Vicarious

When I was a little kid, I believed I could do anything.

I wanted a pony, and I didn’t depend on Santa to bring it. I devised a plan myself. I saved my pennies in a glass jar. I listened to the Swap and Shop program on WMSR radio, and when a farmer advertised his pony for sale, I called him.

I interrogated him over the phone. I decided he had what I wanted, and I asked him to deliver it to my grandparents’ house. And that he did in a old pick-up truck. I paid him the $25 I had saved, and I had my pony. I think I was in second grade.

What I didn’t realize is how much that pony would cost. My dad traded his shotgun for a new saddle, and they paid my grandparent’s neighbor for boarding. I also didn’t figure on old Jerry, my pony’s name, to be a mean son of gun. The first day I got him I sat proudly on his back while he was tethered in my grandparents’ front yard.

My silly uncle teased me by neighing like a horse, and for no good reason at all Jerry bucked me off in front of my entire family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents. I was humiliated. But my grandfather talked me into getting back on again, and I wasn’t afraid anymore.

Jerry didn’t stay around too long, but my little pony experience taught me never to stop believing dreams can true.

I miss being a little kid. When we’re little kids, time has no meaning. Life seems to go on forever, and the only thing about time we dreaded was bedtime. But the next day provided another opportunity for adventure.

When you’re a little kid, you can play and pretend and be anything you want to be. When you fall down, scrape your knee, or getting thrown by a horse, there’s usually someone there to pick you up again.

But when we grow up, recess goes away. There’s no time to pretend. No time to play. No time to think our own thoughts. Everyone says, “No you can’t,” and we stop believing we can.

Last night I saw a beautiful sight. My twelve year old was sprawled on my bed reading The Hunger Games. I didn’t force him to read. He asked me to buy the book. I didn’t beg him to read. He sneaked away by himself and took the initiative.

I’m a teacher. I don’t see many young kids, especially boys, who volunteer to read anything.

I get excited when I see young people read because reading gives them a chance to be anything, do anything they want, even if they have to live vicariously through characters in the book.

I wouldn’t discourage any type of reading as long as it wasn’t moral pollution. Comic books, graphic novels, sports magazines, romance novels, etc. I like to read interviews and biographies. Why? Because I can live vicariously through the writers who interviewed the people. In addition to being a novelist in training, I’m a freelance music journalist, and I love writing about artists and their music.

When I read biographies and music magazines, I always imagine myself having a candid one on one chat with the person the story is about.

Some readers like fantasies with dragons, fairies, and all sorts of mythological creatures. Whe readers open the page, they can be on another planet, in another dimension, or in a different era. Reading takes away the “can’t” factor.

I love to read, but I really LOVE to write because I still like to believe all things are possible. I live vicariously through my characters—and so far my books and articles always have a happy ending because I CAN make it happen.

In schools across the state, children of all ages have an “I CAN” mantra. They work from bell to bell, learning one state standard after another. We push, push, push them. And that’s great. We want them to learn.

But I wish they a little more time to pretend again, to play, to imagine, to read for pleasure, to live vicariously through the characters, to believe they CAN do what everyone else says is impossible.

If my dreams do come true, I want to reach the kids who don’t believe they can any more. I want them to take a recess, open their imaginations, dream a dream and believe it CAN come true.

I may have unrealistic expectations, but I still believe in happy endings.

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Éirinn go brách

Ever since I can remember I’ve always been in love with all things Ireland. For the last two days I’ve searched my memories, wondering why. Why am I so fascinated with a country to which I’ve never been?

Surely, my dad is responsible for the influence. Before the Red Sox finally won the championship after seven or so decades, people used to ask me why a Southern girl like me could be so hopelessly in love with a team from “up there,” Boston. My dad loved Boston, and therefore so do I.

I always hoped I could take my father to a Red Sox game. I doubted he’d ever make it to Fenway, but I crossed my fingers for Atlanta. It never happened. When I was pregnant with Michael, I traveled to Boston just about this same time of year, determined to put my feet into Fenway Park, not for me but for my dad. I was determined to do whatever it took.

