Why is Literature Important?

A few weeks ago, I gave my literature students the review sheet for their final exam. It had the usual terms over poetry and drama and the list of poems, plays and stories we’d read that they should be familiar with. Then last week, I told them to take out their study guides and tear them up.

I told them that their final would be to answer one question: Why is literature important? At first, they were relieved, but then when I explained that the required essay would involve in depth soul-searching, they started to panic.

So, what happened?

With Star Wars being released, several students touched on the fact that good books mean good movies. Others commented on how they hated literature in high school but found a new appreciation for it in their current college course, (sucking up, I know, but still, I’ll take what I can get).

What I loved the most was when their writing about writing became passionate. When they were able to discuss how amazing it was to read the poetry of Iraq veterans and how seeing war through poetic imagery had not only given them a glimpse into the horrors of war, but had allowed them to peek into the souls of men and women who had experienced things that no person should ever have to experience.

ranger stands with arms and looks forward

They talked about vicariously experiencing freezing to death in the Yukon, about walking in the woods with the devil, stoning a neighbor to death and cutting an old man with a “vulture” eye up and hiding him under the floorboards.

They talked about how disturbing a story about a young man turning into a giant, repulsive bug is, and yet how the story of Gregor Samsa helped them to understand what it must feel like to have people shun you just because you’re different or you’re sick or you’re poor.

They talked about the amazing poetry of Shane Koyczan, and how they’d hated poetry but how he brought it to life for them. They talked out how   it made them feel things from their childhoods that they thought had been swept away but, as it turns out, had only been waiting in some corner of their minds for some light to be shed on the still painful names they were called and the shame of being picked last, or not at all.

Two big bully kids

 

All semester, I’d tried to teach with passion. To share my love of words and the fact that words CAN change hearts, and if words can change hearts, they can change the world.

At the beginning of the semester, many students said they hated reading, especially academic reading, and I can’t say that I blame them. (To this day I have to read “The Metamorphosis” in bits or I’ll literally need anti-nausea medicine).

Bedbug Concept

For a teacher, spreading passion is what it’s all about. The words that form in our minds, the words we speak and the ones we wish we could take back, are what make us who we are, and when we read someone else’s words, it’s almost like cannibalism. We’re not tasting a person’s body, we’re tasting their mind, their soul, their experiences. We’re growing exponentially by reading the words of those who have lived before us and of those who lived before them.

Some would say that these are dark and difficult times in which we’re living. But the truth is that every era has its own shades of hope and despair. The key to dispelling the dark is to find the passion that was born out of each generation. To learn from it. To feel it.

Why is literature important?

Because we are meant to feel the emotions of many lifetimes, but we are only given one.

 

 

 

Deadly Design: An excerpt for your pleasure :)

This excerpt from Deadly Design is one of my favorite scenes, but it requires just a little backstory. Kyle and Connor are identical twins, who were born two years apart. They were conceived in a fertility lab because their parents carry a gene for a deadly disorder. Their perfect egg was created and then split into identical twins. In the hopes of ensuring safe pregnancies, Connor was born first, while Kyle spent two years frozen in the lab.

The family doesn’t realize that the boys have been genetically altered to be superior beings. Connor succeeds at everything he does, and Kyle, being two years younger, doesn’t think he can compete with his brother’s greatness, so he doesn’t try. Over the years, he starts to resent his brother’s almost superstar status in their small town, so much so that he flips off anyone who accidently calls him by his twin brother’s name.

The following scene occurs after Connor dies on his eighteenth birthday and Kyle is asked to read Connor’s valedictorian speech during, what should have been, Connor’s high school graduation.

Hope you enjoy!

chromosomes 3d illustration

There is silence, real silence. There are hundreds of people surrounding me.

Hundreds of people breathing and fidgeting and thinking. And staring. The principal has said something. She introduced me, and the gymnasium has filled with the silence of waiting.

