Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Goodreads

I've noticed a disturbing trend in Goodreads reviews: people are giving one or two stars to YA books because they include instances of teen sex (and sometimes drinking and/or drug use). Reviewers often complain that a book provides poor role models, is immoral and offensive, or simply is not reflective of modern teen life.

When I read these reviews I want to type in the comment box, do you actually know any teens? According to the National Survey of Family Growth (sponsored in part by the CDC), 42% of teen girls and 43% of teen boys are sexually active. Contrary to the myth that teens are having a lot less sex, these numbers have remained steady for the past ten years.

The adults posting these reviews know this. Maybe their teen isn't having sex, which is well and good, and let's face it, preferable. But there are millions of other teens who have decided to do the deed, often quite responsibly--is it so hard to admit a novel may be reflective of that reality? And, that it may have value as a work of art because it does?

Now, I should cut the teens writing these reviews some slack. And I will. Because the more I read them the more I lose faith in our school systems, not our young people.

Increasingly, these reviews contain no mention of character, plot, or even a gut-reaction like or dislike. The sole reason for giving a book a low rating is the inclusion of sex. Judging a novel on that basis illustrates a definite lack of critical thinking skills. Expecting novels to only reflect your system of values is expecting them to cease to be art.

Good art has always challenged, provoked, reinforced, reflected. Good art investigates what it means to be human. This is something one used to learn in high school. But (sweeping generalization alert) it seems we're focused on training kids to only search out what art means to them personally. There is a place for that response, but there is also a price for using it as the only evaluative tool. We're not teaching our kids to look for a book's impact on society or to appreciate an author's skill. We're not showing them that though a book may infuriate, it may also instruct. We ask, how do you feel about this? and leave it at that.

This is a type of close-mindedness. It creates narrow thinking, a terrible trait to develop as our kids face the challenges ahead.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Yaaawwwk!

Just got back from THE BEST CITY IN THE WORLD. Once upon a time I was a Manhattanite, but as I was reminded (What? No subway tokens? Is there really a GAP on every block or am I just imagining it?) that was a loooong time ago.

But that's why I heart New York. It's always in flux, always changing. But then, so am I.

The last time I visited I was not writing and wouldn't for years to come. Fear kept me from pounding out beyond a few pages. What if I sucked? Then I would not be able to dream that particular dream and at least one ventricle of my heart would shut down. I couldn't take the risk. No way.

But then, I did. I'm not sure why. Maybe for the same reason I drove to NYC at 22 with no job, no home, no connections. Something compelled me. I HAD to. That's really the only reason.

So this visit was different. I came up from the Lincoln Tunnel and took a great big gulp of New York air. I met with Jo, my fabulous agent, and we talked about books and writing and publishing. She took me to The Strand (church for writers) and then to the Nancy Coffey/Fine Print offices (Yeah, I almost stopped breathing when I met Nancy).

On the way back to my hotel I wanted to cry on my cabbie's shoulder. I felt legit. I felt like my dreams might really come true. I felt like a writer.

And that's the best souvenir ever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm Type Eric

Entertainment Weekly contains a great article about how the most compelling stories are found on television, not at your local multi-plex. I totally agree. I haven't actually sat in a movie theater since taking my kids to see Alvin and the Chipmunks 2--The Squeakquel. (I know, but come on, it was my little guy's birthday!). Television has experienced a golden age, probably since the premium channels have come into their own, HBO and Showtime in particular.

I didn't watch much TV as a kid, don't watch much now (comparatively), but here are some shows I get really, really excited for:

1. True Blood. Yes, we're on vamp overload, but this series is adult entertainment of the best kind--sex with a sense of humor, real jump out of your seat scares, and, um, him...

2. Mad Men. Complex characters doing morally ambiguous things on sets so historically accurate, even the toilet paper is vintage. I can't wait for this to start up again in July on AMC.

3. GLEE. Music. Teens. Drama. Sue Sylvester. I hope next season they have an Elton John/Billy Joel episode. That would be my dream.

4. Weeds. When this show started up about five years ago, I thought the premise was cute. Newly widowed suburban mom selling pot to keep up her Real Housewife of San Diego lifestyle. This show is anything but cute, in fact it's seriously disturbed. In the best possible way.

5. Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. This has become a travel channel staple, but Anthony has not been mellowed by the passing of time. His humor is as acidic as the "gravy" on a plate of mostaccioli.

So what did I miss?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Online KidLit Conference? I'm In!

Some of the biggest names in the YA Lit world--writers, editors, agents, bloggers--are conducting an online writer's conference on August 10-12. It's FREE. Yep, free. And you don't have to find a babysitter or money for a flight or the will to change out of your pajamas because it's all ONLINE. Registration starts July 1. Click here for more info!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Freaky Friday

How can it possibly be Friday already? Oy.

1. Blackhawks win!!! I was driving home from work when the Hawks won in overtime. By the time I pulled up to my house the entire neighborhood was cheering. I mean, it was LOUD. Then the fireworks started. So awesome.

2. True Blood starts up again this Sunday. From HBO's teasers I think we're going to get to see a lot of Eric Northman. Whoo-hoo!

3. What constitutes badass for me: eating triple fudge brownies for breakfast. Um...yeah.

4. My son's running class teacher called yesterday to tell me he thinks I've got myself a talented track and fielder. Why is this a big deal? I am the girl who faked horrific cramps to get out of running the fifty yard dash in high school; when we ran the mile I groaned so loudly the nuns almost carted me off to the hospital. I must have had 27 periods during freshman year alone. One of the great feelings in life is when my kids excel at stuff I suck at. Feels like I did something right.

