Saturday, December 11, 2010

You've Come a Long Way Baby

With the holidays and new year on the horizon, along with my thesis semester, I think it's time to look back and reflect. With the spirit of reflection in mind, I now present you with THE TOP TEN THINGS I LEARNED THIS SEMESTER (some of which I already knew).

10) Studying what is marketed as young adult doesn't necessarily tell you what young adults really want. After all, those decisions are made by people who are most definitely NOT young adults. Maybe young retirees.

9) No amount of shocking language, situations, sexuality, or violence precludes a novel from being marketed as young adult. Many young adults gravitate toward this.

8) Young adult books tends to be focused on the life of a teenager in the here and now. Those that look back nostalgically at teen life tend to be marketed toward adults.

7) While certain types of young adult that get reluctant readers to open a book through racy plots or larger font are great, we can't make the mistake of thinking that all young adult readers are reluctant readers. Some like a challenge.

6) Some young adult writers didn't set out to be young adult writers. They wrote. A guy in a suit called it young adult. Bam. Young adult writer.

5) What is marketed as young adult does not necessarily make it what young adults want to read. Once again, adults made these decisions. More accurately, you can't make conclusions about what's interesting to young adults by studying what is marketed to young adults.

4) In fact, you may not be able to judge what is interesting to young adults to read by looking at what they are reading. They were told they wanted to read that by the big, bad adults in expensive suits that told them they liked it by labeling "young adult."

3) You don't set out to be edgy. The story sometimes requires it, and backing down from telling the story as accurately to your vision as possible is wrong. Writing it that way simply to make a statement that you can be edgy is LAME.

2) Less people are offended by "edgy" content than you would think. In fact, in the northeast where I live, most people really aren't offended by much at all. Or at least not to the degree that can cause protest and bloody battles. The issue is that those select few that do give a shit CAN MAKE A LOT OF NOISE!

1) Reading makes you want to write. I read A LOT this semester. Like a freakin' ton. And fast. So, my memory might be a little bit of a blur on some of it, but it certainly makes you want to get on the computer and write write write. I remember as a kid watching football and baseball on TV and just wanting to pick up a ball and go do it. Same thing. Let's roll!

Well, that's it for the semester. I imagine this blog will take on a little different look now that each weekly entry is not mandated by my own syllabus. I'd like to talk about whatever floats my boat, and I probably will. But I like the name, so that will probably stay. Who knows what lies in the future. (Hopefully a nice publishing contract). See 'ya at the res if you're a WestConn student. If not, I probably won't see ya, which is probably for the best.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Who am I? v2.0

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-reliance spells it out for me and gives me permission to take back everything I've said before about edgy material in books. While I've called my writing edgy based on some sales advice and some other internet mumbo-jumbo, that was freakin' lame. As the semester winds down, I still find myself fighting for the right  to put and the benefit of putting edgy content in young adult books. That, I proudly proclaim, will never change. Books should not be banned. Kids should read everything--the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I am finally understanding after a semester of digging through the young adult genre and the marketing of said genre that calling yourself edgy is a bit like Emerson running around calling himself The Great Ralph Waldo Emerson. For anyone who rolled their eyes at Michael Jackson dubbing himself "The King of Pop," I apologize.

There was absolutely no intent on my part to include edgy content in my writing as a gimmick. When I've written edgy content in my novels, it was simply because that shit is out there, in the real world, and those are the stories I wanted to tell. The content existed to highlight issues that we all sometimes ignore and conveniently forget about, but that can tell us a lot about ourselves as we try to sort through it and deal with it--however dark it is. Not many kids have to deal with falling in love and lust with their twin sisters, but turning a blind eye to the abuse and guilt that pushed the incestuous couple together doesn't help anyone.

What's more, telling teens they shouldn't read my book simply because it will somehow make them worse off or less of a person to read about a brother groping his sister's breasts is simply insane. I think one of the best things literature does for us--through the concept of a flawed hero--is it makes us, if read with an open mind, more caring and compassionate human beings. Even if they don't identify with Holden Caulfied, maybe students who read and try to understand his plight can then do the same with real classmates having trouble in their lives. Maybe there would be less bullying and the resulting suicides if kids read more. Get them to identify with, or at least cheer on, the kid that's boinking his sister, not so they'll think that's okay (in my novel it is obviously the result of trauma and confusion) so when they run into a confused and abused kid in school they don't think of of him or her simply as a "freak" or "emo" or a "cutter," but rather they try to understand their problems and get the person some help. Or maybe they'll even extend their own helping hands.

I see so many kids talk about not liking this or that person because he or she is different or "weird" or strange in some way. So, being different makes you unlikeable? I know that's not true. I know there are some compassionate teens out there that are open-minded and "cool" enough to try and understand and treat them like humans. We have a Gay-Straight Alliance at my school with over 40 members. Many more show up to the meetings. Yes, there are straight kids that are friends with openly gay students. Sure, there are those that are "grossed out." I choose, however, to believe that those kids probably haven't read enough to identify with and understand people with an open mind. So how is keeping kids away from books about gay boys and girls going to help anything? That's just silly.

So, over the next couple weeks, as a result of my studies this semester, I will be updating my website, this site, and everywhere else I made the ridiculous claim that "William Friskey writes edgy and trendsetting young adult fiction." I feel dirty. Yes, my books may be edgy, and yes, that's great. But to use the term to drum up sales is pretty lame (and hasn't worked). If you've got a problem with that, and can't quite understand me...good. I guess that means I've finally achieved greatness. Thanks Ralph! (But between you and I, I'd lose that "Waldo" part. Most people associate that with a dork that gets lost in crowd, not one that stands out.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dropkicked Your Jacket

What do you do when you have 22 invariably terrible essays on morals in an obscure short story to grade, a paper to write, editing to do on December's center spread, a blog post to think up, revisions on the end of your second novel, and an internship journal to write? Duh! You use Wikipedia and YouTube to research Mr. Belvedere and walk down memory lane. This is an hour and a half of my life that I'll never get back. Sure, I was watching West Virginia lay the smack down on Pitt on behalf of the Huskies at the same time, so I won't consider myself a total loser, but it was procrastination at its best; that's for sure.

What sent me down this road is inconsequential, but what I found was freakin' astonishing. Mr. Belvedere was edgy. In just five seasons, Mr. Belvedere was kidnapped and tortured by an obsessed woman, little Wesley was molested by a Boy Scout leader, Kevin date-raped the supposedly trashy girl at school, and Heather was nearly raped herself (not in the same incident; that would be really edgy!).

Apparently, though I barely remember any of these episodes, these types of shows were so popular in the 80s that they had an industry term for them--very special episodes. These were episodes of family situation comedies that took a break from the silly to highlight a serious issue in society. They were promoted far in advance, and they inevitably brought about controversy. There were racy episodes of almost every 80s situation comedy you could think of. We're talking fairly tame--Punky Brewster's friend getting locked in an abandoned refrigerator--to Alex P. Keaton using speed to help him stay up and study. Did Alf ever have to go to rehab? You can see a top ten of these very special episodes here:

While these kinds of episodes, and the lessons they taught, were cutting-edge in the 80s, they are basically nowhere to be found on today's televisions. Wait, that's because we don't have family television anywhere on TV today! Let's sit down as a family and watch CSI or The Good Wife. Yeah, right! Basically, if you want something you can sit down and watch with your children, you need to flip to Disney Channel and watch Hannah Montana or The Wizards of Waverly Place. (Phinneas and Ferb happen to by my favorites!)

Do you think we'll ever see edgy Disney programming like Hannah Montana's abortion episode or Alex on The Wizards of Waverly Place gets drunk and loses her virginity to a vampire/ware wolf hybrid on Halloween? Not gonna happen. We even had awesome PSAs that really meant something back in the 80s. Who can forget "this is your brain on drugs?" Classic. Today, if kids want to learn the harsh realities of life and how to deal with situations like your British housekeeper helping you through being molested by a camp counselor, where do they turn?

I imagine if a show like Family Ties or Rosanne existed today, we'd be seeing huffing and cutting episodes--very special ones--all over the place or didactic shows exposing the ills of "the pass out game" or internet predators. What strikes me, though, is that as corny as some of this might sound, I think they really did help. I grew up aware that these things could happen, knew to look out for them, and somehow felt like even if I was going to do something stupid, I at least new it was stupid and could take precautions and know if it got out of hand. Today's kids have nothing.

Some argue that these things are so out there in the media today that they don't need to be educated. Kids know this stuff is going on, and they don't need anyone to show them. Well, maybe so. But it doesn't mean they don't need someone to guide them through it. I have so many students that have deadbeat parents or just no real relationship with their parents, that they could use a Mr. Belvedere or a Heathcliff Huxtable to help them through the confusing times in life. Today, they have Google and their friend Terry that masturbates stray cats for fun to help them understand the complexities of moral America.