The first time the security guards kicked me out. This was for my dad.  I couldn’t travel all the way from Tennessee just to be told no. I was going in. If being arrested were part of the deal, so be it. But instead I pleaded with the security guard, and he let me in, and I got to see that glorious Green Monster. I stood in away and took in every detail so I could bring it home to my dad.

There is so much Irish influence in Boston. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to Ireland.

I remember planning a week in advance what I would wear to school on St. Patrick’s Day—the holiday of my people. I was determined, even as an elementary school kid, that I was Irish. The funny thing is that’s exactly what my son Michael did when he was in elementary school. He told all of his friends he was Irish. He would come home and tell me his buddies all commented on his Irish brogue, which, by far, does not exist. His Southern drawl is as Southern as they come.

I’m not embellishing the truth. Irish blood does run through my veins. My great-grandmother Clancy’s parents were born in Ireland. But I also have roots in Denmark. My other great-grandmother immigrated from there.

I think all writers need a magical place that fuels their imagination. For me, that place is Ireland. My favorite place to write a couple of years ago was a coffee house called the Celtic Cup in a nearby town. I used to take my laptop and sip on a peppermint mocha while Irish music and lush Irish scenery played on the flat screen hanging near my table.

And at Christmas a group of local musicians asked me to play Celtic Christmas music with them. I’m not so great at guitar, but I loved the music. I was enchanted by it, moved by it.

I’ve always dreamed of going to Ireland, but I never really believed I would. I am afraid of heights. Therefore, I am afraid of flying. (To be more exact, I’m afraid of falling, crashing.) Therefore, I could never imagine myself on an airplane.

Oh, it’s not like I haven’t flown before. My dad worked with a man who had his pilot’s license, and he took us up in his tiny little four-seater plane. The ride was miserable. My parents kept saying, “Why don’t you look down? Look down. You’re scared, aren’t you. Look at her.” Then they laughed.

I don’t think I would have been so nervous about the whole ordeal if they hadn’t been telling me how afraid I was. Plus, the guy who was flying us failed his motorcycle test on multiple occasions. You tell me? Wouldn’t you have been a bit unnerved?

And for years, I have felt it is just not Biblical to fly in a plane. If God wanted me to fly, we would have given me wings. Right? There’s scripture to back me up—Matthew 28:20. “Lo, I am with you.” It doesn’t say anything about being up there among the clouds.

But times have changed.

I have decided that one day I will go to Ireland, even if it requires strong drink or heavy medication. I will board that plane.

Ireland is like a magnet that just pulls me toward it. Maybe it’s my destiny. But if I ever do go there, I’m not sure I’ll ever come back.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

May the sun shine, all day long,
everything go right, and nothing wrong.
May those you love bring love back to you,
and may all the wishes you wish come true!
~ Irish Blessing

Mind games

Yes, the title’s a a bit deceiving. I’m not really playing mind games, but when it comes to hooking a reader, writers have to execute the right strategies to get their readers into the heads of their characters so their readers can care enough to connect with their characters.

YA writers and readers, I need your input. Being a novice, I am careful to follow all the rules. Survey says—so far—editors don’t fancy adult POV characters telling part of the story, even if young adult characters carry the majority of it.

What do you think? Can a successful YA novel include an adult POV character, especially one who can speak candidly and objectively about the events in the teen world without passing judgment? Will teens buy into the story?

We all have our artistic licenses, and we can navigate inside and outside the boundaries. I have a story or two to tell, and for me to tell it truly, I need to take my young readers into the mind of an adult.

For years, the teacher in me has fought for the young adults, defending their hair styles, clothing choices, tats, piercings, music choices, etc. I’ve heard seasoned adults put down young people because of what they are, the age they are, without getting to know who they are, without getting into their heads.

But now I’m old. I see life from a different perspective. I think the underdog is fastly becoming the older adult, sadly synonymous with antiquated and obsolete, especially the older teacher.

