My husband and I were out to dinner tonight and overheard a conversation between a mother and her son, who I would guess was around 10. The boy was upset about something to do with a friend named Joe. I heard the mom say, “Well, you just tell him, you say, ‘Joe, I know it was an accident when you knocked the X-Box off the table, but my mom says you have to tell your parents or she will.’ ”
And this is where the boy became particularly distressed. He responded, “But I already told him that, sort of. And he said that I should let him talk to you. He said he can be very persuasive. Joe can be very persuasive, Mom.”
“Oh please,” the mom said. “Joe can’t persuade me to do anything. No, he needs to tell his parents or I’ll do it for him.”
And they left shortly after that. I was fascinated by their discussion. It was an unfinished story that I needed to know the ending of. I was imagining this poor kid and how anxious he must be about confronting his friend; what would the repercussions be for him if he did or didn’t.
I mentioned this to my husband and he said, “That kid’s not worried about confronting his friend. He’s worried because he’s gotten himself stuck in a lie. He probably broke that X-Box himself, or at least had some part in it.”
I think I may have actually gasped when my husband proposed this. It just hadn’t occurred to me, but once voiced, the explanation rang so true. I liked my husband’s interpretation of the scene because it both surprised me–I’d been reading this kid (or character) totally differently–and it was a very satisfying surprise. Everything fit. The details had already been laid that made this “caught in a lie” assessment seem so accurate. The boy’s restlessness, his resistance to his mom talking to his friend’s parents, how he said he didn’t feel well and was so antsy he left to go sit in the car before his mom had finished paying the check. Signs of a guilty conscience? Perhaps . . .
This was a much more interesting conflict to me than what I had been imagining. The way I’d interpreted the scene initially, I had characterized this kid in a totally sympathetic way. He was the victim. There’s still conflict there–how will he tell his friend? What happens next? Will his friend refuse to be friends with him any more? But in that scenario, the boy doesn’t have much control. Everything has happened to him and he’s just reacting. His friend broke the X-Box, his mom is telling him what to do. It’s not unrealistic, but the other scenario is dramatically much more interesting because the kid got himself into this mess, and now he has to get himself out. But how? Does he tell his mom the truth? That’s going to take some serious guts to admit he’s been lying to her. Will he change his story a bit with an explanation for why Joe maybe isn’t totally to blame? Or does our hero dig himself further into the lie by telling his friend what’s going on and ask him to take the fall? And how would he go about doing that? Bully him? Create a new lie that would convince Joe it’s better he get in trouble than our hero? Or does he try to come up with the money for a new X-Box somehow and say it’s from Joe?
Thinking about this was a good reminder to me with my WIP. It’s not enough for my characters to find trouble. If their actions create the tension in the story, it will be a more compelling read. And if the stakes are high, even moreso.
If the wind blows open the gate and Skippy gets loose and the main character has to go find him, that’s fine. It’s a story. It’s not unrealistic. But the tension would be amped up that much more if the main character left the gate open and Skippy got out. And maybe taking care of Skippy was a test of responsibility and if he passed, the main character would be able to go to a concert with his friend, unchaperoned. Now he wants to resolve the situation not only because he’s worried about his missing dog, but because his reputation with his parents is at stake, as well as this concert he wants to go to. This could still be part of the scenario with the wind blowing open the gate, but if the character’s actions have brought on the conflict, it raises the question to both the reader and the main character, Is he really responsible enough? And seeing how he chooses to respond to both the problem and that question, I think, makes for a much more interesting story.
For the last 12+ years I’ve had long hair, but not anymore. Today I had 10 inches cut off and donated it to Locks of Love.
