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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Edgy as I Wanna Be

I promised myself when I started this blog that I'd limit myself to posting once a week. The plan was to post on Saturday mornings and Saturday mornings only. The only problem is, I usually have a lot to say, and if I wait, I'll probably lose my thoughts and screw up the whole thing. So, I'm blogging on a Tuesday night, breaking my own rules. Is it still sticking it to the man if you're the man you're sticking it to?

So, I've been cruising blogs and forums, and I'm being told that the term edgy should be done away with. It's too subjective. One person's edgy is another person's happy-happy-joy-joy. Furthermore, claiming to be edgy is somehow uncouth. This implies that you are trying to be edgy, going for shock value only, and have no literary worth or writing ability. Okay, I'll give you that, then.  Fine. Then answer me this, why are you clinging to your label of YA?

I can see if you think labels are bad, sure it sounds a little artsy-fartsy and pretentious, but I like your sense of individuality. But if you say using the term edgy is passe, cheesy, and going only for shock value, then why do you rally behind the term YA. I mean, YA is in now, right? It's the only thing selling. It's the best thing in fiction. Adults are obsessed with YA. We say things like "Wake up and smell the YA." We say you need to respect us as authors--we're not just YA damn it! Almost 50% of adults who buy books buy mostly YA! YA is here to stay! YAY YA!

Hear all that? There seems to be no need for YA as a label either. Adults are liking the same books as young adults. Do you know why? It's because young adults, teen readers, are people, too. You don't believe me, do you? There's no need to play down to them. There's no need to let up, slow down, keep it clean, edit out the naughty parts--none of that. Why do we even call it YA? I'm hearing that anything goes, or should go, in YA. Then why not just call it fiction? There has to be something that makes it YA. Something that makes it different.

Now, I would argue that the same goes with edgy YA. There's something a little different, most would agree, that sets apart an "edgy" work of fiction from a non-edgy one. Certain things just get people's panties in a bunch. I know it's subjective, and we all have different tolerance levels, but on the whole, we all know what's going to be considered controversial or not, whether or not we, ourselves, agree. So I think we need the term edgy. I think it's a different genre altogether. I think if it's not a little edgy, it's probably playing down to teens, and should go into that bubble-gummy YA that we all know is out there.

These same blogs and forums tell me that graphic sex doesn't usually end up in YA. They say that makes it adult. Excuse me? They tell me that in YA the sex scenes should be about the emotions attached, not the act. This brings up another little issue--sexism in YA. That's a female description of sex right there. For a lot of males, sure there's an emotion attached, but the physical act is important, too for us. The pleasure is a feeling just as valid as the emotional tragedy that comes out of the act for girls. The YA section in the book store is awfully pink. I'll probably be getting more into this as the semester brews on, but the assumption is that males don't read, so let's write for a female audience. I think that results in a simple self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe if we wrote more for males, or for both sexes, more males would be reading.

A study I saw on the news last night said that 2/3rds of high school seniors in the state of Connecticut have had sex in the past year. I imagine that of that 1/3rd, some are just out of practice, and others are in the "anything but" category. Teens know sex. They watch pornography--at least the boys do--some with permission. I also don't think this is "today's youth" "running wild." Think about when you lost your virginity. Teens know the deal. Leaving it out when it's part of the story is just playing down to them, and there's nothing teens hate more than us not respecting the maturity they do have.

So, I suppose, if this graphic sex issue is such an issue, then there is, in fact, a need to call something edgy. You've just told me that graphic sex is edgy. We all know suicide is an edgy topic. We all know cutting, sex, drugs, and all that kind of thing is edgy. So let's not pretend that there's no edgy anymore. That today we tolerate anything. We know it's not true. We know parents are just waiting to flip out over their kid reading something edgy. We know books do get banned.