Dedicated older teachers have given their students everything they’ve learned, as well as a portion of their paychecks to buy extra school supplies, and at the end of the day, these same teachers watch their prodigies leave their classrooms and march out to the student parking lots to drive off in shiny new machines, hot from the assembly line.

Meanwhile, after packing their briefcases and bags, seasoned teachers drag their weary bodies and pounds of take-home work to their own junkers waiting for them in the teacher’s parking lot. They count their pennies along the way, hoping they’ll have enough to pay for gas to take them to the middle of next month, pay day. And they wonder, “Do I really have anything that makes these kid want to listen to me?”

When I write, I want to make my young readers feel something about themselves, about their peers, about their mentors. Even if I’m making them laugh, I want them to learn something, to experience Verstehen, “empathy” or “understanding.”

I want to bring people together—not further divide them. The generation gap is growing exponentially.

I think it’s time YA novels, along with other forms of media, stop downplaying the role of the older adult, especially teachers.

It’s not uncommon for young consumers to be media illiterate. They believe everything they’re told. For years, we teachers have been the “bad guys” of most kid shows. Even Charlie Brown’s teacher was just another “Wa Wa Wa WA Wah Wa.”

And have you seen the movie trailers for Bad Teacher, staring Cameron Diaz, Jason Timberlake, and Jason Segel? I don’t want to be portrayed as just another a bad character in the lives of my students. The list goes on. Let us not forget Mr. Herbert Garrison from South Park, Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter, Edna Krabappel from The Simpsons, and Sue Sylvester from Glee. And that’s just fiction!

Turn on the nightly news, and viewers can catch mug shots of teachers who have crossed the line and committed pedophilia and other criminal acts.

Yep, I’m on my soapbox again, but oh how powerful is the act of persuasion.

Let me write. Let me SHOW teens life as it really is. Let ME persuade. Let me take young readers on a trip into the minds of older characters who have been there, done that, and lived to tell about it without condemning or commanding the young people they’re sent to guide.

I believe we writers are doing our YA readers a disservice by not allowing them to listen to the older characters. Yes, teens want to be the stars of their own shows, but they need adults in their lives. They need adults in their books. They need to see into the heads of the adults, to see adults critically, not stereotypically.

Face it. Kids grow up. The thought terrifies them. They need the reassurance that growing up doesn’t mean losing their sense of adventure, their dreams, their sense of wonder. Stepping into the mind of an adult POV character reassures them that growing up doesn’t mean giving up who they are and who they want to be.

I asked my young adult readers what they think about adult POV characters in YA novels. The following is a sample of what they had to say:

  • Rebecca said that adding an adult character who remains a quiet confidant makes the book dramatic because the adult holds a secret but chooses not to tell.
  • Haylee said adult characters work only if they have the “cool” factor and if they’re fun.
  • Lynnie and Payton said likeable adult characters in YA novels provide reliable advice to teen characters.
  • Charlie pointed out that authoritative figures are common in any situation involving teens, but including them in a YA novel provides futher insight or wisdom and creates a parallelism between child and adult.
  • Kayla said she doesn’t have a problem with adults being characters in YA novels because if the adult is cool enough for the characters to interact with then the adult is probably cool enough for the reader to hear his or her thoughts.
  • Izzy said adult characters in YA novels act as guides for the teen characters, and Whitney said adult characters allow teen readers to look up to someone older.
  • Beth said one of her favorite books involves a teacher who is there for her students who need help.
  • Ashleigh, Tyler and Liz said adding an adult character that teens can talk to and relate to makes the story itself more believable, and Aubrey said adult characters create a trustworthy, comforting safety net for both young adult characters and young adult readers.
  • Benjamin pointed out that YA novels with adult POV characters might encourage the readers, especially those in high school, to feel more like adults themselves.
  • And Katie stated the obvious—adults are a part of every teen’s life. Why shouldn’t they play a role in their stories?

So writers, readers, lend me your advice based on your experience. Should writers avoid incorporating adult POV characters in their novels? Tell me what you think. I want to learn from you.