I stand, then walk, taking a second to look at my parents. They’re sitting in the first row behind the graduating students, and while I know they want to give me encouraging smiles, smiles to settle my nerves, they can’t. I reach the podium, look down, and start reading. It’s typical stuff, at least what filters through the haze in my brain. Motivational, fortune-cookie shit. “Work hard and you can accomplish anything. Don’t let the difficulties of life dissuade you from your dreams, blah, blah, blah.” And then there’s a space between paragraphs and a handwritten note. It reads Find Kyle in the audience. Look at him. Don’t say another word until he sees you.

I glance back at the principal. She nods her head knowingly at me and smiles with trembling lips. I look up at the crowd of faces staring down at me. I’m searching through them, but for a second, I’m not sure if I’m looking for Connor or looking for me. I go back to the words.

“Kyle,” I read, “I don’t believe in regrets, at least most of the time I don’t. I don’t regret that we were born separately, because the truth is, if Mom had tried to carry us both at the same time, we might both be dead now.”

Everyone is quiet, breath-held kind of quiet. No one fidgets against the hard chairs; no one fans themselves with their programs or turns through the pages to see how much longer this will take. Even the quivering cries of a discontented infant stop. All anyone can hear are the electric fans moving back and forth to aid the school’s ancient air conditioning system.

“I guess I do regret a few things. I regret that I didn’t wait for you. I arrived on the path first, and I ran ahead, so far ahead that you couldn’t catch up. I shouldn’t have done that. To make it worse, being twins, I should have figured that people would always be comparing us. It was up to me to set the bar, and I set it too high – for both of us. There’s always been this thing inside me, pushing me to be perfect. And once it started, it was like running down a hill, and you can’t stop, because if you try, you’ll fall, and the hill is so steep you know you won’t survive.

“I’ll never forget when you were in first grade. We were walking home, an you wouldn’t talk to me because the teacher made you miss recess when you didn’t get a perfect score on your spelling test. She thought that because we have the same DNA, we’d have the same brain, the same likes and dislikes. But the truth is I had to learn those words. Maybe it’s that oldest child syndrome or something. I had to get them right, but you didn’t. You could have if you’d wanted to, but you didn’t, and that’s okay. Hell, that’s great, as long as you know you could have.

“I regret now that I studied for those stupid tests. I mean, really, who cares if a seven-year-old can spell umbrella or a ten-year-old can recite the fifty state capitals? It doesn’t say anything about who we are. Not really. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have taken Calc 2 or Spanish 4. I don’t think I would have even gone out for track or football. Not because I don’t think education is important or because I don’t love sports, but because there’s no achievement in my life that means as much as being able to walk the path with you. You are my brother…and I love you.” I say these words slowly because they are for me. They are mine. “Nothing means more than that. And to all of you out there who have ever called Kyle ‘Connor,’ and especially to all of you who ever judged my brother for not learning his spelling words or his state capitals or his quadratic equations, this is for you.”

It doesn’t say anything else, but I know exactly what Connor intended to do. I look out at the young and old and middle-aged faces. I take a deep breath and, with tears burning in my eyes, extend my middle finger to the crowd.

Sleeping with the Lights On

I’ve recently started a new manuscript. The idea has been swimming around in my brain for a while, but I was somewhat reluctant to pursue it.

Part of it was timing. Part of it was fear.

Concept of security. Silhouette of refugees climb over the barbed wire at the border

All writers know the importance of research — of immersing oneself in the real world to help you create an authentic fictional one. For Deadly Design, I had to swim in the waters of DNA and ghost hearts and all things genetic. While science certainly has it gray areas and ethical dilemmas, this new project requires me to delve into a world which will NOT leave me unscathed.

One of the things I love most about writing is how writers become mini-authorities on the various topics that come into their fictional worlds. It’s fun to learn about science or space or history. But sometimes we get ideas for stories that are of a darker nature.

I have never been to a war-torn country. I have never seen, first hand, the way war destroys everything. But I have this idea, an idea that I truly love and that I believe could become an amazing piece of literature. Do I want to learn what war tastes and smells and feels like? No.