So I'm cool with calling myself edgy. I'm confident enough in my writing, story telling, and characters to know that even if I have shocking content--EDGY content--it's not just there to provoke. I'm not selling out and being cheesy. I'm calling myself edgy because I refuse to tone things down and lie to my audience, and I know some people are going to hate me for it. So I say, wake up and smell the edgy YA. William Friskey writes edgy YA fiction, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Dark Forest

While poking around the internet this morning, I stumbled upon a writer named Gail Giles. Unfortunately, I haven't read any of Gail's work, but I intend to do so as soon as this semester is over. Not only is Ms. Giles extremely funny on her page and her blog, but in a speech contained on the site, she makes a great case for why teens need the edgy YA fiction that both Gail and I write.

In this speech, she discusses the inability for teens to see the consequences of their actions before acting. She states that she writes edgy YA fiction because she wants to " our readers the dark woods in hope that they won’t venture into them." I don't think anyone could have put it any better. Too often those who take issue with edgy YA mistakenly think our novels are advocating for the sex, drugs, abuse, murder, etc. that takes place within them. This couldn't be further from the truth.

The reality is, like any good parent--most edgy YA novelists I've stumbled across are parents, too--we are trying to protect those teens, not lead them down a path of destruction. Teens realize that. These books also give parents a golden opportunity. First, they can read the books, too, and use them as a jumping off point for discussing the tough issues they should be talking to their teens about anyway. Secondly, by doing so, teens learn that their parents value reading and education, making it more likely that those teens will as well.

So, my final advice to parents--thank edgy YA writers for diving into cans of fat, juicy worms that you, yourselves, would never want to open. Use that edgy fiction to keep your child out of edgy reality. And, in the end, realize that depictions of edgy teen behavior, 99% of the time, are not advocating for your teen to participate in that edgy behavior. While we can't keep our kids in a bubble that prevents them from entering the dark woods, we sure can provide them with fictional experiences to show them the consequences of such exploration.

Thanks, Gail for that analogy.You can read Gail Giles's speech here Why Teens Need Edgy Fiction and link to her blog on my blog roll to the right.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Glimmer of Hope in MO

As of news reports dated August 3rd, the Ozarks school district that banned Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is reconsidering the ban after a request from the American Library Association (ALA). I'm not naive enough to think that justice will be done, but this is a good first step, considering there wasn't any more than a first step in the process of banning the book. All it took was a simple request according to an editorial comment published in The Ozarks Sentinel.

I, for one, am grateful that the school district I work for celebrates banned book week and allows me to teach mostly anything I want in my creative writing classes. A particularly brave department head even ordered Alexie's book on a whim, a book not on the actual American literature syllabus, and nobody batted an eyelash. Those of us working in such situations should not only be thankful for the liberties we have, but also support those who do not have such liberties. I would advise anyone reading this to contact the Stockton R-1 district in Stockton, MO and let your feelings be known.

I have only had one encounter with a student whose parents were concerned with a story I was having the students read. The story, "Boogie Man" by Stephen King, was meant to show the students the techniques we learned concerning horror being put into practice and also to bring up a discussion of likable or sympathetic characters. When the parent contacted me about the family's religious disagreement with anything in the horror genre, I understood and let the student pick another genre to research and read a story from. She then wrote a story in the science-fiction genre to fulfill the assignment's requirements. At no time did that parent consider approaching the board or the school about banning Stephen King stories. In fact, I had found the story in an anthology in our own library (always a good way to cover yourself when choosing controversial literature to teach).

I completely understand if a parent wants to control his or her under-aged son or daughter's reading habits. However, to force those beliefs and moral judgments on an entire town is ludicrous and smells like Nazism. That's right; I went there. If we were to start banning every book that has offensive material to any individual who might come across it, we may have no books left. My message to everyone out there that feels their moral "sensibility" should be adopted by all of society is three fold.

1) You have one hell of an ego.

2) Banning a book or labeling it controversial just makes us want to read it more. You can multiply that by ten for most teen readers. Ask Tipper Gore how well "Parental Advisory" stickers and video game ratings worked to deter youngsters from buying "questionable" material.

3) I wish I grew up in your world, a world where nothing offends, a world where nobody gets hurt, a world that doesn't have any of the darkness portrayed in the books you try to ban. That's not reality. Sorry! Get over it! Wait. On second thought, that world would have no sex! How did these book-banners have children in the first place, anyway?

