Thursday, December 31, 2015

Losing Track of Time (by Nancy Ohlin)

When my son was little, he used to say:  “Let’s go to Mrs. London’s and lose track of time.” Because that’s what one did at a lovely, fancy bakery like Mrs. London’s—drink tea, eat gorgeous pastries, and not have anything else to do or anywhere else to be.

New Year’s is a holiday when one is all too aware of the passing of time.  I know that lately, I’ve been thinking (and thinking and thinking) about what I did and didn’t accomplish in 2015 ... and how did it get to be the end of December already? … and here’s what I absolutely need to get done in 2016 … and so on. 

As the clock ticks toward midnight, though, I’m trying not to dwell on any of that.  I’m remembering Mrs. London’s and those buttery, sugary, happy-lazy afternoons when Christopher and I would linger over too-expensive scones and watch the snowflakes tumbling and swirling outside ... nothing else to do, nowhere else to be. 

So to all of you:  I wish you a very Happy New Year, and I hope you have many occasions to lose track of time in 2016.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Keeping a Sabbath (Sabbatical)--by Ellen Jensen Abbott

For the past seven and a half weeks, I’ve been luxuriating in time. I know that sounds ridiculous--even a little hostile--given that it’s the holiday season, and most of the posts this month have begun with an admission that the writer has less time than usual. But for the past weeks, I’ve been on sabbatical from my job as a teacher. No paper grading, no lesson planning, no meetings, no dorm duty. It’s been just me and my computer and my steadily growing if terrible first draft of a new novel. It’s been bliss.

Of course I have asked myself if this is what it’s like to be a full-time writer, but I think the answer is no. The key to this sabbatical has been its limits. I have eight weeks. During that time, my priority has been my writing. “Sabbatical” shares the same derivation as “Sabbath”--time set aside. Because this time has been set aside for writing, it’s been easier for me to prioritize it, to say that I won’t do the laundry or send the Christmas cards or bake the cookies until I have fulfilled my daily goal--in my case, six pages a day. Because this time has been set aside by someone else, it’s easier to see it as sacred. I had no problem saying no to hosting our family’s Thanksgiving celebration because “I was on sabbatical.” The official-ness of the statement kept my goals clear.

Now, as I approach the end of the sabbatical, I find myself wondering how I can hang on to this sense of time set aside. Can I have a daily Sabbath--even an hour set aside with a commensurate goal--one page? Two pages? Can I import that sense of rest, luxury even sacredness that I have felt during this eight week period? Or will “writing” become just one more item on my list of things to do every day?

I don’t have the answer to this question yet. I’m still luxuriating. But I guess I have just set a New Year’s resolution: hold on to the sacred in that small slice of time I do find to write--and carry it with me out into the world of paper grading, meetings, dorm duty and lesson planning.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Timequake (Brian Katcher)

Timequake  was Kurt Vonnegut's last real novel, though a lot of it was more of a memoir. Compared to his earlier works, it wasn't that great. The premise is that time unexpectedly resets ten years, forcing everyone to relive the past decade exactly as they had before.

I read this book in 1998, and of course thought back to where I'd been ten years previously. In 1988 I was just starting the 8th grade. Now I was 23, living Mexico, working at my second teaching job. It struck me how radically my life had changed in ten years. It's fun to play this game occasionally, remembering where I was at certain milestone years.

Ten years ago, I was thirty. I had just accepted the job I still have. I had no idea that in five months my wife would inform me she was pregnant, or that a Random House editor was looking at the draft of my first novel and liking what she saw.

Fifteen years ago, I was living in Puebla, Mexico, though I was back in Missouri for the holidays. My parents had just told my sister and me that they were divorcing. Merry fucking Christmas.

Twenty years ago I was in college, still living in the dorms, and working at a group home.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a high school sophomore. For the first time in my life I had fallen in with a large group of people who shared my nerdish outlook and I didn't feel so alone (though my first kiss was still months away).

Thirty years ago I was in the fifth grade, terrified at the prospect of junior high.

 One final distinct memory I'd like to share. It happened when I was a college freshman. I was registering for the second semester, when a thought hit me: some day I will look back at this moment that's happening right now, and it will be in the distant past.