I don’t want to experience it first hand, and yet I want to create it on the page. So how do I do that?

I’ve talked before about writing naked — figuratively speaking — and when it comes to research, it’s the same.

If we are to have vulnerable characters, we have to become vulnerable ourselves. If war changes people, we have to be open to changing ourselves.

I have literally watched hours upon hours of war videos and interviews, and each is like having a flu shot, only instead of protecting me from some awful virus, the exposure makes me feel things — awful things, but necessary things.

When Elizabeth Kostova was researching and writing The Historian, I’m sure she slept with the lights on, and maybe with garlic hanging from her bedroom door. She created a world where vampires seemed as real as anything anyone had ever read about in a history textbook, and I’m sure there were times when she wanted to take a shower in holy water.

Eilean Donan castle in the night, Scotland

We expect our characters to learn and to grow. But before we can create our characters and create their world, we, as writers, have to grow and to grow, we must be vulnerable.

We have to be willing to put ourselves on the front lines. We have to be willing to expose ourselves to things that might make us toss and turn at night. To things that might make us cry and make our souls age.

Before we can make our readers cry or cringe, before we can make their hearts double-over with joy or sorrow, we have to open ourselves to those emotions.

What would life be like without stories? The best stories are often the ones where invisible fingers reach from the pages like spirits and they inhabit us. They make us feel something new and unique. The make the reader more than they were before they started reading.

As authors, as creators of the stories, we must lay ourselves wide to the world, not to sacrifice ourselves for our art, but to become more. To get the stories right, even if it means sleeping with the lights on.

To Nano or Not to Nano

October is almost over which means the buzz of NaNoWriMo is in the air.

As a professor, I’ve always wished that the month writers are supposed to dive in and dedicate themselves to the purpose of writing, wasn’t November. Let’s see, there’re the holidays, the whole finals coming up and the last minute grading to get done. Not to mention hosting relatives and doing that cleaning that only gets done when relatives are coming (yes, I am one of those “spring cleaning be damned” kind of people).

Writers are drawn to the wonderful possibilities of dedicating an entire month to the magic of writing. Usually it takes nine months to create a baby, and even if the novel that’s been pulsing in your soul doesn’t emerge fully in tact by the end of the month, at least you’ll have something tangible, something so close to complete that the urge to continue the frenzied writing will continue long into the dark, cold months of winter.

To be honest, I’ve never participated in Nano month. Not because I don’t absolutely love the idea of it, but because I’ve always been in the midst of working on something that I didn’t want to put aside. But I’ve considered it this year. I have a new project I’m wanting to start, something very challenging and the idea of getting a running start at it takes away at least some of the anxiety. But I’ve noticed something about writing lately,

It has to do with pacing, or should I say, my pacing. To use the old fable, I love writing like the hare, racing through the story, getting it on paper as quickly as I can and perfection be damned — that’s what rewriting is for. We’ve all heard the advice, and good advice it is, to get the story out. Once you’ve created your world and characters, you can go back and fix and polish and tweak all you’d like.

little baby rabbit

Enter the frail ego of a writer faced with the shaky first draft of a manuscript, and well, lets just say the hare curls into the fetal position and sucks his paw while questioning what made him think he could write in the first place.

We’ve all had those moments when we’re reading something and we stop, mesmerized by the beauty of the words or the image they’ve created. It’s magic. It’s eating a sandwich or a bowl of soup and suddenly finding a flavor that’s new and exquisite, and it makes you appreciate being alive just a little bit more.

My race towards the end of a first draft is slowing down. When I go back and read what I’ve written, I find myself not caring how many words are on the page, but whether or not they are the right words.

But there must be a balance. If a writer becomes too critical during that initial stage of getting the story out, it’s like taking their muse and breaking its fragile spine over your knee. The next thing you know, it’s curled up next to the rabbit who’s still sucking its paw. Tell the story, first and foremost, but keep an eye out for those moments of possible greatness.

