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Along with dozens of writers, YA and otherwise, this week, I want to talk about Margo Rabb’s piece in the Sunday Times Book Review. (and also say, if you haven't read, you should certainly read Rabb's Cures for Heartbreak, which is indeed heartbreaking, and funny and true and beautifully written)

 

My first instinct is to stand up for my genre, so to speak, to say that Rabb is perpetuating a snobbery that is not nearly so widespread as she thinks. But the truth is, I know exactly how she feels. The words of Mark Haddon and the defenses of Peter Cameron are scarily familiar. Apparently, if you write for an audience who is still in high school, your intellectual capacity is questionable, your literary merit dubious. You get funny looks and awkward silences and conversations come to strange halts. I was in a conversation last week in which an educator, referring to a series of books used for a particular course stated: “This one is a young adult title but I found it very valuable.”

 

But.

 

My editor, Andrew Karre, has an approach to YA Literature that is inspiring, comforting and frankly, makes a lot of sense. He believes that “young adult is a point of view, not a reading level.” I can't help but want to ask the YA critics of the world about the novels they've celebrated that were narrated by a child or a teeanager--just not marketed to them.

I had never set out to write a young adult book before I wrote THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU. In fact, it began, as I’ve said before, as a book about the twins’ mother, a very dark and grown-up story. But the more I wrote, the more it changed. What I wanted to write about was intensity and passion and first times and an inability to not tell the truth. I wanted to write a story that was specific about an experience that was universal. And what, I thought, was more universal than adolescence, the raw pain and joy and experimentation. Apparently, this makes me a certain kind of writer.

 

And whatever kind of writer this is, maybe the kind that won’t be reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement or excerpted in The New Yorker or blurbed by Nathan Englander or Andre Aciman (I note these two authors, not because of anything they’ve ever said about YA Literature, simply because they wrote my favorite books this year), it is the kind of writer I am. I’ve found an actual home in the stories I write now. I may have to defend the literary merit of my books from here on out, but I’m hoping my audience can speak to that.

Moving is like Writing

 I do both of these things all of the time. I mean ALL of the time. One I am exhausted and inspired by. The other I am… exhausted and inspired by.

1. I can’t help doing either one. They’re equally impulsive, natural, crucial.
2. They’re cleansing. In this way that says I am purging and preserving all at  once.
3. They remind me, give life to, the millions of worlds out there that I am living, have lived and have yet to live.
4. They bring new people into my life, real and imagined.
5. They make it hard, no, impossible, to think about anything else.
6. They let me create new space—sometimes within the confines of my imagination and four walls and sometimes outside the limit of possibility.
7. They make me crazy and I want to stop forever.
8. They make me exhilarated and I can’t imagine NOT moving/writing.
9. They make me realize I have too much STUFF—both tangible and intangible.
10. They make me realize I will always find a place for this stuff.
11. I feel intensely sad, doing either one, about the things I am leaving behind and haven’t appreciated or realized and the absolute uncertainty about what lies ahead.
12. They’re costly—mentally and financially.
13. I am, apparently, defined by both of these things.

Best Intentions

I keep trying to cross-post... but I'm cozy in my other blog. Please check me out!
http://heatherduffystone.blogspot.com

Because

 Because I'm about six hours from being done with my revisions on PERMANENT INK.

And because today I wrote 4000 words on THERE IS NO HAPPY ENDING (lets call it TINE for now) and I'm unstoppable.

Because Rory, the main character in TINE looks out at this from her window.



Because I just feel like sharing, here's the first page.


It is hard to figure out when Jacob disappeared because, before the last time, he disappeared so often.

In Rome they will keep grieving him. On Via Nazionale, where his parents live, they’ll grieve him with friends and co-workers from the Embassy, but then the grief will become quieter and eventually they’ll move back to the house in Virginia where there is little to remind them of him.

In Trastevere they’ll whisper about him and hold on to each others’ hands when they see his work underneath a bridge or in a doorway. When Jacob was gone the doorways of Trastevere stood quiet and blank. He wasn’t sauntering side streets with his can of spray paint and a crooked cigarette burning in his small fingers. That was how they noticed at first and then they noticed all of the bridges and steps and bars and piazzas where he wasn’t.

In Los Angeles, where he never was, everything makes Rory grieve him

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Last night I was sitting in my office; it was near the end of the night and I was getting ready to go home and I hadn’t seen a student in about half an hour, so I was scrolling through the news. My eye caught a headline that said something like “Teens charged in Youtube beating”. I clicked. I felt sick.

 

I’m not sure what I want to say about this—other than the fact that I feel shocked and a little bit nauseated and then simply naïve. I have worked in high schools since 2001 and I can’t imagine the girls I know exhibiting this kind of behavior. But then I stop myself—can I? I literally feel dizzy when I look at stills from this video taped in a Florida home, which is why I haven’t posted a link here. Because by viewing this video, are we sensationalizing a deeply personal and hurtful experience? Are we contributing to undue fame and recognition for teenagers who have committed a heinous and unbelievable act? Does talking about these things—even writing on this blog—contribute to such events as a videotaped beating of a girl by her peers? I don’t have an answer but there is an underground culture of violence and hunger for recognition that is getting stronger and stronger and that we as a community have a responsibility to combat. I have written about bullying for years—first as a student pursuing my M.A. in Counseling, as a fiction writer, as a school counselor developing curriculum. I have researched and talked about how the way boys bully differs from the way girls bully, how this behavior changes with age and maturity, I have worked with colleagues to develop methods for discussing and punishing the new-ish phenomenon of cyber-bullying, which so often happens off of school grounds. But this is something all new and asks us all tore-examine the way we communicate.

 

What about this? What about bullying for fame and recognition? This is something that parents and educators alone can only begin to discuss—this poses a question and brings to light an issue that is so much bigger than all of us. There is something very wrong. I know that by writing on this blog, by talking in person, by posting comments and hosting real roundtables and initiating conversations we can only start. But it is the way we use ever-changing technology that needs to be addressed. It is part of education now. It has to be.

A girl can't help it


When I was first writing PERMANENT INK my friend Jenny read the first few pages. Then she sent me this article. Do you know this guy? she said. I think you have a crush on him.

I'd never heard of him. But I think she was right.

We all have our weak spots. We have a type. We do. We might want to argue otherwise but, well, I just can't help it. I love cooks.

They're supremely undateable. They work 362 days a year and a short day is 10 hours. Their hands look like battelgrounds. Their fingernails can never really get clean. Their forearms are scarred and burned and blistered. They come alive at 2 in the morning. They have a little too much fun. They smell like mussels and fried spinach and garlic and rosemary and burned sugar all at once. They flirt with waitresses and wine reps and customers and bartenders and your best friends. They live for anxiety and heat. Their apartments have no furniture and empty refrigerators and they rarely do laundry. When they do, they send it out and the bag the laundromat returns, with their shirts neatly folded, serves as a closet.

O man, I love cooks. I just read this book. And then this article. All I want to do is read about chefs. And I feel giddy. Because the thing is, in spite of (or in addition to, depending on how you look at it) all of the details I just mentioned, they are the best kind of artists. Because their food means everything to them. They live and breathe it. They don't have time for anything else. They don't have time for the scene or the image or the competition. They are just imagining the food. And then preparing it. They shape it and grill it and saute it and taste it and hate it and revere it. Then they FEED you. Come on. Looking at a painting is nice. A great song can make you cry. A poem can send chills across your shoulder blades. A novel can make you take deep breaths in awe. But a fantastic meal. There's nothing like it.

So today I keep re-writing the meal that Parker cooks because, well, there are so many possibilities.