Review: What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know Saturday, Sep 11 2010 

What My Girlfriend Doesn't KnowWhat My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Until two days ago, I had never heard of a novel written in verse. I picked this up to use in a sample unit plan for one of my English Education classes fully expecting to at least appreciate and hopefully like it. I was blown away by not only how well the story was told, but by the story as well. Amazed would not be too strong a word at all.

It didn’t hurt that I identified with Robin Murphy at all, of course. I graduated from high school in 1991. Up until recently, geeks were the social pariahs of my high school. My son has followed in my footsteps, but has a huge clique of friend. I didn’t have that until my senior year. Like Robin, I was mocked in school pretty much all my life. First I was gawky, then I was fat, then I lost the weight, but was just too much of a geek to fit in. Once I graduated and started college, I found myself in much the same situation of finally fitting in. Due to circumstances mostly under my control, I left college and only recently returned. That feeling of being among friends and peers is still very much a part of what I love about it.

Now that my credentials are in order, I must say that Sonya Sones picked up the feelings that I felt in high school with 100% accuracy. Even when I had a girlfriend, things never went right. I didn’t handle the mocking as well as he did, and the girls didn’t either in a couple of cases. I loved Robin’s reaction to temptation. It was very realistic and matched what I think most anyone might do in his situation.

I am a 38-year-old man (or, as Robin would say, 38 and 5/6) who likes getting emotionally invested in the books I read. I found myself alternately angry, cheering, smiling, and even crying (a lot) while reading this book. In fact, my greatest moment of rage and disappointment came when I reached the last page. I turned back and forth twice to make sure I hadn’t skipped a page. I didn’t want it to end.

Alas, all good reads must end, and this was a very good read.

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The Most Amazing Week Ever! Friday, Aug 27 2010 

Listening to: Sex Bob-Omb – Threshold – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I have a knee condition called patella alta.  In the picture on the right, A is normal and B is me.  A good bit of the

cartilage in my knees are gone.  This causes some awkwardness when I walk.  Due to this, my hips and ankles hurt quite a bit as well.

I gradually dropped a lot of my normal activities over the years.  I took a desk job that I hated.  Sitting at a desk for most of a decade allowed my legs to get even worse over time until I was having cortisone shots in my left hip and taking hydrocodone about once or twice a month when some twist on a step or a long shift at my desk caused a flare-up.

For the last year and a half, I have been back at school completing my teaching degree.  This has required a lot of walking, which has gradually started loosening me up and, according to the doctor, smoothing out the jagged spots in my knee.  It seems that low-impact movement performed for extended periods of time (i.e. stationary bike, treadmill, and light walking) can be beneficial for my condition.

I can’t grow the cartilage back, but the rubbing of the patella (knee cap) against the leg bones essentially sands the troublesome jagged bits down.  Not a pleasant visual, I’ll grant you, but the upshot is that I have more mobility than I have had in ages.

So, I decided to put it to the test last Saturday.  My son and daughter did something that I have not attempted in about 15 years.  We hiked the 1 mile trail up Kennesaw Mountain.  My daughter is nine, so I don’t think she fully understands my problems since I don’t talk about it much.  She ran ahead on the trail and sat down at each rest point to wait for her old dad.  Mocking little imp.  My son kept pace with me. He is fourteen and has understood about my condition for a long time.

We set out and made it .2 miles up before I had to sit down for a pain pill.  I limited myself to one so that I would not get swimmy in the head.  I wanted to have my wits about me.  The experience was worth a small amount of suffering.  I slowed pace a bit on a straight to explain what we were doing on the mountain.

“Remember what I always tell you?  Never tell me that you can’t do something.  You can do anything you set your mind to.  Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.  I have not been up this mountain since before either of you were born.  I am going to walk the whole mile.  It will be one of the most difficult things I have accomplished in recent years, but it will be worth it if it proves my point to you.”

With those words, I had sealed my doom.  I couldn’t back out or my words would be s hollow as my fool head.  That, of course, was half the point of the speech.  It was half for them and half for me.  I used my cane pretty much the entire way and we rested a lot.  Water was imbibed, small boulder climbing was done (by the kids), and much fun was had.

We eventually reached the Georgia Overlook and gun embankment.  I sat down for a while and smiled.  I had accomplished something.  It might not have been grandiose, but it was a start.  My legs hurt, but there was more muscle burn than joint pain.  The pain was there, but it was not as prevalent as normal.

Our spirits did not drop when we realized that there was not transportation back down.  We simply walked back down the mountain road, which is a much easier way than the hiking trail.  On the way down we made note of especially beautiful flowers and berry bushes.  On the road ahead were a doe and her fawn.  We slowed and approached in a non-threatening posture.  The mother spotted us and leapt up the hill.  Her child tagged along behind.  At the top, the mother continued on into the woods, but the baby stayed.

