A Room with One Door: What Hannah Baker Needed

 

Like so many other individuals, I’ve been watching the Netflix version of the bestselling YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. Everywhere I go, people seem to be discussing it, and on Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of teens starting posts with, “Let’s play Thirteen reasons Why”.

For those of you who haven’t seen this, it’s basically asking their Facebook friends to comment their name. The person whose post they are commenting on, will then comment “no tape” or “tape and here is the reason why”.

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As a psychologist, a parent and a YA author, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this. Then yesterday, I saw a post listing “Twenty Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child“. Things like, “fight their battles for them”.

This got me thinking about numbers. “Thirteen” Reasons Why.  “Twenty” Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child.  I thought of the “One” door I think so many kids today think they have access to, and that door is suicide.

Adults have to face the fact that schools today aren’t like the schools of ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Times change. We have the internet now. We have Facebook Live and Snapchat. We have a society where girls are publicly and privately sexualized, where girls are legally told that their work is worth less pay than that of males, where minorities and gays are legally persecuted and where schools hang anti-bullying posters in the hallway but then, so often, tell kids to toughen up and be less sensitive when someone bullies them.

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Years ago, I watched a documentary where a beautiful nine year old boy killed himself because he didn’t know how to do his math problems and he feared his teacher was going to humiliate him in front of the class for doing the problems wrong. He took a belt and hung himself.

I’ve seen a lot of comments about the fictional “Hannah Baker” and how she should have been tougher, should have stood up for herself more, should have tried more to stop the various individuals who were bullying her.

But here’s the thing. So many times kids, and adults, find themselves in situations that they can’t stand to deal with any longer. They may tell their parents, tell school officials, but so often nothing is done, nothing changes, and they find themselves in a room with one door.

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They hate the room. They hate how they feel in it. They hate how they are treated in it. They try and try and try to survive in that room, but eventually they just can’t anymore and so they open the door and walk through it.

The thing is, suicide shouldn’t be their only option.

Adults all know that middle school and high school are temporary. Once you’re out of them, they seem so incredibly insignificant, and as time goes on, they become less and less significant. High school is kind of like a root canal. While you’re gong through it, it might seem unbearable, but once it’s done and over with, you rarely if ever think about it.

But like Einstein said, “Time is relative.”

Just remember being little and your parents telling you it’s still two weeks until Christmas. Two weeks felt like forever.

Adults can look back and see those four years of high school as just drops in the bucket of time, but when you’re there, when Facebook posts ping on your phone even when you’re trying to sleep and you know people are constantly judging you, high school can feel like a life sentence. And there’s no parol. There’s no early release for good behavior.

I don’t have the answer, but I know as a society, we need to create a second door and a third and a fourth. We need to LISTEN. We need to help kids fight their battles because they are kids. Yeah, we all want to teach self-reliance, but wars aren’t fought by individuals; they’re fought by armies, and in the stressful world we live in, sometimes kids need an army behind them.

Whether you like the Netflix show or not, the reality is that suicide amongst teens is up 600% from 1950.

Hannah wasn’t guilty of selfishness or lack of creative thinking. She was trapped in a room and only saw one door. It’s up to us as a society, as parents and friends and teachers to create more doors. Or better yet, let’s bust the walls down.

summer blooming poppy field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m here!

Hi Everyone,

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. I’ve fallen into that place where writers are told not to go. You know, that place where you start a blog, keep up with it somewhat and then masked men with Mac computers come take you away to a special place where you’re ordered to write and write and write and are forbidden to do anything else — including dishes, laundry and taking the dog out before the next accident on the carpet.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic.

The truth is, I have fallen into the trap so many writers, and other professionals, fall in to. We start a blog, and then….life happens. Or in my case…a book happens.

Writers love their books, we have to to spend so much time with them, but this book is very special to me. To be honest, I didn’t think I was ready to write it. (It’s definitely one of those training-wheels off types of projects!)

I’m nearly done with the first draft and I’m still not certain I’m ready to write it, but sometimes a thing just has to be written and if that thing lives in your head, you have to be the one to write it.

That said, that’s where I’ve been — writing and researching and living in a mental cave deep within the earth, excavating very very dark things.

I love blogging and reaching out to people and feeling that odd cyber-connect. I also love reaching out to people with pages and pages of black ink on white paper and touching people in, I think, the most intimate way possible — by sharing stories.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I’ve just fallen in a very deep hole with my laptop and my story.

