Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I read an article today that questioned the purpose of children's novels on depressing subjects & made the common suggestion that such books are more popular with teachers or librarians than with kids. I realized that even though I adore humor and nearly always choose comedy movies over other types, some of the children's books that meant the most to me as a child, the ones that stayed with me over the years, were the ones on depressing or difficult subjects. There was Constance C. Greene's Beat the Turtle Drum, about a girl whose younger sister dies in an accident the same week she finally gets a horse for a week; Zibby Oneal's The Language of Goldfish, about a girl facing a mental breakdown as she enters her teens; my favorite novel from age 13 on, Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light, which deals with death, grief, and depression in a hopeful way; and Britt Singer's edgy YA The Petting Zoo, about a young woman trying to stop her boyfriend from killing himself. I still own all four of those today, even though I have very few other books from my childhood. Something about them resonated with me, not in a weird voyeuristic way, but in trying to make sense of the world. That makes me feel better about my own forays into darker material, although of course I love my fun stuff, too!

This article also suggested that kids need to know they don't have to solve their problems alone, unlike book characters who find themselves isolated with a great deal of trouble. While I think that's a valid point, & editors do insist that protagonists solve their own problems rather than being rescued by some deus ex machina solution, the characters in many children's books solve their problems with the help of others, whether it's a team of kid detectives working together, or a depressed character reaching out for help in the end instead of retreating further into herself or himself. Vicky in A Ring of Endless Light is helped by relationships with both people and dolphins! I think one way a character may solve his or her own problem is by choosing to request or accept help. My characters tend to get advice and insight from people around them, whether they solicit it or not (and I do worry editors will balk at this, if it happens too much!), but what each character must do alone, and what we all must do alone, is come to a point of decision. In my film classes, we were taught that the narrative arc of a traditional story is driven by the decisions the characters make. Others can advise us or give us a hand, but only we can decide which advice or path to take, and the choices we make can determine whether or not we live happily ever after! Sure, I think it's important for kids to know, for instance, that they don't have to suffer in silence when picked on by bullies, but many kids do deal with a lot alone, and I don't think literature would do them favors by ignoring problems, or assuming that everyone has the same resources. I also think that those of us who have hope, and believe that we do not have to suffer alone, need to try even harder to get our hopeful messages out there for those kids who are struggling with existential worries and drawn to books that deal with tough issues.

All that said, I agree it's often preposterous how many tragedies kids in books (and animal kids in Disney movies!) are sometimes confronted with, and how many ways writers and filmmakers concoct to get kids into situations where they're on their own. The Lemony Snicket books poke ironic fun at all that, and Louis Sachar also swipes at the depressing book phenomenon in one of his hilarious Wayside School books. I'd also recommend that folks sick of depressing stories read Gordan Korman's funny midgrade novel No More Dead Dogs! The protagonist of that one is sick of them, too.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Song in head: "Fixing a Hole" by The Beatles

Mood: Optimistic

Drinks I've won today: 1-liter Dr Pepper from Dr Pepper bottle cap, 2-liter Pepsi Lime from Call Upon Yoda contest online

I've been drinking a ton of Slurpees lately, for two reasons: (1) I love Slurpees, & (2) to get "free" iTunes downloads. Of course the code-laden Slurpees cost 40 cents more than just buying a download, but downloads alone aren't nearly as slushy and refreshing. I think I love Slurpees especially much for the nostalgia factor, because I grew up a block from a 7-11 and used to walk there all the time.

The iTunes are giving me a nostalgia fix, too. I recently came across a whole bunch of my old 45 rpm singles, some of which are embarrassing now. I realized my friends and I used to buy singles the way we used to buy...well, t-shirt transfers, if anyone else is old enough to remember flipping through all the transfer displays at the mall t-shirt stores! It wasn't that we found something we were crazy about and had to buy it; we would pick out something just to buy something, just because we were at the store. Hence my ownership of singles by artists such as Eddie Money and Donnie Iris! I've thought about music in terms of whole albums for years since then, but with the iTunes, I'm back to singles again and having a blast picking them out. Old songs, new songs, one-hit wonder songs, etc. I'm also trying to get most of my old music transferred to the right format for my iPod, so I'm listening to albums I've neglected for years...A Flock of Seagulls, anyone?!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

More quotes about seizing the day, which seems to be my theme o' the week:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." --Mark Twain

"Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living." --Jim Elliot

"Get busy living, or get busy dying." --The Shawshank Redemption

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So it's the longest day of the year. Which ideally, would be a perfect day to seize, if I could figure out how to seize the day. If I can't Carpe Diem, I may have to just Carpe Dig'Em--seize the frog!

(And yes, I spent at least 15 minutes of the day I was supposed to be seizing making that little picture...but it's something I've joked about doing probably since Dead Poets Society came out in 1989 and made everyone say "Carpe Diem" all the time.)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Weirdness abounds. As does car trouble. I wrote a humor essay in...oh, 1992 or so, about our seemingly endless bouts of car trouble, but they amazingly did end. (Psst, want to publish it?? It got honorable mention in a contest, but I've never found a market for it.) So I hope we're not starting another story like that! We're having our car towed today from a store parking lot, for failure of the alternator belt we just got fixed. I assume it wasn't fixed right the first time around, considering that the brand new belt is now ripped, curled, & generally mangled!