We stood at the base of the embankment looking up at the fawn, who munched the occasional leaf and peered backward over his shoulder as if to say, “Hey.  ‘Sup?”  My daughter edged right up the edge, where I told her to stop, not just for her safety from the steepish climb and the deer’s hooves, but from the poison ivy on the embankment.  The baby played its little game (bite, tug, glance, “‘Sup?”, much) for about two or three minutes.  Finally it realized mom was gone and ambled along after her, still chewing on that last leaf the whole way.  It was the perfect end to the excursion.

We went back home and met up with some friends.  We worked our characters for the Dresden Files RPG that a friend is about to start.  Much fun was had then and the next day when a friend dropped by unexpectedly from out-of-town to drop off a food container we had let him borrow.  He stayed for supper and we played The Pillars of the Earth and Small World. A pleasant surprise, as he is one of our favorite gaming people.

This week was stressful.  I am taking five classes this semester.  A fairly hefty load, at least for me.  I have taken three or four at most before this, but I am trying to graduate Spring 2012.  It has been a good, but worrisome couple of weeks as I try to figure out my due dates and the work I am going to have to put in to get my customary A’s and B’s.

There is an Amtgard group, Shire of Iron Springs, that meets several times a week on the campus green to beat the crap out of each other with boffer swords, polearms, daggers, etc.  While many LARP (Live Action Role-Play) activities are “lightest touch,” these guys go for the gusto, which I appreciate.  Besides, check the pic from the site.  Any LARPer who wears a Green Lantern t-shirt is all right in my book.

So, in the spirit of getting back in shape and trying my legs out, I joined in today.  I played for about 45 minutes before class and about an hour afterward.  It was fun and exhausting, but just what I needed.  I was amazed that my legs were not giving me any trouble.  Some pinches, but nothing too serious.

Then I drove home.  I tried to get out of the car when my knees and hips registered a complaint.  I could almost hear them shout, “Sit back DOWN!”  I, not having any desire to crack my skull on the car frame by falling back into the driver’s seat, spread my arms and stopped my backward descent.  I asserted my inner stubborn mule, which my mother passed onto me, and pushed myself up with my arms.

I have to say, it hurt.  It hurt a lot.  I walked to the front door like I needed a walker.  I was glad it was dark, because I looked sad and pathetic.  I came in, stripped out of my sweaty clothes, and flopped down on the bed.  I refused any pain pills.  I don’t like to take them and I avoid it except in cases, like the Kennesaw Mountain ascent, where they are absolutely necessary.

All in all, I am glad I have taken these steps toward better health.  Sitting here in the bed, I am pretty sure that 75% of the aches and pains are the direct result of muscle tissue damage of the sort I expect after a workout, and boffer fighting is a workout just as much as basketball or soccer.  The other 25% is mostly in my hip.

I am guessing that sitting in the bed with a laptop in my lap isn’t the best thing to do, but I had to get this down.  I am well over 50% joyful for the first time in a while.  I might even hazard a guess that I am hovering a bit over 85-90% joy, as measured on the Snoopy Index.  As a note of interest, I have found that at 100%, I tend to do the Snoopy Dance of Joy™, which is a sight to behold, indeed.

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When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you ’till it seems as if you couldn’t hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide’ll turn.”

~ Mr. Avery – Old Town Folks by Harriet Beecher Stowe

What’s This in the Mail? Thursday, Jul 22 2010 

Listening to: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Even the Losers

Well, apparently I “represent the best of” the Kennesaw State University College of Humanities and Social Sciences.  I just received a letter that I made the Dean’s List for Spring 2010.  My Mom would have been proud.  I pulled that off during a semester where I was financially beaten, was providing my mother with her day-to-day care in the last months of her life, and working through some tough classes.

Mom lived long enough to see my grades at the end of the semester in May and that is enough.  Still I wish she could see how far I have come.  I owe it all to her and my wife for teaming up to talk me into going back in the first place.  In two short years, I should have my teaching certificate.  Starting my first year of teaching at the age of 40 is going to be interesting.  I am also hoping to continue on to get my Master’s and Doctorate.

This is my barbaric yawp of the day: w00t!  I MADE THE DEAN’S LIST!

Yeah, that felt good.  It wasn’t especially barbaric, since it had actual words and all, but I think Whitman would understand.

