Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: in which Elissa starts to feel like a stalker...

Once again, I'm going to take a stab at the YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday theme (see, I can't comply with too much structure, so if something is supposed to happen weekly, you can pretty much guarantee I will do it once every few months...), which is BEST BOOK OF JUNE!

Well.  It just so happens that this totally coincides with a post I've been wanting to write, but I felt like it might make me seem like a crazy person.  No, not really a crazy person, but just that kind of fan who crosses the line between being...YAY I HAVE A FAN! to OMG THIS PERSON IS OBSESSED WITH ME.

And I'm  not.  Obsessed.  But I really admire the writing of Australian YA writer Simmone Howell, and this month I reread her second YA novel, Everything Beautiful and then read her debut, Notes from the Teenage Underground, and let me tell you, they are both so wonderful I wish I had written them myself.

So I gave my students an assignment for their fourth quarter book report, and one of the options was to send an email or letter to the author of the book they read and just, you know, tell them about what they thought.  Fan mail.  And then I thought I might as well do the same, and I wrote this gushing email all about how the book Everything Beautiful had, you know, changed my life.  And then I followed her blog.  And followed her on twitter.  And gushed a little more on Absolute Write.  And that doesn't even count all the students I passed the book to, or all the ones I plan to pass it to in the fall.  So yeah.  I'm not obsessed.  They're just really good books.  Here are my reviews, and you should all read them both!

First, her debut (even though I read it second):

I read Howell's second book first, but this was still a great follow-up!  An original story, awesome pop culture references from art and film and feminism--exactly the type of book I would have loved as a teen!  On top of that, the dialogue is interesting, the characters quirky and yet layered, and the themes in the book are carefully and thoughtfully drawn.  I especially  like the exploration of the "three girl movie" structure, and Gem's reflections on the power struggles found in a triangle.  I can't wait to read Simmone Howell's next book!

And then her second book (the one that got me hooked):

This book is exactly the kind of book I aspire to write.  A memorable main character, a snappy voice, a quiet lyricism that makes me want to copy whole paragraphs out and share them with people, and a clear and captivating plot, too.  I like the way there is emotion but no sentimentality, and there is "edginess" without making it seem like edginess was the only goal in writing the book.  I would like to immediately go out and buy the debut from this author, except I may want to reread Everything Beautiful first.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


When we got married, David and I put together a little bundle of items that symbolized different things about our relationship--an object to represent our individual self, something to show what we have to offer the relationship, a symbol of us as a couple, and a symbol of what we need to keep for ourselves.  We shared these items with our friends at the ceremony, explaining each item as we tucked it into a small piece of cloth that we call our wedding bundle. 

We take this bundle out every so often, at the very least on our anniversary, and see if we can remember what all the things symbolize.  It's funny because we never thought it would be as difficult as it sometimes is, given how our interests and qualities do tend to merge and overlap.  (Was the pencil you and the crayons me, or was it the other way around?)  Sometimes we think about things we might put in today, whether they might be different now that we are older and busier and if not wiser then at least more experienced.  And we always take a minute to dab on a bit of D's special cologne that he put in.

So one of the items that I put in was this little jar of water from the Clackamas River, where we were married.  It was meant to symbolize our relationship, and I remember writing up a whole list of metaphorical reasons--our love of nature and traveling, the way it seeks balance and figures out the path of least resistance no matter the terrain, even the cohesion of the very water molecules was a comment on how D. and I would surely stick together.  But the biggest reason that I chose water as a symbol of our relationship was that, like a marriage, keeping a jar of water for any length of time was going to take a little attention--a little work.  It's not like you can just get married and then you're good.  The water disappears if you don't replenish it from time to time.

Well, if you look at the photo of our little jar, you can see there's hardly any left.  Did we forget about it, tucked away in the bundle?  Did we stop caring about replenishing the jar?  Well.  Not...exactly.  I admit, we could have done a much better job of refilling our little jar, but I also have to admit that a big part of that (for me, anyway) was a sort of sentimentality about the actual water.  Aw, look!  It's our little bit of Oregon!  Remember how beautiful that day was?  Remember the rain, the way the beeswax candles held up?  Remember how we scattered the leaves and the wine in the river, and how my maid of honor almost fell in retrieving the lost shoe of our minister?  It's not that we were neglecting our jar, but rather that we were holding onto the memories...maybe to the past?

Marriages change.  We have a very different life today than the one we went home to after our ceremony in the Mount Hood National Forest.  It's better and worse; it's richer and...well, no, it's richer--in so many ways. 