So if you feel so inclined, give a shout out to the Stockton, MO school board and tell them how you feel. We still have a chance to keep Sherman Alexie's book in the library there. I'm not confident justice will prevail, but I have a glimmer of hope. We can't let those who would impose their misguided wills on the rest of us win.

Stockton R-1 School District            
906 South Street
PO Box 190
Stockton, MO 65785
Town Campus: 417-276-5143
Fax: 417-276-3765
High School: 417-276-8806
Fax: 417-276-8584

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Edge

Did J.D. Salinger know what he was doing when he created Holden Caulfield? Did he know that high school students sixty years later would claim that The Catcher in the Rye was the best thing they read in high school? That it was “not so bad?” That it was one of the only novels they “read all the way through?” Most likely he did not. But he should have. If he knew anything about teens, he would have. So often students enter the study of a novel with every intention to read it, but life gets in the way, boredom sets in, and they find themselves drawn to the next best thing to actually reading—Spark Notes.

So what keeps them hooked? Sex, alcohol, date rape, cursing, and all around “perverty things,” that’s what. The edginess, that’s what hooks them in. Salinger probably also didn’t realize that sixty years later, his brand of edginess would be relatively mild and a new age of edgy, trendsetting novels would be provoking parents with graphic sex, homosexuality, murder, rape, incest, drugs, and pretty much anything you could imagine happening to a teen. And all of this marketed directly to the YA audience. Along with this new, edgy YA fiction comes new controversy. How much is too much for a teen? Where do we draw the line? Where does edgy go over the edge?

The simple answer is, anything goes. If you haven’t gone too far, you probably haven’t gone far enough for today’s teen reader. Some would argue this attitude is simply a cheap way to drum up sales, an attempt at grasping attention with simple shock. I believe that couldn’t be further from the truth. All writing is an attempt to get at some universal truth. The best writing finds that truth, exposes it, and helps us deal with the dark side of the world and ourselves. I have found that, for most teens, shocking, edgy fiction is far closer to the truth than the bright pink bubble gum some teachers and parents try to sell to them as teen truth.

In my relatively short life, I have had the pleasure to know teens that have suffered through the deaths of loved ones, eating disorders, rape, incest, verbal and physical abuse, drug addictions, self-injuring, kidnappings, and even murder. It astonishes me the lengths adults will go to in order to inflict pain on children. The truth for more kids than not is that life is painful, suffering is reality, and having a good life is based on your ability to recover, to be resilient. Ironically, the same adults forcing these kids to run a virtual gauntlet of painful experiences are telling them they shouldn’t be reading about fictitious kids living through the same gauntlet. This is doing them a great injustice. Perhaps the most universal feelings for these teens are shame and loneliness. They wrongfully go through life believing that the rest of their peers are living perfect lives in perfect families. I know, I thought the same thing about my classmates. The teen condition is, at its essence, alone. I am gross. I am sick. I am disgusting.

The truth is, reading these “shocking” stories are psychologically good for them. They learn they are not alone. They learn how to overcome. They learn others may even have it worse. I once heard a story of the parents of a rape victim forbidding their kid from reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak for fear of further traumatizing them. I, however, believe there is no better book for that young adult to read. I don’t advocate for teens to read edgy young adult fiction simply because it gets them reading something that interests them. Though it does. I don’t advocate for teens to read edgy young adult fiction simply because “they hear worse from their friends already.” Though they may. I advocate for teens to read edgy young adult fiction so they don’t have to feel ashamed. So they don’t have to feel alone. So they don’t have to feel different, like an “other.” Reading edgy young adult fiction is good for them.

I’ve decided to dedicate my writing career, including this blog, to these kids and their stories. To help them through their trying times. To help them realize that someone out there does care about them and is willing to tell their stories. In the months that follow, I will be posting a series of book reviews, essays, and basic rants while hopefully serving as a watchdog over schools and libraries banning edgy young adult books, or any book for that matter. I hope this becomes a forum for intelligent discussion of the issues surrounding publishing, reading, and teaching such material. While I welcome those who disagree to post mature rebukes of my ideals, I hope this becomes a community of brave readers and writers who understand how important it is to take teen and adult readers alike to The Edge.