I’m near the end of it now and there’s that excited running-downhill thing going on.

I’ll be excited to share this book with you when it’s ready. Though I have to warn you, it’s dark, and truth be told, it might take me a while to climb out of that dark cave. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll make it all the way out.

So if you see a hand reaching out from the earth and hear a voice calling from the darkness, it might be me.

“I’m here!”

 

 

 

Waiting = Writing

Every writer knows that waiting is a part of the job. Waiting for beta readers to give feedback, waiting for responses on query letters. Waiting for your agent to say it’s time to submit and then waiting to see if any publishers want to offer you a deal.

It’s excruciating, but there is something to ease the pain and to make the minutes, days, weeks, even months go by faster. Work!

Writers write, so write already!

In an earlier post, I compared the publishing process to having a baby. It is a lot like that, the waiting and the wondering what life will be like once it (the book or the baby) arrives.

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Because we tend to think of our books like offspring, it’s hard to imagine getting pregnant with another baby, before the one you’ve been carrying is born. But writers never carry just one story inside of them at a time.

Right now, I bet there are characters, just waiting to be written, passing the time playing cards in the deep regions of your cerebral cortex. We think waiting is hard for writers, just imagine what it’s like for the characters who get hopeful every time we pick up a pen or sit down at our keyboards. Think how their hearts race when we order that double shot of espresso at Starbucks and take a table in the back corner.

Old vintage typewriter

The thing is, stories want to be told and as writers, it’s our job to tell them. So forget the clock and the calender. Stop checking your email every hour. Eventually, you will hear something, but in the mean time, work. Give life and freedom to your characters. Spring them from your brain and let them live on the page.

For me, there’s nothing better than the moment a story takes hold of you and pushes you, blindfolded, down a steep hill. The exhileration of not knowing what’s going to happen and the certainty that you’ll figure it out is the best!

So yes, waiting is a part of being a writer. But remember that waiting should always equal writing.

 

 

 

Third Love Letter from God, for Teens

 

While these letters are for anyone who wants to read them, these words are inspired by the teenagers of the world.

Why?

Because I have a special regard for you, for your struggles.

You’re caught between childhood and what will become the long arduous, yet rewarding, years of adulthood. Let me put it this way.

Suppose life is a swimming pool. An infant would be able to do little more than lie at the base of the ladder leading to the high dive. A toddler might be able to begin the climb but certainly not much else. A child may make it to the top, but would stand frozen on the edge of the board, too paralyzed to venture far from the ladder. The adults, both young, middle-aged and old, would already be in the pool, swimming with various strokes, various strengths, various amounts of interest.

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A teenager on the other hand, stands on the edge of the high dive, ready, able, and often willing to leap into life, into the unknown. A teenager is the embodiment of all possibilities.

The amazing thing, the inspiring thing about you, is that you all leap. Some bound from the board with graceful ease, curving in the air and piercing the water with barely a ripple to disrupt the lives of those below. Some run first, jumping as far from the board as they can, deliberately forming awkward angles with their arms and legs and not caring who sees them or what’s thought of them.

These are my favorite. Perhaps it’s wrong to have favorites, but I do so love to see the carefree passion I’d intended for all to have. It is no wonder that these not only risk the pain of the belly flop, but seem better suited to deal with the inevitable pains of life. Passion and enthusiasm are great painkillers, great shields against the negativity you will no doubt have to face in life.

There are those whose goal is to enter the pool of life with a splash and those who are too scared to enter at all. These inch their way forward, holding their breath against the slight swaying of the board beneath their weight. Life, the uncertainties of it, terrifies them. While the carefree jumpers are my favorite, these frightened divers are the ones who draw me from myself, who pull that which is known as love, out of my center, as I catch them in their fear and lower them gently into the water. You see, they still jump.

They can’t help themselves, life, adulthood is waiting and to retreat back into childhood is not an option. They have to jump, either on their own, or after steady, unrelenting time pushes them. They have to jump.

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The ones that hurt me the most, who bear on me with crushing heaviness, are the ones who jump, not into the pool, but out over the hard cement. I feel every broken bone, every collapsed lung, every struggling heart.

I mourn every lost chance. I mourn every smile that was meant to be, every tear, every laugh, every kiss or embrace or moment of wonder. I cannot tell you, I cannot create the words to explain the utter devastation that comes when one of my creations leaves their life un-lived.