Anyway, we finally did it.  We went out and replenished our wedding jar, adding the cold, fresh water of Lake Superior to the lingering drops of Clackamas.  We got our feet wet (and most of our legs, to be honest) in the process, and we had a good laugh and a few shivers (it was freezing!) and then we came home and tucked our full jar back in the bundle and talked about how much things have changed and how much we've stayed the same.  And we whispered our hopes for what our marriage may look like the next time we fill the jar.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

on pretending, or I LOVE WRITING!

"I hate writing.  I love having written" --Dorothy Parker

Yesterday, during our afternoon quiet time, Jabber decided to sit beside me and write his own book.  For reasons that are long and a bit inane, I have been referring to his book by the title A MILLION FLEAS.  He calls it PEPOL TRAPT IN A CAR.  I mean, it's a working title.

So yesterday he wrote a chapter ("The Car Rase") which, although tending toward bathroom humor, seemed a pretty good start.  He even made his own cover (I'll break it to him later how little control he'll have over cover design...) and did some illustrations (mini-van with flames).

Today during quiet time, I asked him if he was going to write chapter two ("The Jet Pac") while I was working on my Cassandra WIP.  He shook his head.

"No, I hate writing," he said.

"What?  Yesterday you loved working on your book with me."

"No, Mom.  It wasn't really fun.  I was just pretending it was fun."  And then he just...abandoned his WIP.  Such a promising premise, too!  (All right, I'm not entirely clear on the premise, but I feel sure he could have made it into something wonderful.)

At first, I was kind of upset--not that he didn't want to finish some story he was working on, but because he has been claiming today that he hates reading and writing.  That kind of broke my heart a little bit.

But then I realized--yeah, sometimes we all hate writing.  And a lot of the time the actual act of writing...well, it's not all that enjoyable.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I love having written.  I love to reread it.  Sometimes I even like to revise it.  But writing isn't easy, and it isn't something that, for me, just flows like water, like breathing.  It isn't always fun.  But even so, I keep doing it, and in fact, I feel wrong if I'm not doing it, even though I will at times go to great lengths to avoid doing it.  At other times I'll do it, but only for the promise of rewards: if I write a thousand words, I get to shower.  If I write another thousand, I can eat.  Does that sound like fun?

So, I know there are writers for whom writing is always a source of pure joy.  I know there are others who always find it a struggle and have to drag themselves to the page.  And others have the sort of complicated relationship with writing that I do--I love it but I dread it.  When I'm not writing, I long to be, and when I'm supposed to be writing, I'll scrub the kitchen floor to get away from it.

How about you?  Is writing fun, or do you just pretend that it is?  And wherever you fall on that spectrum, what's your favorite part of the process?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's a book deal!

Look!  My book!  From Publisher's Marketplace!

Elissa Hoole's KISS THE MORNING STAR, after her mother's tragic death, a girl sets out with her best friend on an epic road trip across the USA in the spirit of Kerouac's Dharma Bums - a journey of discovery both inward and outward, encompassing loss and lust, God and pot, and the tangled search for love and identity, to Melanie Kroupa at Marshall Cavendish, for publication in Spring 2012, by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency (NA).
Here's a webcam picture of our toast yesterday evening when I got the call from Sarah that the deal was official...yes, we are crouching in the shelter of a work bench, what of it? 

Just as D. left to buy some champagne, a tornado warning came over the radio we were listening to, and Jabber, having just learned all of the proper procedures for such warnings in kindergarten, was a champ and got us all down in the basement for safety.

I started to outline here the entire history of what this book has gone through since I started it in Sept. 2008, but that's a whole post in and of itself.  Suffice it to say that I am thankful and wide-eyed and excited.

And now I'm going to put on my KtMS soundtrack--which is the Jack Kerouac tribute CD, Kicks Joy Darkness--and dance around the house some more.  :)

Monday, June 21, 2010


From the Greenhouse Literary Agency's facebook page...

News as it happens . . .Congratulations to Elissa Hoole whose YA debut - KISS THE MORNING STAR - has just been sold to Melanie Kroupa at Marshall Cavendish. Look for more info on our website in the next few days - and here's to a great writing future, Elissa!


rainy monday... we had a little geography lesson and then made fingerpaint maps.

Jabber was able to name all the states that I flew over on my mini-writing vacation my lovely host Amy Danziger Ross, (and we did get writing done, though to be honest the conversation and celebration and the bottle of wine from my old home in Eugene would have been worth the trip even if I didn't get anything at all done on the Cassandra WIP!)

