Since I plan to post my 100th blog entry on New Year’s Day, I decided to share a few snipets from CORRODED, the novel I’m currently querying to publishing companies. This scene has freshman Mary Weber reporting to the office for the first time in her high school career.

The school secretary looked at me without recognition and read my note. “Your guidance counselor, Mr. Lopez, needs to see you. He’s down the hall, next to the last door on your right.”

            A couple of students sitting in chairs along the wall narrowed their eyes at me when I walked past. I quickly looked away.

            Mr. Lopez’s blue office door was open. The walls in the small room were covered by posters with motivational quotes. He waved me in and introduced himself.

            “I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here, Mary.” He leaned back in his swivel chair but kept his brown eyes focused on me. My school file was open on the computer screen behind him, listing my current schedule.

            My mind scanned through the possible offenses in my life and settled on the big one: my night out with Ben. I sucked in a deep breath. “Did my parents call you because I snuck out of the house Friday night?”

            He grabbed a pen from behind his ear and scribbled down something on the notepad on his lap. “Not at all, but that does fit in with the other issue.”

            “I’m grounded, but that’s not going to affect my school work.”

            Mr. Lopez replaced the pen behind his ear—it was camouflaged against his black hair—and leaned closer. “One of your classmates came to me last week out of concern. She wanted me to help you seek support for some issues you might be dealing with.” There must have been a look of utter bewilderment on my face because Mr. Lopez continued talking. “Whatever we talk about here will remain confidential. You don’t need to worry about the school calling your parents. I’m here to help you. Whatever is troubling you is valid, and there’s a support system to help you cope.”

Explore more things CORRODED at

Middle School Blues

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Middle School Blues

The years I spent in middle school were terrific and terrible. I was trying to find my style and express myself—the slightly pudgy, tall geek posing as a rebel. (Yes, it carried over into high school, too. And adulthood, minus the rebel part.) And no, I didn’t fool my friends or family.
I took gifted/advanced classes in a four-track-year-round school in a culturally diverse neighborhood in Southern San Diego County. I was the tallest girl in the school and blonde amid a sea of dark hair. (Translation: You could spot me across the campus with ease.) I went to all periods with the same group of people for two years. The exception was the elective classes—those in band went to the band room and the others (me included) cycled between art, cooking, computers, health, drafting, and wood shop each quarter. It was a solid, well-rounded experience.
My group was the popular clique amid the nerds and all the cultures at the school were represented. Only the truly weird kids were the odd ones out. The other three tracks in the school—one would be on break for a few weeks at any given time—had separate lunch schedules and we didn’t mix socially. Thus, I was in the privileged top of the (geek) social class.
Switching middle schools in my final month of eighth grade did a number on my self-esteem. That last month of school (actually moving on my fourteenth birthday) my family moved to a predominantly white/upper-class area in North County San Diego and it shook my sense of self-worth to the core. Less than a thirty minute commute, but it was a radical culture shock.
I had to ride the bus, which I hadn’t done since elementary school, and the trips were worse than the actual school day. (I tend to think this is when my fear of crowds kicked in.) It was packed full of jeering kids who made fun of those of us who got on/off the bus in my neighborhood—it was one of the older, original parts in the suburb. Most of the other kids on the bus route lived in new tract housing with a minimum of three car garages, five bedrooms and 3.5 baths. People would actually try to trip me when I walked down the aisle and projectiles were thrown in my direction.
The school days were disastrous. Wood shop, which I loved at my old school, was torture. Even the teacher looked at me funny and said “it’s not like it was in your old school” when I walked in the first day. He offered to let me change my schedule to drop the course, but I naively stuck it out. There were only two other girls and they were in there because it was “where the boys are.” I was branded a hoe for taking shop class because in that school it was for guys and skanks.
I’ve blocked from my memory which class it was that I had notes stuck on my back taunting “wide load” and such on several occasions. It was always from the under-sized boys who must have been intimidated to have a girl sitting in front of them that could physically beat them up—as if I’d ever. One student did defend me, but the damage was done.
In another class, I was trapped on the back row between the 90210 looking kids. They’d discuss their parties and drinking/drugs from the weekend before, where the next one would be held because so-and-so’s parents were on a cruise, who spent the morning puking in the bathroom, who was in rehab, or who might be getting an abortion.
There I was, on the “better side” of San Diego, and I was being exposed to bullying for the first time. Plus the exploits of the privileged class piled around me—those outwardly perfect kids spiraling down the dark hole of addiction before reaching high school. It was frightening and sad, even then. I didn’t envy them. They made me sick just listening to the stories they joked about. (I think that’s where my distrust for seemingly perfect people stems from. Even in books, I never trust the pretty boys. No Team Edward here.)
Then, there’s the fact that on the first day I dressed out for P.E. I was picked last when choosing baseball teams. (The first, but not the final, time I was left for a coach to assign me to a team.) I busted myself to prove I wasn’t all that bad. I barely made it to first base and later sprained my ankle running home. I had to hobble around for a couple weeks on crutches.
I sat the whole boring 8th grade graduation (the only time I walked for a grad ceremony) surrounded by strangers. The next day, I attended my old school’s graduation and watched my close friends get their diplomas as a bystander, sitting with their parents and siblings rather than with them on the stand.
It sucked to be me.
Over the summer, and then when high school began, I did settle into a small friendship circle of other outsiders and new comers. I was no longer bullied—but mostly ignored, which was fine by me.
Three months into my freshman year—just six months after the last move—I was once again relocated. This time the destination was eight hours north, to a strange place near Santa Cruz.
But that’s another story.

