CategoriesAfter the Kiss
Being Friends with Boys
Reading & Recommendations
Summer of Firsts and Lasts
Talking with Other Authors
Writing and Reading
The draft of my next book, IN DEEP has been turned in, but that doesn’t mean I get to stop working! I leave for a two-week stint teaching YA writing to a bunch of young women at Smith College on June 30th, and I’m hot and heavy into the planning! We’ll be looking at the difference between books for young adults, and books for adults that just happen to have teenage protagonists, plus doing a TON of writing of our own. I am super-looking forward to this gig, because teaching is always one of my favorites!
One of the very few plusses to leaving my job as Program Director of the AJC Decatur Book Festival was the fact that summer would no longer be the absolute busiest time of my life. In the past, from April-September I’ve been able to think of nothing but the festival, and all the details necessary to get 300+ authors to Decatur. This year, for the first time, I have a little more flexibility, and that means –much to my delight– that I’ll get to do a lot of one of my favorite things in the universe: teaching writing to young people.
Here’s a list of the great programs I’m involved with in June and July. There are still slots in a few of them, so check ‘em out!
June 5, 19th & 26th at the Decatur Public Library, thanks to Georgia Center for the Book, I’ll be teaching 12-15 year-olds some of the basics of really good story writing!
On June 11th, I’ll be talking to the amazing 9th-12th grade writers signed up for the Atlanta Young Writers Institute summer writing intensive. This is a terrific organization right here in Atlanta, so if you don’t know about it, check it out!
June 30th-July 13th, I’m thrilled (and really nervous) about getting to participate as an instructor in an absolutely incredible summer writing program for young women at Smith College. (Their library holds the Sylvia Plath AND the Virginia Woolf collections!!)
Another terrific program for local young writers (entering 11th and 12th grade) is also being held at Ivy Hall (of Savannah College of Art and Design) July 24th-26th. My workshop will be focusing on creative nonfiction this time, which will be a fun change. And there’s a public reading on Friday night!
Of course before we know it, it’ll be time for school to start up again, but for now, popsicles, summer dresses, reading good books, and spending the hours working on good writing sounds pretty good to me! Hope you all have a lovely summer ahead for yourselves, too!
To continue the discussion around the themes in CRIMINAL, I invited a couple of author friends to talk about a time when they’d wronged someone, and what they did –if it was at all possible– to correct it. Conquering our regrets is never easy, it’s an issue that isn’t even fully answered in CRIMINAL, so I send extra thanks to Jen Calonita and Aaron Hartzler for tackling it! You can see my own response down there at the bottom!
Jen Calonita (THE BELLES SERIES, et al)
I RSVP’D “NO” TO MY ROOMMATE FROM COLLEGE’S WEDDING
It has been my experience that the intensity of the love you share with someone is directly proportional to the intensity of the heartbreak should that relationship end. Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song called “I Can See it Now,” and every time I’ve seen this guy since, I’ve heard this lyric:
I can hear it now
As you walk away
The something left unsaid
And the nothing left to say.
Sometimes there are choices and decisions made in the heat of the moment that can’t be undone. You can ask for forgiveness, and even have your apology accepted, but it’s like pulling a nail out of 2×4: the nail is gone, and while that scar in the wood can be puttied and painted, it will never be fully repaired. It will always be present.
I’m learning to love my regrets. They are the invisible reminders that I carry with me into every new moment in life. They quietly whisper encouragement to make the best choice I am capable of making, and to play the tape all the way to the end.
And My Response:
I try not to regret things in my life. Every experience, every encounter makes us who we are, now, and I feel if I regret my past, I therefore somehow regret my present.
It’s a Pollyanna approach, I know. But this would not be the first (nor the hundredth) time I’ve been accused of looking at things through rose-colored glasses.
That said, there are a few things I regret, and one is the way I handled a breakup with someone very, very important to me. What’s even worse than the way I behaved at the time, is that now years later, I still have never been able to say I’m sorry; have never been able to correct the way I wronged him, or even acknowledge to him that I did so. It’s not for a lack of trying. I’ve done some regrettably embarrassing things, actually, trying to track him down, just so I could say, “I know I was a jerk to you, and I want you to know that in the lineup of people who have mattered to me–even after all this time–you are still in the very top five.”