Part of the issue is the entertainment industry in general, or at least the way kids choose to get their entertainment today. Video games. Internet. They don't sit and watch TV that much anymore anyway. If there were shows like Growing Pains today--which did an episode on eating disorders--there would be no kids that wanted to sit and watch them. I guess the parents could make them from a young age, but I don't know if that would happen. I long for the days when life was simple. When child molestation, date rape, drug use, eating disorders, masturbation, teen drinking, abortion, suicide, and drunk driving could all be solved in a 60 minutes very special episode where families were shocked together, cried together, and then talked about it afterward. Good touch and bad touch were as simple as good TV.

Is this the niche that the edgier young adult fiction is filling? I don't know. I don't know that a ton of kids are reading this type of book and sitting down and discussing the issues with their parents. The reality of the novels also make it hard to have that cheesy moment at the end where we all learn our lesson, where Dr. Seaver makes a difference. Not to mention, I'm sure those 80s sitcoms had better ratings.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Teens talk funny. They say things like "yer" to mean "I agree wholeheartedly" and "sketchy" to mean "suspicious and possible a rapist." Now, while every generation has it's own lingo, and spending so much time with teens has led to me adopting plenty of these speech patterns, there are a few things that they say, along with some adults, that some feel are extremely, even if accidentally, offensive. Those are "gay," "fag," and "retard."

We'll attack "retard" first. It's almost universally accepted that when someone says you are a retard or are retarded that it has nothing to do with an actual mental disability. It simply means you're being dumb, doing something stupid, or both. Everyone knows this, yet some are still offended by it. I, personally, am not offended, but I realize why some would be--especially those with family or friends with mental disabilities. They're used to people making fun of their loved ones by using these words. I'm torn on the subject. The technical terminology has been changed to several more PC terms like "mentally challenged," "mentally disabled," and even "exceptional." So retard is almost always NOT a direct attack on the mentally challenged. Times have changed. Maybe it's as acceptable as stupid, dumb, or idiot. You can't constantly worry about who you are offending, and it's become so much a part of our daily verbal ejaculations that it's hard to yell at every kid that says "retard." But, I do worry that I might be wrong, and if that's the case, I apologize.

Next comes "gay." Gay almost never means homosexual in today's teenage lexicon. It just means lame or boring or sometimes too feminine. Now, while we do not refer to the mentally challenge as mentally retarded anymore, we do still call homosexuals "gays." In fact, most homosexuals I know refer to themselves as gay. So, in my opinion, there is a difference here. I have to admit, I've let a "gay" slip here and there. I was an insensitive teenager once upon a time, and it's hard not to just let old habits slide. But I've come to be annoyed by those who use the term "gay" a bit. I understand they don't mean it, in most cases, as a slight to homosexuals. They simply don't think at all. I will, from time to time, let them know that they should say what they mean and mean what they say, but I will forgive the transgression from time to time. I'm a very forgiving person.

Finally, we come to "Faggot." Faggot was never an acceptable term for homosexuals--it has always been an insult. Sometimes teens use it as an insult for a friend jokingly having nothing to do with homosexuality, but usually it is a sign of homophobia. Even when not used on a gay or lesbian individual, it is a way of saying "you're just as bad as those foggots who I hate for being gay." There's historical context for it, too. It originally came from burning mass quantities of homosexuals to death for being different. Some students joke, "What? It's just a bundle of sticks for burning. That's what it says in the dictionary." Then I follow up with "Do you know why that term became used by some to homosexuals?" And, of course, they don't. I liken "faggot" to "nigger" in that the words just conjure up feelings of violent hatred and a history of murder, torture, and pain. They are ways to dehumanize. They create victims. I don't say it. I don't like others saying it.

This is an issue for me because I am so anti-censorship it hurts. Also, fear of a word only increases it's power. There are those that say we should overuse the words in order to "take them back" and lesson their impact on society. I'm not so sure. But, as usual, I can see both points. I don't know.

I was teaching Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning to my students in order to use them to judge characters, something I do every semester because I find it fascinating and it helps students to find sympathy for characters who may not always be perfect. Kohlberg's point was that morality isn't embedded in an act but rather the reasoning behind the act. It's not what you do but why you do it. So, if I truly believe that, which I think I do, I would have to say that using those words, any of them, in itself is not immoral. It's the way they're being used and why they're being used that matters. That, of course, would force us to judge every time we heard those words why they were being used. So, maybe I'm being retarded or gay, maybe I'm a big faggot or even a pussy, but if you have another word you can use instead, why not chose that word and avoid the whole damn controversy in the first place?

That being said, however, we have to be careful when it comes to these words being used in literature. Even if you believe using these words makes a kid the Antichrist, you can't deny that some do talk like this. Some talk like this constantly. So when characters in a work of literature use them, let's not attribute them to the author. We can't confuse the ideas and thoughts of characters with the author. Somebody wrote the Saw series of movies. Is he a serial killer? (Maybe subconsciously if we want to get into Freud and all that.) What about Mark Twain? Was he a racist for using the word "nigger" 2.7 billion times in his writing? Some think so. They are dumb. So if a character drops a few "retards" and "fags," let's not crucify the author. It's a short jump from making that mistake to total censorship.

Down with the man.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cutting the Cutting

What a mess we human beings are.

I just finished reading the book Cut for my Individual Aesthetic and Process class, and I began thinking about what I've been writing recently. I've finished one novel and the first draft and some light revisions of a second, and one thing that keeps coming up is self-harm (or self-mutilation).

"Self-mutilation" has sort of gone out of vogue because it becomes confusing if you're talking about things like tattooing or piercing or actual, harmful mutilation. So, we'll call it self-harm. I'm not an expert by any means, but I have a little experience from my own past that I could share. I also have some experience with it due to issues I've discussed with students, and I also did some quick research in conjunction with teaching The Catcher in the Rye where some might see Holden as involved in cathartic self-harm. He get's himself beat up twice when he could easily have stopped the abuse, punches out windows of his garage, and admits his favorite person in The Bible is the "lunatic" that sits alone in a cave cutting himself with rocks.

What I've learned is that most of what we think about "cutters" is false. There are some shocking facts out there.

1) All cutters are not Marilyn Manson listening, black leather wearing creatures of the night. In fact, there's cases of teens from all walks of life participating in self-harm. And it's not always cutting. Some use hot water, some punch walls, some poke themselves with pins or flick themselves in sensitive areas with rubber bands. Some bite themselves. Some rub at their flesh with all kinds of objects that cause pain. All teens are going through the toughest time of their lives, and all teens have problems that are important to them (even if they seem shallow to us). Princess Diana was a cutter. Google celebrities that have come out as cutters; you'll be surprised. The research when I checked, three years ago, was something like a third of all college students have participated in some type of self-harm at some time in their lives. That's a lot.

2) Cutters are not looking for attention. On the contrary, most are extremely ashamed of their habit, their compulsion. They WANT to stop. They just can't. Some people can't stop drinking, some smoking, some doing drugs, some eating, some having sex. Well, cutters can't stop cutting. The most common of the two big reasons is a sense of anxiety and stress that can only be temporarily relieved through pain. It's a release, endorphins and all that, and momentarily all that crap that's freaking them out goes away. The only problem is, the self-hatred from the cutting leads to more of those anxious feelings, more of that confusion and worry, and the the need to cut more. The other reason is dissociative feelings. The feeling that you don't exist. The feeling that you can't feel. These cutters feel they are so far removed from reality, that it's going on around them and they aren't included, that they cut themselves subconsciously (or sometimes consciously) just to feel that they are real. They're so dissociated that a pinch isn't enough. Either way, the last thing these people want is attention. They hide the scars. They put them in hidden places--upper thigh is popular. They make up excuses when they can be seen. "I run into a lot of doors" is one I've heard.

3) Self-harm is not harmless. Those committing self-harm are not suicidal (at least not most of the time). But it doesn't mean that if you find out a friend is doing this, you should just let it go and be happy they aren't doing any "permanent damage." What might be more harmful if untreated than the symptom of self-harm, is the condition causing it. The feelings that lead one to self-harm could be some severe psychological issues and disorders. Sometimes we forget that our psychological health can be as important to us as our physical health. They are, in some ways, interconnected. You should be just as worried about your friend's mental health as his or her physical health. And accidents can happen. When someone is routinely doing something like this to his or herself, chances are, eventually it will go too far. They need someone to talk to. They may need medication. But most of all, they need to stop the compulsion.