If writing is a journey, you have to find the pace that works best for you. I’ve found that of late, I want to look around more, explore more and worry less about how quickly I reach my destination. In other words, the process matters. Spending thirty minutes staring at the computer screen hacking at the block of marble in your brain to release the right combination of words is worth it sometimes, because as wonderful as it is to stop and inhale the beautiful words of another writer, it’s even nicer when you realize they’re your own.

Every writer must find their pace, the method of writing that works best for them. In Kansas, the wind blows cold in November.

Long summer dry grass against a sunset.

But I love the idea of winds being created by words, by stories racing from the minds of writers and onto the page. Write. Write like your life depends on it. Write like some crazed maniac is coming to nibble your fingers off so it’s now or never. But no matter how you chose to write, enjoy the journey, and remember that sometime along the way, your job is to create magic.

Thanks so much to all the YASH participants!

Thanks so much to everyone who was involved in YASH. It was so exciting to see all the involvement, especially from so many different countries. I hope it was a great experience for everyone.

Escritura  How about a few inspiring writing quotes?

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” Gloria Steinem

“It is a delicious thing to write, whether well or badly…” Gustave Flaubert

“When I say ‘work’ I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.” Margaret Laurence

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E.L. Doctorow

Cheers to more great stories being told and wonderful books being discovered!

Welcome to YASH! Good luck!

Amy Christin Parker Author of Gated, Ashtray and Smash & Grab

Amy Christin Parker
Author of Gated, Ashtray and Smash & Grab

Hi Everyone. I’m so excited to be hosting Amy Christine Parker on my website! Amy is the author of three Young Adult novels but rumor has it that there are at least 5 more buzzing around in her head right now!
Hope you enjoy the excerpt from her new novel, Smash & Grab, due out May, 2016.
The book cover for Ashtray, Keep an eye out for Smash & Grab, out May 2016.

The book cover for Ashtray,
Keep an eye out for Smash & Grab, out May 2016

Chapter One

Lexi

I’m breathless by the time we reach the helipad at the top of the US Bank Tower—exactly 1,018.01 feet up above LA, the city spread out beneath us in all directions, a wide carpet of neon and white lights that dazzles me after the relative dark of the stairwell. It is heady stuff, seeing the world from this high, dizzying and exactly what I need right now.

I laugh a little, the sound loud in my ears, trapped beneath my helmet. My bank vice president father gets arrested this morning for some kind of mortgage fraud scheme I still don’t completely understand and I’m the one preparing to jump off a building. I look over at my brother Quinn and he’s laughing too—probably having the same thought I am—that this is a crazy, but strangely appropriate way to cheer ourselves up.

Our tight band of friends, sometime partners in crime, and fellow adrenaline junkies are gathered around us—Noah, Oliver, Leo, and Elena. Six of us altogether. Elena’s sister, Whitney is missing, but only because someone had to distract the night guard while we snuck into the stairwell and then drive the car to pick us up after we’ve gone over the edge. She drew the short straw. All in all, though, the vibe is right. Our number feels decidedly lucky. Everyone’s eyes are bright, their cheeks flushed. The impending free fall has them revved, has me revved. I can feel my whole body humming with a high that only comes from doing something outrageous, a high that most of the ground dwellers below us never experience. Alcohol and drugs can’t touch it. It’s one hundred percent pure adrenaline and it’s amazing.  Addictive. No matter what maneuver we have planned—this jump or the motorcycle race we pulled off in the spillway riding in near pitch darkness, or any number of others—the thrill never weakens. These moments we plan for together are the only times I ever feel truly alive. I know it’s the same for Quinn and the others. It’s probably the main reason why we’re all friends in the first place.

Noah shuts the stairwell door so we are stuck out here. The only way out of this building now is down the side of it. The sound of the door closing, the slight slam as it hits the door frame makes me wince, reminds me of this morning and the way our front door connected with the foyer wall as the FBI invaded our house, agent after agent rushing in, hands on their guns, eyes scanning every inch of our house like our whole lives were suspect and not just my father. My heart was thundering in my chest then, too—especially as they dragged my father out into the yard, morning stubble shadowing his chin, his skin an ashen, guilty shade—but I didn’t like the way it felt in that moment, like my heart might start contracting—charlie-horsing—and never stop.

