In Love with Pat Sajak – A funny little story

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As a child, I wrote my diary in code, knowing my mother would likely find it and read it. I swapped names, and made substitutions, just to throw her off the scent of what I was really thinking and feeling.

One of my first adolescent crushes, I referred to as Pat Sajak (the Wheel of Fortune guy), pulling the random celebrity name from my jumbled mind. To this day, I can’t help but smile as I wonder if she really thought I had romantic notions towards the middle-aged game show host?

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NEW paperback version of popular foster care book “From Both Sides”

From Both Sides Cover

I am proud to announce that I have just released a NEW paperback version of my free verse memoir ebook about foster care entitled “From Both Sides, A Look into the World of Foster Care From Those Who Know it Best”. I have gotten quite a bit of positive feedback about the ebook, mostly from current or former foster youth and foster parents. Some of them have requested that I release the title in traditional book form so I finally decided to do just that!

For a little bit of background, this book is actually written from two different perspectives. The first half of the book is written from the point of view of children in foster care. The latter half of the book is written from the point of view of foster parents. While writing this book, I used my own experiences as a foster parent, as well as the experiences of many current & former foster children and other foster parents. Many of these poems were inspired by things that were told to me while I did these confidential interviews. The result is a book that tries to be brutally honest and create further understanding of the many struggles, frustrations and occasional joys that go along with the foster care experience.

I wrote the book in free verse style because I think that makes the emotional impact of the messages it contains stronger. It is almost like reading a diary or journal in some ways because it is so deeply personal. Writing in free verse also made it a short, simple book which I figured may make it easier for teens in foster care to read. I know many times it can be hard to get a good education while being moved around in foster care, so foster kids may sometimes struggle with reading. The book does contain some more mature material, so it is recommended for ages 13 and up.

If you haven’t checked this book out already, I hope you will! It is currently available from Amazon for only $5.39! It is still available in Kindle version too for only $2.99.

PS…I am looking for ways to promote this new book, so if you happen to have a website/blog or some other public platform and would like to feature me or this book in any way, feel free to contact me (contact information can be found on the “About Me” page of this website).

Drugs are Scary

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Recently, my husband and I went to a special class about street drug use among youth. The only reason we really went was to earn some of our foster parent educational credit hours, but I must say that the class turned out to be eye-opening and even frightening on many levels. I thought I already knew the basics about street drug use…but apparently there is ALOT I still had to learn.

Following are a few of the facts and statistics that were shared during the class that surprised or even shocked me. Read them over for yourself and decide if we as a country should be worried…

  • Of all young people who die from overdosing on drugs, 98% started with marijuana. (Guess that kind of ruins our society’s whole “marijuana is harmless” belief).
  • Studies show that the risk of a person having a heart attack in the first hour after smoking marijuana is 4 times more likely than their normal risk.
  • On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the hardest to get and 10 being the easiest to get, getting crack cocaine in this area of Ohio is an 8 for a minor. (Although obviously this statistic would vary depending on where you live and other factors, it scares me that it is so easy for our youth to get hold of cocaine).
  • Ketamine, known on the streets as “Special K” is actually a tranquilizer for large animals. For this reason, many veterinary clinics and other animal handlers often become victims of theft and other crimes due to addicts pursuing their drug.
  • OxyContin, Morphine, Vicodin and Codeine are in the same family of drugs as Heroin. (No wonder these pain killers are so addictive)!
  • Heroin users often start out by abusing prescription drugs.
  • Approximately 1 in 6 meth labs EXPLODE! This is truly terrifying! And these are not small explosions!
  • People who abuse methamphetamines have less than a 5% chance of ever fully recovering.
  • The average age for someone who inhales chemicals to get high is 9-13. (If that is the average age, many kids must do it at even younger ages. We obviously need early intervention here.)

So did those facts worry you at least a little bit? They should. If you don’t already talk to your kids about the dangers of drug use of all kinds, please start talking. And always keep an eye out. Don’t be the parent that is in denial and doesn’t see a problem right before their eyes until it is too late.

What makes a good poem?

Poetry is an intensely personal thing, so opinions abound regarding what makes a poem truly good. I’m not here to tell you that I know the magic formula or to try and pretend that I am some literary genius that has it all figured out, but I would like to share my opinion of what makes a poem stand out above the rest. Undoubtedly, some of you will disagree with my criteria, which is fine. In fact, I would encourage you to post a comment with your own opinion on the matter if you wish to do so.