Because I haven’t ever been able to right this wrong, or even apologize for it, I’m left to wonder why I still let it haunt me. It isn’t because I wish to be friends again, or because I really want to reconnect. It’s not, even, to absolve myself of terrible behavior. (I was going through something pretty horrendous at the time, and even though I now regret how I acted, I think it was still justifiable.) What bothers me most about this wrong, is that I let someone who mattered very much (someone who still does matter, in the cast of people who have most positively influenced my life) believe that he didn’t count. That I didn’t care. That he was, essentially, ignorable.
Even before I asked this question, I expected some interesting responses: all of them thoughtful and intelligent, though perhaps varied. But my expectations were hugely exceeded, as you’ll see from the deep, honest responses from Eileen Cook, Jessica Martinez, Robin Wasserman, Thomas Mullen, Kim Sabatini and Denise Jaden below. This is a long entry –I thought about breaking it into two posts– but the juxtaposition of each answer (the commonalities, the differences) is necessary and great. I encourage you to read on, and that doing so might make you carefully consider your own response!
Jessica Martinez (The Space Between Us, Virtuosity)
I’ve got the right answer! Pick me, pick me!
That’s a lie. I’ve been mulling over this question for weeks now and my answer still feels wrong, but I can’t seem to make myself change it.
I’m going to assume I’m not worried about the loved one killing someone else. Nobody else is in danger. I’m also going to assume I’m not worried about getting caught for not ratting, since that kind of self-interest muddies the real issue here. The real issue is which is more important: honesty or love. Right?
(By the way, if you’re thinking about this question, you aren’t really thinking about it until you insert the people in your life into the equation. Your mom. Your brother. Your best friend. Your boyfriend. Go there. It changes everything.)
I think I want to be the person who could turn a loved one in. No matter how high the stakes are, honesty is supposed to be the right answer—I’ve had that drilled into me since I was a little girl. But do I actually want to be that moral? I think so. I really do. Living with the guilt of having turned in someone I loved would be terrible, but I’d have my integrity.
Ten years ago, I think I could’ve done it.
Here’s the problem. That answer means choosing ideals over reality, principals over people, and it’s possible that age has tarnished my youthful idealism enough to pull me to the other side. In just the last few years I’ve learned something about myself: When a loved one is threatened, I go a little crazy. Maybe more than a little. When it comes to my kids or my husband or my brothers and sisters, I have a very primal, physical response. It would take superhuman strength for my brain to put lofty ideals of justice and integrity over this instinct to protect my loved ones. I can quiet all sorts of impulses, but I don’t want to quiet this one. Honestly, I don’t think I would even try, or that there would even be much of a question in my mind as to whether or not to turn one of them in. I just wouldn’t. So, I guess that’s my right answer. I wouldn’t. Too bad it still feels like the wrong one.
Robin Wasserman (The Waking Dark, The Book of Blood and Shadow, et al)
I got this question the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, and by the time the police released a photo of a suspect who looked like a random college student, the question had burrowed into my mind. When we found out it was some random college student, some ostensibly well-liked and well-adjusted Cambridge kid with friends who are still scratching their heads in disbelief…well, suffice it to say that I can’t bring myself to give you the kind of jokey answer I usually reserve for interview questions demanding deep thoughts.
I went to college in Boston; I had friends that went t Cambridge Rindge and Latin—come to think of it, I used to udge high school debate tournaments at Rindge and Latin. These are tenuous and meaningless connections, the kind of thing it makes you feel a little guilty to dwell on—except that dwelling on them is sometimes the only thing that makes the inconceivable conceivable, less a shocking reality TV show and more a tragedy, hundreds of tragedies, to mourn.
So I watch these kids—and, appallingly, I’m now old enough that a shaken and confused 20 year old getting interviewed on CNN reads as “kid”—try to parse the mystery, that evil had taken the form of someone they knew, someone they liked. I read about the kids who maybe, probably, knew what their friend did and, unfathomably, decided to help him. I imagine going online and discovering in the fuzzy photo of a crazed mass murderer the face of someone you love.
Do you call the police? Would I call the police? Yes. Obviously, yes. I can say that, easily, and I believe it. But maybe that’s because there’s a superior voice in the back of my head saying: Not me. I would never be so deeply fooled. I could never love someone who had it in him to do something like that. Some acts are so evil, they must be transformative, I think; some acts can only be committed by a monster. Who could love that? I imagine things for a living, but here my imagination hits a wall.
But: Maybe this is too easy. You asked about murder, and—as I know from watching every episode of every crime procedural on TV—murder comes in an infinity of shapes and sizes. It doesn’t come small enough to be justified…but to be understood? To be overlooked? To be written off as an accident or a pitiable moment of insanity, a wound to be healed rather than a crime to be punished?
