Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To Ginny

You were six months old and you'd already had three homes.

Your first people didn't want you; their son's girlfriend brought you one day and never took you back. They kept you tied you to the porch. The only time they untied you was to bring you to the humane society. They'd had you for months, but they couldn't tell the staff whether you liked cats, kids, or other dogs. Unwanted, that's all they knew.

Your second family gave up on you after only a few days. We don't know why. But when they brought you back (an adoption failure!), that's when my sweetie met you. He described how cute you were and how you'd snuggled and pressed your head against his shoulder and gazed up at him with brown puppy eyes. (Twisted around your little paw, right from the start.)

We went to get you. But you were gone, adopted once more. So disappointed! But we were happy for you and wished you a glad doggy life.

Three days later, we visited the humane society again.

And there you were.

A second-time failure. You'd jumped on the third family's little girl. It turned out you adored kids. But you didn't know not to jump. Of course not, you'd had no socialization, no training, hardly any human interaction at all. But no excuses! Back to the humane society you went.

I knelt to say hi. You pressed your head against my shoulder and gazed up with brown puppy eyes and your funny little underbite. An hour later, you were in our car headed home.

Home to stay.

The name you came with was Mamacita. You didn't answer to it. We renamed you Ginny. Virginia Pearl, for formal occasions.

You couldn't stand to be left alone. You weren't housebroken. Every time we fed you, you frantically leaped and knocked the food bowl out of our hands, as if you didn't trust we'd actually set it on the ground. You had no idea how to play with our other dog or the dogs at the park. Let's just say you had issues.

But you wanted to please so badly. In a few days you were housebroken and you sat politely for your meals and you'd figured out a chase-me game with Jerry, our elderly German Shepherd, and you'd learned not to chase the cats.

But for the rest of your life, you couldn't stand to be alone. Well, who would, if they'd been left tied to a porch and ignored? So when dear Jerry passed on, we brought home Inja. And with your new best friend, you discovered the world.

Running in the snow on Christmas Day...

...and in Utah on vacation...

...and when you were tired, turnabout's fair play when it came to being a pillow.

You patiently kept me company while I wrote my first novel...

...and my second...
...and my third.

Being in the water was the only time the Labrador part of you ever kicked in. On dry land, your idea of "retrieving" was: The Toy is MINE If You Want It You Have to Chase Me But You'll Never Get It HA HA HA!

Your very favorite thing was to flaunt your toy-of-the-moment, lay it delicately on our knees or drop it on poor Inja's head, then snatch it back and run away laughing.

When we babysat Fergus the Sheltie puppy, you wanted his favorite fleece toy so badly you practically bled out your eyes. All other subterfuges having failed, you suddenly ran to the window barking. The moment Fergus jumped up to see what was out there, you swiped the toy and snuck off with it. Like stealing candy from a baby.

But when baby Molly got a trouncing from her big cat brother Albert, you hurried over to see if she needed saving. If we were upset, or unhappy, or sad, you'd press your sweet head against our shoulders and gaze up with anxious brown eyes, and if we needed to hug you, you'd let yourself be hugged forever.

When you were six years old, you got sick. That's when we discovered your liver cirrhosis. (Hadn't we told you to lay off those margaritas?!) Oh, and you had congenital kidney disease, too. Double whammy. The liver disease alone gave you a life expectancy of six months.

But you pulled through that episode. And another one. And a few more. But surely you were a bedridden invalid?

Ha! That's you at eleven. (Photo by your friends Kim and James at Stay Pet Hotel.) We began joking that you would never die, because then Inja would get all your toys. I half-hoped it was true.

It wasn't. You'd just turned twelve. Almost six years late, but it finally came.

Six extra wonderful years. I know we shouldn't have hoped for more. But we did.

Your ears stuck out to the sides and when you trotted, their tips bounced up and down in a way that made random strangers laugh. When you were sleepy, or you really, really, really wanted something (like begging to get on the couch..."But look, you've got sooooo much room up there!!") your underbite showed.

You were adorable. You were smart. Your sense of humor was better than some humans' I know. We count ourselves the luckiest people in the world to have had you.

Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears
But laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you
I loved you so...
...`Twas heaven here with you.
--Isla Paschal Richardson

We love you, sweet Ginny. We miss you.


Monday, May 17, 2010

GetGlue on a Monday

In the Good News and Heads Up, Y'all departments: GetGlue is featuring Ten Cents a Dance as part of their Monday giveaway!