So without further ado…my list of poetry must-haves:

1. Honesty – is this one really a surprise? After all, I named my recently published poetry book, “Not Afraid to Be Real”. And to me, that isn’t just a clever title. I strive in all my writing to be honest and present life realistically. Of course, since poetry tends to focus more on thoughts, feelings and images, the honesty in my poetry tends to be more about the inner life than about the outer life. However, both elements are involved.

2. Clarity – I choose this as second, because I really don’t like poetry that doesn’t make a lick of sense. That is probably my number one turnoff when I choose a poetry book to read or buy. If I flip through and find several poems that are overly ambiguous, I put it back down and keep looking. I should make it clear that there is a difference between random humor and pointless confusion. After all, I love the show Family Guy, and that humor is about as random as you can get.

3. Description – most writers know that poetry falls under the category of descriptive writing. Description is extremely important if you want to write a poem that really moves a reader and makes them feel a part of the experience. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to describe every single little thing you see, hear, taste or touch. Pick a few details that really give the vibe you want. Try to make them as specific as possible (instead of tree, use oak, instead of ice cream, use chocolate chip cookie dough, etc.)

4. Spelling and grammar – maybe a bit of a bummer, but writing poetry doesn’t mean abandoning ALL of the writing rules. Yeah, you have a lot more leeway with poetry as far as sentence structure and form goes, but please check your spelling and grammar. The only time a word should be spelled wrong in a poem is if the poet did it on purpose to introduce some clever word play.

5. Make a point – it doesn’t have to be revolutionary or mind-blowing, but poems are a lot more fun to read if they actually have a point and don’t just ramble on about nothing. You don’t have to make the poem preachy or moralistic or anything like that, but make sure you know what you are trying to say. If you don’t know what your poem means, then it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will either.

6. Don’t overdo it – some poets layer on image after image after image until their writing is so bogged down that it becomes dull and boring. Sometimes simple really is better. Know what you want to say and how you want to show it, then figure out the best way to share that with your reader. If your poem has you yawning halfway through, your reader probably won’t even make it that far into it. If you bring your readers to tears, you want it to be from a deep emotional reaction to your words, not from boredom.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little list. You might have noticed that I didn’t include typical poetic devices, such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, repetition, rhyme, rhythm or form. That isn’t because those aren’t important at all, but because I don’t think they are absolutely necessary to create great poetry. However, if you already have a great concept, adding some of those poetic devices to your poem might make it even better, so do consider using them.

Tips for teaching poetry writing to kids and teens

Along with all the author visits and book signings I do, I also spend some of my time teaching poetry and other writing forms to kids and teens. I often have teachers express to me how hard they find it to teach poetry (or any kind of writing) to the kids in their classroom, so I figured I would offer a few tips that I have found work for me when it comes to getting kids excited about writing in general and poetry in particular.

*First off, allow kids freedom with poetry writing, especially when they are first starting out. Free verse tends to be the most accessible and least intimidating form to begin with. If you try to force your students to rhyme or follow a form, you will quickly have a room of frustrated kids.

*Show your kids how much variety there really is in the poetry world. For many children their experience with poetry is limited to nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess. Make your classroom a poetry-friendly zone. Hang up posters with different kinds of poems on them, stock your bookshelves with an assortment of kid-friendly poetry books and make sure you include great examples of poetry in your curriculum throughout the year.

*Read your students poems that were written by kids their age. Before a child will feel confident that they can write poetry, they need to know that other kids their age have been successful with poetry writing and have even gotten published. A few great resources to find poems by kids and teens include the magazines Highlights for Children, Teen Ink and Stone Soup.

*Make it fun. Allow kids to play poetry games. One fun medium that has always seemed to be popular with kids and teens is magnetic poetry. If you have never played with magnetic poetry yourself, feel free to check out www.magneticpoetry.com to see what it is all about.

*Use prompts the kids will actually care about. The fastest way to lose your students’ interest is to give them boring, stuffy prompts. Don’t ask them to write an ode to spring or something predictable like that. Instead, ask them to write about bullies, pets, friends, dreams, things they love, things they hate, what makes them angry, etc. Just because kids are young doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and emotions every bit as strong as adults do.

*Make your class a safe, constructive review zone. Encourage kids to share their poems with the class so that they can receive feedback, but make sure all the kids know that only kind, helpful comments are allowed. No teasing, jeering or laughing at a fellow student’s work (unless the poem is meant to be funny of course).