This may seem hard, maybe impossible to believe, but it makes me feel…inadequate. How can I, creator of all, feel incomplete, not enough, hollow? I created emptiness because without emptiness, there can be no room to hold, and there is no greater purpose in life than to hold.

With each life, there are steps that are mapped out, plans that if left to proceed undisturbed, are quite miraculous, even in what you might think of as the most ordinary of lives.

Live. Please, live.

Imagine for simplicity’s sake, that you have been reading the most wonderful novel, a book that you are certain is destined to become one of your favorites. Halfway through, you turn the page to find that the words have stopped, the pages are blank. You are certain the protagonist was headed towards greatness, towards noble adventuring consisting of no less than love and passion, excitement, forgiveness, joy and fear. But it ends. Unfinished.

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Imagine now that you are the protagonist and that you have chosen to step away, eternally away, from the page. You will experience none of the joys waiting for you, because the current page of your life is just too heavy to turn. But what if you could turn it? What might be waiting for you if you allow yourself to feel hope? To believe in it? To believe in me, to give me a chance to hold you in your pain, in your loneliness? To give you the strength to turn the page and go on with your life?

I know I may seem far away, but know that I’m not. I am in these words. I am in the melody of music that swells in your chest and brings tears to your eyes. I am in the smile of a stranger and the hugs and kisses of those who love you. I am in the blue above you and the ground beneath you and all things in-between.pexels-photo-54379

I love you.

You matter. Never forget that. Never.

Love Always,

God

 

Second Love Letter from God.

Second love letter from God.

There are so many things I want to tell you. So many things to discuss, because I know your hearts and your minds are full, are heavy.

But today, let us start with something simple.

Yes, I created the universe and all things in it, and that being said, I must seem so complex, so powerful. But I don’t want you to think of me that way. If you go outside and stare at a flower or a snowflake, they are very intricate objects. But your eyes aren’t meant to focus on each individual element. They’re meant to see the ‘whole’. Only by seeing the ‘whole’ can you see the worth, the beauty of something.

I don’t want you to think of my complexities. At least, not yet.

Today, at this moment, I want you to think of me as a shield, a blanket. I want you to think of me as the song you listen to when the words of the world are too ugly, to cruel to hear.

Today, with so much weighing down upon you, see me as your comfort. Yes, I created the universe. I created the stars, the galaxies, the elements of all things. And I created you. But today, I want you to know that I created a world that was meant to be better than this.

My spirit is heavy too and there is no song that I listen to to drown out the pain of your world. There are no earbuds big enough to keep out the cries and pleas and screams and I would not wear them if I could for what sort of parent blocks out the cries of their children?

I hear you.

And while there is so much to discuss, today, let me offer you the softness, the warmth of my love.

I’m here.

For today, let that be enough.

I love you always,

God

 

 

 

 

 

Love Letter from God

First Love letter from God

It’s difficult to know how to start this. You’d think it would be easy, after all, I know you. I know more about you than you do. I even know your blood type, your genetic sequences, the exact minute your first tooth came in.

And I know that at night you wake up sometimes feeling alone, even though I’m there with you.

I’m always with you.

I could send you a text. I could put myself in your phone as a contact so that ‘God’ would flash across the screen every time I reach out to you. I could message you, tweet you, swirl words into the clouds or commandeer the lyrics of your favorite song. But I guess I’m old fashioned, so I’ll just write you a letter. A love letter.

I’m going to keep this one short, sort of an introduction. You might not think I need one, after all, the world is filled with ideas about me. But this is about you, for you. So let me just say that in this letter and those to come, I don’t want you to think of me as the creator of the universe, but more as the creator of you.

I don’t want you to think of me as the force that makes the wind blow or the sky rain. I want you to think of me as the air you breathe and as the one who always sees your tears, even the ones that stay hidden in your heart.

I look forward to talking with you. It’s hard to connect through all the sounds in the universe – all the voices and noises and concerns that occupy your mind. Maybe when you read my letters, you’ll be able to escape from those for just a little while.

Anyway, I look forward to my time with you.

Until the next letter, know that I love you.

 

God

 

“This Generation”

Hi Everyone,

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been busy working on rewrites of a novel that will be going out to publishers soon and it’s this novel and some other things that have inspired this post today.