Summer vacation is off to a wonderful start! 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

couldn't do this without you...

About two and a half weeks ago, I spent a weekend grading papers--book reports mostly--on my dining room table.  For like eight hours each day, I sat at that table and graded, wrote comments on papers, punched numbers into the calculator, and entered grades on my laptop, which was sitting off to one side.

At the same time at school, I was putting together a slideshow for our eighth grade graduation, sorting and sizing hundreds of photos and placing them in the slide show.

My wrist started to ache.  Then my elbow, my entire shoulder.  I wore a brace on my wrist for several nights, then full time as it didn't improve.  I tried an elbow brace, and still it ached.  Finally, I got into the doctor and went to physical therapy, where she stretched my neck out and POOF! pain was gone.  For two weeks, I had been thinking I had a sore arm, and I actually had a pain in the neck. 

While I was in too much pain to write, I did some beta reading and also read through the first 40k of my Cassandra WIP, which I haven't been working on since I put it aside to begin agent edits on KtMS.  And I found it actually helpful, if frustrating, to be injured while reading--to have actual physical pain every time I reached to correct something, to make an edit.  Editing at the sentence level, at the paragraph level, is an important step in the manuscript's development, but sometimes you can get caught up in the little fixes that you miss the actual source of the problem, which is that whole scene should probably either disappear or be completely rewritten, and this other character's motivations are all stemming from the previous scene, and now this one is inconsistent and really, the whole story should begin about thirty pages in anyway...

Anyway, this post is to say thanks to everyone who helped me out in the last couple of weeks--entering grades for me, finishing the slideshow, cleaning my classroom, taking down chairs so I could have conferences...

...and on the metaphorical side of the post, I'd like to say thanks to everyone who has helped with my book that is currently on sub with editors.  You know who you are, and you are so many, wonderful people.  Thanks for helping me find the source of the weaknesses and thanks for encouraging me when I didn't really see the point of continuing.  My dharma girls have come a long way from their beginnings, and who knows what's next?

And now I should probably go back to drafting Cassandra!  Can I get to 44k today?

photo credit David Hoole Photography, 2010 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

the shame that sticks

It's the end of the school year, and it seems every time I open my mouth to speak to a student, something sappy comes out.  I'm awkward with goodbyes, with telling the kids how much they mean to me, but at the same time I want them to know.  Middle school is such a crazy time--I want to somehow tell each student all the good things I can see underneath that rough exterior.  I want to give them these words to remember, encase them in glass, like a keepsake they can take out and study at some point in the future when they think back about their middle school teachers, something positive to block out that one time I gave them an exasperated sigh or maybe even a bitingly sarcastic comment. 

It's funny, though.  No matter how carefully I choose my words, it's unlikely those will be the ones they remember.  I'm well into my third decade of life, and although my memories of elementary, middle, and high school are a bit blurry overall, there are these moments that are as clear to me now as the moment they happened.  Clear as though they were encased in glass, actually.  And I would venture that, of the memories involving teachers, none of them are moments that those teachers really wanted me to keep. 

My clearest memory of kindergarten is a sulking glimpse of my class playing "Skip to my Lou" from my spot behind the cloakroom door, where I had been sent after I had demonstrated a karate kick which resulted in my little brown oxford shoe flying off my foot.  "We don't kick our shoes at people," my teacher said, and to this day I can feel a sense of burning injustice and shame.

I have lots of memories of second grade, but two of the most vivid also involve shame, or at least morbid embarrassment.  Looking at them from my grown up angle, I'm sure they were completely unintentional on the part of my lovely teacher, but at the time, I wanted to curl up and die.  One was pretty common for me--I never could shut up, and my teacher chastised me in front of the class for talking to my friend Mark, except she hinted that there was a romantic bent to our purely platonic (and, if it's possible for two second graders, purely intellectual) yet nonstop conversation.  I remember Mark's ears were a deep shade of red, and I thought I'd never forgive her for embarrassing me like that. 

The other memory was about my school picture.  It was ugly.  Or rather, I was making a very weird face in it.  I can actually remember the entire sequence of events with the photographer, how he patronized me and how I made a dumb face at him because I wasn't good at hiding my disgust with adults when they were stupid.  But the embarrassing part was when my teacher got the proofs for the photos and said to me, in front of the class, "Elissa, come up here and look at your picture.  You want retakes, right?"  For some strange reason, this mortified me--that she would tell the whole class that my photo was ugly, basically.  I flounced up to her desk, took one brief look at the photo (with my vision all red as I'm sure my face was as well), and declared, "I like my picture.  I meant for it to look that way."

