old for that. OK, your friends may have been right.) Anyway, that’s not really the embarrassing part. That part happened when you called his house one day and his mom said, “Oh, he’s moved to Rhode Island.” Huh? Never heard from him again.
  • When you got home after that party on New Years Eve and your parents weren’t home yet…again, not the embarrassing part…but you kept hearing this scratching noise coming from downstairs, and you were so sure there was someone trying to scratch (?) their way into the front door, that you called 911. And when the police came and checked out the scene, they discovered the gingerbread cookies your mom had made strewn all over the floor along with the box and tissue paper in shreds, and they said “huh, looks like you've got a mouse in the house.” Haha, happy new year to you too.
  • Speaking of police, that time when your sons called 911 and said they couldn’t find you. You were in the shower. You’d told them that you were going to take a shower. All three of them had nodded when you said it. But for some reason (TV), they weren’t listening or forgot and the oldest one panicked, so they all did. And then you heard this man’s voice calling your name and you freaked out when you came out of the shower and saw a giant cop with his big ole belt full of lethal gear next to your itty bitty child, and you immediately realized what happened, and even though he told your son that he did the right thing, and you apologized profusely with your wet tangled hair, you were not just embarrassed, you were mortified. And you pictured your name in the police blotter of the local paper the next week. And after he left, you wondered why it was that on any other day, those same three kids would have no problem walking into the bathroom while you’re in the shower or even on the toilet, but on that day, they just didn’t think to check the bathroom? 
  • That time in 3rd grade when you were, for some reason you can’t remember, in the backseat of a tiny sports car with the coolest girl in 5th grade (it was her mom's car), and after a stop at Burger King, you felt nauseous but the window wouldn’t open and you kept shouting “how do you open the window” but it came out like a whisper because you were trying not to vomit, and then you puked anyway. All over the girl's lap. You wanted to die then. But it actually turned out okay, because when you were a sophomore and got dragged to a senior party, she totally remembered that day in the car and made it into a whole funny story where you were the star. And she was so beautiful and so nice, so everyone laughed and smiled and someone gave you a beer and told you not to puke, haha, and then it was kind of cool that you went to that senior party.
  • When you were in love with one of your best friends freshman year of college, and one night he was too tired to walk back to his dorm, so he spent the night in your bed with you, but he said he had a cold, so he turned and slept the opposite way, with his feet by your head and his head by your feet. And you still didn’t figure out he was gay until he told you like six months later.
  • When you were a debut author and practically everything you had to do to promote your upcoming book made you feel foolish because of the whole sell your own art thing (note to Mom: I get it now).
  • When your son called you an idiot at Dunkin’ Donuts because you said he couldn’t get two donuts, and you knew everyone was looking to see what you’d do, and when you got to the front of the line you bought him two. (Actually, that may have been the other parent. But it could just as easily have been you.)
  • When you brought your kids for a swimming lesson at your gym (where you hadn’t exercised in months) and you saw your trainer, and you wanted to hide but there was nowhere to hide, and she said “Where have you been?” And you said, as you slid your book in front of your Diet Pepsi, “I’ve been swamped with writing stuff, but I’ve been walking every day.” And you had to cross your fingers behind your back because you hadn’t been outside in weeks. Then you just had this feeling she could see the Hershey bar in your bag with her X-ray vision and smell the Tostitos you shoved in your mouth on the car ride over.

Natasha Sinel writes YA fiction from her home on a dirt road in Northern Westchester, NY. She drives her kids around all afternoon, but in her head, she's still in high school, and hopes that no one near her can read minds. Her debut YA novel THE FIX will be out from Sky Pony Press on September 1, 2015.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Someday This Will Be Funny (and other lies my teacher told me) By Jody Casella

It was the worst of times. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. By which I mean, I was thirteen.

I went to a small Catholic school, the kind with one hallway and one classroom per grade. I wore the stereotypically ugly Catholic school uniform: pink blouse, maroon vest, plaid skirt, knee socks.

I was painfully self-conscious.

I made a list of my physical characteristics, Good and Bad for comparison purposes. Sure, I had long eyelashes and wavy hair, but did that make up for the big knees and the hairy arms?


(Side note: over the past few months I've been doing a major de-hoarding of the contents of my house and I actually unearthed this list, so I know it's an accurate snapshot of how my mind worked back then.)

One of my greatest fears when I was thirteen was people looking at me, cataloging, I supposed, all of those bad characteristics. Doing a presentation in front of the classroom, reading out loud, even walking in front of the room, made me break out into a sweat.

Because the school was small and we only had one class of students per grade, we didn't switch classes the way kids do in larger middle schools. We switched only once, halfway through the day. The 8th graders (my grade) would stand up, form two lines at the front of the room (boys and girls) and file out of the room and cross the hall to the 7th grade room, passing the two lines of doofball 7th graders along the way.

(Yeah. That's a lot of blood,
but then, what do we expect?
Stephen King is a man.)