My father’s in jail. Right now. Somewhere down there in a cell. If he’s convicted of the charges he’s facing he’ll be in there until I’m his age, maybe longer.

I shake my head. I don’t want to think about that anymore. That’s why I’m up here. Quinn too.

Keep moving, distracting yourself and the hurt you feel will fade. I tell myself.

“This wind is ridiculous,” Leo, my best friend shouts, his eyes squinted against it and steadily tearing up. “We need to get on one of the outcroppings over there to make sure we clear the building.” He brings the camera he’s carrying up to his face and looks through the lens, adjusts it then looks again and starts snapping pictures of all of us, first Quinn looking like the teenaged version of Jason Bourne in his all black clothes and then Oliver, Elena, and Noah butted right up to the edge of the helipad platform with their arms around each other. “Your turn,” he says as he turns his camera on me.

I put my helmet under one arm and strike a pose, the rhinestones on my fingernails catching the light from the flash and looking like twinkling stars for a second. I decided a while ago to embrace my inner bling monster—the Jimmy Choo wearing, Prada bag carrying creature my mother raised me to be. As much as rebelling against anything that makes her happy appeals to me, I actually love all that stuff. Shallow or not I don’t care. The girlie glamour is too enticing, the dress up fun of it. When I was little I was obsessed with the girls in James Bond movies—sexy and beautiful, but tough, too. Doing things like this jump make me feel like one of them.

“You’re beautiful,” Leo says, not a trace of lust evident in his voice which makes the compliment that much more flattering because there’s no agenda attached to it.

“Good,” I say, beaming.

“Alright, enough pictures, let’s go!” As usual Noah is amped, ready.

“Chill out. Rushing means mistakes,” I say. I haven’t poured over building plans, weather conditions, and city maps just to leap off the instant Noah decides he’s ready. “We do it as planned, and that means climbing down there. Then flying.” Tonight’s maneuver is my baby, my contribution to the BAM (short for bad ass maneuvers)  book we keep, an adrenaline soaked alternative to a slam book, where we record all the almost and sometimes downright illegal adventures we have. We started it right after Oliver’s parents divorced to cheer him up, a sort of joke that over the years became something bigger until now we have more than twenty pages of adventures, most of them directly related to crappy moments in one or all of our lives. Like my dad’s arrest. Or Leo’s mom’s breakdown.

I put my helmet on and motion for everyone to follow me, toward the far corner of the pad. We get on our stomachs and one by one, lower ourselves down to the narrow shelf below that borders the whole building, coming to points every so often so that from the sky it must look a bit like a starburst.  The point nearest us is the one we need to use—far from the stairway flanking the opposite side of the building and the other obstructions that would make landing on them deadly.

Together we climb onto the lip that separates the shelf from the open sky, arms out like tight rope walker poles, the wind prodding at our backs, threatening to unbalance us. The streets below us are mostly quiet this late at night, but there are still cars here and there, slowly making their way towards the freeway, the drivers totally unaware that we are up here watching them. Seeing the rest of the world from this high is freeing because it’s too far away to feel real.

“Say Kamikaze,” Leo says as he snaps another picture. The flash is blinding and I sway a bit.

“Hey, cut it out, man,” Noah grumbles as Elena latches onto his arm to keep her balance. He looks down at her and his expression immediately softens. “How about a kiss. Lanie. For luck.” He pulls her closer, leans in to nuzzle her neck. This thing developing between them is new—sort of surprising and intimate enough that watching them feels odd, wrong.

She rolls her eyes. “Okay, fine. I guess if it’s in the name of luck…” She tilts her head up and presses her lips to his as Leo takes another picture that I can already tell will turn out beautifully with the city as a backdrop and both of them bathed in the crisp white glow of the tower’s lights.