Turns out, I was right.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Running Out of Time

I was talking to a friend recently about writing ideas, and she told me she believes we get a window to write our idea, and if we don't jump on it, the universe gives it to someone else. In addition to this being a fantastic premise for a novel or short story, it's something I think about too, but can't really do anything about.

I don't know what's going on with my brain lately, but I've had seven ideas I began writing only to have enthusiasm for each one disappear. This could be because the last YA I wrote is floating in agent cyberspace, and it's hard to write a new idea when the last one you poured your heart into is an orphan. Or, it could be because I've had contracted projects since June and finally turned in my last one a few weeks ago so my brain is still wobbly and confused. The irony is that while I was doing the contracted projects, I had all these ideas I was excited to get to when deadlines were done. Now, here I am, full of ideas that can't seem to make it past my head or a few pages.

This brings me back to my friend's point. I feel I have a limited amount of time to write these books or someone else will. But maybe that's a sign in itself. Sometimes? But there are those times when you have this idea and you're playing beat the clock to finish because you know it's a good one, and then BAM. PW comes out and that same idea just sold. I know we can't work like this--in fear of trying because it's crushing to be almost done with a book and then see someone had beat you to it, and then what? When writing is just a hobby, it's different. Yes, I still love writing, but it's also my career, and it's not always so easy to regroup and write something new just like that (*snapping fingers for effect*).

So...back to my brain full of awesome ideas afraid to make it onto paper. I suppose the logical thing to do is make them come out. Keep writing even if the enthusiasm is waning because maybe it's not the enthusiasm that's waning but a fear that's growing and taking over. That seems the best we can do because time doesn't take a break. And too many people in the universe are waiting for new ideas.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Taking the time it needs (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Orson Welles was a highly respected filmmaker, but for years I didn't know that. When I was little, I knew him only as the guy on a Paul Masson commercial who said, "We will sell no wine before its time."

And I've been thinking about that catchphrase because of how it relates to my writing.

(Yes, I can relate practically anything to writing.)

One aspect of novel writing that has been extremely difficult for me to accept is the time required.

What I mean is that I’m not a person who can bang out a novel in a few weeks. My brain needs time to build a long story.

I can write nonfiction on short deadlines. But there’s something about the world-building, theme-building, and character development of a novel that dictates a slower pace. With nonfiction, the facts and circumstances already exist, and my challenge is to express them coherently and insightfully. But with fiction, I must create everything: the plot, the characters, the conflict.

It takes a long time to write a novel, time during which my daily progress is barely measurable. Some days, all I do is delete. Some days, all I do is think.

Many writers work more quickly than I do. Maybe even most writers. I have had to accept the fact that I am not one of them. I can put lots of words on paper (or a computer screen) in a short amount of time, but they aren’t good words. They aren’t worth reading. My attempts to wrest control from the muse and speed things up have been utter failures.

I wish this process weren’t so slow for me. Many times, my friend Kelly Ramsdell Fineman has answered my frustrated emails by reminding me, “It takes as long as it takes.” And so I’ve been working to accept it, to work within my pace, rather than fight it. Some days I’m more successful than others.

As Orson Welles might have said if he'd been speaking for me instead of Paul Masson, "We can write no book before its time."

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stop Judging Me, John Lennon

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun.
Every time I hear this song,  I think, "OMG, John Lennon, stop judging me!"

(My husband says I have guilt issues and constantly think people are judging me. I think this is a natural side effect of working in the arts, where yes, people are judging you, all the time, in a wide variety of ways.)

But back to John Lennon. This song is even worse for me this year because it's about ending war, for the children, and now I actually have a child, and 2015 has just not been a super great year for peace on earth, and what, John Lennon asks, have I done about that?

Not enough, John Lennon, not enough. I'm doing well if I can maintain some semblance of peace in my own home. There's not much time for anything else. And yet somehow I feel like other people manage it, while I just tell stories. That's what I do. I catch stories and write them down. That's what I've done, for what it's worth.

There's something about this week between Christmas and New Year's that makes me think about time a lot. Maybe it's because there's a strange, surreal, outside-of-time feel about it. It's neither one thing nor the other. Nothing counts in this nethertime.