Corroded Soundtrack

The thing for authors—especially young adult ones—to do these days is to create PLAYLISTS for their novels. I’ve written song lists for SOUNDTRACKS (because I see my stories as movies in my head) for all my writing, beginning twenty years ago.
Yes, with the first novel-length story I began at the age of fourteen, I had an inspiring soundtrack of hair bands. Ever visit me in my teens? My walls were filled with photos from Metal Edge magazine and posters bought at the local Sam Goody’s or Spencer Gifts. I was the renegade rocker—the walking oxymoron. I had a “Youth Gone Wild” Skid Row t-shirt but never skipped school or done anything worthy of arrest. I spent my money on cassettes/CDs, magazines, posters, concert tickets, t-shirts… my teen idols were long haired crooners, beat thumping bass players, and those glorious keyboarders.
But I’d always had a wide range of musical taste. I bought J.S. Bach albums while wearing my denim-and-leather jacket (I was told by the sales associate “you don’t look like the powdered wig type.) It isn’t Christmas until The Beach Boys album is on the stereo. And I still love a little “Motownphilly”, “The One and Only”, “Forever Your Girl”, and “Electric Youth.” Can you name the artists who sing those songs?
To bring my old school soundtrack to the new century, I’m including YouTube links to the BEST videos I found for my odd assortment of songs that express the themes and emotions of Corroded, in chronological order. Yes, there is a heavy dose of Rick Nelson. I adore him—the original teen idol.
Take a few minutes and watch—but more importantly LISTEN—to the songs you aren’t familiar with. Enjoy!
Hello Mary Lou (Main character’s name, with a groovy 70s vibe.)
Young Emotions (Ricky was so smooth and dreamy…)
Weird (Now this is a WEIRD video! First time seeing it.)
The Very Thought of You (He’s so much better than Elvis.)
String Along (Never enough Rick!)
Burning Down Inside (Peppy live version with a bonus song on the end, because Tyketto rocks.)
You Are a Tourist (Song I heard on the local independent radio station last month. It struck me.)
Anybody Listening? (A profound sound with amazing vocals–Geoff Tate of Queensryche is the bomb.)
Tears of the Dragon (I could listen to this song over and over again—and have.)
Dying to Be Alive (Yes, two Hanson songs. They both fit.)
Somewhere I Belong (About as heavy as I get…)
Start from the Dark (By my FAVORITE band. Long live Europe!)
Spirit of the Underdog (They rock and had two songs to fit the mood, back-to-back.)
Right Before Your Eyes (Rick Nelson’s sons.)
Life (Amazing what you can find on YouTube!)
And as a tribute, because I just found this and the hair is awesomely 80s.
Are you ready to read Corroded now? Let me know your comments—either here or on Twitter or FaceBook. Thanks for stopping by!

