Teen Violence: Domestic & International

In Hanging in the Stars after Andrew and Maya first romantic encounter in the park, Andrew watches Maya get into her brother’s cherry red mustang. Suddenly, her drug dealing brother turns around and slaps Maya across the face. Andrew can’t imagine the humiliation of being slapped across the face. When he questions Maya about her brother’s physical abuse, she talks about his obsessive need to dominate. She compares her brother to Juliet’s father in Romeo and Juliet who will turn his daughter out into the street to starve and beg if she doesn’t obey. Maya explains, “the beatings are about him controlling me.” Later on in the story Maya says her brother wants her to become educated so that someday she will be a beautiful, smart woman – a powerful weapon he can use in business.

Now in the Young Adult world of books and films is mesmerized by The Hunger Games where the state controls teens to the point of forcing them to hunt down and kill each other. Interestingly, author Suzanne Collins in an ABC News interview said she was inspired to write the book by reality TV and the war in Iraq. Collins also said she would like teens to think of their relationship to TV and to world news. Collins questions start us wondering: Is competition and the need to dominate simply entertainment in our society? Or, is this need to dominate a reason for horrific international wars where we use brutal technological force to destroy our competition?

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Tech-Phobic Writer Steps Into Social Media

I finally finished my first YA novel, Hanging in the Stars, and took the courageous, costly steps to self-publish. So, I should have been able to kick back and enjoy, right?

Wrong!

Marketing my book through social media was the next scary step. Though it’s not cool to admit in this day and age, I‘m terrified of my computer with good reasons; with a myriad of passwords I often confuse each by one numeral, or the mouse cursor that plays hide and seek with me, or the hour glass icon when the computer slows down that reminds me that the computer is controlling so much of my time!

I knew I could not launch into cyberspace alone, so I hired a young, intelligent, computer-savvy marketer who masterfully organized my social media campaign (which involved creating this website & blog, a Facebook Page, and a Twitter account to publicize my book). Sounds easy enough.

Wrong!

It’s a pixel jungle out there, even with my social media marketer. My pixel guardian angel. For example, the ever changing and often confusing Facebook recreated the noun friend into a verb. Moreover, it took intimate relationships into a fishbowl of acquaintances who often talk about nothing. Then there’s the pressure to “Like” it all. However, my website talks about me as an author and about my book. For teachers and librarians there are tabs that display study guides and group discussion questions.

Hanging in the Stars touches on many issues that concern today’s teens such as cross-cultural romance, single parents, and domestic violence. I discuss these issues in my blog. Sometimes I wonder maybe talking about nothing would be more brilliant? I don’t like the sound of that word blog. Say it aloud. Your ears will agree with me. What exactly is a blog, but a place to give out information, discuss what matters to your audience?

I think of teens, YA authors, and teachers as my audience. Maybe that is too broad a range? I have tried to include advice from professionals on adolescent behavior to give it more weight. Perhaps, that is another mistake? Maybe, I should season my blog with gossip or examples of outrageous teen behavior to boost traffic at my site?

Speaking about increasing my cyberspace friends, I now not only tweet, but retweet and reply, mostly to YA authors. It all boils down to expressing my thoughts in 140 characters or less. What are the short cuts to being more clever? Is less really more? Then there is the fear of making a mistake publically to worry about. One tip I can pass on is never tweet and drink wine at the same time. Your loss of inhibitions connects your hidden feelings and anger with your wiggling thumbs. Also, the chance of hitting the wrong key can easily make your private messages public.

Then again, going public – isn’t that what social media is all about?

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Writing My First Novel

I self-published Hanging in the Stars, my first novel. This is a dream come true. Since 6th grade I secretly wanted to be a writer. Raising two sons and teaching high school English came between my dream and the reality of a finished book. (Yes, I started many novels over the years usually during summer vacation, only to abandon the manuscript when school started in September. By the following summer the plot had gone stale or I was infatuated by a new story idea.) 

However, two years ago when I attended Stonybrook University’s Summer Writing Workshop, I got organized with a game plan. I moved from a character sketch of Andrew to a writing the dinner table scene where he rebels against his mother’s expectations for him. Then I imagined his workout at the gym where he makes an agreement with Cruz.

The city playgrounds played a big part in my growing up and a lot of my tougher students played handball at the parks. So the playground swings became a romantic setting for Andrew and Maya, Cruz’s hot Mexican sister. I took lots of photographs of the local playground through the cyclone fence. I watched the empty metal swings move with the cement handball court looming large. I acquired a feel for their romance in a savvy setting.

While writing the book the characters had countless conversations with each other, and with me as well. Sometimes they simply refused to be ignored. In the early stages I decided that Andrew and Maya would be reading Romeo and Juliet, a classic 9th grade text. However, when I started to sprinkle in some quotes from the play, the words were so beautiful and meaningful that more and more quotes were intertwined as touch stones throughout Andrew and Maya’s journey.

To get a clear vision of their journey,  I had to draw a map of the setting and a time line to double check my sense of place and time. Not only did the novel have to be shaped in terms of action and suspense, each chapter had a shape and a hook. I created an outline of events and an approximate number of pages for each chapter. As in life, often while writing the unexpected happens. Sometimes what seems a wonderful idea just doesn’t work out and other times little insignificant moments become important.

After about six months of writing every day, I was relieved as I finished the last chapter. Only I had no idea that I had just begun. Rewrites and editing and publishing and marketing were all ahead. But writing the story with a beginning, middle and end for the first time is indeed the first step, and an important one at that.

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Wherefore Art Thou Love?

My first YA novel, Hanging in the Stars, was deeply inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It blossoms into a savvy love story when 14 year old Andrew agrees to tutor Maya, the sister of a local drug dealer.