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“O while I live to be the ruler of life, not a slave,
To meet life as a powerful conqueror,
No fumes, no ennui, no more complaints or scornful criticisms,
To these proud laws of the air, the water and the ground, proving
my interior soul impregnable,
And nothing exterior shall ever take command of me.”

~ Walt Whitman

Young Adult Lit Conference Attendance Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

I have not been to any conventions or conferences outside the Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror/Gaming arenas.  On Tuesday, March 30, I went to Kennesaw State University’s Annual Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults.  It was an eye-opening day for me and money well-spent.  I didn’t get to meet any publishers or agents since this was a conference primarily for educators and education students, but I did get to meet some published authors.  Some of the authors I had heard of, but never read.  One was a writer whose first novel I had both read and loved.

Before I go into some of my impressions on this conference, I want to give serious props to Jay Asher.  I have previously met a handful of authors and my experiences have been a mixed bag.  Jim Butcher, author of the excellent Dresden Files series, is a wonderful person to meet.  I met him at Dragon*Con, so I didn’t really get to talk with him at length, but her was very engaging for the minute I had to speak with him.  He also took a pic with me.  Nice guy.

Jim Butcher and me - 2006    Jay Asher and me - 2010

I met another author at Dragon*Con two years later.  I won’t tell you her name since I don’t want to shame her personally.  She had just published her first book and there were not too many people in her line, maybe 5 tops at the time.  Her signing had just started and more well-known author had already established her line beforehand.  I was at the front of her line, having already read and loved her book.  I went to her table where she made a split second of eye contact and proceeded to engage in a full-blown conversation with one of her friends, who happened to be in line behind me, while she signed my book.  She handed it back to me and never, to my knowledge, attempted to make eye contact again.  Now, I don’t want an author to listen to my life’s story, but I kind of want a portion of their attention since I paid money for their book. waited in line (albeit a short one).  What I expect, and I don’t think this is too much, is some appreciation for the small part I played in their success as an author.

Jay Asher, who wrote the excellent Thirteen Reasons Why, was by far the most approachable author I have ever met.  In fact, all of the authors at this particular conference were of the highest caliber when it came to dealing with their fans.  I also met Lisa McMann, author of Wake, Fade, & Gone, and Helen Hemphill, author of Long Gone Daddy, Runaround, and The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones.  All three were among my favorite author meetings of all time.  They took time with us and, in addition to their excellent keynote addresses, hosted smaller breakout sessions.

Jay Asher  Lisa McMann

Helen Hemphill

My only problem with the conference as a whole was that it was only one day.  I would have loved a weekend conference.  There was an Early Grades conference the next day, but my focus is YA.  What this conference taught me is that there is a wide variety of YA novels out there that simply did not exist in my day.  I am in my late 30’s.  When I was a child, there were children’s books and there were adult books.  There was not real gap between Judy Blume and adult novels.  Any books that dealt with serious topics like death, rape, suicide, molestation, etc. were written for adults and practically hidden from high schoolers. 

Last year, I was introduced to Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher and was absolutely blown away.  It covered many of the same tropes that I knew from the teen novels of old: body image, bullying, first love, coming of age, friendship, and family dynamics.  What I didn’t expect to be covered in any YA novel were: suicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, religion, child abuse, physical abuse, mental illness, and attempted murder.  Maybe one or two of those topics at most, but Crutcher seemed to have felt a challenge to see how many serious topics he could logically fit into one novel.  The thing was, the book was good.  Not only did he plug all these things in, but he did so with such skill that they worked.  I was amazed.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

I was goobing out with a friend about that book when she asked me, “Yeah, that book is good, but have you read Thirteen Reasons Why?”  I confessed that I had never heard of it, so she gave me the spiel.  It is the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who commits suicide and records her thirteen reasons for doing so on a series of cassette tapes.  She sends the tapes out to the people who she feels helped her along her path so that they could listen and understand how their actions or inactions brought her to her decision.  I was skeptical that the book would glorify suicide, but Clay Jensen, the boy who receives the tapes in their journey from person to person, gives the book a solid grounding.  At any moment that you start to see things too closely from Hannah’s perspective, Clay interjects his own perspective.  Asher created one of the most disturbing and powerful tales I have every encountered.

I have written a few suspense, horror, and thriller stories in my time.  Until I met Jay and the other authors at the conference, it had never occurred to me that the stories I tell could easily be directed toward a YA audience.  Lisa McMann’s books are about a girl who falls into other people’s dreams against her will.  Helen Hemphill’s books are one-shot stories, though she said that she had been thinking about having a character from Long Gone Daddy run into a character from Runaround in a future novel.  I now own McMann’s Wake and Hemphill’s Long Gone Daddy and I plan on reading them as soon as life allows.  Hopefully that will occur sometime in the next week.