How the New Year Goes

Here it is, the start of the second week of a new year, and I’m nursing a sprained ankle. Fortunately, it’s not the worst I’ve twisted the delicate joint, but it’s still a pain to deal with when there are stairs in the house and multiple children to keep up with. And I’ve used my down time these past twenty-four hours to do extra reading as well as scanning old photos to upload into my computer. So, it hasn’t been all swelling and tears.
The past month has been busy with family and church and friends. Just in the past week I’ve settled back into the typical routine with the kids, including homeschooling the oldest. The middle child is back at preschool three days a week and the youngest is obsessed with Pinkalicious. We read it several times a day.

As for my own reading, I’m caught up with all the issues of Children’s Writer newsletter and nearly up-to-date on my other subscriptions. I read the second book in The Luxe series, Rumors. (Yes, I was sucked into it after the first and now I need to find the third and fourth books to complete reading the story.) And I also read Edgesa debut novel by Lena Roy. She does have one of those fancy slash lines over the “e” in her name, but I’ve yet to figure out how to apply that on the computer.

Edges is one of those novels that is little on the outside but big on the inside. The characters are deep and complicated. They deal with both family and personal issues, including grief, alcoholism, and recovery. The whole story unfolds like a camelia blossom. By the time the center is exposed, you are wishing to cup the bloom in the palm of your hands to protect it from blowing apart in the winter winds because even though the ending is positive, you know the road is a difficult one for Luke, Eva, and their families.
Update on my writing projects:
Finished and submitted my nonfiction article, which will run in the NARB section of the March issue of Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelty magazine. My article on Autism friendly products has already been accepted and received praise from NARB board members. I’ll post a l ink to it when it is available.
As for the status of Corroded—it’s a few pages longer than it was at the time of my last blog post. Enough said.
I did open a poll after my last entry asking if those readers out there wanted me to post my first professionally published piece and the votes were all in the affirmative.
The following is my personal essay as it appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of TALL magazine.
Teen Totem
Your shoe catches on the door as you’re leaving Geometry. Able to steady yourself, you save the shame of falling into the hallway and exchange it for a few giggles from the girls behind you.
On the way to your locker a freshman jumps out of your path, evidently terrified of the giant headed his way.
“How’s the weather up there?” an immature senior calls out. His only response is the laughing of his friends. As if you haven’t heard that one before!
All this and it’s not even lunchtime yet!
If things like this happen to you, welcome to life with the most ghastly genetic disease among girls: tallness! Height can attract unsolicited stares and comments, which have the power to create emotional storms. It’s like being doomed to carry an orange umbrella, rain or shine. You’re bound to feel hideously awkward at some times, if not all of the time, as you stand out above the crowd. You receive so much attention when you’d rather shrink into the student body. Instead, you’re the totem pole in the school village.
Facing school every morning was a stomach-churning experience for me ever since elementary school. Several times I was in combination classrooms and lining up for class pictures was a nightmare each year. As a first grader I was the freak standing in the top row with the second grade boys. As a fourth and fifth grader I was in a fourth through sixth grade class. No matter what type of hunch I contorted into my observant teacher lead me towards the front of the line. Dear Miss Sawyer… she thought I should be proud of my height. How could she know the troubles when she was only five feet three? Because she’d been the young girl looking up at her tall friends wishing she would grow a few more inches.
The classic “I can’t see around her” can be an issue through the years. During school it may cause you to slouch in your chair or walk with your shoulders hunched. You prefer poor posture to “Teacher, she’s too tall! I can’t see the board.” I know I did! Life was much easier when I was bent over my paper or sitting in the back row. But outside of school the extra height proved invaluable. It’s easier to spot your car in a busy parking lot, and at entertainment events you always have a good view. Attending concerts was one of the most comfortable experiences of my early years. I was thankful for my height and actually felt sorry for the shorter people behind me.
Have you ever been embarrassed by your shoe size? I was mortified because I wore a size ten shoe and my feet were still growing. Most of the time I’d wear men’s athletic footwear, trying to convince myself my feet were only an eight and a half. Attending church and rare social events presented the problem of finding shoes in my size that didn’t add more than half an inch to my height or look like something my grandmother would wear. Feet can cause more emotional rain to pour. If your shoes were any bigger they’d be used as boats to navigate the floodwaters. But next time you see a picture of a supermodel on the runway look down at her feet. More than likely she’s working double digits in those heels.
Physical Education was the lowest point during the school day. When you’re tall people assume you play a sport and play it well. My lack of athletic capabilities lowered my G.P.A. each semester. One time when our class was dividing into volleyball teams I heard a girl say “She’s tall, pick her for our team.” But it was followed by a quick “No, she can’t play.” That day I was the last person standing in the middle of the court. The teacher had to assign me to a team and the other members groaned in protest. I think there’s a stain where I melted into the wood floor: another rain puddle. Everyone can’t be gifted in sports, though. I managed to make honor roll each semester even with my C’s in P.E. Where are your strong points?
Some psychologists say the use of any nicknames is demeaning, such as calling a child “pumpkin” can leave the young mind questioning her mother’s reason in referring to her as a fruit. Other people report that nicknames, not name calling, show others they are loved. I personally like inventing nicknames for other people… but don’t usually appreciate the names chosen for me! Having names like “Jolly Blond Giant”, “Tall One” or “Carrie is so very… tall!” shouted at me between classes was humiliating. What burned even more was that the friends calling me such titles had dainty names like “Tinker Bell” for themselves. I later learned that sometimes the trait people tease us about is often the thing they admire the most.
In the decade since high school I’ve been able to dump most of the baggage from my traumatized youth. Standing six feet tall has gotten easier thanks to a change of heart and environment- physical differences don’t mean so much as people mature. The most difficult thing has been relearning appropriate posture. I still have to remind myself to stand up straight and sit correctly. Today, I’m not ashamed to say I have size eleven wide shoes, though it’s still difficult to find shoes I like and I do revert to men’s shoes sometimes. Thankfully the nickname that stuck through the years is “Care Bear”, not one of the gangly terms. And more importantly, I have the knowledge of what it’s like to grow-up different. All these experiences will help during my current challenge of raising a special needs child. We all carry an orange umbrella; some of ours are just a little higher than others. At least up here it’s easier to spot the silver linings!

