Saturday, May 29, 2010


The pirate is a problem child. Ask anyone. Ask his teacher, ask his parents, ask the kids in his class.

Just don't ask the pirate. He'll tell you he's smart, he likes art, and his mom is really proud of him. He doesn't see himself as a problem child.

The way I see it, I need to keep his self-image where it is and get the rest of him to match it. Progress to this end is notable.

He's learned through a combination of conditioning and experience that he gets away with more when he smiles and regularly employs phrases like "please, thank you, and ma'am." Manipulative, but hey, it works.

As far as his "problem" goes, let me describe:

My five year old boy can't sit still.
He likes to wiggle.
Sometimes he talks without permission.
He doesn't always wait for the teacher to call on him before he blurts out an answer.
If he's bored, he's inclined to play cave by crawling under the table at school.
He's impulsive and acts without thinking.
In art, he likes to paint on things besides the paper.

Clearly, he needs medication. Again, ask anyone. Ask his teachers. Ask his classmates. Ask the school administrator. They told him so. (Well, some of the kids did. The administator asked him if he was taking his medicine. The teacher considered meeting with a social worker on his behalf. The pre-K 4 teacher wanted him tested for every acronym she could think of.)

On the behavioral bell curve, there is no doubt he is not on the bell. I know this. He's further from the bell than he would have been twenty-five years ago because all the kids like him are on meds. Except the ones with parents like his. Two parent households, higher education, enough income that one parent can devote a lot of time to handling problems. Parents with the education and confidence to tell a school system and a pediatrician, "We appreciate your involvement and support. We're not going to go that route. Let us know in what other ways we can help you get him to where he needs to be."

I go to the school on a regular basis so the teacher doesn't have to spend all her time on my child. Because I can. I don't have a 9-5 job that I will lose over this. I'm not backed into a corner or in a position to be intimidated.

Twenty years ago, rich kids were on medication. Ten years ago, all of them were. Must have been a golden age for early education. Now, poor kids are way more likely to be on medication than their luckier counterparts. This is crap.

We are about to see a generation come along where creativity and independence are fostered in the privileged and medicated out of the kids who have no advocate. Their mothers love them just as much but they are more easily influenced by an M.D. and a Masters in Education. Those people most know what's good for our kids, right?

Juvenile brains are developing. Learning pathways are being established at a phenomenal rate. Those pathways laid down under the influence of a scheduled, mind-altering drug are permanently designed to require that drug to function at optimal levels. I'm not raising my kid on speed. (Yes, it's speed. Adderall's primary active ingredient is amphetamine.) Not only am I worried about his brain but his physiology. I can't imagine a growing body subjected to a 60 year old diet pill for ten years is not going to be at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes as an adult.

But what about other people's kids? It's gotten to the point that they damn near need a semester of pharmacology as a requirement for an education degree. I don't propose that there is NEVER a reason to use medication and I'm certainly not okay with telling parents they shouldn't any more than I'm okay with people telling me I should. But there is gross abuse here and as always seems to be the case, the people least able to fight back are the most likely to be victims.

The only thing I can do is be vocal. I explain our decision to the pirate's teacher. I provide documentation. I let her know that I appreciate how much easier he would be on a prescription but the long term risk is too great. And I pray that the love of children that led her to be an educator in the first place will give her the patience to deal with kids like mine and advise another mother, a single mom who's struggling, that medication is faster and easier but not necessarily better.

The guy in this video makes my point better than I can. It's about twenty minutes, but if you're pressed for time start it at 15:41. Watch the whole thing when you have time. He's very funny and really makes you think.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Love Triangle

Good Lord. It's everywhere. If it isn't the MC it's a subplot. I hate them. Hate 'em, hate 'em, hate 'em.

