Saturday, September 29, 2018

It Took Me 30 Years to Be Able to Talk About This (Brian Katcher)

I have not willingly talked about this incident since if first happened in 1991, not even with my wife. I hope you realize how I'm baring my soul here. This is not just my most humiliating memory from my teen years, but from my entire life.

It was 1991. I was not quite sixteen years old. I was a nerdish kid, and had never had a date. Girls terrified me. I had no idea how to talk to them, and most of them were glad that I didn't try.

Anyway, I was a member of the Key Club, a public service organization at my high school. We had a regional meeting every year. This year it was in Kansas City (my school was in a St. Louis suburb). For some reason we flew across the state.

We stayed in a fairly fancy hotel. I had to share a room with two guys I didn't know from another school and somehow I wound up on the floor both nights.

At any rate, there was a communal 'get to know each other' meeting. Lots of wacky games and other miserable activities. Except...

I got paired up with a girl. And Lord, was she cute. Fifteen, like me. Blonde, slender, and just gorgeous. And...we talked. We acted silly. She didn't try to change partners. One activity involved passing a Life Saver on a toothpick to a toothpick held in your partners mouth. "Geez," she said, "I'm probably going to end up accidentally kissing you."

She didn't accidentally kiss me.

All too soon, the session ended. But the thing was, there was a dance that night. Dare I? I'd never have the courage again.

I told her that I'd be at the dance and maybe she'd like to, you know, meet me there, if she was planning on coming.

She said she might.

I got there early. I stood around, trying to act casual, like I wasn't creepily waiting for her. I fully expected her to not show up, or even worse, to show up with a group of friends and pretend not to know me.

She showed up. Alone.

I asked her to dance. She said yes.

We danced every dance. Every dance. She didn't act bored. She didn't try to find another partner. She seemed to be having a good time.

The dance ended. I walked her back up to her room. We stopped on the stairwell outside her floor.

I told her I had a good time. She said she did too.

I moved to kiss her.

She kissed back.

And though she lived too far away for me to ever see her again, I have to say that the memory of my first kiss still makes me smile to this day.

Oh, the embarrassing memory. The next day, at the airport, I wandered off to look at things in the gift shop. I lost track of time and ended up missing my flight. Our sponsor had to leave the flight, call his wife to pick up the other club members in St. Louis, and fly back with me at a later time. He wasn't angry about it, but I could tell he was pretty frustrated with my screw up. He was a nice guy, kind of a mentor, and things really cooled between us after that.

God, that was cathartic to finally say after all this time.

You thought I was going to embarrass myself with the girl, right? Don't worry, I had plenty of humiliating experiences with women during the following decade.

Friday, September 28, 2018

National Embarrassment by Dean Gloster

(Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual assault and the patriarchy)

I was going to write about my most embarrassing moment as a teen, and I had a whole topic lined up, but then, when I was supposed to type it yesterday, they had this Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, and now the Republicans are moving forward to try to confirm him as a Supreme Court Justice—despite credible claims that he committed sexual assault and then repeatedly lied about it (and pretty much everything else.) There’s still some uncertainty, as I type this, about the outcome (there will be a "limited" FBI investigation) but that confirmation is possible is a national embarrassment.

So instead of writing what I was supposed to yesterday, I basically broke for a while. Sorry. You get to read the results.

Except for the prep school and assaulty parts, Judge Kavanaugh and I have similar resumes: We both clerked for Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judges. We both clerked for a Supreme Court Justice. Heck, we actually clerked for the same Justice, but a decade apart.

Which is pretty embarrassing, at this point.

We’re even similar in that I’ve given up the law to write fiction, and Judge Kavanaugh has branched out into lying under oath. (Details upon request. He lied about almost everything.)

He also managed to turn his confirmation hearing—basically a job interview—into a snarling rage- and tear-filled meltdown where he interrupted female senators and talked about his love of beer. Judicial temperament much?

Beyond embarrassing.

I believe in the rule of law. I believe in empathy. I believe in facts. I believe in the power of honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and sacrifice for the greater good. I believe women and girls are human beings who matter.

I believe Christine Blasey Ford.

And I believe our country is in serious trouble. 

I believe you should look at the expressions of the women.

As a fiction writer, I also believe in the capacity to change. But I know that change is incredibly hard, and it requires wrenching hardship as a catalyst—we only change when we are forced to, when failure to change would cause almost complete destruction to who we are or what we most love and believe in.

We are there, America. We are dealing with the party of Quirrell, who famously remarked in the first Harry Potter book that his master had taught him “there is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to seize it.” This morning on Twitter, writer Anna Ursu said she would love to see more male kidlit writers using their platforms to stand up for women.

