Monday, August 8, 2011

Happy 20th Birthday, Kody Keplinger!

(Kody Keplinger, the author of THE DUFF and the upcoming SHUT OUT, is an agent sister, friend, and occasional writing challenge buddy. This is for her.)

I know, I some ways it does suck to say adios to your teens. You're stressing. I could feel your anxiety over the Internet.

At first, I couldn't understand it. You published a novel at 18. You have another coming out in a couple of weeks. You've accomplished more than people twice your age. You're independent and lovely and focused.

But then...I realized that I'd forgotten.

I'd forgotten that jumping into your third--and first wholly adult--decade is a throat tightening plunge into an ocean of wide open nothingness. The water appears vast and overwhelming, and it seems the waves pull your raft--the safe, secure anchor of teen life--farther and farther out to sea.

My 19 year old self, full of nerves about the future, wrote a timeline for my 20s in my journal: By 19-- I would publish my novel (Um...not that I'd actually written one at that point!) In 19-- I would travel through Europe with only a back on my back. Then I would meet a wonderful man and get married. We'd live on a commune in California and an artists' colony in Provence and a rustic cabin in Maine. Etcetera, etcetera--the list was waaaay long.

Some of those things happened. Some of those things didn't. Your twenties is when you realize planning with pretend knowledge of the future is useless. And this is a freaking exciting revelation. Because anything can happen.

It is also universally acknowledged that at some point between twenty and thirty you will be the best looking version of you. (This is not a superficial statement because this beauty comes more from internal than external factors.) Acne will disappear, baby fat will melt away, and you will be years away from wrinkles and age spots. Your skin will glow. You might not have much money, but you will be secure in your taste and confident in your style. Your hair will shine. And one day you'll be sitting with some friends, holding a glass of wine or a root beer or a San Pellegrino, in a romantic cafe in a city you've come to know as your own, in a city that you've come to own. The sun will make the glass in your hand sparkle and you'll think of all the things you know and all the things there's left to learn and the road is so deliciously long. "This," you'll say, "is life."

And it is good.

Happy Birthday, Kody. The best is yet to come...

For more birthday wishes, check out blog posts by Amy Lukavics, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Erica O'Rourke, and Kaitlin Ward later today!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Back to the Past

The book I'm working on now is set in WWII-era Iowa City. Yep, Iowa.

I have a good grasp of 20th C. history, but I nearly googled myself to death trying to get the setting right. There's not a lot out there, but, I thought, what I found was enough. Through the University of Iowa photo archives I saw where my character might live, where she'd do her grocery shopping, and where she'd stop for a cup of tea or a beer, depending on her preference. Their collection is wonderful.

Still, I had to make some assumptions based on more general historical facts. For example, small-town USO functions were typically held in YMCAs or YWCAs, so when my gal went to roll bandages for the guys overseas, she skipped on down to the Y.

Those assumptions started to bother me. What if I was wrong? You might think, who the heck is going to know the difference? Well, I would. Someone who was around back then might.

So I called the Johnson County Historical Society. The woman who picked up, Sue Foster, patiently listened to my questions. "You need to talk to Bob Hibbs," she said when I finished. "He's our local historian and he knows everything. Let me see if I can find his number..."

She did find it, and next thing I knew I was asking Mr. Bob Hibbs where I might go if I attended a USO function in 1943 if I lived in Iowa City.

"All the USO activities were held in the American Legion Building," he said without even pausing to think. "The old YMCA building burned down."

Okay, then. I would have been wrong.

This might not seem like a big deal to you. But the more I learn about the brave, industrious souls who inhabited Iowa during the war, the more I want to do right by them. It seems an insult to assume now. I want to know.

The closest you can get to that knowledge is through real, live human beings. Thanks, Sue. Thanks, Bob. My book is better thanks to both of you.