When I was 17, I remember a few straight days of just lying in bed all day listening to mixed tapes, wondering what the point was. I was madly in love with one of my best friends who had no idea, or if she did, she was happy pretending she didn't so she wouldn't have to hurt me. She wasn't interested. I was like a brother. My other friends seemed to lead such exciting, happy lives. I just lay in bed wondering why I wasn't part of it. While feeling particularly dissociative, I remembered reading about Marilyn Manson and his cutting. Remembered seeing the lattice work of scars across his chest when I saw him live in concert. Remembered him breaking a wine bottle on stage after taking a swig, and drawing it across his ribs, letting the blood leak out. I read about how it was such a release and how Princess Diana did it, too. I went into the junk drawer, grabbed a box cutter, and went at the back of my calf where I had a scar from something else in childhood. Nobody would notice. I started to drag the blade across the muscle, wondering if it would actually help.

The blood came out in gobs. I never expected so much. I'd barely done anything. It wasn't even that deep. The cut was less than a half inch long. But it bled. It bled a lot. Doogie, my miniature poodle who was wallowing in my depression with me, pounced on the floor and began licking it up. Apparently, I tasted pretty good. A roll of paper towels, a Band Aid, and a quick doggie snack later, I sat on the bed laughing at myself. What a scene. I couldn't even mutilate myself correctly. But I would never do that again.

From then on, I did find solace in hurting myself from time to time--but I limited it to punching myself really hard in the legs, leaving pretty harsh bruises. I can talk about it now--no problem. I know why I did what I did, and I know it wasn't a smart way to deal with my issues. I also know that I wish I had someone, something to make me not feel so alone. I wish I had Cut to read, or one of my own novels.

This was only a couple months, if that, of my life. The "cutting" was just one stupid kid experiment, and I never then or now considered myself a "cutter." But I will never judge or stereotype teens who participates in this behavior. They need help. They need to talk. And we should all try to understand and help the right way, not by ridiculing or dismissing it as "teenage angst."

The end. Go Patricia McCormick.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Clone Wars: Freedom vs. Keith Olbermann

Why does life have to be so complicated? Keith Olbermann has been suspended from MSNBC indefinitely for donating to the campaigns of Democratic candidates. Taken at face value, it would seem to be an egregious violation of Mr. Olbermann's rights. I'm free to donate to Republican candidates even though my union always endorses Democratic candidates. No biggie. Not that I ever would, mind you.

The problem is that Keith is a member of the press. The press is supposed to be impartial and tell all sides of the story, n'est pas? Well, that's what we've always been told at least. But it seems somewhere in the 90's the rule book was rewritten. Now we chose to get our news from he or she that supports our own political beliefs. What's the harm in that? If I'm a liberal, I tune in to Keith's Countdown and listen to his rants against everyone from George Bush to Rupert Murdock.

And if that offends me, I can turn to FOX News and listen to the Huckabees and O'Reillys of the world spewing their hatred for anyone not old and white. That's perfectly fine. See, equal opportunity. The liberals have their havens and the conservatives have theirs. Sure, it's not the traditional idea of equal, unbiased coverage, but it's basically the same idea, right?

WRONG! What this new media polarization has left out is...The Undecided Voter. The Moderate. The Independent. I, being a registered Democrat, would of course like more of those wishy-washy flip-floppers to tune into MSNBC to hear the news from Keith, Rachel, and Chris rather than hearing the evil messages of Bill and Mike. But the truth is, when Mr. or Mrs. wishy-washy tunes in to what they think is unbiased news, they are likely to be swayed based on the station his or her boob tube is tuned in to.

But maybe the wishy-washy flip-floppers have a point. Maybe we should take each individual circumstance and candidate as a completely separate situation and realize that, at times, both sides have good points. And in such cases, it seems to me, that both sides are wrong.

Should taxes be as low as possible and the government let us live our lives? Yup.

Should programs be in place for those who need them and health care be provided as a right, not a privilege? Yup.

But, sadly, you can't butter the bread on both sides without making a mess. Something's gotta give. This is why I have to ask, why does life have to be so complicated? Do evil people sometimes deserve to die in my mind? Probably. Is it somehow hypocritical, icky, and immoral to kill someone even if he or she did commit unspeakable acts? Um, yeah. I think so. Why can't the world realize that there's no clear-cut answer in any case. We all have our opinions on what's the right way to live, but who knows for sure? Nobody.

I'm left wondering what to do with my political life. I used to be an Independent, but I always voted for the Democrat, so it seemed like I was a Democrat. But I sometimes wonder if I'm wrong. Then I think, what I'm really trying to decide is what politicians I agree with--the Dems or Repubs. Guess what. It's neither. What I'm realizing is that NO politician is truly a representative of my ideals. What we do in this country--no, in this world--is elect those who want to be elected; that is, we give power to those who are not looking out for our best interests but who simply want power. That's why they run. They're not me. They don't represent me. They're greedy, power-hungry turds. I wouldn't want to "have a beer" with any of these uptight scum bags.

I am, in a small way, part of the press myself now. I advise a high school newsmagazine. Through an amazing turn of events, my editor-in-chief, a brilliant young lady, had the opportunity to interview both Tom Foley (Republican candidate for governor of CT) and Dan Malloy (Democratic candidate for the same office) in consecutive months. After getting to hear their conversations with her, I decided they were both full of shit up to their eyeballs. In fact, not only did I get the impression they weren't in it for the right reasons, I got the impression that neither of them put much thought into their own beliefs. That their beliefs weren't theirs to begin with. They don't even know what they stand for. They stand for either a donkey or an elephant and that's about it. They were pawns of an ideology they'd been spoon fed since they chose one of only two paths offered to them as young men.

Even in a relaxed conversation with a 17 year-old, the cliches were shooting around the room left and right. They were programmed machines. By whom, I don't know. It's like archetypes in literature. I feel like each Republican candidate for any office is just another Reagan and any Democrat is Franklin Roosevelt 2.0. We just keep hearing different packagings of "Trickle Down Economics" and "New Deals" over-and-over and none of it works a damn. WTF.

So what does that leave us? Nothing. We might as well define ourselves as one side or another and vote straight down party lines because that's the only choice we have. All Democratic politicians are the same and so are all Republicans. They all fall in line. All with the same message. No new ideas. No thinking outside the box. No thinking at all. The truth is, the minds that are making the decisions aren't qualified--they were simply the people that wanted the power, so they ran. They erased everything that made them an individual and became Reagan or Roosevelt just so they could be the head of something. Depressing. Therefore, we might as well separate our news coverage. There's no in between.

Until this world puts those in office who are not seeking office (a logical impossibility), we are doomed. No hope. Truth is, I have more faith in my journalism class under its current structure to run this country than all the jokers plodding around trying to scrape up a little more power in Washington and every state and local government combined. And my guys and gals are only high school students. But at least their hearts are in the right place, and their minds are free of corruption. They believe in what they believe in, not what they had to believe in to gain power.

So, Olbermann, a Teddy Roosevelt, gave some money to a few other Teddy Roosevelts. Not a big deal. Certainly, not a new deal. So what if all the FOX News Reagan clones give to other Reagan clones. They're all the same. All we need is one Republican and one Democrat sitting in one room together to make all the decisions for the entire world and the results would be the same. Nothing would happen.

I'm too old and too indocrinated into the system to stop now. I'll keep voting Democrat hoping I can get more Roosevelts in power than Reagans. But maybe the new generation can find a way to create a revolution that leads to leadership that deserves it, not leadership that simply wants it. Fat chance. The system has been good to Reagans and Roosevelts and they will fight to keep it the same, even if they don't understand why.

Maybe a true independent will run for president some day and win--then we can have three archetypes in the room making decisions, a tie breaker. Maybe then, only then, will anything get done--for better or worse.

Oh, and MSNBC, let Keith back on the air. He's entertaining.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Andrew Smith: In His Words

As a student in Western Connecticut State University's MFA in Creative and Professional Writing program, I have been afforded numerous opportunities the average pretend writer of the street doesn't get. One of these has been the opportunity to discuss writing with some amazing published writers. One of those writers, Karen Romano Young, who suggested this blog topic to me and is currently my mentor as I try to find my place in today's literary market, put me in touch with another such writer--Andrew Smith.

Through my connection with Andrew, I've been able to get my hands on and review The Marbury Lens in advance of its release, and have now even had the opportunity to interview the man, the myth, and the legend on life since returning from Marbury, writing, the YA market, and a bunch of other stuff and junk. So without further adieu, here is my interview with Andrew Smith, author of Ghost Medicine, In the Path of Falling Objects, and the forthcoming The Marbury Lens.

I know you've said that you didn't set out to be a young adult author. What do you think it is about your writing that made the powers that be classify it as YA?
To be honest, I wrote my first novel, Ghost Medicine, on a kind of a dare from a lifelong friend who is the published author of something like 20 nonfiction books. Although I had written numerous novel-length manuscripts in the past, I never thought about publication until I was challenged into it. So, when I wrote Ghost Medicine, which was a story I'd been thinking about for quite some time, I didn't think about genre or audience at all -- I just thought about writing a book that I would pick up and read if I saw it in a bookstore. When I finished the book and started thinking about finding an agent, I asked my friend to look over initial drafts of a query letter, and she said something like, "Oh... this sounds like YA. Be sure you query agents who represent YA."