A panicked hit-and-run, a bar fight gone out of control, an act of vengeance, an act of desperation… if you loved someone enough, wouldn’t you desperately grab for an excuse, something, anything, that could banish evil and explain the unthinkable away?
I knew someone once, I loved someone once, someone good, whom I could have imagined doing something terrible. It never happened, but I used to think about it sometimes, wondering what I would do, if. Whether I would do the right and legal thing, or whether—as seemed possible at the time—there would be a nobility in fulfilling the obligations of love, in being strong enough to understand and forgive.
Now, I don’t believe there is. Not anymore, while I’m safe in my cozy belief that no one I know and love will ever doing anything deeply wrong. Now, I believe crime deserves punishment and that everyone, even and especially the people close to me, should bear responsibility for their decisions. I am, in general, a disgustingly rule-abiding person: I tell the cashier when he gives me too much
change, I stop my bike for red lights even when the street is deserted, and as my best friends from high school will attest, I have never allowed a single piece of homework to be copied.
I follow the rules partly because in a lot of ways, it makes things easier— and because I’ve only ever had easy rules to follow. But if it hurt? If it meant sacrificing someone I thought I loved, something I thought I needed? If the alternative was telling myself a story, you and me against the cold unfeeling world, you the victim of circumstance, me the one to protect you from yourself and all those people who wouldn’t understand, what would I do?
I hope I’m old enough and wise enough now to know better. I hope I’m strong enough not to fall for anyone’s crap, including my own. I hope I’m the kind of person who will always do the right thing, no matter how hard it gets. But more than anything I hope I’ll never have to find out.
Thomas Mullen (The Revisionists, The Last Town On Earth, et al)
What would I do if someone I knew told me they’d committed a murder?
Funny, I wrote a book about that. Actually, it’s come up in two of my books, so I should have a good answer to this. Sort of. Well, I do, but those answers are each about 400 pages long.
You’re probably hoping for a shorter answer.
OK, all kidding aside (since this is serious business), you actually don’t have many options here. Any options. You can pretend you have options, but you don’t. If you think that one of your options is to help them get away with it, then you have now committed a major crime yourself (it’s called “accessory after the fact” if you’re into legal lingo). Which means that your friend or relative’s crime has now become your crime.
Sure, you love this person. It’s your brother or your father or one of your best friends, or maybe your boyfriend. But let’s be realistic here – there’s pretty much no conceivable way that they’re going to get away with it. Set-up’s like these do not end well. They try to get away with it, but they can’t. They get busted. Eventually. Maybe it takes a whole year or three, but there comes a day when they let something slip or get photographed at a sporting event and some random witness to the crime sees it, and, you know.
The cops then come for them, and get ‘em. If you helped them get away with it, then the cops are coming for you too.
This sounds more heartless than I mean it to. I don’t mean to be coming off as numb to the feelings you have for this person, whom you apparently love, even though he or she murdered someone. (And we’re assuming for sake of argument here that it was a big accident, or that the murdered person somehow deserved it, or something.)
My point is that this is your life. You only have one. (As that dead person knows very well.) You have not killed anyone. You probably have never done anything that’s even as remotely bad as that. But if you vouch for your pal here and try to help them get away with it, then you have let their crime become your crime. You’ve pretty much traded away your own freedom, just because someone you love did something really, really stupid.
You’re better than that. Your life, to be blunt, is worth more.
Which means you have to talk them into turning themselves in. And if they don’t, then you need to do it for them. Which will be hell. Which might mess you up for a really long time, because you’ll feel guilty. (Which is crazy, because they are the one who is guilty. But that’s life. Life, as in, the sentence they might get.)
And then they’ll go to jail, which will also suck. Having a friend or relative in jail is not fun. I know this quite well, actually (long story). Good people do bad things sometimes, and they pay a price.
Don’t pay it for them.
DENISE JADEN (Writing with a Heavy Heart, Losing Faith, et al)
Every time I sat down to answer this question, I was reminded of something that happened in my own life many years ago. When I was twenty, I was driving and hit a couple of pedestrians. One of them died, and to be honest, it was only because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the road. While it wasn’t “pre-meditated,” I was still at fault.
During the time following the accident, I was an emotional mess. I had to face up to what I had done in some pretty big ways, including police dealings and meeting with the adult son of the woman I had killed. It was one of the hardest times of my life, and I remember thinking at the time that if I ever had to go through something like that again, I’d sooner kill myself.