To start off, last week I saw a post on Facebook about ‘this generation’.

 

teens in classroom

Needless to say, when the term ‘this generation’ is used, it’s probably not going to be a post about how studious, respectful and wonderful today’s youth is. I’m not a teenager anymore, but as someone who once was, and as someone who writes for teens and tweens, this really annoys me!

First off, generations are made out of people and people are individuals. Everyone has their own story, their own triumphs and tragedies. Not everyone born in the sixties or the seventies or the eighties or nineties are the same. Yes, we are all parts of the eras we grew up in, but we didn’t grow up in the same houses or neighborhoods, with the same incomes or religions or talents or handicaps. We’re all different and grouping a whole generation of teens together is just plain wrong.

Secondly, I happen to like this generation of teens. As a teacher, they make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. I see them struggling in a world that isn’t like the one I grew up in. When I was a kid, bullies weren’t that common and if you had one to deal with, you knew once school was over for the day, you were free of him or her. Today kids are never free — not with cyber bullying.

When I was a kid we had fire and tornado drills. We would never have imagined someone coming into school with the intent of killing as many of us as possible just because they have a desire to kill.

The point I’m trying to make is that teens don’t have it easy and most of them, if they feel entitled, it’s only because they want what’s fair, like a decent education and healthy food to eat. Most are grateful for the good things in their lives and most are much more attuned to what’s happening in our world than we ever give them credit for.

So to all the teens out there, when I first wrote this novel, it contained letters to you. Now, these letters are written by me, but I wrote them trying to imagine what God would want to say to the youth of the world if He or She decided to drop a line every once in a while. (I prefer to believe that God doesn’t have a gender one way or the other because…well…God created the universe and somehow genitals just shouldn’t matter to a being capable of such a feat.)

In the various rewrites of the book, the letters were taken out, but I’d like to give them to you all the same. So starting this week I’ll be posting the letters — the love letters from God.

Now, it may seem presumptuous of me to think that I can speak for God, and I’m not trying to. I’m simply imagining what the Almighty might want to say, or is already saying, but in our crazy, hectic, and sometimes angry, societies, we’re not hearing.

God gets a pretty bad wrap today and to be honest, I’ve struggled with sorting through the bigotry and downright evil that is paraded around our country in the name of religion. These letters aren’t about religion. They’re about spirituality. They’re about you and the fact that you mean something. You are something.

Anyway, I’m not sure what I’m hoping the letters bring you. Peace maybe. Guidance…well, we’ll see. Mostly, I want them to help each one of you know that while you are part of a generation, you are a part of something much bigger than that. You are a part of a gallery of art that is beautiful, rare and utterly magnificent. You matter.

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Spring YASH with Kate Elliott

Hi Everyone and welcome to YASH.

I’m so excited to be hosting Kate Elliott for this year’s Spring YASH. (Go team purple!)

Kate Elliott Author Photo Crop

 

Kate Elliott is the author of numerous science fiction and fantasy novels including BLACK WOLVES, COLD MAGIC, and the YA fantasy COURT OF FIVES. She lives in Hawaii and paddles outrigger canoes in her spare time, as well as walking her now very old schnauzer. Rumor has it that she can juggle islands, but only 5 at a time. Read about her inspiration for Court of Fives.

A YA fantasy novel inspired by Little Women, American Ninja Warrior, and the Greco-Roman Egypt of Cleopatra. Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family she can be whoever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best contenders. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between two Fives competitors–one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy–causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

Find Kate’s book:

http://www.amazon.com/Court-Fives-Kate-Elliott/dp/0316364193

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Follow Kate at:

http://www.kateelliott.com/

https://www.facebook.com/kate.elliott.904

INSPIRATIONS for COURT OF FIVES

My Court of Fives pitch is “Little Women meet American Ninja Warrior in a setting inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt.”

What inspired the book? What do I see in my head when I write?

My spouse is an archaeologist. For the last six years he’s been co-director of the Tell Timai dig in the Egyptian Delta region. Timai was a regional capitol during the Greco-Roman period, about 2000 years ago, when first the Ptolemaic Dynasty (from Macedonia) and afterward the Roman Empire ruled Egypt. It’s such a fascinating period of history (the last Ptolemaic ruler was the famous Cleopatra) that I decided to use elements of the real history in a fantasy story and set it in a city called Saryenia whose architecture and daily life are partially modeled after this intriguing historical period.

