Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fiction: Welcome to Nowhere Special

Fifteen-year-old artist Georgia Bennett is about to give the small town of Kingsburg a big surprise.

To Georgia, the town looks less like the romantic and unique Main Streets she sees in her art books and more like a military barracks, which is not surprising given the strict leadership of its mayor, a retired Army captain.  Georgia’s first attempt at inspiring a bit of art appreciation meets a disastrous end.  Not that the people of Kingsburg even notice.  They are much more captivated by the controversial photographs taken by the new kid in school, Henry Winters.

Once his photographs spread through town with the destructive power of a tornado, Georgia begins to see how Henry operates.  He loves the shock value, the thrill of the chase and the attention.

She decides that for every ugly thing Henry does, she will counteract it with something beautiful, like a magnet, her positive to his negative.

Her efforts, however, are constantly undermined by Henry’s ability to give the town something to really talk about, namely, which person was kissing you-know-who behind the you-know-where.  Can art grab people’s attention without airing the town’s dirty laundry on a rope across Main Street?  And, if so, could it ever happen in the absolute smallest town in the known universe?  Maybe not.  Although, with the right plan, she bets she could stir things up a bit.

Her plan certainly grabs attention but for all the wrong reasons, and she discovers that the mayor has a very good and very secret reason why he likes to keep his town ship-shape.  And so she puts everything on the line and plans her final masterpiece.

It will be larger than life and impossible to ignore.  By doing this, however, she risks more than her reputation: she risks the fury of the mayor, who holds the key to her family’s past—and future.
And she finds that she can ignore the town’s uproar over Henry’s photographs only until his camera captures an image that threatens all that she holds close to her heart.

Fiction: One Magic Step

It’s hard for a kid to decide which parent to live with when they separate, but for 12-year-old Seth Ranney, the decision is made even harder when he discovers his dad living in a different century.
Traveling to see him requires the assistance of a hyperactive and unreliable ghost named Hamlet, who hasn’t quite mastered his ghostly skills yet.  While some of Seth’s adventures with Hamlet don’t go as planned, like accidentally leaving his ex-best friend in London in 1592, nothing prepares Seth for the role he must take in one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.  A role, history says, is the starting point for theater’s most enduring and deadly myths.  And Seth and his friends must solve the mystery before the myth becomes terrifyingly true.
But time is running out.  Hamlet finally figures out what he must do to fulfill his ghostly obligation in this world, which will end Seth’s ability to travel between his mom and dad.    He must make a choice.  Will this trip be his last?  Or the next?  And does he end up where he truly wants to be?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Social Network

I hated Facebook. For the life of me, I couldn't figure it out.  What was I supposed to do with it?

This was pretty early on in the Facebook timeline. I remember two things that set the initial impression. The first was a standard 'Take a Movie Quiz and See How Well You Do Against Your Friends" kind of thing. I completed it. Whoop-de-doo. The second impression came when a friend posted on my wall, something having to do with predicting my death, one of those worthless apps that amazingly sees the future with just the minimal amount of personal information and a few animated gifs. I didn't get. It wasn't changing my life. So I deleted myself within the week.

[queue montage. traveling music begins and brief scenes from my life pass in front of your eyes as three years elapse.]

My better half says, "Did you see the photos from Shane's trip?"

"No. I didn't get that email, I guess."

"It wasn't an email. It's on Facebook." Then he told me about someone else's post. Then another. And another.

I have to say, I was feeling left out. So I went back and signed up again for no other reason than all the cool kids were doing it and I was the uninvited band geek. It's shameful really.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Story of Laika

Today we have a post from a special guest.  6th-grader Alan Kaufman of Orangeview Elementary felt slighted by his grade on a class assignment.  I told him that he needed a place to vent and that he could publish his essay here.  Please welcome, Alan Kaufman.

Hey everyone.  Thanks for reading this.  The whole class was given an assignment, which was already up on the board when we got back from recess.  It said: Compare and contrast the beginnings of the Soviet and American space programs.  What was far more interesting to me was the footnote in our history book about Laika, the Russian dog (I doubt she knew she was Russian) that had the distinct pleasure of being the first creature in space.  Sadly, though, she died a few days into orbit.

But she had a story.

What was her emotional state?  Did the Earth look smaller?  Did she find it tedious to lunge for her floating kibble?  I thought I'd write Ms. Pendleton (that's my teacher--she kind of looks like a dehydrated camel) a first-dog account of Laika's adventures, from liftoff to her last moments, when she'd press her little paw delicately against the porthole as she waved goodbye to milk bones and fire hydrants.  Beside it would a lot more fun for Ms. P to read.  And a lot more fun to write.

