College Shenanigans

We played with tinfoil sometimes.

When I was a freshman in college, my dorm mates and I decided to jump into a pool on the coldest night of the year. (Yes, I went to college in Florida, but it was North Florida, where temperatures actually dropped down to the teens!) The pool was behind our building, so after submerging in the water, we ran back inside to the safety and warmth of our shared rooms.

To keep the tradition alive, we decided to do it again sophomore year,  only this time we were in different buildings, and this time we raised the stakes. With no pool behind our building anymore, we decided to race across the entire campus, jump into the fountain (which was normal to jump – or be thrown – into), and run all the way back home. It was far. We were wearing bathing suits under our jackets, and the temperature was around 14 degrees. We were stupid.

Still, five of us did it – three guys, two girls. We raced, we jumped, we screamed, we ran back. Icicles clung to my braided pigtails. I couldn’t stop shaking, and then everything hurt. I collapsed in the bathroom with my roommate as the water from the shower heated up the room and warmed our blood. About an hour later, the guys came by to check on us and we all had hot soup together, laughing about what we’d just accomplished. Needless to say, we didn’t try to recreate it the following year.

I’m still friends with many of these people, and oftentimes we’ll reflect on this event, along with the others that, in a weird way, shaped our early college years. (That time we dared him to eat all the cinnamon, that time we played assassins across campus with loaded water guns, that time she fell through the ceiling when trying to crawl from one room to the other, that time they rappelled off the building…). There are more memories, of course, more crazy nights, and it’s fun thinking about them, running them through my mind like a highlight reel.

A few of those dorm mates have kids now, just like I will any day now. I thought about this, while talking to one of them, joking that one day our kids will be in college and, maybe, running across campus in freezing weather. That they might replicate some of the not-so-smart things we did.

And that’s terrifying.

But also…we were good kids. Yeah, we broke rules, but we never did anything too bad, too dangerous. We knew what was right and wrong, despite the desire to break free. But most importantly – we had each other. And that was the most important part. We kept each other inspired, but also grounded. We looked out for one another. We cared, we loved.

So, yeah, it is frightening to think about my daughter going away to college in the future, to think about what she’ll get up to, to wonder if she’ll be shaking icicles out of her hair at 2 a.m., too. But honestly, if she makes a group of friends like I did, I know she’ll be just fine.

Gators

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There be gators in them waters

A benefit to living in Florida is that you get used to really weird things. Like gators, for instance. Around the corner from my parent’s house is a state park that’s home to canoeing, a really great swimming hole, and, yeah, a ton of gators. You just canoe around them. Behind my grandparent’s house is a lake that oftentimes has gators swimming in it. When they’re out, you just don’t let kids play by the water – simple as that. And then, overnight it seems, these gators disappear.

Florida wildlife is weird. And also very cool.

A month or so ago, my supervisor urged me to enter this Florida 250-word micro-fiction contest, wherein the prompt was simply “They named the gator…”. I didn’t win, but I still have my entry and thought i’d post it here. Though to me seeing a gator in your backyard is completely normal – apparently it isn’t for everyone.

(If interested, I’ve posted previously about weird Florida wildlife interactions, only that time about black bears!)

—–

They named the gator Green, because that was its color. It showed up in their backyard one night, slithering out of the pond that gently shivered with the wind. How it got into the pond was never asked. They wanted to play with it, teach it tricks like they did their dog Chip (named after his color, too, that of a chocolate chip). Their mom said no and kept them inside, fearing what a gator would do with two inquisitive five-year-olds who yearned for another pet.

At night they snuck out anyway, creaking open the back door they’d seen their parents lock and unlock hundreds of times. With G.I. Joe flashlights in tiny hands, they crept down the yard until they sat beside the black pond. There was no air that night, no wind creating waves, but still there was movement. The water lapped against their naked toes as two yellow eyes watched on. “There,” one whispered, pointing a shaking finger. Green moved its head, blinked twice, then opened its mouth to expose rows upon rows of sharp teeth. Daggers glistening in the night. The boys screamed and darted back into the house, flashlights forgotten in the hustle. Woken up, their mom scooped them up nervously, reprimanding them for their disobedience.

After calming quivering fears and tucking them back into bed, she looked outside. The gator was still there, still staring at their house, waiting, contemplating. As if to say, come back. As if to say, goodnight.