Working together on Romeo and Juliet assignments deepens their cross-cultural romance. Shakespeare’s beautiful language becomes intertwined in Maya and Andrew’s own love story. Below are excerpts from the novel of how Shakespeare’s words serve as touchstones to characters’ thoughts, actions and dialogue.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Did my heart love till now? I never saw true beauty till this night

“Andrew saw her playing handball. Her tight body sliding sideways. She sure was pretty with that long black hair that kind of swayed as she moved.”

HOLDING HANDS

Palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss.

“What if my brother is watching, I’m never supposed to hold a guy’s hand?”

THOSE 3 LITTLE WORDS

Dost thou love me?

“‘Love me?’ Andrew said. He didn’t know what to say. He felt so much for Maya. He had never said those words to any girl. They were so special. He just wasn’t prepared to say them here.”

THE KISS

My lips…ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

“Andrew lingered. He wanted to keep kissing her again and again. She felt so soft. He knew he had to leave.”

THE BATTLE TO STAY IN LOVE

I fear too early for my mind misgives

Some consequences yet hanging in the stars

“From the couch he could see the bright moonlight pouring through the kitchen window. Andrew couldn’t sleep. He kept worrying about Ally, Cruz, Maya and even his mother and about the consequences hanging in the stars – the consequences of his own gigantic mistake.”

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I Don’t See It Your Way

In the opening scene of Hanging in the Stars, Andrew’s mother suggests during dinner that her son join track or drama club now that he is in 9th grade. He sits silently at the dinner table thinking the last thing he wants is to join is some dumb school team like his sister’s friends who joined as many activities as possible to enhance their college applications. Sometimes he felt like screaming at his mother, “I might want to be a graffiti artist and paint curse words over every high school in the city. Maybe I’ll become a juggler in the park with no overhead, no college degree or business suit. That sounds like a plan I can follow. “

As a parent of two grown sons, I painfully remember when they were about eleven years old they started rolling their eyes at whatever I said. During conversations I’d see them looking at each other in agreement that mom still lived in the dark ages. Suddenly, they avoided public appearances with me. When I wanted to ride my bike in the neighborhood, my younger son said, “You’re not going to ride in the streets wearing that helmet.” When driving my older son and his friend to a 7th grade dance I had to let them off around the corner. Up until then I thought of our family as a happy unit with similar ideas and beliefs. When they hit puberty, they took every opportunity to let me and my husband know they saw, thought, and wanted to live differently from us.

In “Why Do I Fight With My Parents So Much?” Kidshealth explains clashes between teens and parents are common because teens get angry when they feel parents don’t respect them. Parents worry about the loss of control and their teens’ safety. The experts advise teens that talking and expressing yourself can increase your parents’ respect for you. Try compromises so that both you and your parents feel a sense of accomplishment. Remember, though it may seem hard to believe, your parents were once teens too.

What do you think of that advice? From your own experience in dealing with your parents, what do you suggest?

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BFFs: Could ‘Forever’ Really Just Mean ‘For Now’?

“BFF” is most passionately believed by childhood friends. You and that special friend usually share the same neighborhood, teachers, and even each others family life. Friends are your whole world when you are young. Best childhood friends are part of your roots.   

Yet, often you and your best friend grow apart. In Hanging in the Stars Max has been Andrew’s best friend for as long as Andrew can remember. When Andrew is attracted to Maya, a handball player with a killer shot, he invites Max to take a ride over to the park and play some handball, but Max refuses. Andrew knows that Max doesn’t like change and never wants to leave the block. Andrew decides then that he will never be able to tell Max about Maya.

It is painful when one friend moves on and the other is left behind. As a former high school teacher, I would often see students lonely because their best friend was now part of a new group or romantically involved with someone else and didn’t have time for them. I remember when my best friend started hanging out with a new group of kids. To comfort me, my mom said, “You can have more than one friend in life. Just because Lois is making some new friends that doesn’t mean you’re not her friend anymore.”

How to deal when a best friend is no longer available is addressed by many professionals who work with teens. One such writer, Cherie Burbach, advises teens that are sad because of a lost friendship to think about what they learned from that friend. Burbach also recommends leaving the door open to revive the friendship in the future. Her final piece of advice in her article, Should Friendships Last Forever?, is to make new friends.

What do you think about this advice and could you add some more tips on how to deal with losing a best friend or coping with a changing friendship?

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Body Image: Andrew’s Message

In my first YA novel, Hanging in the Stars, Andrew, a skinny, self conscious 9th grader is determined to kick his own butt into shape. During a workout at the gym, a local drug dealer, Cruz, approaches Andrew and offers to help him get into shape in exchange for tutoring his sister, Maya, another 9th grader at Andrew’s school who is having difficulty in English class. As soon as Andrew meets Maya in the park to help her with their Romeo and Juliet assignment, their romance begins.

Since my book deals with lots of problems teens face, I’m going to use this blog to discuss some of the issues addressed in the book. Hopefully, this will ignite a meaningful discussion and whet your appetite to read Hanging in the Stars.

Motivated by my character’s unhappiness with his “skinny butt,” I wonder how many teens today don’t like the way they look. Teen Health reports that almost 54% of American girls and women, age 12 to 23, are unhappy with their bodies. Roughly 75% of 9 year old girls have dieted 2-5 times in a given year.

Boys have body issues, too. Shaping Youth discusses the hottie factor and the male use of steroids and supplements of all kinds promising a teen mean machine. Male teens are under peer and societal pressure for a buffed boy body image.

Why is this? Could the media’s obsession with thin females with big boobs and males with bulging biceps and contoured six packs be playing with our self worth?

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