Tag Archives: personal

BOOK IS DONE

Well, I ding dang did it! I finally finished the book I’ve been working on for longer than HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL. Time will tell whether it’ll be published or not, but hey, finishing is half the battle! Also, I think it’s a darn good book.

I will say that if it gets published, the acknowledgments are gonna have to be their own entire chapter.

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Filed under My Books, Personal, Work In Progress, Writing

Quick Update

It’s been a busy month!

Most of my time has been eaten up by my upcoming wedding, so I haven’t been able to post anything here. Amazingly, I’ve been able to do some reading–mostly comics, but I just finished fellow VCFA-er Rachel Wilson’s debut YA novel, DON’T TOUCH. Highly recommended, especially if you were ever involved in theater. (Find more info on it HERE.) Reading that book brought back a lot of fun theater memories.

After all, I met my husband-to-be on the set of a high-school play!

So, please give me a couple weeks to get adjusted. I’ll leave you with this Star Mackie doodle as a consolation prize:

 

stur mackie

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June 23, 2014 · 3:30 pm

“Everything Happens for a Reason…”

…is a terrible saying.

I don’t like it. I don’t like what it implies or how people use it, usually after someone has gone through something horrible. I don’t think telling anyone who’s just gone through a breakup, or lost someone close to them, or been hurt, that “Everything happens for a reason” is appropriate. At all.

However, it’s a saying I use for myself. When bad things happen to me, even though I don’t want to hear that phrase from anyone else, I’ll say it to myself. Internally, in my head. Really, what I’m telling myself is, “Eventually, you will learn from this.” But occasionally, something bad happens and, days or weeks or months or years later, I’ll be glad that it happened, because it led to something else in my life.

Quick example: one of my first jobs was working as an omelet chef at a chain buffet-style restaurant. I hated it. I had to wear an awful, ill-fitting uniform (that no one else had to wear, just me) and work in a stifling hot bakery area. I made ready-to-order omelets for people at 7 in the morning on weekends when I would have rather been sleeping in. And making ready-to-order omelets for people who want 6-7 items in their omelet was terrible. On the side, when I wasn’t making omelets, I assisted the baker by prepping cakes and cookies and brownies and by frosting cakes, which wasn’t SO terrible.

Years later, in college, I applied for an internship with a publishing company. I put the restaurant on my resumé and “cake decorator” as one of my job titles. (I didn’t have a real job title there anyway.) When I got an interview at the publishing company, one of the first questions was, “You really decorated cakes?”

That little tidbit had caught their interest. Even though it had NOTHING to do with publishing. So I was grateful, in that moment, and when I was eventually hired as an intern for the company, that I’d spent five months sweating into my horrible uniform and overstuffing omelets.

Anyway.

I’m thinking about this phrase this week because of something that happened recently. In short, I lost my garage door opener. In long:

I ride a bike to work. And I keep my bike in our garage, which is nice. So I use the garage door opener to open the garage in the morning, when I leave, and in the evening, when I return home. I started storing it in my hoodie pocket so I’d have easy access to it and not have to get off my bike.

One day, however, I wore a pocket-less hoodie to work. Luckily, my garage door opener has a clip on it, so I was able to clip it to the neckline on my hoodie. Still easy access. When I rolled into work, everyone gave me strange looks.

“Is that a garage door opener?” my co-workers asked, pointing at my neck.

I then explained the easy-access thing.

“It looks weird.”

I had to admit that it did.

For the rest of the day, I got some grief. Some ribbing. Nothing I can’t handle, but I thought to myself, “What a hassle.” So the next day, I wore a hoodie with pockets. But this hoodie was different from the other two. It had shallow pockets since it was a zip-up hoodie. To save myself the minor ribbing from co-workers, I put the garage door opener in my pocket and rode to work.

It was still there when I got to work, and when I put away my bike. We had pizza for lunch, and I had to go pick it up, using my co-worker’s car. Overall, it was a good day! No ribbing, pizza, and I got to drive a car. All good in my book.

That evening, Portland was unseasonably warm. And, considering my bike ride home is almost entirely uphill, I was overheated. I unzipped my hoodie, forgetting that I’d shoved a garage door opener in the shallow pockets. The sides of the sweatshirts flapped behind me as pumped the pedals. The breeze felt great.