 Most places, it's a slow week. The kids are still out of school, but the big bang of Christmas is done. The old year is pretty much over, the holidays are winding down, but the busyness of the new year hasn't started yet. The weather's usually bad enough to keep me indoors most of the time. If you ever do make it to church the Sunday after Christmas, you'll notice the place is almost empty.

It's a reflective time, a time to think about what have we done and what are we going to do and personally, I think this is the reason people drink on New Year's Eve. Another year over, and what have you done?

I've never once in my whole life felt like I accomplished enough in the preceding year. I've always felt a little afraid that I wouldn't live up to my goals for the next year. I know I'm not the only one who feels like there's never enough time, and because the holidays arrive at the end of the year, all the emotions and memories and hopes and dreams and fears that go along with those get tied up with the dreadful sense of arriving at an end, and of course it's just the time of year when the usual sense of not-enough-time is compounded by all the extra things that, while often fun, do take time.

I always feel a little sad on New Year's Eve. It's a little death, a year that will never come again, and for a moment, it makes me really really really think about time and how quickly the years peel away, and that's not something I like to do. So I was sort of joking before, but I wonder if there's something more to the traditional drinking to excess on New Year's Eve than just the party? Is it because none of us likes to think about how fast time flies? Is it a way of numbing the way time collides at the holidays, when all our memories press harder on us than the rest of the year and the future is unknown and the present is rushed rushed rushed? I don't know.

Instead of making a list of New Year's resolutions, I think I'm going to make a list of everything I did in the past year, if only so I have something to tell John Lennon the next time I hear that song.

Friday, December 25, 2015

On Dickens and Time -- by Jen Doktorski

This month we’ve been writing about time: To begin with.

And all month long I’ve been running out of it. There is no doubt whatever about that.

For these reasons, and because my post will appear on Christmas day, and because a certain middle schooler’s Charles Dickens project has been eating up a great many of my waking hours for the past two weeks. I’ve decided it was only fitting that I write about A Christmas Carol. NOTE: The project involved the creation of a Dickens top hat, several essays, and a test given in true Scrooge-like fashion on the day before the winter break.

Additionally, my critique partner just completed an amazing retelling of this classic tale, and so it seems, all signs point to Dickens this month. Plus, A Christmas Carol is, after all, about time. Specifically, Ebenezer Scrooge’s past, present, and future, which converge on the stingy misanthrope between the hours of midnight and dawn on Christmas Eve sometime in the mid-1800s. Scrooge’s dead friend Marley warns old Ebenezer that he will be visited by three specters and given the chance to either mend his bah humbug ways, or share Marley’s fate of roaming for all eternity shackled by chains.

It made me think. If three ghosts visited me on Christmas Eve, forcing me to relive scenes from my life, what would they be? My decision to drop out of high school trig? That office party in 1995? Shivers. Best to stick to Dickens for this post.

Most of us have either read the novella or seen one of the many adaptions; from The Muppets and Bill Murray, to local theater and the London stage. Like all great writing, A Christmas Carol’s timelessness has allowed it to endure. Since 1843, it has never been out of print. Interesting to note that Dickens originally self-published this iconic Christmas tale. And though many credit Dickens with painting a picture of a more secular, Victorian Christmas with traditions that have lasted until today, it was Dickens concerns about income inequality that drove him to write this story. He hoped to inspire charity. In his words, this season is “a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”

May that be truly said of us, and of all of us!

Wishing you all peace, hope, joy, and the gift time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Never Enough Time

You are reading this post--and thank you for that!-- on the 23rd rather than the 7th because, ironically for the month in which 'time' is our topic, I ran out of time to write it! Even more ironically, Soho Press and I just revealed the cover for next year's IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, which is about a boy and girl who have nothing but time, once they accidentally become immortal. Here's the cover:
You can read more about the book HERE  . It will be here 5/17/16!! A sort of Tuck Everlasting meets Veronica Mars… Plus see that watch face behind Emma's head on the cover??