Though you may not have gone into Ghost Medicine thinking YA, by the time you sat down to write The Marbury Lens, had that changed at all?
Well... yes and no. I had a multi-book contract with my publisher, and the books were already written and submitted. I was going through a time when I felt like I really needed to tell this story, so I sat down and began writing it. Without going into too many details, I will say that there are elements of The Marbury Lens that are intensely personal -- demons I felt it was time to exorcise.

I never thought anyone would ever pick this thing up as YA. In fact, I never set out thinking about publishing it at all -- it was more like a therapy trip for me. I mean... come on! This can't be YA, can it? Anyway, during the writing process, my editor, out of curiosity, asked me to tell her about what I was working on. So we spoke over the phone, and I told her this story -- The Marbury Lens. She wanted to see it right away.

I wasn't finished writing it at the time. I think I sent her about 150 pages initially, and I was certain she was going to say something like "What the fuck is this?" But, like I said, I didn't want to get it published, anyway, and we have a relationship, I think, that runs a bit deeper than just an editor/writer relationship, so I wasn't afraid of exposing my inner haunts to her.

Basically, she said give me this now. So I finished the book and gave it to her. Then I dedicated it to her. Nobody else would have ever gotten that thing out of me. I am terrified about it being published, too. I cringe every time somebody else reads it. I hate talking specifically about it. I sometimes think the book is trying to kill me.

How much thought, if any, do you give to your audience as you write?
I think about my audience constantly. It is an audience of one, and he is a picky snob when it comes to reading. He is not at all impressed by cookie-cutter novels and has absolutely no time or patience for things that are trendy.

Do you think that being a teacher influences your writing in any way? Do you have your students in mind to any extent while you're writing?
If you're going to have a day job, being a teacher is probably the best day job -- on so many levels -- for a writer. You get to hear so many stories every day, you stay in touch with the ways people actually say things, and there's gobs of time to write all year round. As far as having my students in mind when writing, I'd have to say no to that.

There is some "edgy" content in The Marbury Lens, including graphic, gory violence and a near sexual assault. Do you think this will increase it's appeal to young adults or make it harder for them to get hold of?
The "edgy" elements in The Marbury Lens weren't included to attract readership. If that were the case, they would be -- by definition -- gratuitous. I had a real struggle when writing the book about how far was too far, so I asked advice from a number of people, including teens, bloggers, teachers, librarians, authors, and booksellers. I wanted to know what other people thought about the inclusion of sex, violence, and swearing in a novel that is principally about teenagers. All of the advice I got made me feel a little better... that I wasn't committing some vast moral transgression by writing what I believe was honest prose.

I also thank all those people in the acknowledgments section of the book (and I happen to be blogging about that this week, too).

As for Freddy's assault toward Jack, did you ever consider going  all the way and having Freddy complete the act? Why did you not have the full act occur?
The human eye has a blind spot in it. The brain automatically corrects for this and fills in the missing pieces. I leave blind spots in my writing. For some people, these ambiguities are frustrating. Others are engaged by them. I do this intentionally, and it is not a mistake. How do you know Freddie didn't -- as you say -- complete the act? Because of Jack's denial of it? Do you think Jack would tell? Even his best friend? Why do you think so many of these kids who were victimized by priests never came forward for decades? Do you think there was some kind of hysteria or falsely contrived memory?

On the other hand, assuming your interpretation -- that the sexual nature of Freddie's assault (because it was a sexual assault, no matter how far he took it) stopped before a certain point -- does the limit of his violation in any way contribute to a lessening of the consequence to Jack, and ultimately to Freddie? These are just things that I wonder about, as a writer -- specifically what you say by NOT explaining something. Like the beginning of The Stranger by Camus. People have been arguing for decades what's going on there. Hopefully, people will be theorizing for a long time about Jack and Seth, about Jack's becoming a "monster," and about what he really does to those boys in the last sentences of The Marbury Lens.

The three novels seem not only different in subject matter, but almost completely different genres (especially Marbury which has a sci-fi side to it). Why do you think some authors are so attached to one genre, while you seem to move easily between different ones?
I don't know about the "move easily" part. I recently whined to my editor that it feels like I've been stuck in Marbury for the past 2 years. Thankfully, the next novel, STICK, is a postmodern thing with some experimental structuring in the narrative. So... different again.

Why do I think some authors are so attached to one particular genre? Well... the not-so-diplomatic answer is because they just keep telling the same story over and over. They just change the names and places. It's very easy, and it's low-risk, especially if you find some financial success and have bills to pay, so you look at what you produce as being little more than another day at the job. I know that might not be a very nice thing to say, but you asked what do I think. Just because I think it doesn't make it right or true. But I don't read books by authors who do that shit.

What was your experience like dealing with agents, publishing companies, and editors when working on The Marbury Lens? Did you have any struggles dealing with the racier issues, the switch to a sci-fi style novel, and the overall uniqueness of the plot and setting(s)?
Surprisingly, no. But nobody so much as whispered or hinted that I take out any of the sexual content or descriptions (Jack and Nickie have sex in the second half of the book, and it's pretty graphic), and I thought they were certainly going to ask me to reduce my f-bomb count, but they never went there, either. It amazes me what that number (the f-bomb count) turned out to be, because I don't notice them so much. But, trust me, there's a lot of fucking f-bombs in the book.

If you were Jack and Connor, would you be able to resist going back to Marbury?
Of course I would go back. How could I stop myself. I go back every night when I'm lying in bed, trying to go to sleep. That's what the book is really all about. It's not about putting on glasses and going into an alternate universe, it's about not being able to let go of things, revisiting the things that fucked you up, wondering about how things might be if you were born someone else, and all those issues are wrapped up nicely inside a thick coating of self-doubt, teenage rage about being ignored, the adolescent wondering about sexuality, if you're normal, being afraid of connecting with someone and exposing your vulnerabilities. Yeah... welcome to Marbury, Jack. And fuck you, too.

What are your feelings on the debate between teaching young adult to students and the importance of teaching them the literary canon?
Today's literary canon is more like a water pistol. So many of the good books have been replaced. But more significant than that is the idea that kids are no longer developed and encouraged through their adolescence to keep alive the love of reading that they had when they first began to read the simplest words. Kids love to read, and they will always love to read when they have choices presented to them by a knowledgeable and capable guide. Parents don't do this so much any more. I'm not bagging on parents, though. I can't even begin to tell you how many teachers tell me they "hate" to read, not to mention how many English teachers have never read anything that wasn't forced onto them by some institution or state agency.

Thanks so much to Andrew for his kindness and candid answers. Get yourself a copy of The Marbury Lens as soon as you can.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Marbury Lens

I can't tell you how long it's been since I picked up a book that I couldn't put down. You know the kind. The kind where you finish what you planned to read at 11, but you just have to keep going, so four chapters later it's 12:30, and your next day is shot. Well, actually I can tell you. It was, like, a couple days ago. And it's called The Marbury Lens.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a advanced reader copy of Andrew Smith's latest effort (thanks Andrew), and found myself unable to put it down until the very last line. The story differs a bit from Smith's past novels (Ghost Medicine, In the Path of Falling Objects) with a bit of a science fiction twist.

I've tried writing a plot summary a number of times, but no matter how hard I try, I can't do it without giving away something I wouldn't want to know as a reader. So, we'll just say that Jack finds a portal to another world, with another Jack, and can live in both worlds. Though Marbury is no Eden--imagine a white desert wasteland with no food, water, or clothing where "devils" hunt people just to do so, and the carnage is devoured by dog-sized, roach-like "harvesters." Um, and lots of people are dead, so there's mad, crazy ghosts, yo.  WTF!

As horrid as Marbury is, Jack can't keep himself from going back. Could you? I think the best thing about the novel is how each situation just begs for you to consider what you would do in the same situation. If you had this magic in your pocket, could you keep yourself from using it? I mean, interdimensional travel is pretty badass, n'est pas? I'd be there, no matter who cracked out the other dimension is.

The story is dark and brings you to places you probably don't want to go inside your own mind and heart, but ignoring those places and pretending the world is a safe and happy place isn't good for you either. In the end, Marbury, and Jack's battle within himself as he tries to stay away and preserve his relationships and sanity, become more than a literary metaphor. They become a metaphor for what's going on inside you as you read the book and deal with your own demons. Reading Marbury isn't just an adventure, it's a personal emotional journey for the reader. Smith forces you to deal with your own "devils" before you're engulfed by the harvesters in your own life. It's an experience, but not one for the faint of heart.