Editing Process: Step Two

(A continuation of my “editing process” series for TNWSY.)

“Dee, turn it up!”

That was the first line I ever wrote in my very first variation of TNWSY. I won’t even say draft because it was merely a scene, not even a chapter. In the end, I didn’t use much from that first bit of writing, mostly just the setting (a bedroom) and the two girls talking, but even their names changed. (There is no “Dee” anymore.)

But, somehow, in all of the drafts and revisions and edits and craziness, that line remained. It’s not the first line, but it’s still in the book. Which is kind of cool, at least to me.

Because currently I’m going through my book another time. There are line edits now, corrections and suggestions in track changes for me to go through and revise. I like these kinds of edits because I know exactly what my editor is looking for. It’s not “elaborate on this theme,” It’s “elaborate on this scene.” It assures me that the rest of the book is succeeding, and that there’s still a chance to make small moments bigger, better. And after going through all of the edits and thoughts, I’m super happy to be with the editor I have because she gets it. And that’s really awesome.

In theory, this might be my last revision before copyedits, so I’m a bit nervous about making everything as perfect as possible. I suppose we’ll see.

But as I go through it and see how things have changed and evolved from that first draft, I smile whenever I find an original piece. Because it all started from a thought, a line, and now here it is. It was a simple note played once, and now it’s a full song getting ready to be heard. It’s bigger, better, louder.

Turn it up, indeed.

Writing Endings

When I have an idea for a manuscript, I usually have a general idea of how the story will begin and end. The middle is muddled, of course – some scenes here or there – but I generally know how I want to end it.

But here’s the thing – most of the time that ending is altered. Maybe not the full concept, maybe not completely, but for the most part, what I originally planned will grow change, just as the story itself grew and changed. Characters evolve. Stories evolve.

This is, primarily, why I never stick to an outline. (Bravo to those who do!)

I mention this in light of last night’s How I Met Your Mother finale. A lot has been said about it already, so I’m not going to review or critique it. I didn’t enjoy the ending for a number of reasons, but that’s not important. I will say that i’ve always liked the show, and will remember it as that of a great premise with really fun, relatable (at times) characters. (In other words, I’m going to watch the reruns when they’re on, and I’ll still enjoy them.) These characters started one way, and grew and evolved as the show went on. They aged, and they felt real because of that. And though at times it felt forced (Barney, specifically), we believed in their growth because we wanted it. And I loved that about the show.

(Another show that, in my opinion, showed fantastic subtle growth for characters was Sex and the City. Charlotte and Miranda had great subtle turnarounds as the seasons progressed. I loved seeing them in the end, how far they came. Even Samantha had her moments. Unfortunately, the movies kind of killed some of that for me, but that’s neither here nor there.)

When they started filming HIMYM, the creators knew how they wanted it to end, so much to the point that they filmed the final moment (the children’s reactions to the general story of how their father met their mother). (To be fair, they had to film it early, because, hey, children age.) And therein, at least in my opinion, was the problem with the show’s finale. Their ending was set in stone, no matter how much the story grew over time. No matter how much they progressed these characters, they had to have this ending.

Now, i’m sure the creators love what they did, and fully stand behind their ending. That’s awesome, and I applaud them for that (and for NINE seasons of a really popular show). But, to me, it feels so controlled. If the show ended this way after a handful of seasons, okay, maybe I could have bought it (though, I will forever say that the closing of the first episode, when it’s revealed that Robin is NOT the mother, is such a great moment, that I hate that it goes back on itself a bit), but after so long, and so much pull and take, it just feels…sad.

Because the creators did a great job of creating these characters and making us believe in both their growth apart and together. We saw them change and turn into their last season selves. So, for instance, when it was revealed that Barney and Robin divorced in, like, a second, it felt cheap. You made us believe, and then you took it away. I wanted to continue believing in them.

I’m not saying my method of changing an ending as you go is better than anything else, (hey, I don’t have a hit TV show) but I can’t help but wonder if the creators would have gone a different way if they could have. As their characters, and they, progressed, I can’t help but wonder if they even considered it.

Color My Shelf – Part 2

Here are the results of my highly unscientific study hinted at in my previous post.