That was a complete lie, of course, and at the time I had no idea why I even said it.  The next week or whatever when I got my pictures, I was too shy to go back up and ask her to get retakes.  Too proud, maybe.  So to this day, my second grade picture features a smart aleck girl making a weird smirking face that shows her complete contempt for the photographer.  And every time I look at it, I remember that moment of flouncing up to her desk.

There are  more of these memories...many for each year of my schooling.  These are my mildest moments of shame; I'd feel bad writing publicly about the ones that hurt the most--the ones that still sting now instead of making me laugh, as these do now.  It's possible I'm just very sensitive to being embarrassed, but I would guess that I'm not alone in this, that many people carry with them the memories of those small shamings.

Right now, the boys and I are reading the Ramona Quimby books out loud at bedtime, and so many of the events in Cleary's books are about moments just like the ones I remember.  As we read, we laugh at the image of Ramona, always misunderstood.  We can relate to those moments.  And I can only hope a few of the other moments stick, too, the ones that let my students know that I care.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

eyes on the prize (and off the canoe rack)

Jabber is learning to ride a bike.  A real bike.

"With no training wheels," he says.

So the boys get out the toolbox and dismantle the second-hand bike we got him last summer, and soon he's wobbling across the back yard, back and forth, more feet on the ground than are strictly allowable for actual bike riding but with a lot of bravery.

I take a video or two, and at the beginning of each "take", Jabber solemnly speaks to the camera.  "Riding a two-wheeler is easy, once you get into it," he says, and then staggers off across the bumpy green expanse, grinning a big boy grin.

I learned to ride a bike when I was six--a red, banana-seat bicycle with a white plastic basket and a little silver bell with an American flag on it (which I've mentioned before).  My stepdad figured it would be easier for me to learn with a little hill to get me started, so he took me to the spot where the driveway rambled down the peninsula toward the lake, the gravel turning into grassy ruts.  "Just keep your head up and pedal," he said, giving me a little push.

At the bottom of the hill, near the beach on the left-hand side of the path, there was a giant wooden canoe rack.  I think there was a canoe or two or three hanging on it...that part is fuzzy.  All I remember is that I was terrified of crashing into it.  It loomed in front of me, and I couldn't take my eyes off it.

So of course, I crashed into it.  Hard.  Picking me up from the dust, checking me for more serious maladies than the ever-present skinned knees and assorted bruises, my dad told me it was time to try again.

"But I'll hit the canoe rack," I cried.

"No, you won't.  Just steer away from it."

But every time I went down the hill, I found myself transfixed by the canoe rack, inexorably drawn to it until I was painfully tangled up in it.

My dad was frustrated, but he didn't know what to do except to tell me to steer.  How could I steer, when that gigantic, painful obstacle stood right in my way?  (except, it wasn't in my way at all; it was way off to one side of the harmless grassy path my bicycle was supposed to take...)

Finally, crying and ready to give up, I explained how my bike just gravitated toward the canoe rack, and Randy taught me the trick of bike-riding:  you will always go where you look.  "Look away," he said. "Keep your eyes on the path."

Magic.  I sailed down the road (okay, okay, I still crashed, but not into the canoe rack; that's the important part.)

I've said it before, about writing...there are so many ways to fail, so many reasons to give up, to keep your eyes locked on that scary canoe rack.  To crash.  To get hurt.

I'm not one who believes that positive thinking is a magic spell that will lead to my success, but there's something to be said about keeping my eyes on the prize and off the canoe rack, about setting goals and pedaling toward them.  When I have my gaze fixed on the things I fear, it can feel like I'm hurtling toward them, out of control.  A voice in my head tells me to steer, but how can I, transfixed by the giant failure in front of me (or maybe it's really off to one side, completely off my path)? 

My book is out in the world.  I'm trying to look in another direction, trying to fix my eyes on a grassy path.  Trying to wrap up the school year and plan for my summer and keep my house from smothering us all in its filth.  Trying to keep pedaling.

Last night Jabber braved the alley.  There's a little hill, a long straight stretch.  Rows of garbage cans.  He's brave, much braver than I was at six, and he took off without a push, without any directions from me.  Still, I shouted after him.  "Keep your eyes straight ahead, Jabber!  Keep looking forward!"

He rode straight down that alley, just like a pro.