The prose is just as melodic and poetic as Smith's previous works, so if you're put off by sci-fi, don't be scared away from this novel. It's about as realistic as apocalyptic, interdimensional travel can be. The short paragraphs, short chapters, and rhythmic pacing make the 350+ pages go by quickly, and the carefully unraveled mystery will have you turning the pages at record pace.

But perhaps the strongest facet of the novel is Smith's ability to make the reader feel the same jones for Marbury as Jack, while giving that same reader enough to look forward to in our world to keep it interesting when not in Marbury. The ultra-interesting, sexy, and lovable Nickie (she's also British--how cute) and the relationship with his best friend Connor make for an interesting narrative grounded in what we see as reality, while the adventure and action in Marbury keep pulling us back. In the end, I was left sad I'd never see Marbury again, as grotesque a place as it is, because I was done with the book.

Now, I have to give you fair warning. If you're one of those beach-reader types that like everything clear cut with a nice little bow on top, you're looking in the wrong place. There's enough ambiguity to drive some mad, while others will revel in Smith's gift--letting us figure things out for ourselves. This is a smart read as much as it is a fun one.

The Marbury Lens is YA, but will hook teens and adults alike. While the violence and action can be graphic, and there's enough cursing and sex to turn off prudes, it's nothing teens haven't heard or seen before on the old boob tube. All in all, I liken it to a complex, dark concept album by a raunchy rock band, so if you like to think and explore the demons alive and well in our own dimension, in your own life, The Marbury Lens is for you. I'm not saying it's life changing, but it's a start.

The Marbury Lens is out November 9th from Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan. Visit Andrew Smith's blog at

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who Am I?

When I finished my first manuscript for Scout's Honor, which is now in the hands of two agents, I cried. Not because I just finished a novel. Not because I wrote a book. But because the story and the ending made me cry. It was at that moment that I was absolutely sure I'd written a literary masterpiece for the ages. But I was also absolutely sure that it was poorly written, lacked believability, and had to be absolutely the biggest floppy turd of a book ever written. Could it even be called a book?

In that vulnerable state, I was told that I should market it as YA. It was about teens. I hoped teens would read it. In fact, my students were part of the reason I wrote about a teen in the first place. Perfect. YA is all that's selling. I'm YA, fo shizza!

Then, while shopping the manuscript to an agent, I was further told that the market is really open for young, male voices in edgy YA. Publishers are searching for stuff for guys to read. The YA market is saturated with girly stuff and edgy is in. YA needed to toughen up. Kick some ass. And, furthermore, publishers are looking for "regular" writers writing about teens to sell as YA, not YA writers writing what they think teens want to read. Teens want to read about themselves and their issues, but want the hard edge and complexity of adult writing. This I heard, this I thought sounded amazing, and this I latched onto. I became William C. Friskey, edgy YA writer.

I'm now a semi-finalist (top 10 out of "hundred") in a Red Room short fiction contest for a story about a fifth grader dealing with love and loss with a historical tinge. It's certainly not YA. But I bet young adults would enjoy it. In fact, the actual young adult I know that read it really loved it. Of course she really loved Scout's Honor, too, which I'm peddling as YA.

At the summer residency for my MFA program at Western Connecticut State University, I finished second in a flash fiction slam. The judges all made it a point to talk to me after and tell me how much they enjoyed the story. Was it YA? Not at all. It was a somewhat dirty humor piece about internet lust and clueless maleness. But you know what? Teens would love it. Their parents and schools might not like that they love it, but they would.

I'm currently working on a twisted, dark, supernatural and sexy tale that I think teens would love. But it's content is so taboo and some of the sex so graphic that in a workshop at that same residency I was told that it was definitely not YA. But I know that teens would like it. And I think of it as really edgy, trendsetting YA. But I'm usually wrong about everything, so who knows?

So, what the heck am I doing with my life. All my future ideas involve teens except a couple. So am I a YA writer? What the hell am I? What should I do? Why am I getting so old? And, more importantly, why do I care?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fix Me

I am broken.

Not in the "I-am-giving-in-because-my-will-is-broken-and-I've-given-up-on-humanity-so-you-can-now-brainwash-me-with-your-sugary-morning-cereals-and-Lexus-commercials" kind of way. Far from it. You won't get me that easy. I'm just defective. A product of faulty wiring.

See, I'm incapable of being offended. I'm lacking the gene. It's like my metaphorical gag reflex was not installed in me at birth (or whenever the hell your gag reflex develops). None of the words on George Carlin's list make me blush. Not even a bit. I listen to Slipknot, a band with lyrics such as "I wanna slit your throat and fuck the wound" and Murderdolls, a band that cheers "Murder to the left/Murder to the right/Hello/Goodbye/Die, Die, Die!" to a catchy punk/pop guitar hook and orders "Bow down and bleed for me!"

Not offended.

I get the tongue and cheek hilarity of it all. I sing along in the car with the sunroof open like it's Katy Perry lamenting about the trials of being a California Girl.

Sex jokes? Funny. Racist jokes? Well, not funny but not offended. It just gives me fodder to make fun of the racist. Go ahead. Make fun of me. Think of a way. I just don't care. Try me.

I don't know what's wrong with me. Perhaps some emotional scaring from childhood has given me this psychological defense mechanism. Throw all the naughty words at me. Give me "fuck, shit, pussy, dick, cunt, cock, clit."

Whatever. Not offended.

What about crazy, sexually disgusting things out there in fetish land? Look them up: "blumpkin, donkey punch, dirty Sanchez."

It's all good. Not offended. Laughing, actually.

South Park? Mild. Family Guy? Tame. Faces of Death? Now that's entertainment! See. Nothing. Jam all the profanity, sexuality, and down right dark and twisted perversion down my throat you want, not even a little choke. Nada!

So it baffles me. Blows my mind. Totally fucks my shit up when people get offended by books. I was reading Doing It by Melvin Burgess, a cheeky chap to say the least, waiting for the offensive, disgustingly revolting sexual rampage that I'd been promised by several online warnings about the book's content. Where is it? It fades to black more often than a 2-10 boxer. Sure it says dirty words leading up to the super-sexy, and maybe being turned on by sex between a cougar teacher and dumb kid should make me feel bad about myself, but the actual deed isn't really described. No biggie. Even if it was, I wouldn't mind so much. And it's even written in British!

Then I thought about what would happen if I sent a copy home with a class full of high school freshman. The fallout would be immeasurable. If I had another job lined up, it would make for a fun social experiment. I wonder what it is that makes some so ultra-sensitive and others so ultra-numb (or cool as I like to see it). Did I not mature properly? Or do I possess some wisdom the average Joe on the street can't even understand since it's just so fucking amazingly profound and someday I'll be hailed as a prophet or something and statues of me milking cows in a girdle will be built from sea to shining sea and in amber waves of grain?

Or maybe I'm just broken.

Fix me, please? Thank you.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What Do You Want From Me?

As a self-proclaimed YA writer, though I converted, I've been driving myself crazy trying to find out what the hell YA is, what are the criteria, and do I fit them. What I've figured out so far, through reading just a few titles on both sides of the divider, is that YA is simply stuff and junk that teens would like to read.

Sounds impossible, right? How the hell do I know what the little ankle-biters want? I'm pretty sure they don't even know what they want half the time. Well, it turns out in four years of teaching, and countless years in retail bossing the little whipper-snappers around, I have a pretty good feel for what they like.

Since they seem to be incurably negative,* it's probably easier to talk about what the don't like. What they don't like is stereotypical teens. What they don't like is being portrayed as only caring about their cell phones and their iPods. What they don't like is having to stop every five seconds because they don't know a word or to re-read a passage because the sentences are a page long and wind around themselves twelve times over. In short, they don't like pretentiousness.

I know they do like funny. They like to laugh. Not pretentious, complex humor that we all know isn't really funny, but we laugh at it anyway so we don't look like the beer drinker among wine aficionados. Sure, you may say, "they just like immature potty humor and curses!" Well, potty humor and curses are fucking funny.

They also like when teens talk like teens. This goes back to pretentiousness. They don't like some teen rambling on like Edgar Allan Poe or F. Scott Fitzgerald or a seventeen year-old saying things like, "I'm not quite sure" or "You don't say." They just want to punch him in his fucking mouth. To tell you the truth, so do I.

They do like sex. They do like drugs. They do like edgy content, but to tell you the truth, so do adults. Compare plots. Which do you want to read? Drug dealing pimp falls in love with his drug addicted cutter of a prostitute or Johnny gets a new iPod for Christmas and thanks Mom and Dad with a big hug. They cry. Unless the crying has to do with the abuse Mom and Dad bestowed upon Johnny when he was younger and Mom is addicted to meth and Dad wears women's underwear to work, who gives a fuck?

I bet you like sex, don't you?