I look from Quinn to Leo to Oliver to Noah to Elena.

It’s time.

When the moment is right I can always feel it. I look over the edge, hold a hand into the air and judge the wind. Yep. Perfect.

“Let’s do this. Quinn, you’re going first, okay?” I put a hand on his shoulder and squeeze. “See you on the ground big brother.” He leans his head to one side and rests it on my shoulder for a second and suddenly my throat feels thick, strangled, and I want to cry. He’s the only person I depend on. Today proved that, especially when my mother locked herself in her room after the FBI took our father and didn’t come out all day, not to explain what was happening or to try to comfort us like mothers are supposed to do.

“See you then,” Quinn says. He knocks his fist against mine and winks.

“Oh man, you got this!” Oliver hollers over a loud gust of wind. He’s all riled up, jazzed like he’s tempted to try and chest bump the sky.

As nervous as I am for BASE jumps—and I am always nervous—waiting for Quinn to land is always the worst part, that moment when I have an image of him falling fast, his chute not opening, then him hitting the ground—the picture in my mind so sharp that I almost hear the heavy thud of his body impacting. I have to fight the urge to tell him to sit this one out even though he needs it as badly as I do, that high, the few sweet seconds when there is only the wind, the fall, and the landing to think about. Everything else just falls away. I say a silent prayer and then listen to him count down.

“Three, two, one.” He looks back at me long enough to wink and then he dives straight out, arms spread out wide, embracing the night. He cheers and then his chute fans out and he disappears beneath it.

“Later losers,” Noah says and he jumps without a countdown, saluting us with one hand as he steps out into the air, his body already tilting forward into a stomach down position.

Quinn’s almost down now, arcing his way towards the street and our planned landing spot. I breathe for the first time since he jumped.

Oliver goes next, quietly, the way he always does with no warning at all, just dropping ninja like into the dark.

“Beautiful up here,” Leo says, taking it all in one last time. He grins at me, his helmet cam on now and pointing directly at my face, the red light a staring eye. He blows me a kiss and swan dives, looking like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys or something, flying without pixie dust.

“Here goes,” Elena squeals and then she’s gone too, screaming madly all the way down. I stand on the ledge a moment more. Alone. I close my eyes and listen to the wind whistling around the building, to the distant screech of car tires on asphalt, to the faint echo of my friends calling to one another below. I want to savor the high coursing through my blood for a moment or two longer, the pure pride of knowing I got them all up here and then safely to the ground.

They could’ve died. I might right now. The risk is there, real otherwise this wouldn’t be illegal. One wrong pull on my lines and I crash into this building or another one beside it. If the shoot gets twisted coming out, there won’t be time to right it. Less than a minute from here to the ground and any mistakes mean that minute could be my last. Standing here right now is like looking straight into the face of death, deciding to jump towards its gaping black mouth with the intention of steering away at the last minute.

I let out a long, slow breath. Then I close my eyes and step out into the air.

AMY CHRISTINE PARKER is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult novel, GATED, an Amazon Best Teen Book of the Month Spotlight Pick for July 2013, a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and a nominee for the 2016 Sequoyah Award as well as its sequel, ASTRAY, which was released in August 2014. Currently Amy is working on her third book for Penguin Random House Children’s Books, SMASH and GRAB, which is scheduled to release in May 2016 and ORPHAN CITY for Adaptive Studios releasing late 2016. She writes full-time from her home near Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her husband, their two daughters, and one ridiculously fat cat. Visit her at amychristineparker.com and follow her on Twitter @amychristinepar.

Amy Christine Parker
GATED, August 6, 2013
ASTRAY, August 26, 2014
SMASH and GRAB, May 24, 2016
Random House Children’s Books
Orphan City, Fall 2016
Adaptive Studios
Website:
http://www.amychristineparker.com

Thanks so much for visiting and for being a part of the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt! How did you like the first chapter of Smash & Grab? (I’m so excited for Amy)! How is the hunt going? Let us know. Comment below. 