5. Words I like today: medley, farcical, perusal, lumbago, and indefatigable. How about you guys?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

RHONJ and Writing

I love my Real Housewives (except Orange County--eww). The New York ladies sucked me in their drama the past few months: Bethenny and Jill's disintegrating relationship, Kelly's wackadoo antics, Alex's hives, Ramona's harmless self absorption, and Sonja--oh, man--the aging Holly Golightly is my new fave.

Contrarily, the New Jersey housewives have been a disappointment. Carolyn, Dina, Jacqueline, and Teresa seem like the same person with subtle variations. They dress the same (Sopranos-Lite), live in the same McMansions, chant the same mantra ("Family, Family, Family"), and groove on their hatred of Danielle. And what is our villain's motivation? To force a friendship with these clannish ladies? No matter how crazy Danielle is, the reality is four against one, and an unfair fight is a boring one.

The drama in RHONJ is forced at best. But what were the producers to do with four inherently uninteresting women and one seriously deranged ex-con?

There is a lesson here for writers. I often read books where plot is king and the characters seem just pieces on a checkerboard, moved here and there without much thought or definition. If the characters' personalities and desires are not well-drawn, it's definitely harder to let the drama unfold organically.

These ladies are primo examples of true characters:

(PS--I heard Bravo is thinking about doing The Real Housewives of Chicago. Think I should apply?)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

From the Vault

My husband is going to see the poor man's Dead this weekend, otherwise known as Phish. Feel free to make fun of him in the comment box, as I haven't done nearly enough teasing the past few days.

I was a deadhead in college. Not totally. I mean, I still went to college, and pretty much stayed in one place, but I never cut my hair and wore too much tie-dye and stacked those colorful woven bracelets on my arms. I hung out in the parking lots before and after all the Chicago area shows, thankfully (miraculously) staying out of major trouble. I was at Jerry Garcia's final show in `95, and that I still listen to the music when I'm stressed, but that phase of my life was definitely for a younger me.

I started going to the shows in high school, when it had only been 20 years since Woodstock. I often wonder how those experiences shaped my teenage life. My parents were mega-strict, and hanging out with people whose goals for the day were making baba ghanoush and God's eyes felt pretty good. I didn't think about the future much, and, besides my super low paying job at a local bakery, my responsibilities were nil. I had the time to explore and think and daydream and yes, experiment.

The teens I know today would think I wasted my time. They get up at 5 am and head to football practice or yoga or band. They stay after school to squeeze in a weightlifting session or to tutor a struggling student. They come home and stay up until midnight completing their own homework. Weekends are spent playing organized sports, hanging out with their families, or attending an aggressively chaperoned school dance. Sometimes I feel like they are more mature than I am. I know they have better discipline.

What does this mean when it comes to writing about about these young adults? I haven't figured it out yet. I'm definitely mindful as I build my characters. This is definitely a more responsible generation, do you agree?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Freaky Friday

It's the end of the week already??? Here goes:

1. Deception by Lee Nichols is the best ghost story I've read in a long while, and one of the best YA books I've read all year. Why the love? The heroine, Emma Vaile, is funny, smart, and so relatable. Often in YA paranormals the leads are just a step above cardboard cut-outs, but Emma was so real and well-drawn I kept reading way past my bedtime, wondering, what's she going to do next?

2. As is well documented on this blog I have gray hair that I do not cover. Yep. Not forty yet and I have huge streaks of gray one of my students very kindly called "Mrs. Robinson-esque" last night (I suspect she's insuring her A this term). I have an appointment with my hair chick tomorrow. And I'm tempted to cover it all up with this color:

Yes, I know that's Diane Lane and this photo illustrates a whole lot of wishful thinking on my part. But look at that you like it? I probably won't make the decision until I sit in the chair.

3. I love our local pool. It was built in 1959 and hasn't been changed much since. It's got a snack shack and old school chaise lounge chairs, and could double for a Mad Men set. The adults are allowed to bring cocktails and the sound of a martini shaker often drowns out the hum of dragonflies. I always half expect Betty Draper to walk by me in her yellow bikini.

4. It's June. How the eff did that happen?

5. My lemon balm plants have grown seriously out of control. I know I could make tea out of it (good for the metabolism, so they say) but what else can I do? Any ideas?

Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

From the Vault

I'm going to visit New York City in a few weeks and I am beyond excited. I lived there once upon a time, at 55th and 8th and, though I love Chicago dearly, there is no better city in the world.

So, in honor of my upcoming vacation, I'm going to have a little online film festival of my favorite New York movies. Here goes:

1. Annie Hall: La-De-Da, La-De-Da...That says it all, no?

2. Breakfast at Tiffany's: Audrey, Moon River, no-name cat...what more could a girl want, daaarling?

3. Working Girl: "I have a head for business, and a bod for sin." Actually I have a head for writing and a bod from sitting at my computer all day, but I can dream, right? And Harrison Ford is just so dashing in this one...

4. The Way We Were: OK, I think I'd beat Carrie Bradshaw in a Streisand-Redford obsession competition.

5. The Seven Year Itch: I once stood over a subway grate wearing a babydoll dress. Train shot by, dress went up. In front of a priest. I think my face is still red from that one.

Do you guys have any New York faves? Do tell!