Now that you mention it, I don't think adults like pretentiousness much either. I think the average reader out there doesn't want to get on the plane with a paperback novel and Webster's latest tome. In fact, they'd probably have a kindle and dialed up on their laptop, but either way, it's a big inconvenience. Can't we have thought-provoking reading that doesn't involved talking in knots?

Therefore, it is my contention that YA literature is literature that human beings would like to read, rather than literature that human beings force themselves to read. Maybe all that's not YA us big boys and girls have just been forcing ourselves to swallow like all those vitamins and colon-cleansing bio-whatevers** they've been trying to sell us. Maybe we could all learn from teens.

Who knows?

*I know not all teens are negative. I know one in particular that is always keeping me from being negative and shedding the positive light on me and all that stuff. I'm just sayin'.

**Listen people. If a dude goes on TV and tells you to buy a pill from him, take it, and then examine your own feces so you can see all the black, disgusting sludge that now comes out because it is "cleansing" all the gunk that's built up in your shit track or whatever, and you don't realize that the pill is just causing your shit to turn into black, disgusting sludge instead of the cute little loafs you're used to pinching, you deserve to have black, disgusting sludge pouring form your asshole 24/7. K? K.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ban Me, Baby

It's banned book week kiddily-winks, and through all the hoopla about celebrating banned books, something strange occurred to me. I want to be banned. Now, I know I'm not even published yet, and sure I don't even have an agent, but when the day comes when you can walk into a Barnes & Nobel and pick up a copy of Scout's Honor, I hope the first thing you do is run to your local library or school board and petition to ban that bad boy. Ban it all to hell!

Why? All my favorite books have been banned. The Catcher in the Rye--banned. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--banned. Prep--banned. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian--banned. Ban 'em all. And ban me, too, baby.

And why might they ban my book? Sex. Drugs. Suicide. Murder. Cutting. 9/11. Teen pregnancy. It's in there. I'm sure you can make the case none of those little whipper snappers should be reading anything that I write. I mean, maybe it's books like The Catcher in the Rye that has them on your lawn in the first place.

Not only do I want to be banned, but I want it to be real public-like. Scream about it on the news. Rant about it in letters to your editor. Make as much noise as you can to bring down the abomination that is my book. Really show me who I'm dealing with. I deserve it. I won't argue. Ban that bad boy as hard as you can.

Now, I'm not saying you should protest outside my house or dump pigs blood on my children or anything like that. I don't need that kind of protest. I really like going out to dinner and driving my own car. Body guards and security systems are expensive. So be mad at the book, not me. But as long as your ranting about the book, and not me, that's really cool.

Also, if you could, maybe you could ban it from just like one store or library or school district, but then put a label on the front for all the others warning them of the edgy content. Something that says, "This book is all kinds of naughty, and nobody under the age of 21 should ever look at it's contents or really, really bad stuff may happen like the the Mayan calendar ending early." That would be cool, too. That would keep those youngins away. Protect them from me, please!

You could even make up t-shirts with pictures of the book on the cover with one of those cool red circles with slashes through it over the book. That would be creative. And on the back you could put DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK from, Barnes & Nobel, and Borders, and what ever you do DO NOT go to because the author of this book is combined with Antichrist.

Now that I really think about, in order to truly protect America's youth, I hope you make up lots of picket signs and stuff. Maybe you could march on Washington, too. Make sure you call CNN, MSNBC, FOX NEWS, CSPAN, and LMNOP-whatever before you go. Don't want the cameras to miss those picket signs with my face and book plastered on them as you march toward the capital or Lincoln Memorial or whatever other symbol of freedom you want to march toward while burning The Constitution.

Hey! While you're in Washington, you can probably find the actual Constitution, the original bad boy, the original scandalous script, the original dirty diatribe, and wipe your ass with it. That'd make the trip worth-while, wouldn't it? Don't forget to get some on the Bill of Rights. Never do anything half way.

Maybe you can get them to put me on trial in front of Congress, too. I mean, since you're down there and all. Worked for Arthur Miller.

And then, the best part will be when my second book is about to come out. The one with a twin brother and sister who have sex with each other. Yeah, that one. That one you can start protesting and banning before it's release. I figure a month in advance should work. I can't afford to really go on book tours or make commercials or anything, so maybe you could make it two to three months in advance just be safe. It's about the kids, after all.

So, I don't want you to feel bad if you try and ban my book some day. You have my permission. I'm cool with it. I'm down. Just make it big time, okay? Be loud. Be passionate. Be public.

Thank you, and enjoy Banned Book Week.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Charmed Life

It's becoming more and more apparent to me that the rest of the world should be jealous of me. Most of you go through life playing various roles that are assigned to you by some Big Brother, bossy turd-monger that doesn't give a rats ass about YOU.

Sucks to be you! I have bosses, don't get me wrong, tons of them. There's the home boss (Hi, sweetie!), several levels of work bosses, professors and mentors, agents I'm trying to land, and even my own children serve as bosses from time to time. But what can't be denied is, no matter what role I'm playing, I get to be me.

There's not a writer me, a teacher me, a father me, a husband me, or any of that bullshit that I find in the lives of others--and I consider me at any other period of my life as OTHER. No, I'm me no matter where I am or what I'm doing, and I get away with it. Unfair you say? TOO BAD!

I am 100% convinced that pure happiness comes only from living this sort of life. I find myself trying to figure out just how and why this has happened. I'm at the point now that even when money is tight or things are going a bit wrong, I'm still blissfully me. I can't be unhappy. WTF??? I get angry. I get frustrated. I get worried--for sure! But it's all temporary, and in the long-run, my life is pretty perfect. Am I crazy? Probably. But that's okay because that's part of me, too!

So why? Well, one thing is my natural rebellious streak. I've always wanted to be a rock star, and since I suck musically, I just decided to be a rock star on a daily basis. What does that entail? Doing what you want, when you want, how you want, and not caring what others think, I suppose. Fuck the man. Punk oi oi oi, and all that. But I do care. I want others to appreciate me. I want to be told I'm doing a good job. But I want to be doing a good job and getting attention for it not because of the attention, I don't think. It's just because it kind of makes people happy when you do great things, even if you're not them, so why not spread the happiness. I like making people happy or proud or whatever they feel when they smile and tell me I did a good job.

As far as rebellion goes, that kind of helps out a bit with shredding those labels and roles. I'm myself in the classroom. For some reason, it just works for me. I don't have to be some holier than thou dictator. Turns out teens are people too (a basic premise of this blog if you've been reading). They respond to leaders that recognize that. Maybe I don't speak perfect English 100% of the time in front of them. Maybe I indulge some of their tangents a bit too much because they're fun. Maybe I end a lesson prematurely, not to give in to their boredom, but because I, myself, am bored. Kill me. It works for me, and for some reason, I've been allowed to do it.

As a writer, I've been able to indulge in my weirdest fantasies, strangest worries, and most complex dreams, nightmares, and just plain philosophical ramblings. And, for the most part, people like it. It amuses me when some of the ideas of my characters are referred to interesting and great fiction, but like way totally fucked up. You're talking about me, people! You realize that, right?

I don't really play down to my own children at all either. I'm myself with them as well. Of course my wife would say letting them listen to Murderdolls while riding in the back of the car is probably bad for them, and that I'm not much more than a big kid anyway, so of course I can relate to them on their level (I suppose this goes for the classroom, too). But just because she's right, doesn't make me wrong.

Some how this "big kid" dilemma, though, has no negative side-effects. I still get all my work and then some done. I'm currently an MFA student with a 3.93 GPA, a teacher who advises both the school paper and the yearbook who spends way more time on them then anyone could possibly ever imagine, an obsessive writer who is working on his second novel in two years while painfully holding himself back on the third that is formulating in his mind, and a father of two kids, etc etc...and my work is always on time or early, done to the best of my abilities, and done well according to most observers. How do I do it without snapping?

I love it.

See, all of that doesn't seem like work at all. Not that I'm offering to do it all without pay, but truly it seems like teaching, running teen publications, writing, parenting, and being a student are just my list of hobbies. They're what I do to unwind. So, I guess that means I'm almost always (unless the children are being pure evil--at home or school) unwinding. I'm seldom wound. People sometimes ask if I take anything seriously. The say, "Do you take anything seriously?"

The truth But in a strange way I take everything seriously. I just ENJOY taking it seriously and doing it "all the way," so it doesn't seem so serious.

It's like Aldus Huxley's A Brave New World (one of those novels we teach to children without batting an eyelash despite drug use and orgies--pass the Soma, fuck, fuck). It's like I've been bred scientifically to just love everything I'm doing.