I pondered the idea of time every second I wrote this book. If you could live forever, how long would you want to live? At what point would it get tedious? Would you ever know everything you needed to know? How many times would you make the same stupid mistakes? And a million other questions after that. We often see eternal life through the supernatural perspective--ie, vampires. But what if you were basically an ordinary mortal girl and boy who somehow ended up drinking from a sort of Fountain of Youth? What then? What if you lost each other along the way? How long would you look for each other?

Oh I LOVED writing this novel!

Because I think about time, well, all the time. I have never stopped feeling like there is SO MUCH I want to do and see and read and accomplish and learn. Sometimes that's a good thing. Motivating. Sometimes, it's crazy making. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that it's okay to miss blog post deadlines. Sometimes it's okay just to breathe. Turn off the screens. Just be.

You know what the hardest part of yoga always is for me? Okay besides standing on my head which simply freaks me out. It's the last five minutes where we do what is called 'corpse pose.' Where we lie absolutely still. Most of us make it about 2-3 minutes. The first time I made it all five, truly emptied my mind, I actually started crying. It was that shocking and emotionally moving. Which says a lot, I know, although right now I have to go pick up my dry cleaning and so I don't have time to elaborate. (Yes, that was supposed to be funny.)

My favorite day of the year? When we add back that hour of daylight savings time. (If you live in AZ or parts of Indiana, ignore this.)

Okay. Time to go!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Time passes fast so make sure those seconds count (by Patty Blount)

Last night, I dreamed about my mother.

I decided to blog about the dream because this month, YA Outside the Lines is blogging about TIME.

What's the connection?

I...well, I'm not entirely sure, which is why I thought of blogging about it.

I suppose I should share the dream first. It's Christmas time and I am a pretty decent baker, if I do say so myself. I learned from my mother. I have incredibly happy memories of baking with her over the years. When I was little, she'd roll out dough and I'd place the cookie cutters just so to make sure we used every little bit. I'd spent the past weekend making various doughs and popping them into the freezer for later baking, so I suppose those memories bubbled in the back of my brain.

Last night, I dreamed I was little again and Mom and I were making 'hand cookies.' This was her creation... she'd roll out dough and I'd put my hand on top, which she'd trace with a pastry wheel and then cut out. We'd bake each hand and then 'paint' the nails with various decorations. We made boatloads of Italian struffoli in assembly line fashion, hand-dip the almond cookies into a chocolate coating, and slice up dozens of Rainbow Cookies (Venetians). After the cookies, it was on to cheesecake topped with cherries. Our Christmas dessert table looked like a Viennese table at a wedding.

I woke up this morning feeling all the emotions.

All. The. Emotions.

Happy because Mom visited me in a dream, and sad that it was just a dream. Full of grief because it felt like losing her all over again.

Warm because that's how Christmas baking always makes me feel...  like a hug you can taste. Scared because I'm not a little girl anymore and have far fewer years ahead of me than I do behind me.

Scared because when I was little, the only things that scared me were also little... Now the things that scare me are too huge to look at.

Happy because my Mom is with me in every sift of flour, every cracked egg, every ding of the oven timer, and every gasp of pleasure when one of her recipes reaches a taste bud.

She mattered.

You know, Young Adult fiction is often criticized for having absent parents. After this dream about my mom, I went back and examined all six of my published novels. Every one of them has a piece of her in some form -- even when I wrote an absent parent. I think I've been subconsciously making sure I don't forget her.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and a healthy new year to all.

Monday, December 21, 2015


The best advice I can give as a writer?

Know when push will come to shove. And when it does, stick to your guns.

I'm generally pretty relaxed about editing. If I vehemently disagree, I change it back, but generally I let things go. After all, a good editor won't change your voice or interfere with your message, and I am nowhere near OCD enough about my writing to give a damn about comma placement.
That said, I recently got into a row with a publisher because push came to shove.

I'm a 25-year-old British transman. Long before I even came out and started transitioning, everyone who knew me called me 'laddish.' When I visit my dad, I can usually be found in the local pub playing pool, and it's the kind of joint where cocaine is openly snorted off the tables and nobody is referred to by their name, but rather a variety of insults. When I broke my knee as a teenager, I was immediately dubbed 'oi, gimpy' by even the bar staff. (My dad, a regular of well over a decade, is known as Granddad for his love of granddad jumpers and his fluffy white beard.)