I decided to test out two things in my study: how fast multicultural books go that have said ethnic characters on the cover (face covers), and how fast multicultural books go that have no hinting at all about their ethnicity on the cover (non-face covers). The books pulled were random, I just wanted books that weren’t extremely popular at my library (such as Clockwork Prince). I had no preference to titles nor nationalities, though I did want a range of genres (fantasy, contemporary, etc.) and nationalities. Unfortunately, nationalities were hard to find. (Note: I KNOW there are a lot more than these titles, these were the ones that were in stock. As mentioned, this was not very scientific.)

First, the face books:

  • Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (Japanese)
  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick (Cambodian)
  • My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Jewish/Indian)
  • Liar by Justine Larbalestier (Black)
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick (Nepali)
  • Spirit’s Princess (Princesses of Myth) by Esther Friesner (Japanese)
  • Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald (Mixed race, black/white)
  • Transcendence by C.J. Omololu (Black)
  • Joseph by Shelia P. Moses (Black)
  • Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst (Honestly, I’m not sure, but the cover is beautiful.)

Now the non-face books:

  • The Vow by Jessica Martinez (Jordonian)
  • Death Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Hispanic)
  • Good Enough by Paula Yoo (Korean)
  • The Living by Matt De La Peña (Hispanic)
  • He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander (Black)

Before I discuss what happened, here’s some information about my branch library. It’s located by a university, and also surrounded by both richer and poorer developments. According to SimplyMap, and the 2010 census, the area is 39.25% Hispanic, 6.49% Asian, .53% American Indian, 12.43% Black, 69.77% White, and 6.79% other. I realize this does not add up to 100% – a large portion of our population marked two or more races on the census. Also, the general population does not reflect the library’s population, but you get it.

Anyway. The face books (of which there were more) were placed on the top of the display, with the non-face books placed below them. This was due to my theory: non-face books would check out first, so I gave priority to the others. This is what I’ve seen in the past, at least, when placing these books out on display. Once they were out, I patiently waited.

To my surprise (and delight) in the first day, the following titles were checked out: Never Fall Down and Sold. Two face books taken by two different patrons! As books were checked out, they were not replaced, I just waited for the display to empty.

The following day, the first of the non-face covers was checked out: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. That same day, Liar and My Basmati Bat Mitzvah also went. Again, more face covers!

By the end of the three days, there were three titles remaining in each category: Battle Royale, Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, and Spirity Chosen from the face books, and The Vow, The Living, and Good Enough from the non-face covers. Yes, three and three, but still, the face covers were going faster.

I had the display up for a week, and by the last day the only titles remaining were Battle Royale and The Living. By the end of that day, The Living found a home. This surprised me quite a bit, because I thought both books would have gone much sooner. Sadly, I shelved Battle Royale and analyzed what happened.

Books were checked out. Books were wanted, and liked. My initial thoughts, due to previous experiences, that these face books wouldn’t go was disproved. Whatever the reason, they were wanted, and I was really pleased about that. And the fact that they went faster than the non-face covers was extremely interesting.

Clearly there is a demand for these books, if even in the smallest sense. They are checked out, they are looked at (and, as it seems, patrons seem to prefer people on their covers)!

As a follow-up, I looked back at some of the titles we weeded and found something incredibly telling – the majority of the multicultural ones were historical. Sure those books are great, too, but it seems like the majority of the popular books are contemporary or fantasy or dystopian or science fiction. Readers want multicultural characters of today. They want them in books they can relate to, not older tales. Again, not a scientific observation, but still one that’s worth mentioning.

So what does this mean for my library? The other books are still more popular, as our checkouts show, but clearly there’s a demand for these. I’ll definitely be displaying more of them each week. I’d like to do this experiment again in the future and see if the findings change. I’d like to get more titles similar to these, too, because clearly they’re appreciated. And I’d like to thank the authors for writing these characters that my patrons  want to read.

Color My Shelf

Recently, there was a hastag on Twitter (#colormyshelf) discussing multicultural books, and, more so, the lack of representation of multicultural characters in novels. Leading characters. Leading characters on covers. People mentioned their favorite books with ethnic characters, and asked for more – many, many more – to be published.

As someone who’s about to have a multi-ethnic child, of course I’m in support of more people represented in literature (specifically YA, as that’s what I write and read). Working at a library, I see how few there are in comparison to those with, as my co-worker and I call them – pretty blonde white girl covers. (And I’m in no way dissing those pretty blonde white girl covers – I really like quite a bit of those books!)