This is what the site of Tell Timai looks like today (not very exciting):

Timai ruins

Now imagine it 2200 years ago in the heyday of the Ptolemaic Empire, whose capital was Alexandria. Here’s an artist’s rendition of the wide boulevards and monumental architecture of that city, which is pretty much how I imagine the streets of Saryenia:

alexandria street

Little Women is the famous 19th century novel by Louisa May Alcott about four girls growing up to become women, in a household held together by their mother while their father is away serving as a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War. Most of the fantasy fiction I read growing up revolved around men, so the idea of writing a fantasy novel focused around the lives of four sisters and their mother, a household of women, really appealed to me. I kept the plot element of the father being gone for long periods of time, away at the wars, but turned him into an actual soldier. Here’s my inspiration for Esladas and Kiya, the girls’ parents:

KIYA

Esladas

The main character, Jes, is an athlete. I played sports in high school (I still compete, although now in outrigger canoe paddling), and I wanted to write a love letter to girls who are competitive athletes. My inspiration for creating a complex obstacle course style game was, of course, American Ninja Warrior (and its Japanese original Sasuke). Here’s Meaghan Martin competing at the 2015 ANW Finals:

Finally, as I have posted elsewhere, there is one song I consider Jes’s “theme song” – the 2011 hit single “I Am The Best” by Korean pop group 2NE1. You don’t have to understand Korean to get the gist of the lyrics, given the song’s title. And look: four singers [Park Bom, Dara, CL, & Minzy]. In this video I can’t help but ID one to each sister*

*[poodle: Maraya/Meg; sports car: Jessamy/Jo; straitjacket: Bettany/Beth; sexy drama queen: Amaya/Amy]

 

Thanks so much for stopping by and taking part of YASH. Please comment and let us know what you think about Kate’s books, YA books or YASH!

Next stop on the hunt is Lori Goldstein, http://www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com/blog/

Be sure to check out these great books!

YASH PURPLE TEAM SPRING 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Spring YASH! YA Scavenger Hunt

Hi Everyone,

Just getting the word out that I’ll be hosting Kate Elliot for this spring’s YASH! Kate Elliott is the author of numerous science fiction and fantasy novels including BLACK WOLVES, COLD MAGIC, and the YA fantasy COURT OF FIVES. She lives in Hawaii and paddles outrigger canoes in her spare time, as well as walking her now very old schnauzer.  The hunt starts on March 29th. It’s a great chance to see what’s out there in the world of Young Adult fiction and to win books! Who doesn’t want to win books?

Come back here on March 29th to learn more about Kate’s books and take part in the YA Scavenger Hunt for a chance to win books from these authors!

Go team purple!YASH PURPLE TEAM SPRING 2016

The Power of Words

Last week I went to a creative writing open mic night. It was held at a local community college, in a small auditorium with brick walls, a wooden stage, and a bright spotlight to shine down upon all those brave enough to walk up the stairs and stand behind the microphone.

The tension in the intimate setting was literally palpable. I even heard one girl say to another, “Don’t fall off the stage this time.”

Most of the readings were poems, and most dealt with things like homesickness, the daily grind of college life, and about falling in and out of love, and while the poetry may have covered various topics, in reality, each performance was about the same thing – about the power of words to make us stronger.

As I listened to writer after writer speaking in rhythm about love and loss and hopes and dreams, I realized that they were all really saying the same thing, displaying the same thing — the ability to be brave enough to expose themselves to others.

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the petite girl with short blond hair to get up on the stage after having fallen off it during the last open mic night. I can’t image how difficult it was for the girl who had proclaimed her undying love for a young man with brown eyes, and another girl for an older man, both then telling of how these men (one young and one old) had chosen to love someone else. Corazn Roto

Sure, it’s tough to get up in front of people and say anything — anyone who’s taken public speaking knows that. But for any human being to get up and undress their emotions in front of others, to stand naked in the spotlight, takes incredible courage, and words are what gave them the courage. Their words.

Whether we’re writing prose or poetry, we can never underestimate the power that words have, not only for the reader, but for the writer as well. No armor or bullet proof vest, no weapons of any kind, can give a person the courage or the character that words can.

Who needs X-ray vision or the ability to leap over buildings? Finding the right words to say what we need to say, is the only power we need.

Young blonde woman looking at camera and show biceps.