Yes. That’s overdue. And writers—especially those of us who write for young people—should stand up for human decency, empathy, and dismantling systems that enable abuse without consequences.

I’m part of the community of writers for young people—which is roughly 90% female—and it’s 2018, in the age of social media. So I’ve seen a huge number of women I know share their wrenching, searing, hearbreaking #MeToo and #WhyIDidn’tReport stories.

Words fail, except that we cannot fail another generation by letting this go on.

We have to change the world, politically and through everything we do. I don’t want to be embarrassed to be an American. I don’t want to be part of a patriarchy built on silencing victims of assault and refusing to hold their privileged attackers responsible.

It’s not embarrassing.

It’s evil.

And time’s up.

It’s been a hard week for lots of people. The number for RAINN, the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline, is 800-656-HOPE (4673.) Take care of yourselves and be well.

 Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean’s hobbies are downhill ski racing and Aikido. He’s currently at work on a novel about a 16-year-old boy who gets a sketchy summer internship and finds out it’s with Death herself.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Thursday, September 27, 2018

I'm with Stupid (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

At my middle-school award ceremony, I was going to get an award for my part in a fundraising drive. I couldn’t see the stage very well—the curse of being a person who is almost always shorter than the people sitting in the rows in front of me—but I did wonder why every award recipient who went up front was huddled on one side of the stage, leaving plenty of empty room. There were giggles in the audience also, but I was too nervous waiting for my name to be called to figure out what that was about. When it was my turn, I left the glasses I’d only recently begun to wear back at my seat—I didn’t like getting my picture taken with them on—and went up front. I took my place in the empty gap where nobody else had wanted to stand, and the applause was mixed with laughter that I didn’t understand.

It wasn’t until I got back to my seat that my classmates told me what had happened. Apparently, one boy on stage was wearing an “I’m with Stupid” shirt, with a pointing arrow. Nobody had wanted to stand in the direction the arrow was pointing, until I, with my compromised eyesight, did.

I’m not sure I would have noticed his shirt even if I’d worn my glasses. I was never looking in the same direction as everyone else back then, often lost in my own daydreams. At that point in my life, just before the years of bullying started, I hadn’t learned to be vigilant, to anticipate the putdown, to watch everyone with suspicion, to read my environment for every threat. Did that make me stupid? In the bullying years, I would have said yes—I would have said you can never let your guard down, ever.

Later I came to think that the hyper-vigilance resulting from the bullying cost me something, too. Thinking about those costs led me to write Until It Hurts to Stop, the story of a girl who struggles to get past her own bullying years.

Now I think there’s no way to head off every embarrassing or awkward moment, to prevent every mistake, to be flawlessly cool all the time. Sometimes you are going to be the one with the toilet paper on your shoe, or the button that pops open at the wrong moment, or the inconvenient fit of coughing. Sometimes you are going to stand on the wrong side of the “I’m with Stupid" guy. It’s really okay.

Embrace the imperfection.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Oh, those embarrassing teen moments! (Brenda Hiatt)

As most writers do, I like to draw on my own life experiences to bring characters, events and emotion to life in my books. I’ve found this is particularly true when I’m writing teen fiction. That time of my life was so very fraught—everything mattered so very much! I suspect this is true for most teens throughout the ages and it’s one of the things that makes writing YA fiction so fun for me. I love being able to put so much raw emotion right on the page while still keeping it real. All those countless hopes, dreams, fears and humiliations of my own teen years find their way into my books—in particular my Starstruck series—in various guises. For instance:

Do you remember your first real “crush”? How about your first huge embarrassing moment? Were the two linked in any way? Mine were! 

I was 13 years old, a freshman in high school, and totally infatuated by the cutest guy in the whole world (to my 13-year-old sensibilities, anyway). I mean, I obsessed about this boy! He had these dreamy blue eyes and wavy blond hair… I was sure the Carpenters song “Close To You” was written just about him! 

I went as stalker as a girl without a driver’s license could go, even convincing my mom to drive past his house once or twice (since he didn’t live within biking distance). 

When I discovered that he went to the gym to shoot hoops near the end of his lunch period most days, I started sneaking down that hallway every day and peeking through the window in the gym door to watch him play…in a sleeveless shirt! Oh! Be still my newly-awakened heart! I wove endless fantasies about the two of us, fantasies about how he would suddenly realize I was the one he’d been waiting for all his life. How all the other girls would be jealous when they saw us holding hands. How we’d happily start planning our future together. Okay, maybe he didn’t actually know my name yet, but I was sure it was just a matter of time before he woke up to the fact that we were Destined to be Soulmates. 