I think that's why I've become so attracted to YA. I can't separate the writer, the teacher, the father, the reader, the student, etc etc. But in YA, I don't have to. It all overlaps in the YA. In YA I'm just me, the way I always am, and that's just that. Why they let me get away with it, I don't know. Perhaps people just like me. When I'm not playing the right role, they let me pass with a chuckle and a "that's just Friskey being Friskey." I don't know. I just win. Either I've been brainwashed, or I've brainwashed you all. I get away with being me. It's sad the world won't let everyone get away with the same.

So why be YA or A when you can be U.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Did He Just Say Queynte?

I was in class discussing sex and naked girls with my students...

Wait a second. What was that? I should be fired? I'm a sick pervert? Maybe. But not because of what was happening in class that day.

Don't blame me. Blame Arthur Miller.

See, Mr. Miller's classic play The Crucible begins with a bunch of teenage girls (and younger) dancing in the woods like a bunch of, well, teenagers. One plump little sexpot Puritan, Mercy Lewis, is taken by the Barbados spirit (maybe she thought Tituba was from Cancun) and strips down to her birthday suit. Girls Gone Wild: Salem Style.

The kicker is that one of the girls, Abigail Williams, was drinking blood in order to cast a spell to kill Goody Proctor, the wife of the man twice her age that was knocking boots with her behind the barn "where his beasts are bedded." As she delivers the line (well, as the student reading her part delivers the line) "...sweated like a stallion whenever I came near" the class chuckles and a few cat-calls go up from the crowd. I chuckle, too, playing up the soap opera-i-ness of the whole thing. At this point, they are hooked and are actually upset that class is about to end. Score one for Mr. Teacher Dude.

When I have a chance to reflect later in the afternoon, on the drive home, I realize something. I have an epiphany. All of the literature schools force students to read was originally written for adults. Who was Fitzgerald's target audience? Poe's? They were writing for adults. For literary types. Not a single thing I will teach this year was designed with young adults in mind. Furthermore, most of it has been, or could have been, banned in districts throughout the United States.

Let's look at the facts. The Crucible is edgy. People are hanged until they're all dead and stuff! WTF? A thirty-something is banging a teenage girl (who was actually 12 if we look at the true history of the whole debacle) for crying out loud! But it's literature, so it's okay.*

In preparation for The Crucible we read Cotton Mathers's "Wonders of the Invisible World," which discusses a sore "breeding" in a man's groin that has to be lanced by a doctor. "Several gallons of corruption" pour out of another of his sores once cut. This is graphic. This is gross. This is STDs, dude! But it's literature, so it's okay.

What about "The Masque of the Red Death?" It's a total blood-bath! A thousand "light-hearted" friends lie dead in the "blood bedewed halls of their revel." Picture the morning dew drenching the grass. Then, picture the dew is blood drenching a hallway of a castle in the same way. Move over Freddy Krueger, make room for Edgar Allan Poe's Read Death Dude of Doom! This is gratuitous gore the likes the big screen has never seen. But it's literature, so it's okay.

How about the homo-erotic, racist, violent classic, The Great Gatsby. Come on. If Nick wasn't a flamer, than I'm a Vermicious Knid. Look at the language: "groaning down the elevator," "keep your hands off the lever." After a break in the text indicating time has passed, Nick leaves some dude he just met at a party in his underpants in bed, and nobody says a damn thing. Of course Nick thinks Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch put together." He wants his sexy Gatsby body! If Gatsby hadn't been shot (did I mention the violence), and Nick had gone over that afternoon for a swim, what might have happened? Gatsby and his pink suite on the rebound. Nick jaded by the immorality of the East. A match made in homo-heaven. Sam Waterston breaks out some cuffs from the now dismantled set of Law and Order and dangles them in front of Robert Redford's taught face wearing that sexy, striped swim suit. You do the math. But it's literature, so it's okay.

Finally, we end with The Catcher in the Rye. I actually start the unit by listing all the scandalous topics covered in the book on the board, not telling them why they're up there until a half hour or so into class. Nothing makes a teen want to read a book more than writing "kinky sex acts in a hotel," giving them a good thirty minutes to contemplate how that can possibly be written on a whiteboard in an English class, then telling them that IT'S IN THE BOOK. Holden talks about "perverty things," engages a prostitute, contemplates suicide, and discusses the pros and cons of spitting water "or something" in a girl's face, and in most schools, it's just peachy keen. Why? You should be all over this by now. It's literature, so it's okay.

None of this literature was meant for "children" when it was written. And this is just a small sample of what is read in high school--just the junior year. Throw in Chaucer and Shakespeare, and we're talking real perversion. Chaucer's got a cock, a chick farting on a dude, and a woman being grabbed by the "queynte," which loosely translate to the mother of all swear words (according to most woman)--C U Next Tuesday! Can you imagine! All okay. All literature. Go figure.

So it strikes me funny in that "do we ever even think about what the hell we are really doing on this planet anyway" kind of way that parents get all frothy at the mouth about some titles being marketed toward teens, when the schools their kids attend are making them read ADULT titles with all kinds of naughtiness drenching the pages. (Along with who knows what else.)

What's the point, you ask? I'm not exactly sure. I just know that it would be way super cool to see what's being taught in schools in 100 years. 200 years. Will adult books that are interesting to teens like Prep and Election be taught in schools as "the canon" while YA novels that are equally as well-written and literary are being shunned?

Thanks to that pesky Mayan calendar, we may never know.

*Literature is defined by as...

writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.
the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.
the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.
the profession of a writer or author.
literary work or production.
any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.
Archaic . polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dear Borders

Really? One small bay of young adult? What, 15 books? Or was it 12? It wasn't even a section. It was a promo--blah, blah, here's the best in YA we want you to buy. Do you realize the hottest sellers (besides non-fiction with a major platform directed at the mindless reality show fanatics) are YA? Where do they store the YA, then? I didn't have any idea. I had to ask. What did Joe Borders, an average height, average weight, twenty-something male with average length hair, tell me? "Literature. It's mixed in."

Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that before? What gets teens more interested in reading a book than calling it literature? I mean, that's why high schools and colleges name courses things like "American literature," "British literature," Chicana lesbian literature," and "sex and the human body in literature." Students rejoice at the opportunity to read literature. They run through the streets with copies of Norton Anthologies of literature, waiving them in the air, proclaiming their admiration for literature. They sit home late at night lovingly running their fingers through 2.3 billion pages of onion skin pages unable to control their teen hormones. Seduced by lore and "thou"s and page long sentences, they eat, sleep, and even make love with literature under their arms, basking in the glow of literary literosity. Literature is "bomb." It is "legit." Yer!


Truth is, there is no quicker way to turn off young adults than telling them they have to read literature. It's a burden. You could put Green Eggs and Ham in the literature section and some teenage guy will run over to the Cliff's Notes rack to try and find the Dr. Seuss edition. Actually, Borders, that would at least get you a sale. No, they'll go home and use Spark Notes or E-Cheat. What the hell are you thinking? You have a sci-fi section, a mystery section, a horror section, and even a philosophy and new age section. But not YA. You wouldn't want to make it easy for kids to find the only thing they want to read. Come to think of it, I didn't see a single young adult in the store. Hmmm... Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Of course, this is the former retail manager in me coming out. And I hate that bastard. Fuck him. But the teacher in me agrees with him. I want teens to read. Why not give them their own section, which would be undoubtedly huge considering the success of YA? They could walk in the store, head straight for their section--even put some bean-bag chairs and a rack of silly bands there to make them feel at home--buy what they want, and get out without having to contemplate the fact that they were in the same building with... ::shudders::

Condescendingadult (whispering): L.I.T.E.R.A.T.U.R.E.

Teen (sarcatically): I'm 16 years old. I can spell.

Of course, there is the writer in me. That butt-munch thinks it's kind of cool. It's a sign that YA is being accepted as a legitimate (not legit) art form in the writing community. After years of being pushed aside as dumbed-down versions of real literature (eww...the "L" word again), YA is getting it's due. It's being read by adults for crying out loud. It can be analyzed. It can have critical essays written about it. Ex-hippies with pony tails and tweed blazers with patches on the elbows can lead class discussion about it. We've made it! Look how far we've come! If mommy could see us now!

Okay, that's enough of that. The world knows YA is real. It's catching on. Do I need some huge, money-hungry conglomerate of a book store telling me that YA is real literature (I feel dirty). Screw Borders. Screw The Man. If YA's so legit in their eyes, so goddamn literary, why have the 15 book bay of extra-special, extra-legit books to force on us--none of which I have ever heard.* It's not like it was Mockingjay or something. What are you thinking Borders? Why are you so damn confused?

Or maybe I'm just being a whack-job. Maybe it just fit better that way. Maybe they didn't even put that much thought into it. Maybe I'm just venting because they made an assignment for my "individual aesthetic and process" course difficult on me. Maybe that's it.

But what if it's not? What. If. It's. Not.

*The italicized portion of this sentence, the part after the dash, was meant to be read in a snooty British accent.** I bet you wish you knew that while you were reading it.

