Monday, April 21, 2014

"The Process" Blog Tour (with a digression on classroom management, pig attacks, and giving teenagers a voice)

Jen Doktorski, my friend and author of the hilarious How My Summer Went Up in Flames and the sweet and thought-provoking novel Famous Last Words, tagged me on this 4-question blog tour.

Confession 1: I love answering questions for blog hop tour thingys.

Confession 2: I cringe at tagging other writers. It's the chain letter-y aspect of these tours that trips me up. Somehow I always end up being the final link in the chain.

But I found two good sports and willing participants for this tour, Kim Purcell and Susan Brody. (See below for more on these fantastic writers.)

Here's Jen Doktorski's post  And I must say that it contains one of my favorite lines ever and sums up how I feel too as a YA writer. Jen says she strives to "Be the kind of adult who never forgets what it is like to be young."

On with the questions:

1. What am I working on?

The short answer is a revision of a revision of a revision. The 5-second elevator pitch: "Greek Mythology Meets Environmental Disaster."

I've been working on this book on and off for 5 years. It started as a middle grade book but several editors looked at it and said: NO WAY is this a middle grade book.

Two years ago I had the stupidly naive thought that I could change the ages of the characters and be done with it. It took much more than that, I'm afraid, to tackle this project.

On the positive side, the book is firmly set in YA land now. Oh, yeah, baby. We are YA all the way.

Negative side, 5 complete revisions later, it's still kind of a mess.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

(I love that--"my work.") Answer: I have no idea.

I'm not the first writer to explore and modernize a Greek myth. This book is a fantasy.  But it's the kind of fantasy that is firmly set in the real world. Other YA writers do this, though. IE Maggie Stiefvater and Laini Taylor.

PS. If my name is ever muttered in the same breath as those two, my work here is done.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Bear with me while I relay this seemingly unrelated story:

I used to teach high school English. The first year I was 22ish and my students were 16 and 17 years old. I had no idea how to control the class and for the most part the kids freaked me out. They came late to class. They asked to leave to go to the bathroom so often that the door to my classroom was always open and half the class was always gone. One guy jumped out of a window. Okay, the room was on the first floor, but still, WTH??

Year two I clamped down hard with the rules. I told the students they were going to be on time, and no one, for any reason, was leaving until the class period was up. Immediately, kids raised their hands to ask if they could go to the bathroom. It was almost funny--until I realized they were testing me, trying to see if I meant what I said.


Flash forward several years and I am the hardass, strict teacher. Everyone comes on time. No one dares ask if they can leave. This actually leads to several extreme situations. A kid vomits on his desk. A girl gets a horrific nosebleed.

I ask them exasperated: Why didn't you leave the room? Both answer: You said we couldn't.

This adherence to my rules comes to a head one day when my students were taking a test. I'm sitting at my desk and a girl stands in front of me. I don't look at her. I wave her back to her seat, and she goes.

And then she is back.

I still don't look at her. "What?" I whisper, annoyed.

"I have to go to the bathroom," she whispers back.

"We're taking a test. Go back to your seat," I hiss.

She does.

And then she is back again, standing in front of my desk, her shadow falling over me.

I look up.

She is swaying. Her face is ashen and sweaty. At the same moment I notice that blood is seeping through her jeans.

Good God.

I jump up and grab her before she keels over.

Long story short, the girl was bitten by her pet pig that morning. She'd taped a bandaid to her leg and had made it through second period, my class, before nearly passing out from pain and blood loss and possibly infection. I escort her to the office where she is taken, by ambulance, to the hospital emergency room for stitches.

The incident horrified me for several reasons. My rules were not bad. I had to put them in place for my own sanity, nevermind the fact that very little teaching could be done with students constantly leaving the room. But it was pretty clear in my quest to clamp down and be consistent, I had taken things too far.

I used to tell this story to my own son and daughter when they were little.

You have to speak up, I told them. You have to tell people what you need. Adults don't always listen. Sometimes, I am sad to say, they don't even SEE you. If you have a problem and you tell someone and they ignore you, GO TELL SOMEONE ELSE. You are a human being and you know what you need and what is best for you and you have the right to assert yourself.

So, why do I write for young adults?

Because I know that adults don't always listen to them.

And I hope in a very small way to give them a voice.

4. How does your writing process work?

I think I've blathered on too long with my pig story. So see here if you want a fun taste of my angsty process.

Now it is my turn to tag. 

Kim Purcell is the author of the critically acclaimed book about human trafficking called Trafficked. Talk about giving kids a voice! I was so honored to sit on a panel with Kim last week and speak with her (and Jennifer Castle and Phoebe North) about Survivors in YA Fiction at RJ Julia Books in Madison CT. Kim's story and her work with organizations to stop human trafficking is changing and saving lives.

Susan Brody writes the awesome The Art of Not Getting Published Blog. I stumbled upon this site a few months ago and I am hooked. One, because I recognize a kindred soul in Susan. I soooo wish I had found her a few years ago when I was chronicling my own publication journey in On the Verge. Susan is going to hit it soon. Mark my words.

And then we are all going to have to help her figure out a new name for her blog.

Not the pig who bit my student.