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Friday, August 23, 2013

When I Was A Boy: Gender Expectations, "Tomboy" Protagonists, Loss of Innocence, and Inspiration via Dar Williams song lyrics

Me around 8 years old, reading in a tree
I was listening to a CD while driving a few days ago and thinking of a few middle grade story projects. Many of my ideas have something to do with the “changing” that happens between ages 8 and 12ish—a time when kids are expected to start “growing up” and taking responsibility.”
A time when they start noticing and questioning the world around them.
A time when they start seeing that all of the rules and morals and this-is-the-way-things-are-done speeches that adults tend to give...well, those things sometimes get ignored by the adults themselves.
A time when boy/girl relationships take on new meaning, sometimes an unwanted meaning not shared by both sides of a friendship. Not all of us are ready for that “change” at the same time. My hormones didn’t kick in until long after they were due, and, frankly, I didn’t want them to. I liked things the way they were.
I was what people sometimes call "a tomboy," which I suppose just means that I was an active girl who didn't exactly have interests that belonged in the box society marks "GIRL." I used to embrace the word and wear it proudly: "I'm a tomboy, not a girly-girl." But you know what? That designation is kind of a stinker. Why couldn't I have just been a girl who liked to play sports and ride my bike and explore and climb trees? Why did those activities have to give me a label that indicated that an interest in adventure/action made me "boyish." But I digress. At the time, I embraced the term.

Anyway, there are a lot of strong female protagonists in chapter books/middle grade books who would rather be treated like ‘one of the boys’ and the lyrics in Dar Williams’s When I was a Boy nearly brought me to tears with their poignancy. At the end, you’ll notice a boy ‘character’ in the song saying that he felt the same way about having to leave behind some of his tendencies that could be considered ‘girlish.’
I think it’s a song that speaks wisely of gender expectations. It also addresses bittersweet and nostalgic feelings about childhood itself, regardless of whether the child is a boy or a girl. It speaks sadly of the things we lose—the things we trade away in the name of growing up. Here are the lyrics and a video of Dar singing the song in a Charlottesville, Virginia radio station.

When I was a Boy

I won't forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand
I said I was a boy; I'm glad he didn't check.
I learned to fly, I learned to fight
I lived a whole life in one night
We saved each other's lives out on the pirate's deck.
And I remember that night
When I'm leaving a late night with some friends
And I hear somebody tell me it's not safe, someone should help me
I need to find a nice man to walk me home.
When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom,
Climbed what I could climb upon
And I don't know how I survived,
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.
And you can walk me home, but I was a boy, too.
I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
My neighbor came outside to say, "Get your shirt,"
I said "No way, it's the last time I'm not breaking any law."
And now I'm in a clothing store, and the sign says less is more
More that's tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me
That can't help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat

When I was a boy, see that picture? That was me
Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees
And I know things have gotta change,
They got pills to sell, they've got implants to put in, they’ve got implants to remove
But I am not forgetting
That I was a boy too

And like the woods where I would creep, it's a secret I can keep
Except when I'm tired, except when I'm being caught off guard
I've had a lonesome awful day, the conversation finds its way
To catching fire-flies out in the backyard.
And I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived
And I say now you're top gun, I have lost and you have won

And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see
When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone, I seldom do...
And I have lost some kindness,
But I was a girl too
And you were just like me, and I was just like you.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Unique Back-to-School Gifts and Pretty Clothes via my Favorite Etsy Shop! (and a book winner!)

 (Scroll to the bottom to find out the book winner from my interview with Tina Wexler!)

Hi All! Today I'm featuring a new favorite. One of my critique partners is an incredible seamstress and, lucky for us, has set up at Etsy Shop. 

-Do you have a kid who takes his/her lunch to school?
-Do you like pretty scarves and flowy skirts?
-Are you a sucker for hand-sewn items?
-Are you environmentally-conscious, or do you have a enviro-friendly friend who’s birthday is coming up?
-Do you like to support fellow writers?

If you said yes to any of these, please check out Joy McCullough-Carranza’s Etsy Shop (click link) SUSTAINABLE JOY

For your younger kids (or for grown-ups like me who find themselves packing lunches for hiking picnics, baseball games, etc.), Joy makes these sandwich wraps to order:

For the kiddies, she also has handy pencil holders that are great for home or travel use—seriously, if you have a young kid or a niece or a nephew to buy for, nothing is more perfect than a box of colored pencils, a really big pad of paper, and one of these holders to keep the pencils mobile and nice & neat (trust me, the moms will appreciate it).

For a classy, dare-I-say, writerly look, she makes these gorgeous “stained-glass” scarves to order:

And these whimsical skirts and dresses are SO ADORABLE. Here are a few. Go check out more items at her shop!
Forest T-Shirt Dress
Forest Skirt

Rainbow Sprite Dress

Forest Sprite Dress
Joy is such a talented writer and seamstress, and I’d love for you to go visit her Etsy shop. Here’s that link again:


*Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items as well as art and craft supplies. These items cover a wide range including art, photography, clothing, jewelry, food, bath and beauty products, quilts, knick-knacks, and toys.

Do you want to set up your own shop with creative handmade or vintage items? Here are some links:

How to set up an Etsy Shop
Etsy on Wikipedia
Etsy Homepage

Aaaaaand, picked by Random.org, the winner of a book by one of Tina's clients is....

Kimberly!! Congrats, Kimberly~ please email me to get a list of your MG choices :)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Agent Interview with TINA WEXLER (and a giveaway)!