But eventually there was another side to the tragedy. I learned a lot about forgiveness and grace, and I think there is a certain amount of freedom that comes with owning up to your mistakes, enduring the consequences of those mistakes, and eventually forgiving yourself. In my case, I didn’t have much choice but to own up to them, but in hindsight, I’m thankful for that. I would never have wanted to be the person who killed a person, took off from the accident, and lived with that secret for the rest of my life.
If I had a friend who confessed committing a murder, I would want them to own up to what they had done, both for their own sake and for the family of those whose life they took, and I believe I would keep trying to convince them to that end. Living in guilt or shame won’t do anybody any good, nor will harboring such a devastating secret. If my friend wouldn’t admit to what he/she had done and accept the consequences, I don’t know what I’d do. Pray, for sure. Keep talking and hugging and loving him/her. But would I send an anonymous tip to the police? Honestly, probably not.
Folks are already taking notice of one of the biggest themes in Criminal: that sometimes love can blind you from all other reason. It can make you do things you ordinarily wouldn’t do, can make you like things you wouldn’t ordinarily like, and in general can cause you to become a completely different version of yourself–one you can’t even explain to your family or friends. To help celebrate Criminal‘s release this week, I asked some of my author friends to talk about a time when a love (of anything) had maybe skewed their normal perception of things. From Ayn Rand, to TV show characters, to the Twilight Zone magazine, here were their obsessions:
Lucas Klauss (Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse):
My freshman year of college, I became infatuated with a woman. I didn’t know her and she was never even aware of my existence. But I’m pretty sure that if I, like one of her heroes, had singlehandedly invented a time machine and used it exclusively for the selfish purpose of meeting her, Ayn Rand would have thought I was pretty amazing too.
I understand now how common it is fall head-over-heels for Rand and her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, especially as a young person. But back then I felt that my devotion to her fiction and philosophy meant I was in some way special—at least in comparison to the barbarians living on my dorm hall. And at a time when I often felt insecure, lonely, and directionless, I needed that ego boost. To this day, I credit her bootstraps philosophy and odes to individual audacity with helping me find the courage to pursue a career in writing.
But what I didn’t see then is that, by falling for Rand, I was really becoming enamored of myself. The dominant mood of her novels and political writing, even stronger than her sense of awe at human achievement, is one of defiant alienation. Rand and her characters revel in being misunderstood outsiders—and, far too often, so did I.
At a university where football games were school-wide celebrations, I skipped the pre-game parties and sold my tickets to other students at hugely inflated prices—and then used the money to buy DVDs to watch by myself. In a town with tens of thousands of people from all over the South, the country, and the world, I pretty much stuck with the people I knew from my high school an hour down the road. And as a guy who entered college with basically no romantic experience, I left college as a guy with basically no romantic experience.
Looking back on my time with Ayn Rand, like looking back on any failed relationship, it’s tempting to place most of the blame on her. But that would be ridiculous, particularly since she was dead at the time. Rand’s worldview was a justification for my insularity, not the cause of it. And if I invented a time machine now, I wouldn’t go back and stop myself from reading The Fountainhead or Rand from writing it. What a sad waste, when there are so many incredible things in spacetime beyond my precious self.
I’d probably go check out the dinosaurs instead. And ultimately, strangely, I’d have Ayn Rand to thank for it.
Rebecca Serle (When You Were Mine):
When I was fifteen I fell passionately, obsessively in love with a boy. His name was Max Evans, he was from another planet (figuratively and literally), and he was fictional. He was the lead on a little-known show called “Roswell,” and I thought we were soul mates. I was so convinced of this, in fact, that I remember thinking, with my already make-believe inclined brain, that maybe aliens existed. Maybe Max Evans was just one of many sweet, caring, brooding, devastatingly handsome high school extraterrestrials. Graham Becker never got ache. That had to mean something.
I loved Max, but I was not loyal. No, I had a wandering eye. I starting seeing Pacey Witter on the side, and soon our love was in full bloom. Max didn’t know. He didn’t have to. After all, what Pacey and I shared took place far from Roswell…and only on Thursday nights. And then there was Angel. But we don’t have time to get into that.
These boys all shared something in common, and no, sadly, it was not me. They were fearless in the face of love. They would do anything for these girls—the ones with the perfect hair who would disappear into their arms like the light at sunset. I wanted that. But at fifteen, living vicariously through Liz, Joey and Buffy would have to do.