I hope you have found these tips to be useful. Feel free to let me know what works for you and what doesn’t. You can contact me at Shojobeatgirl@live.com if you have any comments or questions, or you can simply leave a comment below. Also, feel free to contact me if you are interested in having me visit your library, class or school!

Cursing and sexual terms – ok in literature for young adults?

Lately, as I have been working with my editor to get my first book for young adults ready for publication, I have been thinking a lot about what is ok and isn’t ok to put in young adult literature. My new YA book is a poetry collection, and while it certainly isn’t riddled with sexual stuff or bad language, there is one poem where I use the word “damn” and one where I use the word “sperm”.

Now, I want to state up front I am not really a bad girl. I have never been one to turn to bad language, especially since I am around kids all the time and believe in setting a good example. In the poem where I used the word “damn”, I just felt that any lesser of an expression would look weak and stupid. The mood of that particular poem is serious and heartfelt, with the person speaking coming from a place of desperation. Saying “darn” just wouldn’t be honest to the depth of the feelings represented.

As for the use of the word “sperm”, it isn’t even really used in a sexual way, but more in a technical way. As in, the thing that eventually becomes a human baby is a sperm. Surely, no one could balk at that, right? But a part of me wonders. I know some parents and teachers can be so conservative and protective of their kids that they run from any sign of impropriety. Plus, many kids that aren’t even in the young adult age bracket still read young adult books. I know 10 and 11 year olds that have read “The Hunger Games”, which I’m sure is geared for an older audience.

I know this quandary of mine might seem ridiculous. After all, in a world where many young adult books are laced with the “f-bomb”, gruesome violence and descriptive sex scenes, why in the world would I worry about something like “damn” or “sperm”? I guess it’s just because I always tend to worry about what parents and teachers think. Maybe too much. Of course, it could be that I am just nervous because this is my first foray into the young adult literature world.

So what do you guys think? How much is too much in young adult literature? And how young is too young to read young adult literature?

Author Anxiety

You would think after you have your first book published and spend lots of time out in the public marketing it, that you wouldn’t be so nervous about future releases. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. At least, not for me.

Of course, I think part of the reason I am anxious right now is due to the nature of the current project I am working on. You see, my first published book was a picture book, but the book I am currently editing for publication is a poetry collection geared for young adults. There are several reasons that this particular project makes me nervous, so I figured that maybe if I put a name to these worries and move them out of the dark corner of my mind, perhaps they won’t have such power over me. So here they are, the anxious thoughts that have been haunting my dreams and my waking hours too:

  1. The first worry is just that the book will be a big flop. Now this is a worry authors seem to have with every book they write, but I think the concern is greater with poetry books. Why? Because normally poetry just doesn’t sell. It’s sad but true. I do have a little glimmer of hope though since my book will be geared towards young adults, who actually do read books in verse, as long as they aren’t pretentious and boring.
  2. Since this book is for young adults, that brings insecurities of its own. I’m used to reading my work to little kids who treat me like a superstar because I am an author. I’m not sure how teens will treat me. I guess my biggest fear is that they will roll their eyes, fall asleep or pronounce my work “lame”.
  3. I know this may seem like a silly concern, but punctuation weighs heavily on me at times. Everyone seems to have their own opinion about the correct way to punctuate poetry. There are the grammar police who think you should punctuate poetry exactly like you would prose. Then there are the free spirited folks who don’t want to see much punctuation. Honestly, I don’t think that teens will care much about the punctuation, BUT their teachers might…and they are the ones I have to impress to book school visits.
  4. Lastly, I am plagued by insecurity simply due to the vulnerability of poetry. Yes, as an author I do put a bit of myself into any book I write, but poetry takes that intimacy to an entirely different level. We put so much of ourselves into our poetry…fill it with our hopes, dreams, pains, struggles and our most private thoughts. If my poetry was rejected, I would honestly feel like I was rejected, because there is so much of myself contained within those verses.

You may be wondering by this point why I am even bothering to publish this book if I am so anxious about it. The fact is, regardless of how it turns out, I want to put myself out there. I want to be honest and real, expose the parts of myself that most people don’t see. Why? Because those are the kinds of books that have changed my life, and I want to do the same for the kids I come in contact with. I think the rewards will eventually outweigh the heartache…at least I hope they do.