Today we have agent Tina Wexler of ICM on the blog, a woman who has changed many a writer's life, including my own. I am so grateful for everything she's done for me, and for the books she's ushered into the world with her savvy and skills. As lovers of the written word, we are all better off because Tina Wexler decided to become a literary agent.
If she could have heard the "WHAAAA? AHHH!!! AHHHH! AHHHHHH!" scream that came from my mouth when I received an offer of representation email from her, and witnessed the horrible tip-toe "the floor is hot lava and I'm dancing, dancing, dancing on it and waving my hands like a crazy person" scene that my husband had to watch, she would be embarrassed for both of us. But those few minutes remain the most thrilling, eye-watering, heart-filling moment of my writing journey. And that's the truth.

Are you feeling the itch for anything in your inbox lately in terms of middle grade and young adult fiction?
 TINA'S ANSWER: I’m always on the lookout for stories that
subvert expectations, have a captivating voice, and explore big
questions without feeling heavy or moralizing. I found all three of
those things in THE ACTUAL &TRUTHFUL
ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER (*Jess note: Aw, thanks agent-
lady!). To be more specific, I love contemporary YA and MG that
has a hint of magic in it, a darkness beneath the surface, a
something-else-going-on. I’m a sucker for modern folktales and
retold myths and legends (or retold American classics, as with your
book.) I’m always open to verse novels, funny school/family stories
that travel new ground, and stories that unfold in unusual ways (for example, the story is told in reverse order or jumps back and forth
in time—and not in a time traveler way.) Lastly, I’m a huge fan of
unreliable narrators. 
CHARACTER QUESTION: What are three things you look for in a middle grade or young adult protagonist?

TINA'S ANSWER: I’m looking for flawed characters who are wrestling with real problems (externally and internally), who will make me laugh (intentionally or otherwise), and who will change the way I see the world. Characters with a distinct point of view.
LONG-WINDED QUESTION: My Twitter feed pretty much consists of agents, editors, and writers, so I have this picture in my head that NYC is “a small world after all” where you agents and editors and publishers are all bumping into each other like crazy at the grocery store, on the subway, in the shoe section of Bloomingdales, etc. How often do you have lunch/schmooze with other agents and editors when it’s NOT for business? And is it difficult to turn off the business side and just hang out and talk about things other than books?
TINA'S ANSWER: The thing about the lunches (and the drinks and the conferences, etc) is that much of that time we AREN’T talking about the business side of publishing, even when it’s an official business lunch. In my experience, it’s the off-topic conversations that give me the best sense of who an editor is, how they view the world, what their interests are, and therefore what I should send them. The off-the-cuff comment about growing up on a peacock farm that makes me think, “She’d be perfect for that new MG I’m shopping.” The family vacation to Yosemite, an allergy to cotton, an unshakable love for the movie Dirty Dancing: this is the information that carves out a submission list. And if we talk about books now and then, well, who can blame us?
FAVORITES QUESTION: Who are three or four MG/YA characters who, for whatever reason, have been memorable to you and/or have touched your heart with their role in a story?
TINA'S ANSWER: Jack from Miss Stretchberry’s class in Sharon Creech's LOVE THAT DOG is a kid I want to introduce to my son, and I want to plant sunflowers with Willow Chance from COUNTING BY 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I love/hate/love the unreliable narrator in LIAR by Justine Larbalestier, and I’m reading CHIME by Franny Billingsley right now and already know it’ll be hard to shake Briony from my mind. Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Professor McGonagall from the HARRY POTTER series, who is an all-time favorite and not just because we first meet her in cat form.
REQUISITE PIZZA QUESTION: I tend to celebrate successes with pizza. When you offered representation, I got my favorite pizza. Book deal news, same thing (hey, I never claimed to be fancy). I plan on visiting New York City at some point, and I have to know: Based on your own tasting experiences, what’s the name of the best pizza place in NYC?
TINA'S ANSWER: You are asking the wrong person. I’ll eat pizza from anywhere and call it the best. But I can tell you that my usual haunts are Angelo’s in midtown, Joe’s in the village, and Fascati’s in Brooklyn. And I look forward to splitting a pie with you when you come to NY.

Any Fall 2013 releases from clients that you’d like to mention?

TINA'S ANSWER: This fall will mark the conclusion to two YA 
trilogies—the MEMENTO NORA series by Angie Smibert and the 
CROAK series by Gina Damico (*Jess note: I LOVE the CROAK books!*). I 
admit, I’m a bit (a lot) choked up about saying goodbye to these 
characters and their world.

Fortunately, this fall will also bring new books in the SWIPE series 
by Evan Angler and the GRAVEDIGGERS series by Christopher 
Krovatin, along with three standout standalone middle grade titles: 
Eva Ibbotson’s THE ABOMINABLES, Kurtis Scaletta’s THE 

Lastly—but certainly not least—September will introduce the world to the irrepressible Lola Zuckerman, the star of a new chapter book series from Boyds Mill Press, LAST-BUT-NOT-LEAST LOLA.

Tina, thank you for your time! Tina has been kind enough to offer a free MG or YA book by one of her clients to a lucky person who comments on this post! Just include your preference for a middle grade or young adult title in your comment and next week I'll announce the winner and email him/her with a few choices J

(Oh, and click HERE to read the first two chapters of Anne Ursu's THE REAL BOY! I have three words for you: MUST READ NOW)