I grew up near that pub. I was bullied throughout school, and it stopped after I threatened to knife another kid in my English class when I was in my late teens. Suicides were pretty common in the area, and the weekend I moved away to go to university, a drug dealer round the corner from my dad was shot with a crossbow by a competitor. In front of his wife and kids. Who celebrated the fact.

And I'm at home there.

Sometimes, I'm even more comfortable there than I am in the LGBT fiction community.

The row with the publisher originated over language in YA. They were uncomfortable with teenagers using words like 'mental.' The word 'chavvy' was particularly problematic, although used only once, and the question 'do gay teenagers use gay as a term of abuse' was genuinely asked by one editor.
(Answer: yes. I lived with a gay Jew in university who once came home with a huge bag of new clothes because there'd been a sale in the city centre and said to me, "I don't know if I had a gay moment or a Jewish moment.")

Any and all prejudiced terms, I was told, would have to be either taken out, or called on by a third party to show the reader they weren't acceptable.  Not acceptable? I thought. Gee, thanks, practically nothing I ever said to any of my friends growing up would be okay, then.

I didn't know what to do. This was a major clash with my own ethics -- I focus my writing specifically on those seedier, rougher people and places precisely because they are left out of LGBT fiction far too much as it is, and it would be impossible to write a book featuring those people without such language -- and yet this publishing house were one of the biggest in the business. It was my ethics versus my career.

I picked ethics.

The thing is, I gave up on reading as a teenager because I never found books about kids like me. Not as in me as an asexual kid, or a transgender kid...but me. Someone who swore. Someone whose parents were addicts. Someone whose mother was abusive. Someone who was mad. Someone who had anger management problems. Someone who swore like a trooper. Someone who carried a knife in his schoolbag because that was normal round his way. Someone who got into his first bar fight at sixteen.

And someone who doesn't worry about his elderly and ill father, because the local cokeheads will pop round to check 'Granddad' is okay if he doesn't turn up for his 12 noon pint. Someone who doesn't respond to his own name, but 'oi, midget' will get his attention in a crowded room. Someone who can put his fist through the plaster and feel better instantly, when no amount of talking about it is going to help.

That's what diversity really is. Beyond the labels, we're still different. LGBT fiction, both YA and adult, should reach out to queers of all types, language and all, because no type of being queer is better or more right than any other.

I stuck to my guns. The issue isn't resolved yet, and I don't know what will happen.

But I do know that The Italian Word for Kisses, which I was working on publishing with JMS Books at the same time as having this dispute with another publisher, was everything I wanted it to be when I started writing it.

Its characters are crass and crude. The jokes are off-colour. Tav is a thug who needs anger management, and Luca is way too proud for his own damn good. They insult each other and their friends, language and all. They love and loathe their families with equal passion, and they may be in love with each other, but they're also not blind to why their other half is a bloody idiot ninety percent of the time.

They're kids like me.

Being told not to write kids like me, that's my push-to-shove. And I'm sticking to my guns. Maybe it'll lose me the contract, or maybe it won't. But at the end of the day, it'll be my name on that book, whether with that publisher or with someone else. It will be mine.
And they, too, will be kids like me.

The Italian Word for Kisses:

It’s no secret Tav and Luca are going out. After the accident, it’s also no secret that new kid Jack Collins has a raging case of homophobia, and is not best pleased about having given the kiss of life to a gay guy. Either Luca quits swimming, or Jack is going to make him.

Tav favours the tried-and-true method of knocking Jack’s teeth down his neck, only he can’t really afford another school suspension. Luca favours just ignoring him, only ignoring a penknife being held to your throat at New Year’s Eve is downright stupid.

Thing is, Luca suspects Jack is a victim of something himself. And time is running out for Luca to get through to Jack, before Jack gets rid of him. 

Pick up a copy at JMS Books or All Romance Cafe today.

"Alright, Collins."