Though we don’t control what books we get at the library (a person at the main branch handles collection development), my co-worker and I do control, in a way, what stays and what leaves. Our shelves are only so large, so once a year we have to weed out titles that don’t circulate. (These books that are weeded are then usually sold, with the money going towards library development, such as programming.) Weeding is not easy. We have very strict guidelines, and don’t take the task lightly. But, because we get so many new books as they’re released, it has to be done, otherwise we’d have no place for patrons to walk.

Since I’ve weeded these books (for the purpose of this post, “these books” refers just to YA, though I do weed all sections), I see what goes and what doesn’t. Sometimes it’s not surprising in the least (Hunger Games has a HUGE circulation; Twilight is only weeded when it’s too beat up to circulate anymore). Sometimes it is (those Lauren Conrad books are incredibly popular; mermaids are still adored). But here’s a sad fact – a lot of the books people are pushing to be published are not being checked out. There’s clearly a demand, and I KNOW we put them on display and promote them, but they’re not checked out nearly as much. Which is sad!

So therein lies a problem – yes, readers want these books, but are they buying them? Are they, in the library’s case, checking them out?

Obviously I can’t know sales details, and my library is only one small branch within the entire country, but I was curious about those questions. Really curious. So I decided to do a very low-key, very basic and unscientific, study.

I made a display of books featuring leading protagonists of color and saw how long it took for them to be check out.

Was it interesting? Yes. Were the results surprising. Yes! Interested in how it turned out? Stay tuned – I’ll post the results tomorrow!

March 2006

S and I, circa 2005.

Permit me to be sentimental for a moment.

This week marks eight years of S and I being together. It’s weird that eight years have gone by – I mean, that’s practically 1/3 of my life. How did the time fly by? How did we get so much older? (Or, the question S asks me frequently, how am I still listening to the same music?)

Eight years isn’t a milestone like 10 or 20, and we never celebrate this dating anniversary, but I found it to be different and important because it’ll be the last that we’re just a duo. Next month we’ll be a  trio.

S and I met during college, in the fall of 2004. We had the lit class Contemporary American Popular Culture together. (Note: This class did not contain any contemporary American popular culture books – we read international detective stories, and it was awesome.) I sat next to him, and when he introduced himself, I had already heard of him. We were both involved with a few extracurricular activities that somewhat overlapped – in other words, we had  mutual friends. He ran the campus movie theatre and performed improv comedy. I was in the circus, and recreationally did some film projects.

To this day, I still don’t know why he liked me at first. I had a rather crappy boyfriend at the time (we lasted 2 months – it was not good), I was late for class, and I made fun of him for using the word “ostensibly.” But, worst of all, I was always coming straight from circus practice, so I was sweaty, wearing hideous workout clothes, and more than likely bleeding from my ankles due to a missed trick.

The thing about college is that you make a lot of friends in class, but they don’t always last. This was before Facebook and Twitter, so if you wanted to keep in touch, you exchanged phone numbers, email address, or AIM screen names. Most people, though not on purpose, would fall by the wayside. You clung to your base group (my freshman year dorm mates, my circus friends), and lost others along the way. The thing is, I never lost S after that. Sure, we took Shakespeare together the following semester, but we didn’t share another class after. Instead, we became friends, real friends. We merged our groups together, and he became a frequent guest at my townhouse. I drove him around (he didn’t have a car in college), we had regular places we’d hang out at. He became part of my college family.

But we didn’t actually start dating until March of 2006.

Yeah, quite a bit of time later.

By that time, we’d helped each other through good times and bad. We’d seen each other at our best, our worst. It kind of just made sense.

So when we started dating, friends said “of course.”

And when we got engaged, friends said “it’s about time.”

And when we announced our baby, friends said “finally!”

Because they clearly all knew something we didn’t. But I think that unknowing that we shared brought us even closer together. I know that we took time to get here, and I know that i’m all the prouder of it. Of us. We worked hard for each other.

So I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know how we’ll grow and change, especially with a third in the equation, but I know we’ll continue being just as strong, and just as…us. Because for almost 1/3 of my life, it’s what i’ve known. And for almost 1/3 of my life, what I’ve loved.