Happy New Year!

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For me the new year doesn’t start on January 1st. I’ve had a first day of school every year since my first day of kindergarten many years ago. The first day jitters don’t overcome me like they used to, and I always love the chance to get a fresh start.

This year I’ve come up with a few resolutions to start my new year.

1. Stay Positive: There can be a lot of political drama surrounding education, but it’s my goal to focus on what’s really important

2. Keep Writing: During the school year I can lose all sight of my personal goals. This year I hope to write or edit each week.

3. Enjoy every day: I usually don’t have a problem with this, but I put it on my list because I had a rough start last year due to a personal loss. I love my career and want it to show.

Happy new year to all students, parents, teachers, janitors, school nurses, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, secretaries, principals, school counselors, and professors! I hope it’s a good one. Feel free to share your resolutions or thoughts below.

What I’ve Learned from Loss

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A little over a year ago I lost my father. It was sudden; it was unexpected, and the past year has been a whirlwind of grief. Today I finished up the final paperwork for his estate, and I found myself crying and reflecting on what I’ve learned from the whole experience.

Don’t Wait

My dad had so many plans for his future. He wanted to travel and build a log cabin and experience so many things. So many things were put off for a retirement that would never come.
This has inspired me to reach for my goals now (like finishing my novel) and not count on later.

Show Love

I love hearing stories from people my dad helped. So many people claimed to be his best friend when introducing themselves at his funeral. My dad was kind to everyone and gave selflessly of his time.
Volunteering has helped me to cope. Focusing on others helps to ease the grief and carry on his legacy.

Step Forward

Grief is different for everyone. I alternated between bursting into tears and emotional numbness. Moving forward was difficult but through little steps and time, things started to get better (especially after the year mark). Grief counseling and the support of friends and family helped me, and I can now think of my dad sometimes without all the pain and sadness. His life brought so much joy to others and will be celebrated as I move forward.

To everyone experiencing loss, my heart is with you. I don’t think the grief ever completely goes away, but I’m slowly finding peace.

Cyber-Bullying: What Could We Do?

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The show What Would You Do? tries to find how average people will react in certain situations. This clip from the show relates to the issue of cyber-bullying. The reactions surprised me.
http://youtu.be/8KVxafFgXq0
My current work in progress features three characters who are affected by an online bullies. Social media has changed the face of bullying, and this clip made me wonder what can we do in the face of such a widespread problem.

AS A COMMUNITY:

-Take it seriously

Many adults still consider bullying a normal part of teen life. Emotional abuse and harassment should never be normalized. Bullying escalates if left unchecked and can lead to depression and even suicide.
Messages posted online are there for all their peers to see and for them to read over and over.
In some states and cities it is even a legal issue. Teens need to be informed of the legal implications. The link below shows one of the many cases where arrests have been made.

http://youtu.be/QREFr263SRc

-Set a good example

Cyber-bullying and harassment is not limited to children and teenagers. A trip to the comments section of a news article often reveals derogatory language and personal attacks. Adults also like to hide behind the anonymity provided by the internet and write things that they would never have the guts to say to someone’s face. In the most extreme examples adults have threatened to kill or rape those with which they disagree.

http://youtu.be/68BBQ7YCkz0

As individuals we can strive to show online citizenship and avoid getting into flame wars with strangers.

AS A PARENT:

-Be straight with your kids

When I was in sixth grade, a group of mean girls came up with an idea to prank this boy in our class. He was different and stood out. I thought it was a funny idea and told my mom about it. She straight out told me I was being a “B”. By the end of the night, I was crying and felt like crap. I love her for that. The prank didn’t happen, and he and I even became friends later.
Don’t be afraid to tell your kids when they are in the wrong. If you hear them laughing with their friends at the expense of another kid or see something cruel posted on their Facebook wall, call them out. They might be upset now, but they will appreciate it later.

-Don’t join the games

I will never forget the story of the parent who impersonated a minor and then bullied a teen girl, ending in tragedy.

http://youtu.be/HFsfDLCkfQU

Getting involved in the bullying is immature at best and child abuse at worst. If your child is having a problem with another kid, support him or her through it, but don’t bully or encourage your kid to bully. Remember you only know one side of the story. Sometimes the bullying goes two ways.
If your child is being bullied, it may be appropriate to alert the school or the authorities.