I finally had a chance to read Storky last night. Subtitled: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl. At first I was happy with the ending. Then, pathetically, I found myself thinking, "So...why does a 9th grader need to get the girl, anyway?" I was jealous! OK, I got the guy between 9th & 10th grades, but it only lasted a week, and then he stood me up on my birthday. After that...let's just say it was a long time until I got the guy again. You see why I write YA fiction? I guess I haven't quite gotten over my teen years! But I liked them. Meanwhile, this whole grown-up thing is seeming like a raw deal to me. I'm feeling the need to change things. Not to stop writing, but to write more. To live more fully. To take the words I've been quoting to myself for years and make them mean something in my life. Like these words in Tennyson's poem Ulysses: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! As tho’ to breathe were life." And these: "Come, my friends, ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world." (Easier said than done!)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Yesterday: 16 years since I met my husband. We met at a Jason's Deli, eating with mutual friends, so now we go to Jason's Deli every June 11th. Their broccoli cheese soup is very good.

Today: Church (good sermon on Narnia, C.S. Lewis, & not being alone with our pain), lunch at McDonald's (what, no broccoli?), saw The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D (poorly reviewed, but perfect for my 6-year-old).

Tomorrow: Too soon to know.

Been thinking about: Closure. It only recently occurred to me that we aren't guaranteed closure about anything. For some reason I'd always kind of assumed I'd eventually get closure about various incidents, relationships, etc., or that confusing things that have happened would start to make sense at some point...and suddenly realized that may never happen, and in most cases probably won't. Shouldn't be a revolutionary thought, but somehow it was. I may explore that a bit in my next YA novel. That is, if I ever get even the least bit of closure on my other novels-in-progress!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

It's Summer Reading Club time at the library again, which means our house is even more filled with books than usual. We went to the library last night & came home with 22 children's books, 21 of which were mainly for my kids, and 1 of which is for me: M.T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts! It's truly hilarious--I think I'll have to buy it. Considering my love of wacky surrealism for kids, I'm surprised I don't write more of it. My beet and bubble gum novels lean that way, but always stop short of actual surrealism, and seem to get less wacky as they go. I wonder if I'm playing it too safe, or dull. Hmm.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

What a freaky weird week it's been. After my husband filled out the paperwork for a new job on Tuesday, the job was eliminated on Thursday! It ended before it began, sending us from celebration and preparation to stunned disbelief. Saturday we went to my hometown for a night just to get away--and get some babysitting from my parents. (Got to see Star Wars Episode III, anyway.) Tonight we got home, where I found another rejection letter in the mailbox. Whee. Tomorrow our older son starts Magic Camp--maybe by the end of the week, he'll be able to wave a wand and make everything better! Well, at least I got my favorite foods this weekend.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I got a rejection yesterday on something I had high hopes for (though admittedly, my hopes had been dwindling). So I guess it's fitting that today we're celebrating Oscar the Grouch's birthday, which we learned about from Sesame Street Magazine last year. I have Oscar cups, streamers with Oscar (among others) on them, an ugly green tablecloth & napkins, green silly string, & Oscar goody bags I'll fill with sour gummi bugs, toy traschcans filled with candy trash, "Mean Green" blow pops, & Shrek/swamp-themed M&Ms. Last year we read a book about Oscar, made Oscar crafts (green pom-poms with googly eyes glued into film canister trashcans), played with "goop" (cornstarch and water--try it), and mixed up a dirt & worms snack (chocolate pudding with crushed Oreo "dirt" and gummi worms) in some toy-sized plastic trashcans I found. We also watched "I Love Trash" and danced to "Doin' the Grouch" on our Sesame Street videos, followed by a showing of Elmo in Grouchland. I assume we'll do something similar this year, but I hope we can skip the craft and do an Oscar game online instead. And in the past year I've gotten an Oscar shirt, socks, and fuzzy slippers for myself, as well as a stuffed Oscar toy! Last year my older son also wrapped up a box of trash to give Oscar as a gift...when Oscar didn't show, we dumped it in the trash where we hoped it would get to him! But really, we only love trash and grouchiness one day a year. I'm normally partial to Ernie (on Sesame Street, that is...for regular Muppets, it's Beaker all the way!).

So, which Muppet character are you? Today I came out as Elmo, which made me feel a bit ill, even if it did say I am cute and everyone loves me. Then I tried again with a few different (but still accurate) answers, and came out as Gonzo! At least that goes with my "inventive duck" and "freeform writer" answers from my May 7 entry. Might also explain why my 4-year-old thinks it's funny to call me "Big Nose," when I didn't think my nose was that big! (And re: "inventive duck," note that my 6-year-old just got an award for being the most "inventive" in kindergarten.)