I'm trying to figure out what is appealing about the love triangle. Obviously, many women/romance readers dig it. Two strong heroes fall all over themselves risking life and limb to protect/save/rescue the foolishly spunky gal who's up against more than she bargained for. Is it incredibly romantic to have a heroine with two wonderful specimens of masculinity pining over her while she wrings her dainty hands in indecision? She knows she's hurting them both but she simply can't choose because...why, again? Oh, yeah. She can't bear to hurt one of them. What?

Let's flip it. Two lovely ladies hotly pursue a male protag who loves them both. They compete for his affection. In the spirit of the trope, let's go with the most adorably feminine counterpart to fisticuffs and rescue of the heroine. One bakes him her state fair winning coconut chiffon cake. The other joins the DAR to buddy up to his mother. The first one strikes back by learning how to hunt. (She is just adorable hoisting that rifle up like she might really shoot something. Aw.) The other takes up fly fishing and learns to create her own lures. Would ya look at that? She's so good at it she starts her own online business selling lures.

So does this make the hero a tragic figure torn between two soul mates? No. It makes him an asshat who's stringing along two women at once. And the women both deserve him because they are idiots.

Maybe that's why the love triangle annoys me. It's vaguely misogynistic somehow, like women are too flaky to make a decision and go with it but we expect men to know their own minds and hearts. On the other hand, Hamlet couldn't make a decision and I didn't like him either. Guess I just don't go for wishy-washy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Junior High Talent Show

Do you remember what it was like when you were twelve or thirteen and you had to sit through the talent show? Subtropical waves of heat shimmy through the gym because if it's winter the heat is on and it only runs full blast. If it's late enough in the spring, the air conditioning can't cool it off fast enough. The tennis shoe/vinyl/aerosol deodorant/popcorn smells mix together in toxic fumes that guarantee at least one nervous performer will get sick.

A skinny, scruffy air guitar band leaps about and only gets away with applause because it consists of the coolest guys on the varsity whatever team. Several wobbly monologues delivered in tinny, squeaky sincerity are punctuated by awkwardly spaced dramatic gestures. A piano solo or two trips along the keyboard. But once or twice- in the era, not every year- somebody special takes the stage.

They look like everyone else if not marginally worse. The audience squirms in uncomfortable anticipation of whatever's coming. We've been programmed to keep expectations low. As in, please don't let this one suck because I can't feel sorry for one more person tonight.

Then this happens:

I think that must be what it's like for agents reading queries. You straighten up a bit. This one might not be so bad. In another sentence or two, you start to get excited. You get to the sample pages and read with a mix of elation and sheer gratitude that this person did not make you pity them, wonder what they were thinking or how their mother created such a delusional fantasy world for them. In the mix of the good, the mediocre, and the absolutely dreadful it must be an amazing eureka moment to find one that is fan-damn-tastic.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Hat Tip and a Heads Up

Stephen Parrish is an author I stumbled across in blogland last year. I know from his blog that he is a fantastic writer and a lot of people already know about him, but just in case you forgot or it slipped by you, his novel, The Tavernier Stones, just published this week. It looks like it is going to be rock solid. (Pun intended. It's about a gemologist. And a treasure hunt.)

He also has absolutely the coolest promotion going for his book. It is also a treasure hunt and the prize is a one carat diamond. Seriously. Get your copy and get cracking.

So hats off to Stephen and heads up to all of you!

Below is the book blurb from his website:

When the well-preserved body of 17th century mapmaker Johannes Cellarius floats to the surface of a bog in northern Germany, and a 57 carat ruby rolls out of his fist, treasure hunters from around the globe race to find the Lost Tavernier Stones of popular European folklore.

According to legend, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was robbed of a priceless hoard while returning from his final voyage to the Orient in 1689. The hoard reputedly includes some of the world's most notorious missing jewels. Among them the 280 carat Great Mogul Diamond and the 242 carat Great Table Diamond, the largest diamonds ever unearthed whose whereabouts are unknown.