(If you’ve read the first chapter of Starstruck, you now know what inspired M’s little fantasy about the gorgeous-but-unobtainable Jimmy Franklin…) 

One day after lunch I made my customary stop by the gym to spy on him playing basketball…but he wasn’t there. I stood outside the door, disappointed and undecided. I peeked, then peeked again, hoping he might make an appearance after all. Finally, despondent, I gave up and turned away—only to see him coming down the hall toward me! 

Someone cool would have just nodded, smiled and walked on her way, pretending she had somewhere much more important to be. Alas, I was not even the teensiest bit cool. Instantly assuming he knew exactly why I was there, I was beyond mortified. So mortified that, instead of trying to pass it off as no big deal, I turned away, pressed my face into the corner and quite literally tried to melt into the wall. Yes, really. 

He walked past me into the gym without a word and I hurried away, never to spy on him again. He never did learn my name, to the best of my knowledge, and none of those wonderful fantasies ever came true, but to this day I still remember my first crush and the horrible embarrassing incident that pretty much ended it. 

Sometimes I wonder if he even remembers that weird girl who acted so strangely outside the gym that day. I guess I’ll never know. And…maybe that’s just as well.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Retroactive Embarrassment (Or Remember the '80's?) By Christine Gunderson

Our topic this month is embarrassing things that happened to us as teenagers. I can’t write about this, because honestly, I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, much less an incident my brain has actively tried to repress for decades.
However, I do remember those brief shining moments from high school when I thought I looked really cool.
January 1986: Standing in front of the concession stand during half-time of a boy’s basket-ball game in rainbow colored leg warmers and a leather bomber jacket. 
April 1987: In biology class in a Coke-a-Cola rugby shirt and Guess jeans pegged at the ankle for maximum skinniness.
October 1988: Leaning casually against a locker in a denim mini-skirt with white Reebok high-tops and scrunchy socks.
In my mind, I was pretty in pink. I was taking people’s breath away. I was so cool I wore my sunglasses at night. 
And then, like a damning piece of evidence in a murder trial, a picture from the ’80’s will appear out of nowhere and I will see the truth.
Pictures don’t lie. I looked like Marie Antoinette in acid washed jeans and a Def Leppard t-shirt. Love bites. And so do pictures from high school.
Leg warmers and a leather jacket? Yes. I wore these things, at the same time.I looked like a girl who couldn’t decide if she wanted to work out at the gym or get into a dog fight with the Red Baron.
And the hair? Like courtiers at Versailles, those of us who grew up in the 1980’s believed true beauty could only be found in big hair. 
The desired look was Cleopatra-like. A large pouf in the center of the forehead, with huge wings protruding from the side. I was able to achieve this ideal, thanks to the magic of Aqua Net hairspray.

Me, circa 1988, and my very big hair. Also note my super cool geometric earrings.

I recently purchased a can of Aqua Net to hold my daughter’s bun in place for a dance recital.  I removed the cap, pressed the top of the can and the 1980’s came out in an aerosol cloud, right there in my bathroom. 
The scent took me back to Johnny Holm Dances at Stump Lake (Remember those, high school Facebook friends?) At these dances, thanks to Aqua Net and cutting-edge perm technology, my hair was my crowning glory.
But now, like my Gen X peers, I’ve said goodbye to all that. At best, we now look sleek and professional. At worst, a little paunchy and decidedly middle aged. But traces of the ‘80’s still linger in my psyche. 
When I get nervous about speaking before a group, or going to some intimidating social event, I make my hair a little bigger and apply more hairspray. Big hair makes me feel secure. It makes me feel pretty. It makes me feel studly, gnarly, and rad, the three dwarves of totally awesome 1980’s slang. When it comes to hair, I go big or go home.
So, when my kids look at a picture of me from high school and say, “why was your hair so… large?” I tell them my mountainous hair was the epitome of cool at the time, and that someday their children will look at their UGG boots and Under Armour everything and ask the same question. 
Because when I was a teenager, the goal was not to look normal. The goal was to look ridiculous in exactly the same way everyone else looked ridiculous. And when I look back at the pictures, I know I succeeded. 
Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog.  When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2018


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

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

I could no longer read the chalkboard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Run, Alissa, Run (Alissa Grosso)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Testing, Testing... (Jodi Moore)

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will you use yours?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Launching Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there were monkeys in the airport.

What an adventure he is on.

I'm thrilled for him.

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

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

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

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

They're so ready. :)

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

Thanks for listening.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Embarrassing Moment by Sydney Salter

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

Everyone noticed.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Hair Raising Writing Skill--By Kimberly Sabatini

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

It's hard to get past the hair.

Really hard.

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

I NEVER looked like this. 

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

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

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

Friday, September 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But junior high?  Hoo boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

I Really Don't Want to Share This…

by Fae Rowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

"The drive in?"

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

"Not on the first date."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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