My friend Jen (who donated her hair over the summer) and my hairdresser planted the seed for donating my hair. Now, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t worried a bit about doing this. The last time I cut my hair shorter than shoulder length, I looked 12. I was 17. When you are a 17-year-old starting college, the last thing you want is to look 12. Nowadays, I’m pretty confident I won’t be mistaken for 12. And if I was, I’d probably be flattered. But still, there was that little vain voice that was nagging me: What if you look silly with short hair? What if your husband hates it? But my husband thought short hair would look sexy, so I couldn’t use him as an excuse to back out. And in general I try not to be someone that is resistant to change because I’m afraid of the outcome. I won’t know if I like my hair short if I don’t try it. (Folding long hair up to chin level is not a good test of how that length will look on you, by the way.) So what if it didn’t look good? It’s only hair. It will grow out. And it’s for a good cause, for pete’s sake. If you are already considering going short, and you have enough length to donate, I don’t know if there is much better motivation than knowing you will actually be helping someone if you do. It can really shake you out of that vain perspective when you consider there are people with cancer who might appreciate you doing this.
So I did it. I chopped my hair. And when Hayley cut off my 10-inch braid, I was actually excited, not nervous or sad like I thought I might be. And I’m loving my new short ‘do.
Have you heard of The Grotto? No, not the one of Playboy Mansion fame. The writer’s grotto in San Francisco. It’s a collaborative workspace filled entirely with writers and filmmakers, started initially by Po Bronson, Ethan Watters, and Ethan Canin. I love this idea—an office of artists. Maybe not financially feasible for most, but I love the idea of having a place to go every day where I’d have my own work space and could get writing done, but also have regular, in-person access to a community of like-minded, creative individuals.
This was one of my favorite things about the SCBWI summer conference: The sense of community. It was something I hadn’t been expecting, oddly enough. I’ve always attended smaller conferences where it was fairly easy to meet people. I assumed because the LA conference is so large I would be lost in the shuffle, one of the masses, and would have a much harder time meeting people. But boy was I wrong. I was first proven wrong Friday morning, sitting outside the airport waiting for my shuttle to take me to the conference. I befriended Ginny and Marilee traveling from Oregon, two new friendships that continued throughout the weekend and I hope will continue beyond the conference. Friday night, I went out to dinner with a group that assembled in a casual, haphazard way. We were members from New York, Michigan, New Orleans, California, and myself from Colorado, everyone was a new acquaintance to me except for my long-time writing buddy, Rachel.
I think my favorite memory of the entire conference was sitting in the lobby area one night after all the days events were over. My roommate Robin was there, who I hadn’t known before the weekend but quickly became fast friends with, and Rachel, and several other new friends. I think it was Sunday night because I remember feeling so full of information and inspiration and also feeling very tired. I remember laughing in that delirious way that you do about the smallest thing that might be chuckle-worthy on a regular day but suddenly seems hysterical in your overinformed, deliriously tired and inspired state of mind. Oh man, it feels good to laugh like that. And we sat around a table and just dished and talked for what seemed like hours about the conference, about agents, about our work, about our life in general. The windows of the lobby were blackened with night, our few gaps in conversation were filled with the clinking of glasses from the bar, the clatter of someone typing furiously into their laptop. People came and went from our table, pulling up a chair to join us, scooting it back to go say hi to someone across the room. An editor or author that spoke at the conference would walk by and we’d all quiet down and straighten up a bit, paying attention to them while we pretended to not pay attention.
In the midst of this, I saw another old writing friend across the lobby—one I haven’t seen or talked to in years and didn’t know would be attending the conference, a woman who was in my very first children’s writing critique group. I ran after her and we were able to chat, catch up on each other’s lives. It was so good to reconnect with her, and I returned to my table of new and old writer friends feeling overwhelmed and grateful, SO grateful for this community I’m a part of. So grateful for the friendships I’ve made and continue to make. And I wished it wouldn’t end. I wished I could have that every day: a table to sit at and chat and laugh and be inspired by and commiserate with these writer friends. And having both a Starbucks and a bar mere feet away as they are in the Hyatt lobby would be included too, of course.
While that night inevitably ended, I realized that table could be a virtual reality. I’d already been eavesdropping on the table really, with all the writer’s and illustrator’s blogs and websites that I’ve frequented these past years. So starting this blog is my way of pulling up a chair and joining the conversation.