**Scientists have yet to discover the un-snooty British accent.***

***That, however, does not mean it does not exist.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kids say the darndest...

Digression! There's been a little bit of controversy here in Connecticut over some little bratty kid saying some pretty outlandish stuff on an internet video. The neighbor who allegedly prompted the kid, much to the dismay of his parents, to swear was actually arrested. If you tell a kid to swear, he does, and you post it on YouTube, have you broken a law? Apparently in Bridgeport, CT you have. Haven't there been several movies, mostly completely hilarious ones, featuring kids saying horrible stuff? Just like horror movies are creepier with a haunted little brat, curses are just funnier coming from little kids.

I know this is true because of the insane amount of times I've heard parents chastise each other, themselves, and others for laughing at a kid who drops an "F" bomb. Wouldn't want to "encourage" then. We swear and then tell them not to. Just like spanking a kid for hitting. And even if we stop them from swearing as children, aren't we just merely delaying the inevitable. I can count on one hand the amount of adults I know that don't swear. I can probably count on one finger the number of teens. We just swear. That's what we do. It's like farting and burping. We all do it. We can't help it. Yet we're supposed to not do it in public or in certain situations. Why, when we all know it's perfectly natural, can't we just let them rip? Is it just because they're funny? And why are they so funny anyway?

So we hold in swears in certain situations, though we all know we all swear. It's like we have this social contract to make our lives more difficult just for the sake of doing it. Did you know that studies have shown that people that swear after being injured experience less pain than those that don't? Not just because they're venting. The other people still screamed and carried on; they just used "appropriate" words. Something about using the forbidden words just numbed that pain. Yet we still hold them in in front of kids as if they don't know what we're thinking.

Case in point: I was in the grocery story a couple years ago, making Kira about 3ish at the time. I hit my knee on the cart and began to vent. I said, "Son of a..." I stopped myself like a good dad despite the pain. I sacrificed feeling less pain for the good of her virgin ears. What did she say? She smiled, knowing that other people getting hurt is funny, too, and screamed, "Say bitch, daddy! Say bitch!" How cute. This is the same little girl who at a younger age told my wife to "go suck yourself" and screamed "fuckin' fuck!" when bad things happened at around the same age. Remind me why we teach them to speak.

A year or so ago, my son was considered speech delayed. We had a lady come every so often to work with him to catch him up. Why? So now he can yell at his sister and tell her to "get in your room and don't come out" and "damn it." Great. My parents used to prompt my brother to say "fuck." At school I'm supposed to write up high schoolers that swear, yet we read and study works of literature and watch movies that include curses. What are we so a-fucking-fraid of! They're just words, people!

I'd love to know why we decided certain words are bad and others are good. Is shit worse than crap? Seriously? What makes shit worse than crap? When I examine my feces after I take a dump, is there a way to determine if I've just squeezed out crap or shit? Is it in the color? The texture? The smell? If I could tell the difference, would there be something somehow more naughty about the shit than the crap? Come to think of it, "feces" and "take a dump" actually sound more crude than "shit" to my ears. Are they just naughty ears?

I can't count the number of times that a female has told me that they hate the word "vagina" and would rather just say "pussy." I'm not lying. That's what they say. Of course, for some reason the word that shall not be repeated (c-u-next-Tuesday) is always the worst of all female crotch descriptors. What makes it different? It's in The Canterbury Tales that we teach to kids, by the way. Did Chaucer's mommy put soap in his mouth? Why are we so uptight about pretending that certain words are worse than others. Give me a fucking break.

So don't fucking tell me there's anything wrong with a couple shit-eating curse words being tossed into a cock-sucking sentence. Stop being pussies, and in the words of my daughter, "go suck yourself."

PS--to the dude in Bridgeport prompting strange neighbor kids to swear to put it on YouTube--GET A LIFE YOU SICK FUCK!

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Little Edgy in the Big Woods

While reading to my daughter the other night, I ended up in a deep discussion about cannibalism of all things. We were reading Little House in The Big Woods and had just plowed through several chapters on how to kill, clean, prepare, and eat different kinds of animals. My daughter then asked which foods came from people. Of course I told her that we mustn't ever, not ever, eat another human being. She, of course, wanted to know why.

I had to think about this for a while. I then tried this angle with her. I asked, "Did the deer eat other deer?"

"No," she said.

"Did the pig eat another pig?" I asked.

"No," she said.

Obviously I had nipped that in the bud. My logic was flawless and easy to understand, even for a five year old. Then she came back with, "But what about the people that are bad? The ones that are really, really bad. Couldn't we shoot them and eat them?"

I tried to laugh it off and make a joke of it. I said, "They probably taste terrible."

"They probably taste like bacon," she said. "How would we ever know if we never tried them." She had successfully used the oldest parent trick to get kids to try vegetables against me. I was on the ropes.

An aside: This was more than I could take. I had always thought of my daughter as a bleeding heart liberal. She cheered on Barack Obama back in 2008, didn't she? Could it have just been that it was fun to say his name? Now she was not only arguing for the death penalty, but advocating for eating the condemned once their sentences had been carried out.

"We just don't do that," I said. Then I made it personal...and emotionally scaring. "If we did that, what would happen to you when you hit your brother or try to bite mommy." Her eyes sprung open. Her head shook side to side.

"No. No eating me!" she declared. I had won. I had taught my daughter a valuable lesson. Eat not, lest ye be eaten yourself. The golden rule of cannibalism. She understood, and we could move on with the story.

Later I rationalized that my daughter was not in favor of the death penalty. No daughter of mine would be. No way. No, my daughter was simply professing her vegetarian ideals. That sounds liberal enough, doesn't it? She was certainly making a point through irony. Showing me how wrong it was for Pa to kill those animals and for Ma to cook them up for Laura and Mary by turning the tables and suggesting we do the same with humans. I've heard veggies say that any argument you can use to justify eating meat can also be used to justify eating human babies. Don't worry baby Carrie; I don't buy it either.

Looking back on that conversation, I realized this is what I've been talking about here on this blog. This is why we need edgy YA literature. Do you see what happened there? If it weren't for reading that book with my daughter, she might still think it's okay to eat people when they are bad. I might come home to my poor two year old cooking in her Easy Bake oven with no recourse. I never said NOT to eat Owen, after all. The disturbing content of the book, content some parents would not want their daughters to read, prompted a conversation some parents would not want to have with their daughters. A conversation that did, in some sick, twisted way, have ethical value.

All kidding aside, this is what good literature does. This is what literature that pushes the envelope does. It sparks conversation. It sparks debate. It gives parents and teachers and friends a chance to discuss things like drug addiction, sex, suicide, and whatever else is out there, without teens having to live through it. So, lets keep teaching and reading those controversial titles. They open doors, they open minds, and most of all, they open hearts.

Here's to you Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thanks to you my daughter will not eat other people. And for that I can't thank you enough.

Censorship Bites

Ellen Hopkins discusses her, not her book, being banned from a Texas high school 
Censorship Bites

Okay. So now censorship isn't just keeping your book out of the library. Now they want to keep you out, too. Schools will be getting court orders of protection soon against offending authors. Seriously, though, this is another case of one person having an issue with an idea they can't comprehend and forcing the rest of the world to fall in line. Why are we so afraid to have anyone get offended. The best art offends. Anyway, read her post Censorship Bites and then email the punk that's trying to ban her from the planet at

That is all! Good night and good luck, I guess.

UPDATE: I emailed this page to Mr. Sconzo with the following message:
Please read. It's only my humble opinion. It's my idea. But I think we should all be exposed to as many ideas as possible and then be given the chance to sort out how we feel about that idea. It would obviously be wrong for me to keep the idea from you, out of fear of offending you or hurting your feelings. You can make up your own mind on my opinion.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

YA Highway's Roadtrip Wednesday #33: Rewrite Any YA Ending

Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak

Simple: Melinda goes home and has a heart to heart with her mom, and her mom hunts that monster down and forcibly removes his zipper lizard. She is arrested, stands trial, and is convicted.

Sequal: While serving her sentence, Melinda's mother has written a best-selling memoir, is being hailed as a hero, and has gained over two million Facebook fans. Upon release, her interview with Oprah is a ratings bonanza. Meanwhile, Melinda is struggling as a single mother after her relationship with her husband decayed over trust issues. The attention her mother is getting, garnered by capitalizing on the worst moment of Melinda's life, is tearing her apart psychologically. Will a tryst with a mysterious stranger who turns out to be a werewolf/vampire half-breed change her life for the better or worse? Stay tuned...

Why?: I just don't think Melinda's mother got enough attention in the book. A mom finds out her daughter was raped, and yes, she's going to be there for her daughter, but there's got to be some anger there. Why the sequel? I loved Melinda. I really wanted to know how her life went after the book ended. That's just me.