The bang of the changing room door and the amiable greeting from one of the other boys caught Luca's attention, but the sudden, sharp silence made his blood run cold. All at once, Luca was both afraid, and angry with himself for being afraid. So he squared his shoulders and turned on his heel, folding his arms over his chest and meeting Jack's scowl with a glower of his own.


"What the fuck are you doing here?" Jack snarled.

"Fuckin' swimming. What about you?"

"I told you not to come."

It was like the rest of the team didn't exist. Luca didn't dare break eye contact, and Jack -- although he tossed his bag onto a bench and unzipped his jacket, was zeroed in on Luca in a way that made the hairs on Luca's arms stand on end.

"Dunno what kinky shit you're into, Collins, but I don't follow your orders." Being both an older and a younger brother had made Luca able to bluff with ease, and despite the impotent anger, the tart tang of shame around the edges of his brain that this moron had somehow gotten one over him and seized some power in this stupid fucking game, his voice sounded -- even to him -- arrogant and bored.


"You what?"

"I said go," Jack repeated. The other boys hovered uncertainly, but Aaron and David had both closed ranks to Luca's shoulders, and Luca took a fortified breath. Aaron looked steely. David looked a little more confused, but determinedly hostile all the same.

"Like hell I'm going," Luca said. "You got a problem with a pouf on the team, you need to fuck off and get your head out your arse. I'm here to swim. I'm not going nowhere."

"What the fuck is going on?" David asked.

"Jack, mate, leave it," one of the other boys said. "It's just Jensen, Jensen's sound --"

"He's a fucking faggot, and I won't have his kind here -- I warned you, I fucking told you, and you're still fucking here!"

"What's your problem, mate, he's taken up wi' that Chris in Jan Krawczyk's tutor group ..."

"Yeah, Jack, lay off already, who d'you reckon you are anyway, you're new--"

"I know there's a fucking faggot on this fucking team and I --"

"Don't fucking call him a faggot, twat," one of the other boys -- a lad called Ryan that Luca had never so much as spoken to outside of the club, and was in the year below them anyway -- sneered, and he shot out a hand to shove at Jack's shoulder.

"I told you to stay away!" Jack bellowed, and his hand vanished into his unzipped jacket. "I told you, I fucking told you --"

The changing room erupted; the flick-knife flashed under the sickly halogen lights, and Luca's back slammed into the wall of locker doors as Aaron and David shoved him back as one. Both doors -- one to the foyer and one to the pool -- banged loudly, and the bolshy kid, Ryan, lashed out with a fist, smashing into Jack's jaw from the side. A couple of men came rampaging over from the showers in their wet trunks, all the noise bouncing off the walls until it was dizzying. Coach arrived with a shrill shriek of the whistle, and the knife had gone somewhere but Luca couldn't tell where in the ruckus, and then Aaron's hand was on his shoulder and he was being steered off into one corner of the changing room, and --

A flush of hot, furious shame boiled up Luca's stomach and into his guts, and he twisted away from Aaron's hands and grabbed for his kit bag. He didn't need Aaron to fucking protect him. He didn't need anyone to protect him, he wasn't some pathetic little kid who needed their hand holding. He shouldn't need defending, he was a Jensen! He should be able to defend himself.

He grabbed his bag and bolted. As he fled up the stairs, a burly security guard and Coach were wrestling the knife out of Jack's hands in the corridor, both shouting at him, and Jack shouting back, face red and voice hoarse and shrill with fury.

"You fucking steer clear of me, Jensen!" he bellowed after Luca, who didn't dare look back. "F'you know what's good for you, you'll stay out of here, you fucking queer!"

Luca reached the top of the stairs, and ran. 

About the Author:
Matthew J. Metzger is  an asexual, transgender author dragged up in the wet and windy British Isles. He writes both adult and young adult LGBT fiction, with a particular fondness for writing about people and places that don't usually make it into romantic fiction: the council  estates, the mentally ill, the people solving problems with their fists, and finding love on the local Arriva bus route.
When not writing, Matthew is  usually asleep or crunching numbers at his day job. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter, or contacted directly at

Friday, December 18, 2015

I don't have time to write this post (Alissa Grosso)

I was going to sit down and come up with some really riveting and fascinating blog post on this month's "time" topic, but then ironically enough I ran out of time. It's been a busy week here. It's the holidays, yes, and this week is sort of like Christmas Part 1 for me with my parents up visiting this week and holiday events with them and friends. Also, I would be lying if I told you I didn't spent the first part of this week scrambling to get Christmas shopping done and those homemade gifts completed.