The 8th grade teacher, Mr. N., was a cool smart guy who taught math and history and we all loved him. The 7th grade grade teacher, Mrs. D, taught reading and writing, and considering that I love reading and writing, you'd assume that I loved her, but you would be assuming incorrectly.

I sat in the back corner of the 8th grade class and one particular day it was time to collect our English books and line up at the front of the classroom to change classes and I stood up and pushed in my chair, and that is when it happened. 

I had, what we will euphemistically call, an Accident of the Menstrual Variety.

I am not talking Stephen King's Carrie proportions of blood (side note-- did you know that Carrie is about, among other things, a girl's horror at getting her period?) but let's just say, there was blood on my chair. On the floor. Running down my legs and into my knee socks.

I froze in horror.

The lines were forming at the front of the classroom and every self-conscious nightmare I'd ever had was converging into a single point and that was Me, standing at the back of the room, clutching my desk chair, while the boys (they were the line on the outside. Of course.) stared at me.

And then they filed out of the room while I stood, still gripping my chair, afraid to look down at what I was sensing was a bloodbath, and wondering how the hell I was going to get myself out of this situation.

There wasn't a way that I could figure. At least not anything I could think of in the approximately 3 seconds before the 7th graders began to file into the room. One by one they took their seats, most not noticing me, although the one who sat in my seat, noticed, because I was standing in front of it, refusing to let him sit in it.

It was a boy, because that is the way the Universe works. I looked at him and he looked at me and I fought the urge to look down and possibly draw his eyes in that direction. By then Mr. N. was back in the room, telling everyone to get out their math books or whatever, and I had a one second thought that maybe I could keep standing there and class could go on and later I could collapse on the floor and paramedics could carry me out on a stretcher.

I can still see Mr. N.'s confused face as he loped toward me, like, Um, Jody, what's going on-- and then the flash of recognition as he grasped the problem. He took charge by sending Seatless Boy out of the room to go get Mrs. D.

God love Mrs. D.

"Let's go," she said firmly, and she pried my hands from the back of the chair and did the best thing that she possibly could've done. She walked behind me all the way out of the room.

She whisked me into the bathroom and when I fell apart, sobbing, she was uncharacteristically kind. I was a two year old bawling in front of the mirror and Mrs. D was kneeling at my feet, slipping off my shoes, rolling down my knee socks, washing off my legs with those terrible scratchy industrial brown paper towels, talking to me all the while about how I was going to be okay.

"Welcome to womanhood," she said. "This happens to everyone."

"Did it ever happen to you?" I asked.

Well, no, she admitted. And then she continued to lie to me cheerfully as she mopped me up.

No one saw.
It's not a big deal.
Some day you'll think this is funny.

Even then I knew she was only trying to make me feel better.

When my mom came to pick me up with a change of clothes (the school decided that it would probably be okay for me to take the afternoon off) Mrs. D. gave me a hug. "We girls have to stick together," she whispered.  

Of all the things she said to me that day, that was the one true thing.

Too bad I didn't always remember it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fooling Yourself (April theme: Fools)

by Tracy Barrett

I entered my sophomore English class confident that I’d continue to get A’s, as I always had in language arts. I had skipped first grade on the strength of my reading and writing, after all, and I had an impressive vocabulary due to all the reading I did. In freshman year I found I could whip out an essay with little preparation or care and get an A on it.

It didn’t occur to me that I was fooling not only my teachers but myself. I actually thought that what I was writing was good. In reality, it was slick and shallow, but full of stylistic flair and ten-dollar words.

So when I got back my first paper in Mrs. Taylor’s class (on The Great Gatsby, I think) I barely glanced at it. And then, I remember, I did a classic double-take.


C+? Wow, what a hard grader—she must have flunked half the class!

I glanced at the paper on the desk of the student next to me. A-.


I needed an explanation for the obviously unfair grade, but she hadn’t made any marks on the first page. Or on the second.

On the third page, there was just one line in red: “Full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.”

I fumed. Who did she think she was? Everybody knew I was a terrific writer! I flipped the pages over and re-read the paper. And slowly, I had to recognize what she meant. The rhetorical flourishes were all there—the clever lines, the apt quotations. But what had I said? Nothing.

I had found a teacher I couldn’t fool, and I had to stop fooling myself as well. I can’t claim that I learned my lesson and from then on wrote essays of great depth and substance, but Mrs. Taylor planted an internal editor in me who every once in a while whispers in my ear, “Full of sound and fury . . . ”

Friday, April 10, 2015

You're Not Fooling Anyone But Yourself by Sydney Salter

Being a soccer mom means that I do a lot of my writing in parks, parked cars, cafes and other random locations--that's the easy part. I've worked harder to understand my daughter's athletic mentality. Like any writer, I dove into research and ended up creating some athletic characters along the way. But as I watch my daughter work toward her dream of playing college soccer, I've learned other lessons. 

Serious athletes don't tolerate excuses. I listen to weekly rants about various team mates who are "too busy" to attend difficult conditioning sessions, or skip practice because they have "too much" homework. My daughter will shake her head and say, "we all have 7 or 8 hours after school and that's a lot of time."  