Alan Kaufman
6th grade, Rm. 5
Ms. Pendleton

The Space Race Essay: The Laika Report

Day 1, 9:33 A.M., seconds into orbit
I can’t feel my tail. It’s got to be there, but I can’t feel it. I’ll try wagging it. Nothing. In fact, I can’t move at all.

Oh god, I feel dizzy. Why is it dark outside, when only moments ago it was light?  What’s happening to me?

What’s happening is that I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Where’s my squeaky toy?  Somebody?  Anybody?


Day 1, 9:37 A.M.
Okay, I’m better now.  Kind of.  I can’t move because I’m strapped to the floor.  But I can move my head around.

I’m in some sort of small metal doghouse.  There’s a round window, not that I can see out of it, but it’s there.  And, yes, my tail is still there.  I can see it when I turn my head the right way and it happens to float up on its own.  That’s weird.

I need to scratch behind my ear really bad.  I can’t, however, use my paw.  I’ll try flapping my ears.  See if that helps.

My ears are floating, too!  I shake my head, but my ears don’t react like they should.  They just sort of slowly wave in opposite directions.

Wait a minute!  What’s that?  A tiny black dot is suspended in the air in front of me.  A dot with legs.  A flea!  There is a flea floating in front of me.

I think I’m going to be sick.

Day 1, 10:22 A.M.
I have to pee.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

As a Writer: The Hunger Games

I suppose my passion for The Hunger Games really stems from my fascination with the propaganda of the Russian Revolution. It's the idea that people can be governed or calmed or emboldened by words rather than by force. Especially statements that are worded in such a way that the truth is barely recognizable, if at all, beneath the layers of rhetoric. So I was drawn early on to Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, where the smallest of creatures looked past the words, made the smallest of actions (with or without knowing it), and lead a revolution.

My interest notwithstanding, I'd be hard pressed to find a book with more crucibles. Everyone belongs to Panem: a utopia, as touted by the government, and a dystopia, as felt by the people. This is the ultimate kind of crucible in literature--instant conflict where escape seems impossible but actions, and reactions, are inevitable.  The game itself is another crucible. You cannot win without living. But all of this changes when Katniss spends enough time at the Capitol to figure out it's all a charade. And her behavior, and more importantly, her choices in the game start a revolution. Combine all of these elements with the fact that every action could lead to the possible murder of her family and her one true love, then you have conflict and suspense on every page.

Katniss as a character is smart enough to garner respect, but not so smart as to be cloying. She's tough enough to survive, but not so tough as to be cold and aloof. It's this blend of survivalist and tactician that makes her a fascinating character, especially since she's up against such incredible odds. She is constantly forced to make choices, and each choice comes with both the good and the bad.

Collins created a rich and detailed history. From the plastic Capitol to the deadly coal mines, every piece seems to be at odds with each other, like the game itself. On one hand, the post-apocalyptic world seems so far away, and yet, nearer than we'd like to believe.

I was happy to share this world with Katniss but also afraid since it's a horrifying future.  But for every horror, there's a triumph. And when a book contains this much horror, the triumphs are all the more powerful and lasting.

Gay High School: It won’t make a man out of you

Queer boys don’t experience real high school; at least, not the kind the straight boys do.  The general roughhousing in the locker room is reserved only for the guys who actually require a jockstrap for athletic purposes, not aesthetic ones.  The wild parties, the drinking games, and the shoulder slaps are sacred among those who treat guys like guys, which sadly leaves little Josh in the back row of the choir with nothing to do but nudge the erection under his robe.  For some, even the gay college life lacks total fulfillment of the masculine kind.  Crushing beer cans against one’s forehead isn’t one of the most logical rites of passage, but it is one, dammit!  

I would have given anything to ride around the back roads of my small hometown in the pickup truck of the seventeen and stubbly and straight Jason Tessero.  We’d toss empty, generic beer cans into the back and say things like, “Hell yeah!”  Instead of this type of manly pursuit, I lounged around the speech and debate room practicing my dramatic interpretation of some long forgotten piece of tragic nonsense that would ultimately leave me with nothing more than third place in the tri-county tournament for the hopelessly geeky.

I was bettering myself, or so I thought.  I was convinced that while they were tossing the ball back and forth and hanging each other’s underwear from the flagpole, I would make something of my life, something great.

And I did.  Really.  But I still felt slighted.

What’s a gay boy to do?  Where was I to find all things masculine?  When could I get my share of the “dude life”?  All I seemed to have were my girlfriends, my sisters, and a whole slew of Marys.  Where were my buddies, my amigos, my homies?  There didn’t seem to be an answer to this, just another question: Why did I care so badly?  But since enlightenment wouldn’t come untilmuch later in life, I unconsciously enrolled in gay high school.