AS A TEENAGER:

-Have empathy for others

The idea that someone could commit suicide over being bullied might not sound logical, but it’s hard to know where that person is coming from. Some teens go home to a supportive home where they can laugh off the bullying with their loving parents and/or siblings. Some teens go home to an empty house, or verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. The bullying just echoes what they already experience from those supposed to care for them. Even if they seem to have it all together. Even if they bully others themselves.
Try to put yourself in their place and allow empathy to guide your online interactions and texts. Anything bad you type about a person could easily make its way back through sharing or screenshots.

-Show kindness

Simple acts of kindness can go a long way. I’ve witnessed so much kindness from teenagers: moving to sit with someone who is all alone, standing up for students with special needs, and supporting each other through difficulties. It’s hard to go outside your comfort zone, but it can mean so much, especially to those being bullied.

If someone is being severely bullied, or you fear he or she may commit suicide, it is important to talk to a trusted adult. You don’t have to keep it all on your shoulders.

Bullying is not something that will go away, but we can all be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Feel free to share any thoughts or comments below.

Thoughts on Writing “True” Teenagers

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One of the challenges as an adult writing young-adult fiction is making sure my teenage characters reflect reality rather than current television trends. As a middle school and high school teacher, I’ve seen all the stereotypes walk through the halls: the dumb jock, the ditz, the mean girl, the nerd, and any other Glee or Gossip Girl character you can think of. But these kids are much deeper than superficial categories, and the ways they defy their assigned roles make them truly interesting.

Teens can be quick to label others, but I’ve found most hate being labeled or categorized. Many want to read characters who reflect how they see themselves: complex, intelligent, and misunderstood.

Through discussing books and favorite characters with my students, I’ve tried to pinpoint what makes characters “true” to them.

1. Allow characters to make mistakes and learn from them.
Teens don’t want to read about a flawless character any more than adults do. Their favorite characters are the ones who disobey their parents, hurt their friends, or regret a choice and then have to fix the mess they’ve made. I’ve found that my students connect the most to characters who sometimes make the wrong choice regardless of the outcome. The Harry Potter series wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting if the main characters always followed the rules and behaved.

2. Write intelligent dialogue.
Most teenagers hate being portrayed as dumb (unless it’s clear comic relief). Many see wit and sarcasm as a must in dialogue. Teens joke around with their friends, but they also know how to hold a serious conversation. Well placed humor or irony can be used to break the tension. When I was in high school, I loved the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the snappy dialogue was one of the main reasons.

Xander Harris: “I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away.”

I don’t think it’s necessary to try to throw in a lot of slang words for every character since they change all the time, and most the teens I know only use text speak ironically. Last year a student did say, “Did my homework last night, Ms. Ashland, hashtag YOLO,” and I do have several who use “oh-em-gee” as an interjection. I think using slang sparingly can add flavor, but it also dates the writing. By the time a manuscript is completed, the slang in opening chapters could be out of commission.

Portraying text messages in YA lit offers another challenge. Some of my students claim to text in perfect English, but since “gr8″, “cray”, and “dorbs” have all shown up in written assignments, I’m guessing that’s not the norm.
(dorbs= adorable. During the school year, I learn something new everyday)

3. Use stereotypes.
Creating a character who falls under certain labels sets up certain expectations. The best characters defy these expectations from time to time. When I create a character, I always consider the assumptions that might be made about him or her and then add a few details that don’t quite fit. People are complex and what’s on the surface doesn’t always reveal what lies beneath. My current work in progress includes a gay medium who enjoys watching football, a cheerleader whose favorite game is Scrabble, and a popular kid who lives in poverty with his single mom. Teenagers seem to appreciate layered characters who surprise them. It’s part of why The Outsiders is still a hit with many teen readers.

Working with teenagers has definitely given me perspective for my writing, and their insights guide my character creation.

Who are some of your favorite teen characters and what do you love about them?

The Conjuring and How I get Freaked out by Movie Trailers

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So last night I went to seeĀ The Heat, expecting to get a great laugh watching Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy fight crime together, but a trailer forĀ The Conjuring blindsided me. Confession: I get more freaked out by trailers than the actual movies. It’s my overactive imagination. The storyline I devise in my head based on the snippets of action can cause me to jump at every sound as I try to sleep at night. What isn’t shown scares me way more than what is.

A friend wants me to see it with her even though she knows horror movies are my personal psychological torture. I would hate to pay eleven dollars to take some years off my life. Maybe I’ll go to find out if it’s as terrifying as my imagined version.

Strangely, I’m in the process of writing a novel about a ghost, and it contains many of the horror elements I hate in movies. Maybe through writing I can overcome my fears, or just freak myself out even more.

Here’s the link, watch at your own risk: http://youtu.be/k10ETZ41q5o

Anyone else get scared just from watching the trailers?