Until I got to my apartment complex, reached into my pocket, and realized my garage door opener was gone.

I was so mad at myself. Clearly, it had fallen out of my pocket on my ride home because I’d been stupid enough to put it in the shallow pockets of my hoodie. I’d even thought to myself, as I was leaving that morning, that I should clip it to my neckline, but to avoid people at work pointing it out, I’d ignored that thought. GREAT.

For the next three weeks, I had to open my garage by leaving my bike unattended outside of it, going through the laundry room, entering my garage through the back door, and hitting the button inside that made the door slide up. It was an extra 30 seconds of my day, but it was a HASSLE. And when I left in the mornings, I had to close the garage door from the inside and then run underneath it before it closed. (It closes slowly. But I still hate doing it!)

I tried to tell myself that I had lost that garage door opener for a reason. But I couldn’t figure out the reason! It wasn’t to teach me a lesson. If it was, it was a harsh lesson that I didn’t like. And it wasn’t to make me talk to apartment management, because I wasn’t going to talk to them over something so small that I probably would have to pay for. I kept replaying the day over and over in my head, and I came to a conclusion: if I hadn’t been so embarrassed about clipping the garage door opener to my neckline, I would still have the darn thing. I was certain.

But then, why did THAT happen? Why did I wear my garage door opener to work that one day? WHY did I get teased about it? I couldn’t answer. There was no answer. I began to move on. Life without the garage door opener was a hassle, but it wasn’t worth being upset over.

On Monday this week, I did my usual morning routine. Ran under the garage door. Biked to work (mostly downhill). As I pulled up to the sidewalk outside my office, I saw one of my co-workers getting out of her car, so I waved. She waved back, and I saw, in her hand, a familiar object.

My garage door opener.

“You found it!” I squealed.

“It was in my car!” she said.

And I remembered, for the first time in weeks, that I’d used her car to go pick up pizza the same day I’d lost my garage door opener. It hadn’t fallen out on the street at all. It’d fallen out while I was driving!

And then, something amazing happened. Something that reaffirmed what I’d tried to tell myself the previous three weeks.

She said, “I wouldn’t have known it was yours if I hadn’t seen you wearing it that one day.”

Everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t worn the garage door opener on my hoodie the day before losing it, I still would have lost it. But my co-worker wouldn’t have known what it was, or whose it was.

Amazing, isn’t it?

I’ll still never say “Everything happens for a reason” to anyone else. But it works for me.

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Growing Up Poor, and Class Issues

I saw the great CBC Diversity post, “Dumpster Diving: An Observation on Class in Children’s Books,” and decided to share a few things about Hope Is a Ferris Wheel.

Class issues aren’t necessarily at the center of Hope. Star (the main character) and her family are poor. Her mother doesn’t have a job, they live in a small trailer, and they’re on food stamps. (Except it’s a food card instead of stamps. I don’t think California uses stamps anymore.) I gave Star’s family these traits because I was poor growing up, too. And while I wasn’t as poor as Star, I wanted to portray what it’s like to live at the poverty line, and how it isn’t entirely hopeless, or desperate, or completely terrible. I mean, it sucks being poor, but people learn how to be poor. They deal with it. I wanted to write that kind of a family, one who was comfortable being poor, though a bit of money might solve some of their problems.

I didn’t base Star’s home life entirely on my own. I used the experiences of other poor friends of mine, which is why Star’s mother doesn’t have a job. (My mother worked two jobs as far back as I can remember.) Some of my friends’ parents didn’t have jobs, but they still had money, either from welfare, unemployment, or a family friend. Star’s mom is on welfare, and the family friend Gloria, who is employed as a hairdresser, provides some luxuries like donuts and movie rentals.

Star’s family isn’t starving. Their food card provides them with enough food, and Star is eligible for the free lunch program at her school. (Winter, her sister, is as well.) They have health insurance through the state, but they don’t have dental insurance. All their clothes come from thrift stores or department store clearance racks. Some of this isn’t stated in the book, but it stayed in my mind as I wrote. It stayed in the background.

Star’s poverty is the background of her life, just like it was the background of my life. But it isn’t an issue for her. Star does deal with a lot more bullying and prejudice than I did – I dealt with virtually none until I went to college. Mostly, though, Star is teased for her mullet and the fact that she lives in a trailer park, and not necessarily because she’s poor.