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE

Direction: Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the Green Team, and then add them up. The next author on the list is https://christinenorris.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/ya-scavenger-hunt-go-team-green/

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, though anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 5, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will NOT be considered.

YASH!

Hi Everyone,

Just getting the word out that I’ll be hosting Amy Christine Parker, author of Gated, Astray, and coming spring of 2016, Smash & Grab, on October 1st, for the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt. 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?

Check out a sneak peek of her new novel, Smash & Grab, right here next week and Go Team Green!

The Homicide of the Arts

When I was a kid, I attended a small school that literally sat in the middle of cow pasture. It was a nice school, even having solar power which was very innovative for the time. We had music, band, drama and jewelry making — some the basic outlets thought sufficient for young people’s budding artistic sides.

June of this year, my young adult medical thriller, Deadly Design, was released by G.P. Putnam & Sons. I’ve always loved writing, and I remember receiving some encouragement from one of my teachers, but creative writing wasn’t taught or really encouraged. That’s why I thought I’d offer myself as a speaker in some of the schools in my area.

Deadly Design is a novel dealing with real science, both science that’s actually possible now and technologies that are in the works and will be possible in the very near future. Talking about the wonders of DNA and technology, coupled with the ability to talk about creative writing seems like a combination that could really inspire students.

Now I know that right now, especially in my home state, schools are strapped for money, and as a true believer in giving back, I offered to speak to students free of any fee. While some teachers are open to having authors come and speak with students, one district reacted in a way that was somewhat surprising to me. Basically I was told that any form of assembly in the school would take away from the time students have to prepare for standardized testing.

Hmm.

I will say that this did not come from a high up school official, but from a staff member who believed attempting to speak at the school would be pointless due to the time factor and the schools policy against assembles — large or small. Students need to have every possible moment dedicated to achieving high scores on their standardized tests.

Time to vent.

Okay, I’m not Stephen King or Neil Gaiman. I’m a local author, lucky enough to land a book deal with one of the big publishers. But as a kid from Kansas, I can tell you that having a local author come to one of my classes and tell me that someone who grew up looking out the window at cows could actually achieve such a thing, would have been amazing. Maybe even life changing.

Right now there may be a student who could be the next the King or Gaiman or Hemingway. Maybe all that student needs is a spark of inspiration. Maybe there’s a student who could be the next Stephen Hawking, just waiting to be dazzled by the mysteries and wonders of science, but alas, those students need to study for their tests.

To some extent, education has always been about conformity, but never to the extent that is it today. Just yesterday one of my students told me that she was denied access to certain courses in high school because she was told she should go in to a career working with her hands and not her mind.

Over 50 million children attend public schools in the United States. We hear about art and music programs being cut. Already, creative writing classes are basically nonexistent. We live in a society where children are exposed to a whole host of issues that would cause anxiety in the strongest of individuals, and yet instead of helping them deal with those issues through creative outlets, we add stress to their lives by forcing them to conform, to think inside the box.

In other posts, I’ve talked about my concern about the current suicide rates among children and teens. Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst teens. We know that artistic outlets have helped children around the world in dealing with issues of anxiety, depression, even post traumatic stress disorder, and yet when kids are trying to figure out who they are, what their place in this complex world is, we put astronomic pressure on them to be “standard”. To pass tests that have bearing on the school’s budget, but not on the students’ lives. All while stripping them of the various ways that exploring the arts can offer in leading them to self-discovery.

I’m just one author, one voice in the cosmos, but there are seven billion voices in our cosmos, 300 million of them just in the U.S. I want to hear what those voices have to say. What they have to sing. I want to see what those individuals can create through dance and sculpt and painting. I want to feel the emotions those voices can inspire.

Standardizing testing may well be the homicide of our artistic future.

Surviving Limbo

Anyone who writes knows all about waiting. Whether it’s waiting for beta readers to give you their opinions or waiting for a response to a query letter, writers spend a lot of time waiting…and waiting…and waiting.

It’s almost enough to make a person go mad — as in main character in a Poe story kind of mad!