Serious athletes work hard, no matter what. I've watched my daughter hone her skills by practicing with her soccer ball every single day, whether we're at home or on vacation, and she never skips training, even when she's feeling sick. 

Serious athletes make sacrifices. My daughter misses social events because of practice or games, and she won't go to sleepovers the night before a game. Sometimes she's pretty frustrated, but she's decided to make soccer a priority. 

I've discovered that my passion for writing helps me connect with my daughter--I, too, make sacrifices, work hard, practice, and-- well, lately, I've been letting some excuses get in the way. Life, blah, blah, blah. 

For years, I've listened to people whine about how they wish they had "time" to write, or list a myriad of reasons why they're not writing. You're not fooling anyone, but yourself, I've always thought. People who really want to do something find a way to get it done. 

The other day, I had a revelation: I've been fooling myself. Life stuff is going to keep on happening, so just get that writing done! I drove home and wrote a thousand words, and I made my daughter proud, too. That kid really hates excuses! 


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Gift of a Fool By Kimberly Sabatini

This month we are blogging about fools.

We've all been made a fool of one time or another...

make a fool of trick or deceive (someone) so that they look foolish.

I used to be surrounded by people who made me feel like that--I literally lived next to them. It made me so miserable I ended up moving. It still shocks me that adults can be that mean. Some people call that naive, I prefer optimistic, but does it matter?

In the early years they made me sad and they caused me to wonder what was wrong with me. I cried a lot and felt foolish and alone.

In the later years they made me angry and they caused me to wonder what was wrong with them. I couldn't believe I'd been such a fool to think they were my friends--that they cared about me the way I cared for them.

Then one day I exploded. I said everything I was feeling.

It didn't make me feel better, but it did make me feel like I wasn't choking on it anymore. At least now I wasn't the only person walking around feeling horrible--feeling like a fool.

Now, because I have some distance, I'm happy to report that I don't think about them that much anymore. Not the way I used to.  And when I do see them, it no longer makes me uncomfortable. I own how other people make me perceive myself. No one can make me feel like a fool unless I let them.

I still wish it had never happened.

But it did and on the flip side there's a gift. It's the silver lining of being a writer. Every time I write a scene about a bully or a mean kid or feeling like a fool, all I have to do is think about them and the writing it real and raw and true. Maybe--just maybe--they made a fool of themselves.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fools, King Lear, and FINDING PARIS (Joy Preble)

It is the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear who sees Lear’s daughters for what they are. Such a brilliant device: The court jester, the amiable fool, speaking the harsh, brutal truth. I won’t give you the full English teacher-y lesson, but I will say that if you haven’t read/watched Lear, you need to. If only to think about—as I frequently do—that sometimes wisdom comes from unlikely places and people who others often underestimate prove themselves to be wise and capable.

As a writer, I seem to gravitate towards characters who do foolish things, thinking they’re acting thoughtfully and discovering that they are most certainly not. To me it’s the nature of being human, you know? We do dumb stuff. We convince ourselves that we’re on top of things, or we don’t think at all. We react badly rather than nobly to life, and zoom about saying the wrong thing or choosing the wrong person or believing the wrong rumor (is there every a right rumor? Maybe there is) and letting ourselves be led by impulses that we would be better off ignoring. We are afraid to tell the truth or we shout out the truth when keeping quiet might be a better idea. (Yes, I don’t think the truth is always best. Just mostly.)

 We muck things up in life and love. Not just some of the time but frequently and with a whole-heartedness that makes us all fools, and not generally the wise Shakespearean kind.

Or maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so.

In FINDING PARIS—my first contemporary YA, coming 4/21 from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins—sisters Leo and Paris let their hearts lead them to do some seemingly foolish things. Paris—a dreamer and and an artist and a girl who likes her world pretty— disappears one night in Vegas and leaves Leo a string of increasingly strange clues (the first is Sharpied onto the leg of a statue of Elvis). And Leo, although she questions this more than once and for good reason, dives in and lets herself be swallowed by this scavenger hunt. She takes help from a boy named Max and Leo is not one to take help from anyone, particularly not a boy she doesn’t know.  But Leo has a blind spot when it comes to her sister. Leo is the one who takes care of Paris. And Paris, well, she’s lovely and artistic but also emotionally fragile-- the type of person others take care of, which doesn’t always make her the most likeable of girls. That’s just how it works in this long-broken family. It’s not something Leo has yet learned to question. Sometimes it’s easier not to question than it is to face darker truths. 

Noble and foolish are, I think, often a matter of degree. Put yourself in danger to save your sister and if it works, well, you’re a hero. If it doesn’t, you’re not. And if she’s not exactly the one who needs saving, well, that’s another thing, now, isn’t it? As that wise fool observes in Lear, “They’ll have me whipp’d for speaking true; thou’lt have me whipp’d for lying.” Like I say, in life as well as fiction, including FINDING PARIS, it's all a matter of perception.