That’s how it was in my life. I was never teased for being poor, but some of the things I was teased about were a direct result of being poor. My clothes, for example, which were hardly ever in fashion. I mean, I like to think I made it work, but I don’t think I did. Or my extreme love of ketchup. (I still get made fun of for that!)

I still remember the time in high school, during an honors English class, when we were talking about To Kill A Mockingbird. We had just finished reading the chapter in which Scout invites her classmate home to eat lunch with her and he douses his lunch in molasses – ruining it, in Scout’s view. Our teacher asked us if we knew why the boy had done that, and nobody had an answer. “Think about it,” he said. “Anyone here ever put a lot of salt on something? Soy sauce? Ketchup?”

Ketchup! My hand shot up in the air. I loved ketchup on practically everything.

Pointing at me, the teacher announced, “Yes! That’s something poor people do to mask the taste of bad food!”

Although I was embarrassed at the time, it didn’t occur to me until years later that my teacher had basically announced to the entire class that I was poor. Probably because I didn’t often think of myself that way. Like Star, I thought of myself as a kid. (Or, in that case, a teenager.) My family had been through some rough times, but what family hadn’t? Being poor didn’t negatively affect my life, except that I couldn’t afford a lot of things and often skipped lunch to save my lunch money so I could go see movies with my friends.

Some people still tease me about the time I ate a bagel out of the trash, though they conveniently leave out the part where the bagel was still in a ziploc bag. And hey, it was a perfectly good bagel. I had listened to some girl despair over the fact that her mother had packed her a bagel for snack, and then watched as she threw the entire thing, bag and all, into the trash. It wasn’t like I had to dig through the trash to get it. And besides, in that moment, I could only think of one thing: I hadn’t had breakfast, and there was a perfectly good bagel right at the top of the trash can.*

Anyway, I’m getting off track.

I didn’t just write Star as poor because I was poor. I wrote her that way because there was a distinct lack of impoverished children in the books I read. Which was weird, considering that I, along with my two best friends, grew up poor. And it was weird, considering how many poor kids I worked with while I was an after-school teacher. It seemed to me, in the small town where I grew up, that a lot of people were poor. A lot of them were poorer than we were. It seemed so foreign to me to read about all these kids in houses with yards and fences and a second or third story.

So, one of my ultimate hopes for this novel is that it will ring true for some poor kids reading it. And another hope of mine is that it won’t ring true for some poor kids reading it, and that they will grow up to write their own version of growing up poor, for me to read.

Or something.

In the meantime, here’s some books I love with poor protagonists (both MG and YA):

  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (YA) (Eleanor has the typical miserable poor existence, but that isn’t the main problem of the novel.)
  • The Land by Mildred D. Taylor (MG/YA) (Work hard and you won’t be poor anymore! Just kidding. The only reason Paul-Edward is poor is because he’s saving up to buy SOME LAND, but this still counts!)
  • The Revenant by Sonia Gensler (YA) (Girl runs away from poor family to teach at Navajo boarding school, class issues between her and the wealthy Navajo mean girl gang are subtle and don’t drive the story)
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (MG) (Poor family front and center.)
  • Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan (MG) (Naomi lives in a trailer park too! And her life with her grandmother is pretty ideal aside from their lack of money.)
  • With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo (MG) (Family is poor because they’re traveling religious folk. Big, happy, poor family.)
  • Tyrell by Coe Booth (YA) (Saddest ending ever. But Tyrell’s struggles to get out of the roach-infested hotel his family is forced to live in are so immediate and gripping.)
  • When Pigs Fly by June Rae Wood (MG/YA) (Family becomes poor, moves into weird old house. They have that weirdness that my family (and other poor families I knew) had.)

* You’re still allowed to make fun of me for eating a bagel out of the trash if you are one of my very good friends. Even if you aren’t, you can still make fun of me.

 

(This is x-posted to my tumblr.)

EDIT 1/13/14: Stacy on tumblr reminded me that THE REVENANT takes place in a Cherokee boarding school, not a Navajo boarding school. Sorry for getting it wrong and for any confusion I caused.

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Filed under Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, My Books, Personal, Writing