If purgatory is a real place, any writer ending up there will spend eternity logging into their email to no avail.

So how do we keep from chewing our fingernails off and pulling our hair out or chopping up a body and storing it under the floorboards? How do we keep from going mad? Well, it’s not easy, but the answer is obvious — we do what we do when facing any challenge. We write.

My agent and I are currently waiting to hear back from my editor on a project, and I asked my agent if she would mind if I sent her another project. To be honest, I was afraid that since we’d so recently finished rewrites on one novel, she’d want a take a break from my writing. Instead, she was delighted (of course, she hadn’t read it yet so time will tell if she stays delighted). But agents represent books and writers write books so it just stands to reason that working writers make for happier agents.

The point is that we have to keep working. (Even if she doesn’t like the new project, at least I’ll know so I can move on to the next story brewing in my mind).

Now, I’ll admit, waiting has gotten to my psych on occasion (that whole hearing the heart beating like a clock swaddled in cotton comes to mind, but don’t worry; there are no elderly gentlement with cataracts sleeping in my home).

Last week after another day of waiting, I felt a strange kinship to the protagonist in the tragic story of The Little Match Girl, only instead of envisioning a table of food set before a warm fire, I was envisioning my new book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.

All right, I wasn’t  freezing or starving to death, but sometimes mental starvation can be almost as bad.

Waiting is not fun. But it is necessary, and it is inevitable. But there is something wonderful, something magical and almost god-like we can do to not only force the current of time to quicken, but to actually enjoy the minutes as they flow by.

We can create. We can write the next story and then like an expectant mother resting before the contractions start, we can wait. And wait. And wait.

Not My House

I just came home from the inservice meeting for the college where I teach. To be honest, I didn’t come straight home. I had My Chemical Romance blaring on the iPod, and I found myself taking wrong turns to finish one song and then another.

When I turned down my street and looked at the green house sitting on the corner, I found myself thinking that I didn’t want it to be my house. I didn’t want the flowers on the porch to be my flowers. I didn’t want the front door to be the door where my key fit.

Now, don’t be mistaken. I have a lovely home and a lovely family. My husband in the perfect blend of fun and serious. My recently published novel sits on the coffee table and I’m waiting for a response on a new project. I’m getting ready to start another semester teaching classes that love. Life is good. But…

I didn’t want it to be my house.

As a writer, I can’t help but look into lit windows, into dark windows, and wonder who lives inside. What type of lives do they live? Are they struggling? Are there secrets within the walls that twists and burn or is every room bright and filled with the aromas of hearty meals and sun-scented dryer sheets?

I have lived in a house filled with laughter and silly singing. Where every Thursday night was spaghetti night and we’d move the furniture in the living room and play dodge ball.

We’ve laughed in the green house on the corner and occasionally, we’ve cried. We’ve talked about dreams — from my youngest wanting her daddy to be president so we could have our own bowling alley to the eldest wanting to be a news anchor and now wanting to be a college professor.

But in-between those two children are the dreams of the middle child. These are aspirations held hostage, and it’s these dreams that make me want to drive away to a different house. A house where no one knows what gastroparesis is.

I love writing. I love creating stories and getting emails and comments from readers who enjoyed the brief escape from reality that my novel provided. My dream of being published came true, and I would pay with that dream — that ransom — if it would unbind my son’s dreams.

For a mom, there is no greater wish than for her children to be healthy and happy. And when the cabinets start filling with pill bottles and when the squares on the calendar are covered with times for doctor appointments, she finds herself pressing to fulfill her dreams not so much for herself, but because doing so might make trips to far away doctors or pharmacies easier. Because fulfilling her dreams (dreams that were so long fought for) might act as inspiration to keep other, frailer dreams alive.

I didn’t want it to be my house, because I don’t want my child to be sick. But there is no parallel universe (that we know of) where things can be altered to our liking. All we can do is press on. We can pull into the garage, put the key in the door, and we can hope.

And we can write. Thank God, we can write.