Proof that I'm busy: this photo was taken just a couple of hours before I wrote this, while spending some precious time with my boyfriend and my parents. Also, this has nothing to do with anything, but I would like to point out that I turned 40 a week ago, and got carded no less than three times tonight!

Really, the lack of time issue began for me just before Thanksgiving, when one night a drunk driver decided to plow into my parked car, destroying it. It sucked big time, and I was sad to have to say goodbye to my trusted automobile friend, but probably the worst part was that for two plus weeks getting stuff straightened out with the insurance company and trying to find a new vehicle occupied the better part of my time. It wasn't like I was lounging around eating bonbons before the night I got woken up by the crash - the driver also managed to take out three of the posts on our front porch. In fact, I was pretty busy before all this happened.

Bidding my trusty car farewell. From this angle, she looks pretty much perfect. I mean, the car, I'm not that vain. But hey, did I mention I got carded three times? 

The whole car totalling incident, meant I kind of had to drop everything and deal with that huge headache, and the good news is that things did get straightened out with the insurance companies. I was compensated for the loss of my vehicle, and I managed to find a new-to-me set of wheels that was more or less reasonably priced. As for those lost two weeks, there's no way I'll ever be compensated for that time.

That's the funny thing about time. It's a precious commodity, and its value isn't always recognized in traditional means. Plus, it isn't something that's easy to replace. When you lose two weeks sorting out a mess caused by someone else's stupidity (sorry, but I'm still bitter about the whole incident) it's not like Geico can somehow hand you two extra weeks to make up for it.

I guess, in that way time is something of a great equalizer. It's finite, and it does't matter how rich or how poor you are. We all only have so much of it. Sure, the rich can afford to have more leisure time, and money can buy you the staff you need to complete menial tasks so that you have more time for the things you really want to be doing, but you can never actually buy more time.

That's why it's a good reason to use your time wisely, to appreciate the time you get to spend with friends and loved ones. I'm glad that the drunk driver accident that threw my life into chaos occurred while I was peacefully sleeping in my bed and not actually in my car. Had it gone down differently, I might not be here to write this post. I might have been robbed of much more than two weeks.

So, I'm going to close this blog post here, so I can spend some time visiting with my parents, and being thankful that I have the time to do so.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Is There *gasp* Sex In This Book?

By Natasha Sinel

Like many of us, I don’t feel like I have enough time to do all the things I need/want to do. Sometimes I have to make tough choices about whether something is “worth” the time.

Last Saturday, I had my first signing at Barnes & Noble. When I arrived, the lovely B&N manager set me up at a table with a stack of my books and a very official-looking table sign. I felt pretty damn special. But after an hour, my spirits had sunk. Not because shoppers seemed more interested in the “What Your Poop Says About You” daily calendar and the Star Wars toy table than in my book. Not because I get suddenly very shy when I have to promote my own work.

It was this:

I was ashamed. 

Here’s the common scenario: a mom approaches to buy a book for her daughter. I know with near certainty that she will not end up buying my book. Because she will inevitably ask me this, and only this, question:

“Is there sex?”

The answer to the question is so much more complicated than yes or no, isn’t it? I want to sit her down and tell her the answer. The real answer. “Yes, the teenagers in the book are sexually active, as many are in real life. The sex is not very explicit in the book, no. At least by my standards, it’s not. And the sex that’s written about is necessary to the main character’s realistic growth.”

But that just sounds so defensive, doesn’t it? And I know that the only answer she wants is, “Nope, no sex.”

I understand the instinct to want to protect a child’s innocence for as long possible. But I start to wonder, at what point are we doing a disservice to our kids—our daughters in particular—by censoring out the sex?

One mom approaches my table holding a book by one of my fellow-2015 debut authors.

“Oh, that’s a great book!” I say. “I know the author.”