I could tell you how I grew up and got over this. How now, a real adult, I am far on the other side from these adolescent fantasies. But the truth is, it didn’t end in high school. The fictional romances of my life have always messed with the real ones. There was the time an ex neglected to buy me a wall (not cool). Or when it turned out the college guy didn’t really know how to fly (that was just a metaphor). They have tripped me up. They have set my expectations disastrously high. And yet—
Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe true love has a little bit of magic in it, a little bit of scripted dialogue, some music swells, a perfect rain kiss. I mean, Stefan Salvatore is currently single.
Trust your gut.
I tell myself that all the time, and generally, my gut is spot on. The only problem is that if you’re not truthful to yourself, your instincts can only take you so far.
I was in a relationship a few years ago, I wouldn’t call it “love” but it would be fair to say it was a relationship that I was very excited about and thought could be something big. Then he cheated on me. He confessed the next day. He was drunk, he didn’t know her, blah, blah, blah. At first I was upset, and walked away. But then I did something stupid. I took him back.
Don’t do it; you know it’ll happen again.
The entire time we were together my conscience kept nagging me and nagging me, but I ignored it. I thought I could reason with my gut.
How can you really trust him again?
He told me. He didn’t have to tell me, he wanted to be honest. I should respect him for coming clean.
Oh really? How do you know he’s not doing it right now? Where is he anyways? Why is he not returning your calls?
He’s busy. We’re both busy and traveling for our jobs. I don’t understand how he has time for a relationship with me. There’s no way there’s somebody else. Plus, I don’t want to be one of those needy girls.
You’re an idiot. I’m out.
I kept lying to myself. Something was bothering me, but I told myself whatever I thought I should hear instead of the truth. My stomach was in constant knots, and I felt sick. Not the I’m-so-in-love-and-happy-my-stomach-is-doing-flips, but the you’re-an-idiot-and-you-know-it-you-don’t-deserve-to-be-treated-like-this kind.
So I finally decided to confront him. I knew something was wrong, and it was time that I stopped lying to myself and found out the truth. So I asked him, “How many people are you dating?” His response, “One.” Oh, okay…
Hey, remember me? I’m baaack. Are you really going to fall for that?
So then, I kid you not, I said, “Including me or in addition to me?” He paused and then replied, “In addition to you.” Yep, what was I thinking? What a d-bag! So I ended things that minute and vowed to never ignore my intuition again. Not even for a cute boy.
Okay, honestly, he wasn’t that cute. I have no idea what I was thinking. But he did loosely inspire an idiot ex-boyfriend in one of my books so I at least got something out of it!
Yep, a successful writing career and he’s still a loser.
Why did I ever stop listening to you?
Don’t ever do it again.
Oh, I won’t. Believe me, I won’t.
TZ came in the mail each month and it was crammed full of horror stories, sci-fi stories, fantasy stories, magical realist stores–all by some of the biggest speculative fiction writers of the day. Reading those stories was like having my mind blown apart and reassembled. I was just starting to write at the time and, as is often the case with teen infatuations, I ended up bending my entire life around this thing I loved. I wrote Twilight Zone stories and I wrote a lot of them.
Of course, like all teen loves, a long term thing wasn’t in the cards. Over the years I dove into a succession of equally intense relationships. I fell for Tom Waits hard and began writing rhythmic be-bop poetry about small time low-lives and carnival barkers. (Which, as a middle class teen from Virginia are things I knew oh so much about) Tennessee Williams got me attempting grand, lyrical plays about faded glory and dark family secrets. When I encountered Erik Ehn and Jose Rivera and Caryl Churhill and Naomi Iizuka in grad school all I wanted to do was write reality-bending, language-based freakouts.
Now I’m older my head isn’t quite so easily turned. The boundaries between who I am and the things I love are stronger, allowing me to be influenced without being overwhelmed. I guess the expected–and easy–moral to the story would be that I finally stopped trying to write like other
people and became my own true self. That sounds good, but I don’t think it’s an accurate way to look at how a writer, or any artist, matures.
You don’t leave your influences behind. Just like with romantic relationships, each one bends the trajectory of your life. I think most writers and artists are the culmination of their influences. We take things in, discard some and keep others. What’s originality anyway? Or creativity? I don’t think it’s a divine spark, something wholly new and individual. I think it’s more in the way we combine and process our influences.
In the end, maybe who we are is the combination of everything we’ve ever loved.
So, as you can see, the love of pretty much anything can obsess you, whether it’s a real person or not. So I’d love to hear, in comments, about how perhaps you’ve been blinded by love, either seriously or in a silly way.
Thanks, everyone, for sharing your stories, and here’s to all of us ultimately finding love that allows us to see things clearly.