On the American Work Ethic

This post is by my character Spriggy. He is a character from my new book (still has no title). Lindsay comes to him for help, but, as you will read, his version of help is probably not what she’s looking for.

Americans work too hard. Spending eight or more hours each day as a slave is not the life any of us dreamed of when we were kids. The forefathers of our country never put in the Bill of Rights (as far as I know–I haven’t actually read it) that we have the right to spend our time suffering.

People say we have to work–how else could we pay our bills? Working for money is okay–to a degree–but when it becomes working for fulfillment I see a big problem. A job shouldn’t be what people turn to for happiness.

The American dream is to be happy, so I am clearly the idea American. I am perfectly happy without needing to do anything. My perfect day would be sitting around, talking to some good friends, doing nothing but eating and drinking. Since I do that most of the time, I feel my life is complete.

Those who work for money but can’t seem to get enough no matter how many hours they put in are doing something wrong. I only work when I have to, and I have everything I need. Who needs fancy furniture or hundreds of TV stations or 20 different outfits? If you don’t have all that crap you don’t have to work so hard.

A simple life is the best life.

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Excerpt: Gym Class

Today I wrote a scene in my new book about my main character, Lindsay, finally crossing paths and connecting (in a way) with the main supporting character, Jax. Like my other excerpt, this is rough and will most likely change–this one is particularly rough because I haven’t had a lot of time this weekend to work on this or anything else. I think it can stand alone fairly well, and I feel like sharing, so here you go.

**Excerpt from my (unnamed) new book**

We were walking outside to the field when I saw him. The guy who’d caught the ball that had been flying for my face on Monday was walking a few steps ahead of me, head down, shoulders slumped. The posture was what gave him away because the slightly too tight gym clothes were nothing like what he’d been wearing before.

That was the same guy I’d crashed into running out of school yesterday, and, I just realized, was also the same guy I’d bumped into again on my way out of Spriggy and Rocco’s apartment. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t put it together sooner, but I guess I’d been pretty distracted those other two times.

We ended up on different teams, and my team batted first.  I think if I hadn’t been feeling so paranoid to begin with I wouldn’t have noticed, but when I came up to bat, I saw that his eyes were riveted on me. For every other player, though, he’d been looking at the ground or the sky. I wanted to yell at him to stop staring, but instead I quickly struck out.

Back on the bench, I leaned toward the chubby girl, Sharon, I always seemed to be paired up with. “What’s the deal with that guy?”

The girl looked like she’d just swallowed one of those super-sour gummy worms. “That’s Jaxon Conley. He’s really creepy.”

“What do you mean?” I looked out at him, but he wasn’t staring anymore. He also wasn’t paying attention to the game. A ball one of my teammates hit fell on the ground right beside him.

“He’s just creepy–like serial killer creepy.”

“He doesn’t look like a killer,” I said. All I saw was a scrawny kid who looked rather mopey. If I wasn’t starting to think he was stalking me I would have felt a little sorry for him.

“They never do, but everyone thinks that someday he’ll come in the school with a gun and start blasting people away.”

I wasn’t able to ask her any more about him–even though I had tons of questions now–because we got our third out, and I had to take my position at the back of the field.

The rest of the time I spent on the bench Sharon told me all about how Jaxon never talked to anyone and never participated in school activities. He always kept to himself and never looked anyone in the eye.

When I asked her about where he lived and what his family was like, she didn’t have any answers. She, and apparently the rest of the school, had made a lot of assumptions about him without knowing any real facts. I knew what that was like, thanks to Kim, and I didn’t want to label him “future serial killer” immediately, but when my turn to bat came up, he started staring at me again. Instead of looking at the pitcher or the ball, I turned and looked directly back at him. The ball flew by, and Coach snapped, “Pay attention, Rosembaum,” but I’d accomplished what I’d wanted. Jaxon quickly looked down.

He seemed shy enough that I figured that would end the trouble. Sure enough, the rest of the class period he never looked up once. On our way inside, I purposely hurried to walk right behind him, and just sensing me there resulted in him taking a sharp right turn to get away. But he crashed into the jock that was about to pass us.

“Watch it, freak.” The jock shoved him away–into me.

I met Jaxon’s eyes and saw a flash of wide-eyed panic. Then he ran inside.

“Good hustle, Conley,” Coach called after him.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I’ve really been enjoying Neal Shusterman’s works lately. I started with Everlost and Everwild, the first two books in his trilogy about a ghost world only for kids and young teens. While I wait for Everfound to come out I checked out Unwind, which is one of his most popular books–a distopia.