She tells me she’s getting Christmas presents for her twelve-year-old daughter. She picks up my book, turns it over. I wait eagerly, hoping the question won’t come, but then…

“Is there sex in your book?”

“Some, but it’s not really explicit,” I say.  (See how defensive?)

She puts my book down, shakes her head. I’m disappointed, but I also understand. Twelve is on the cusp. I get it. My book covers some pretty tough, mature topics, so I understand that discomfort. I have a friend who's read my book and decided to wait another year before giving it to her daughter. I totally respect her informed decision. But, the thing is, this woman at B&N didn’t ask what the book was about or whether it was appropriate for a twelve year old. She only asked if there was sex.

“What about this one?” she asks, holding up the other book.

I think through the scenes I remember of my colleague’s book.

“No, I don’t remember any sex,” I say. “There’s pot smoking, though.” 

“That’s fine,” she says, and walks away.

This is what I’ve found since my book has been out. Moms don’t want sex in their daughters’ books. Drugs are negotiable. Violence is fine. But I’m so curious—do moms care about sex in their sons’ books? What about drugs? Violence? By ruling out books that have sex in them, are we teaching our daughters to be afraid of sex? That it’s shameful? If knowledge is power, then by limiting their knowledge, are we fostering powerlessness? This isn’t the point of my post today—but I’m genuinely interested—I don’t know the answer.

Anyway, after that mom leaves, the manager sends over a mom who’s been browsing the teen section, looking for a gift for her tenth-grade daughter. Perfect. She picks up a copy of my book.

“Hi, what does your daughter like to read?” I ask, trying to fill that awkward moment when someone is making a buying decision about my book right in front of me.

Instead of answering, she asks a question:

“Is there sex in your book?” 

Deflated, I answer as I always do, “some, but it’s not explicit, blah blah blah.”

I swear she sneers at me as she says, “Well, the first word I saw when I opened the book was ‘sex,’ so…” She puts the book down.

Here’s what I want to say:

Bella and Edward do it
“You’re joking, right? It’s very possible that your tenth grade daughter has actually had sex. And if not, then at least one of her friends has. And if not, then I can guarantee that your daughter a) has heard about sex and knows how the whole thing works, b) has read books with graphic sex, c) has seen movies and TV shows and heard songs with actual explicit sex that you can see with your eyes and hear with your ears instead of just your imagination. And you don’t even know what my book is about. You saw the word sex and you FREAKED THE EFF OUT.”

I don’t say any of that, obviously. I straighten my stack of books and try to shrug it off. But I can’t. I feel like I’ve been shamed. By a complete stranger. As if she’s just called me a slut.

I start making resolutions in my head: From now on, I’m writing squeaky clean, no sex, nothing. No one can question it. I won’t feel this horrible shameful feeling. And: This was a waste of my time. I’m never doing this again.

But then a woman comes over to my table. I put on my game face.

“My niece would think it’s so cool to have a book signed by the actual author,” she says.

I smile and wait for the question.

“What’s your book about?” she asks. Oh, okay, a warm-up.

“A seventeen-year-old girl who seems to have it all falls for a troubled boy, and she has to face her own difficult past.” (Or some version of this.) The one sentence description of your own book is so hard to say.

She takes a few moments to read the flap copy.

“Well,” the woman says, and I brace myself again for the question. “I’d say my niece is a bit troubled herself. I think she’d like to read this. She may even see herself in here.”

She hands me the book to sign.

“It’s perfect,” she says when I return it to her. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” I say. “I hope it is perfect for her.” (Yay for cool aunts.)

My signing table at Barnes & Noble

So, because of this woman (and a few others, like the boy who asks me to sign a copy for his girlfriend because she’s too embarrassed to ask me—nice boyfriend, right?), I know that I haven’t wasted my time. There are girls and boys out there who will read this book, and maybe it’s exactly the right book at the right time. All of my time spent writing, thinking, revising, and doing book signings like these is worth it. And no more shame—if the characters in my books are supposed to have, or think about, or talk about sex, then that’s going to happen in my books. 

* Post retitled thanks to the brilliant Ami Allen-Vath

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 first novel THE FIX, released from Sky Pony Press in September 2015.