Thirteen Reasons Why  Wake Long Gone Daddy

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"You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything."

~ Hannah Baker (from Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher)

 

Now Playing: Kenny Loggins – I’m Alright (Theme from Caddyshack)

It’s Been a While Wednesday, Feb 24 2010 

I intended on writing here every week at the very least.  We see how that has gone, eh?  See, this is the problem with taking three Literature classes and a World History class at the same time.  As an example of what my life has been like, here is what I have to complete before tomorrow:

American Literature Survey: I have to read “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin and “Wife of His Youth” by Charles Chesnutt. 

Intro to English Studies: We have a quiz on “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which we have already read.  Also, I have to read the intros for all the pieces in the Norton Anthology chapters 1-7, Chapter 7 of another textbook, “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving, and “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.  It seems this is my day for Chopin stories.  Heh.

Introduction to World Civilization: Test on India, China, and world philosophies. 

Shakespeare: I have to read “As You Like It” Acts 1-3 and take a line recognition quiz on it.

My classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the preceding was only one day of classwork.  I somehow thought I would have the energy to do all this, work on my won writing, keep up with a blog, and do all my personal family stuff.  I am married with four children and an elderly parent living with me.  That, my friends, is what we call optimistic on an insane level.

The worst part of all this is that the ideas are still there, battering at my brain.  They want out and, like Lovecraftian creatures from beyond the Abyss of space and time, they don’t care how much of my sanity they take with it.  I had precious little sanity as it stood before I started taking these classes.  The tragedy of it is that most of these classes would have been a joy, if I had taken them with other, less time-consuming coursework.  I mean, what was I thinking taking two literature classes, a world history class, AND Shakespeare???  I love Shakespeare, but it often seems that I don’t have time to read the plays and still keep up with the other readings.  Ah well, I’ll just have to do my best.

 

On the writing front, one of my professors announced a campus writing contest.  Students can submit in any of the following categories: short story, creative nonfiction, poetry, script, play.  I don’t do scripts and plays, but I have a few short stories, a couple of creative nonfiction pieces, and three poems I am considering submitting. 

I was having trouble narrowing down the poetry submissions to one, then I read the fine print and saw that we were limited to three.  Now I just have to narrow down my short story possibilities.  My wife has a favorite story that she wants me to submit, but I don’t know if humorous dark fantasy would work for this competition.  I have a supernatural story that I think might do well.  It is not one of my horror or suspense stories, so I think it might fare pretty well. 

I am planning on emailing one of my former professors whose opinions I trust (and who I don’t believe is one of the judges) to see what he thinks.  More as this situation develops… and as I have time and energy.

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"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

~ Benjamin Franklin

 

Listening to: Cowboy Mouth – Misty Falls

Since Last We Heard From Our Intrepid Novelist… Monday, Jan 25 2010 

After the Cold of Doom, I had the Lingering Crud of Doom.  Between school, family, and a horrible fatigue that set in after the cold, I had nothing left for any creative endeavors.  The last week I have been back to watching what I eat, taking my thyroid meds on a regular basis, and have started a regimen of vitamins that have me feeling better today.  Cowboy Mouth’s Rock & Roll Mardi Gras concert that my son and I went to on Saturday night only helped my flagging spirits.  Cowboy Mouth is almost always an excellent cure for whatever ails me.

In addition to the upturn in my general health, I met with my academic advisor and found that I have a couple classes that I can bypass altogether.  This puts me a bit closer to graduation than I thought I was.  I have also started planning my post-graduate studies.  I have three schools that I am seriously considering for my MA and PhD studies.  I just need to do more research on the various programs and speak with the various reps from the institutions in question before I make a final decision.

One of the nice things is that most of the MA in Creative Writing programs I have looked into require 100 pages of fiction to graduate.  I already have that much and more.  As the man once said, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Anyway, I have class tomorrow.  That means no writing until I get home.  We shall see what tomorrow brings.

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“Write without pay until somebody offers to pay”

~ Mark Twain

 

Now Playing: Cowboy Mouth – Glad to Be Alive

And We’re Off! Wednesday, Jan 6 2010 

Reading over my syllabi for this semester’s classes and it occurs to me that I have bitten off quite a bit considering my current influx of ideas for edits. 

My book is currently at 65k words, which is not a publishable length.  I have a character who is currently underutilized, but has a wealth of potential.  Today, I had some solid ideas as to where I can renovate some scenes and add others to beef up her role, but I have had no time to implement these changes.

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“There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” 

~ Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

I hope to be able to tap that vein tomorrow.

 

Listening to: Paula Cole – Me

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