So Much to Read, So Little Time

Most of my down time lately has been spent reading. Studying is more like it. Up to my ears in non-fiction reading. Here’s a sampling of titles, all from the local library:
Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens by Malina Saval *Graphic language at times—the first chapter has it the heaviest.* Over-all, a fascinating read. Boys are a lot like girls when it comes to worries/fears.
Exiting Nirvana : A Daughter’s Life with Autism by Clara Claiborne Park It’s refreshing to find a book dealing with an older child on the spectrum. And one that’s artistically inclined, like my son. Since I have so many informative books to read right now, I’m using this one as my light/nighttime reading. As interesting as it is, I look forward to some fluff.
1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s by Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk Lots of good ideas: some old, some new. Taking notes…
The Everything Homeschooling Book by Sherri Linsenbach Need I say more?
On a good—possibly pathetic—note, I’ve written over twelve chapters of Corroded. Eleven of those (89 pages) have been through the mill in the awesome critique group I’m in. Thank you, QuillMasters! My main character is based on me as a teen, but amplified. The more she stretches her limits, the more fun (and harder!) it is to write. It’s almost like reliving high school, thinking about all the “what ifs” and if I had that chance, would I have been brave (or stupid) enough to do or say something… For the most part the answer is no. And, an enormous NO for ever wanting to actually go back and live through it again.
Speaking of me as a teen: back by popular demand (well, all four people who voted wanted to see more) is a random poem from a seventeen year old me.
Crashing waves against the sand. The tempest whirls in my head. A soul dragged down by Satan’s grasp Has left the world victim of the sacrifice.