Website blurb: “In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would “unwind” them Connor’s parents want to be rid of him because he’s a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev’s unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family’s strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can’t be harmed — but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.”

The concept is very interesting, and it was very much a concept book, as most distopian books seem to be. But the three main characters were still very compelling, and even the most antagonistic of the three was appealing and entertaining to read about.

I’ve always enjoyed reading distopian books, probably because I’m always thinking of alternate futures for the world. They run the risk of being depressing or even formulaic. There are also already, so many classics in this genre that coming up with a fresh look on the subject can be a challenge. I think this book is done well, though the concept seems so outrageous that it’s almost unbelievable, but who knows–I’m sure some of the things we talk about and do today would seem completely outrageous to people who lived before us.

Neal Shusterman continues to impress me, and I look forward to reading more of his work soon!

A Silly Story

Here’s a goofy little story to commemorate the start of my summer. I dedicate it to the kids who have gone on to the Big School (4-6 year-old building).

Once upon a time, in a school far, far away, the children were just settling down for their morning meeting. Suddenly, yellow smoke filled the room, and no one could see. A moment later the smoke cleared, and a witch stood in the middle of the room—at least the kids assumed she was a witch because she had a warty nose, black clothes, and of course, a pointed hat.

“I’m here to cause trouble!” she shouted. “Because everyone here is too kind and sweet.”

She danced in a circle and the kids all turned into cats and dogs.

“Now your parents will make you sleep outside!” she said.

“But my mom lets our kitty sleep in my bed,” one child, Natalie, said.

“Never mind that,” the witch snapped. “Since you’re animals now you don’t have any thumbs, so you can’t open doors or hold silverware or turn the lights on and off.”

“But opening doors and turning on the lights are teacher works,” Nathan said.

“And they never use their silverware at lunch anyway,” Michele, a teacher, added.

The witch’s face turned red. “Now I’ll really make you pay!”

She snapped all ten of her fingers and all of the teachers vanished. “Now you can’t do anything because the teachers aren’t here to help you!”

And she left in another cloud of smoke before Sienna could point out that they could do plenty of things without anyone’s help.

At first the kids weren’t too upset that the teachers were gone. They really enjoyed being cats and dogs, and they ran and played all over the school. Eventually, though, they started to miss those friendly, helpful ladies.

“We should try to find them!” Renée announced.

All the other kids agreed, but they didn’t know where to look, and most of them were afraid to try to leave the school without a grown-up.

Suddenly the front door opened, and three men in spandex entered. They were Batman, Spiderman, and Superman!

“We’ll help you find your teachers!” they said.

The kids cheered and licked the superheroes’ faces.

“There’s too many of you to carry,” Spiderman said. “We’ll have to find another way to travel.”

They all heard a loud whistle from the railroad tracks across the street.

“It’s Thomas!” Cora shouted from the window.

Thomas the Tank Engine agreed to give them all a ride, so they climbed aboard and started their quest.

Along the way, though, the superheroes had to leave to go fight some bad guys, so the kids had to continue on their own.

They’d gone a long way when Matilda screamed, “Stop!”

In front of them was a beautiful, fairy tale castle. Everyone rushed inside to find the princess. All they could find, though, was a tiny pony with a pink mane and tail. The pony, though, had heard about the missing teachers and told the kids they had to go through the dark forest to find them.

Even though they were scared, they went ahead anyway. Some of the kids thought they saw a ghost in the trees, and others thought they saw goblins. What they found, though, ended up being worse than any of that.

The witch was blocking the path, smiling. Before the children could get close to her, she clapped 3 and a half times and created a huge Tyrannosaurus Res that was hungry for some kids to eat—especially kids that looked like kitties and doggies.

The children were terrified at first, but then Tariku shouted, “We can stop him if we work together!”

They did start to work together, and they ran in circles around the t-rex’s feet. The t-rex couldn’t decide which delectable pet to try to eat, and he ended up getting dizzy and fell down. He bumped his head and didn’t get back up. The kids were cheering when Spiderman, Superman, and Batman swooped back in.

Batman put the witch in a headlock and Spiderman took her hat away with a squirt of his web, because everyone knows a witch’s power comes from her hat. The kids crowded around her and barked and meowed and scratched at her legs until she finally said, “Okay, okay, I’ll bring your teachers back.”

She spit on the ground and all of the teachers dropped down from the sky. Everyone cheered. “Could you please turn the children back into humans as well,” Tricia, a teacher, asked.

“All right,” the witch said.

“Awwww,” all the kids said.