For a shot at winning a copy, head on over. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

F-Bombs Away!

Blogger mi over at i know, write?!? has posted a great piece discussing the issue of cursing in YA fiction. On the one hand, it's realistic for our characters; a lot of teens do curse, after all. On the other hand, do we want teens thinking that by writing about it, we condone swearing...or drugs, or sex, or whatever undesirable behavior our characters engage in?

mi's post got me thinking. I started writing a comment, but I soon realized it was going to be such a long comment, it might be better as its own blog.

When it comes to writing, I'm a realism gal. I don't like sugar-coating things or glossing over them. I believe if we're going to write, we ought to write as truthfully as we can. I guess that comes across in my own work; reviews have called my novels authentic, gritty, even hard-boiled. (I hope that last one was a compliment; when it comes to reviews, oddly enough, sometimes it's hard to tell.)

But as much as I love realism, it doesn't reign supreme. What does? Story. The story is king; the story trumps all.

When I was writing my first novel, I knew my main character, Tallulah, was rebellious and short-tempered and just generally difficult. I wrote her voice the way I heard it in my head, and the F-bombs dropped at an alarming rate. Later, people who read the manuscript told me it was like getting smacked in the face every other page. When I went back and read the manuscript, to my surprise, it was like getting smacked in the face. It was hard to see past the cussing to the character underneath.

In fact, I realized, I didn't have much of a character underneath. That's when I learned that realism isn't the same thing as transcription. I was using the swearing to convey that Tallulah was a tough girl. But instead it made her seem more like an unpleasant caricature than a flesh-and-blood person. And it wasn't helping the story; in fact, it bogged the story down.

So I dropped the profanities. (Most of them, anyway. At one point, Tallulah gets struck in the chest by a horse; having had the same experience myself, I can vouch that this is one instance that absolutely justifies swearing...just as soon as you manage to suck the breath back into your lungs.) But getting rid of the swearing, I discovered, left me with enormous character holes to fill. I had to go back and figure out how to get across Tallulah's tough-chick attitude with inflections and tones, body language and action. More importantly for the character, and the story: I had to figure out what she was really feeling...and why.

Once I did that, Tallulah took on dimensions and shape. She became real. And as she took on more depth and complexity, so did her story. I realized I'd been using the swearing as a shortcut, as if to say, "See? See how rebellious she is?" But I hadn't actually shown it.

Some years later, I was listening to an interview of a punk rock band. (Don't remember who, unfortunately--I'm terrible with names.) Anyway, the two guys who wrote the songs talked about how one night they were brainstorming lyrics, and one of them wrote, "F*** this s***," and they were both like, "Yeah, dude! F*** this s***!" and then one of them turned to the other and said, "So like, what s*** are we talking about, specifically?" And they realized they had no idea. So they thought about it, and they began writing about what they felt was wrong in the world, and why, and how it made them feel, and how it might change. That, they said, was the turning point, when the band took off. I can't for the life of me remember who those guys are, but I've never forgotten that story, because it's absolutely true: if you say "F*** that s***," you ought to at least be clear on what s*** it is you'd like to get f*****.

All this rambling isn't to say that there's no place for swearing in YA fiction. I believe there is, depending on the character, depending on the story. In fact, there's some in my current WiP. (Gasp!) Bottom line, the way I see it--Story is All. If it adds to the story, through rich characterization or meaningful conflict or other fabulous story-building s***, have at it. If it detracts--or if it's serving as a placeholder for something the author hasn't figured out yet--take the axe to it and dig deeper. Same goes for everything our characters say and do. If it doesn't serve the story, it's gone.

One other thing about cussing (and other disreputable goings-on) in YA. If there's swearing in adult books, nobody cares. If there's swearing in YA novels, lots of people care. People like librarians, teachers, and parents. (Just take a gander at this list of books banned in 2009. The first thing I noticed: Damn, that's a long list. The second thing: "profanity" or "vulgar language" is one of the most-cited reasons for banning.) So, could it be an issue? Like all else in publishing: Maybe. Depends. (Another thing to notice about that banned-books list: How many award-winners and literary classics are on it. Being banned isn't like being shunned when you're Amish. Lots of people will still come out to play with you.) Agents and editors can, and probably will, weigh in with their advice. Still, in the end, it's up to the author to decide how best to tell his or her story.

Story is All. Story is King. Long live Story.

(Thank you, mi, for writing such a thought-provoking post!)