John Graf is an Amish-born cartographer who has never ventured out of Pennsylvania, let alone embarked on an international treasure hunt. David Freeman is a gemologist who has done his share of prospecting, but little of it within the boundaries of the law. Between them they have all the expertise necessary to solve the mystery. They also have enough differences to derail even the best of partnerships. And ahead are more obstacles: fortune seekers equally qualified and every bit as determined.

The race spans two continents. The finish line is in Idar-Oberstein, the gemstone capital of Germany. There, in chambers beneath an old church, where unspeakable events took place in centuries past, winners and losers alike find answers to age-old questions about the Lost Tavernier Stones.

Monday, May 3, 2010

ICK. Or: What is hot and what is NOT?

I read a lot of books with a romance thread. Action with a romance woven in, UF with a romance woven in, mystery with a romance woven see the pattern.

Some (read:most) is formulaic. Once in a while something is fresh. Writers are always looking for the angle to bring a new twist to the ancient story of boy meets girl. Like a sonnet, a few rules must be observed or your story/subplot does not qualify as a romance.

  1. The protag must be single at the beginning of the story. Possible variances include attached in the context of a bad/abusive/dying relationship.
  2. The couple must be together by the end of the story. Or, in a series, there must be clear intent to move in this general direction.
  3. During the course of the story, there must be tension. If our hero and heroine are the destined to be together/soul mates/love at first sight variety, the tension will be external, like a mutual enemy. Dean Koontz does this to great effect. The other end of the spectrum is the classic love/hate tension. They drive each other batty but have an undeniable chemistry and a moment of vulnerability somewhere during the story where they gain a better understanding of each other. Think Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. I'm a sucker for this trope. And the du jour of pop fiction is the "I'm a human and my lover is not" variety. This one is usually resolved by "upgrading" the human in some way.

The beginning and end are pretty easy to master. They start off apart and end up together. The tricky part is how they get there, the journey and the tension. And this is where the shark jumping takes place.

Please. If you are writing a book with romantic elements, for the love of all that is holy, respect the limits of the ICK FACTOR. For the most part, the couple should not be so May/December that the reader is prompted to speculate about basic biological limitations like ED and reduced post-menopausal sex drive, for example. If you go there, you better be good. Harold and Maude? Soul mates, hilarious, and a great soundtrack worked to downplay the ick factor of a barely grown young man falling madly in love with an eighty year old free spirit. The Mary Russell books by Laurie King have a fifty something Sherlock Holmes fall for a twenty year old difficult genius. The age disparity is dwarfed by the complete lack of anyone else in the world who might be a suitable companion for either character.

Occasionally somebody pulls off a Thornbirds. I suspect this does not have the shock value it used to, though, so not many people go for the man-of-the-cloth trick to heighten tension.

But I read one over the weekend that is irredeemable. Absolutely not. NO WAY. Let me set the stage: YA UF. Usual cast of characters. Decent world building. Snappy dialogue. Love triangle (which is not my cuppa but I make allowances since it clearly makes millions swoon). So we have some nice little sparks flying in the middle of a generational conspiracy for genocide. Sweet little kiss scene followed up by the fellow being a complete jerk but we know he's not such a bad guy, simply conflicted. We're doing well on the tension front. But since the author has designs on a series (there are published sequels) there must be the Big. Bad. We can never be together. So what's it gonna be? Guilt? Angst? Misunderstanding of I Love Lucy proportions? No such luck.

INCEST. Incest, people. As in, the two people you are pulling for find out at the end that they are brother and sister. And yes, being a savvy reader I totally get that this will most likely be resolved in some convoluted plot twist involving a baby switch or something but the damage is done. These two people think they are siblings so there is no potential for anything but ICK. ICK. and more ICK every time they gaze longingly at one another, innocently brush hands reaching for the same death dealing supercharged silver tipped ninja star, whatever. It's not just no spark. It's anti-spark.

Greek mythology in UF? Totally acceptable. Greek tragedy? Not so much.