Thomas took everyone back to school, and they arrived right before the first parent came to pick them up. All in all it was a wonderful adventure—and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

The Client

My new book has a few courtroom scenes in it, so besides reading about practicing law and how a courtroom works, and paying close attention to Law and Order, I have decided to read some legal thrillers to see the language other writers have used to bring such scenes to life. I want to see examples of scenes that have been pulled off successfully and dramatically so that in my YA book the audience will be excited when a courtroom scene comes and not want to skip through it.

So, naturally, I first went to John Grisham. My local library only had a couple of his books in, but The Client looked appealing (and I haven’t seen the movie)–it was about a kid, so it seemed even more up my research alley.

Jacket blurb: “This is the story of eleven-year-old Mark Sway, who, as the novel opens, witnesses the bizarre suicide of a New Orleans attorney. Just before he dies, the lawyer tells Mark a deadly secret concerning the recent murder of a Louisiana Senator, whose accused killer, Mafia thug Barry Muldanno, is about to go to trial. The police, the federal prosecutor, and the FBI pressure Mark to tell them the attorney’s last words, but he knows that with the mob watching his every move, revealing his secret will almost surely get him killed.”

Overall, I was unimpressed. I was expecting some pretty big things, at least plot-wise, since this was John Grisham. I thought best-sellers, especially “thrillers,” were supposed to be all about plot–really great stories that allow readers to overlook any other weaknesses that beginning writers like myself can’t afford to have in our own work.

Steph Bowe, on her blog “Hey! Teenager of the Year,” coincidentally just did a book review of Grisham’s new YA book, Theodore Boone, Young Lawyer, and I think her review of that book pretty much matches my review for this book. Read it here.

In The Client, I felt like Mark also acted like a “miniature adult” instead of an 11 year-old boy, and that by the end I felt like not a whole lot had happened. Plus, there were hardly any courtroom scenes, and the few there were didn’t help me out much for my own book.

So I’m still in the hunt for some good legal thrillers, or other good legal/courtroom novels. Any suggestions?

My Writing Process

I hesitate to even bring up the subject of writing process because it is such a varied and personal routine (or lack thereof) for every writer. Yet, in every interview with a writer there is always a question about a writer’s process. Writers want to know how other successful writers have gotten their stories down, as if it is the process that is the magical key to “making it” rather than the story and characters and skill, and some good luck.

Even though I don’t try to copy another writer’s process, I am still curious to learn how they conduct their writing life, and I’m sure readers are also interested in learning how writers have put together a world that has amazed them and taken over their lives for a short time.

My writing process is a bit different than most I’ve read, so I thought I’d share it just for fun.

The steps:

  1. I write copious unorganized notes and type and organize them until I’ve come to a point where I feel comfortable with the plot and characters—like it’s all come alive.
  2. I make a basic outline (yes—an outline) of the plot, usually broken into three parts: beginning, middle, and end.
  3. Before I start writing the actual scenes. I take out my pocket notebook and do a detailed breakdown of it—what will happen when, the characters involved, and their feelings, etc.
  4. Then I finally write the scene (by pen, in a notebook), and repeat number 3 before starting the next scene.
  5. Revisions don’t come until it’s been typed—I won’t get into my process for those here.

Obviously, I’m a planner. I know a lot of writers like things to unfold as they go along, but that doesn’t work so well for me. Writing using this process for me is like unwrapping a package that has been securely packed to safely send its fragile contents overseas. Each outline gets deeper into the story and reveals more of the story to me, so when I finally get down to the “real” writing I have gotten all the technical details out of the way so I can explore the language, character nuances, descriptions, the way dialogue sounds, etc. Outlining, in its own way, is still writing the story, even if it’s not yet in narrative form.

When I know what’s going on in the scene the words flow so much more easily. If I do start a scene before I’m ready then I feel lost and then I stall and stagger—completely unable to get into the story. I guess that when I write the book part I want to do more than just get some general ideas on the paper. I want to start bringing it to life.

Writing about the scene beforehand through outlining and making notes helps me visualize what’s happening—I need to have a picture of everything in my head so I can feel comfortable bringing it to life with my words. By the time I’ve done this I’m usually dying to write the actual scene; I’m excited to bring it to life—not burned out by over-exploring it. (With all the revisions to eventually come I’d better not be sick of it yet!)

There are sometimes scenes that I already have fully visualized before I start the outline, in those cases I feel comfortable skipping some steps because I don’t need them, but there are other times when I have to spend extra time working on a scene before I feel ready to write it. I feel like I’m trying to unlock what a scene is really about and find the special parts that will make it special to me, and hopefully, therefore, special to a reader.