Occasionally, I get questions from readers about various things. I generally reply to the reader privately. But, after being asked some of these questions several times, I start to assume that maybe other readers might have some interest, so, from time to time, I post these here for everyone to see. I think maybe I'll start a feature called "Reader Questions" and answer these. If you have a question, send it on in!
So, here was the question: "Do you based off the slice-of-life moments in your story from moments in your own life? Like with Lexa’s tantrum with her audition to Dr. Timberi?"
I actually get variations of this question quite a bit. Since I'm a teacher in a small private school, and since the books take place in a small private school, it's a good question.
The answer is: No. Yes. Well sort of.
Let me give a general answer, and then I'll answer the question about Lexa's confrontation with Dr. Timberi at the end of Penumbras.
In general, I don't just transfer things from real life to my books. Sometimes, I am inspired by a real incident, or a term. For example, a few years ago, it was a big deal at my school for kids to "taser" each other as described in The Kindling. Or, as another example, Conner's vocal patterns were suggested by a student I had, as was Lexa's hoarse squeal. The scenes at Dauphin Island in Penumbras were inspired by a class trip I chaperoned (minus the fights, bad guys, students being dragged under the waves by monsters, etc.). But for the most part, things that show up in the books are totally products of my imagination.
Now, as far as that specific scene between Lexa and Dr. Timberi, that's an interesting question. Yes, it was based on a real incident. The details were different. But it involved a student of whom I was very fond being very angry with me. I felt the student was being unfair and ungrateful by being upset. The student thought I was being unfair and unkind for what the student perceived as a big slight or injustice.
I won't go into the details, but it was a very emotional situation. One of the saddest days of my teaching career, actually, and still makes me sad when I remember it because it fundamentally changed years of warmth and a relationship with an entire family.
At that point, I was working on Penumbras. I had an early draft, but it didn't include the fight with Lexa and Dr. Timberi, nor did it have anything about Lexa getting so obsessed with auditions, etc. In fact, I had been trying to find some kind of conflict for Lexa, something for her to struggle with. Conner was fighting his memories, Melanie her frustration about not being able to do everything, and later, her fears about Conner. But I felt like Lexa needed more. I had a tiny bit about The Sound of Music in the book, but it was just a small detail.
As I drove home from this real-life confrontation, I was pretty down, to be honest. Teachers have feelings and mine were pretty hurt. It went over and over in my head. And, as it did,
I started to wonder about using it together. Stephen King talks about when to previously unrelated ideas click in your mind to become a book idea. And that's what happened.
Could I use the essence of what had just happened?
Lexa had always been close to Dr. Timberi, and was sort of his favorite, so what if they had a big fight? I knew how the story was going to end at that point, and so this seemed like a good way to increase the tension. It would also provide Lexa with a strong objective for Book 3, which I was planning.
So, I went home and wrote the scene with their fight. It was sort of cathartic to write it out. Again, the details were different, but the emotions on both sides were real. I tried to write Lexa's viewpoint out as honestly as I could, even though I was in Dr. Timberi's position.
Honestly, because it was so raw, the first draft was longer and angrier than it appeared. I revised it until it was a little shorter and softer--Lexa was much harsher in the original. I shaped it until it fit the story in the way I needed it to.
Then, I went back and added the bits in earlier chapters about how excited she was to audition, all of that stuff, sprinkling little bits of conversation in the scene at Dauphin Island, etc.
In the end, I felt like the scene really worked well for the book, and it positions everyone beautifully for Book 3, which I have always thought of as Lexa's redemption.
To be honest, every time I worked on this scene, editing or proofreading, I got a little emotional. All of the emotions of that day come rushing back. I don't know if that comes through to readers or not, but it still packs quite a wallop to me.
As a side note: this works the other way too. There are very positive moments that make their way into the book. The ending of the book literally changed when some other students showed great kindness to me. The original ending was going to be a bit harsher, honestly, because I suppose that's how I felt at the time, and it seemed more dramatic.
Then, as I said, some students did something that really touched me. So I re-wrote the last chapter about the funeral to create a more conciliatory, hopeful feeling. And Book 3 is quite sweet. There is scene I don't want to say too much about, but everyone who has read it says it is their favorite scene. It shows Lexa being absolutely amazing. I get emotional when I read that as well, but in a different way. I hope you all like it!
If you have an adolescent, chances are that they see nearly everything as an opportunity for a negotiation.
"Can I go to the movie?"
"But, I promise to....everyone else...." and on and on. What seems like a simple, declarative sentence to you seems like an invitation to an extended debate with an adolescent. It can be exhausting.
Over the years, I have come up with various ways of addressing this at home or school. One of my favorite lines came from my boss. He simply said, "You're mistaking this for a discussion. The answer is 'no'."
I always liked that, but I found one lately that works beautifully. I've tried it at home with younger kids and at school with my adolescents. I got it from Lynn Lott and it is so easy. When the child comes back at you, you say, "Did you ask that already?"
"And did I answer it?"
"Okay then, asked and answered."
You have to do this one time. After that, anytime they try the same behavior, you say, "Asked and answered."
I read about this on a blog post somewhere and was skeptical that it would work with some of the world-class debaters I have at home and school. But I tried it, and it was really quite amazing. I've been trying it now for a few weeks and it continues to work.
So, I'm very happy to pass this on. Good luck!
Okay, I am not a big romance reader, but I saw this and had to pass this on. I know these authors, and I've read one of these books.
This is a FANTASTIC deal.
*7 Romance Novels, 7 Bestselling Authors, 1 Amazing Price*
99 cent Romance Boxed Set for a limited time only! A $26.00 savings!
Below are details about the books. Here is a link.
RUNNING BAREFOOT by NY Times & USA Today bestselling author Amy Harmon!— Deeply romantic and poignant, Running Barefoot is the story of a small town girl and a Native American boy, the ties that bind them to their homes and families, and the love that gives them wings. *Over 260 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
MASQUERADE by Janette Rallison, who has sold more than 1 million books!— It's hard for a woman to keep up the masquerade when her boss is as handsome as Slade Jacobson and the job takes her to Hawaii with him. In between handling his whirlwind four-year-old daughter and dealing with a whole cast of Hollywood personalities, Clarissa has to keep a tight hold on her heart.
THE RELUCTANT BACHELORETTE by Rachael Anderson, Amazon Bestseller!—Unknowingly cast as the bachelorette for her town's charity event, Shelter’s Bachelorette, Taycee Emerson is in for the ride of her life. Especially when she discovers her old teenage crush, Luke Carney, is one of the bachelors and it's up to the viewers—not her—to decide which bachelors stay or go. *Over 230 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
PRIDE AND PRECIPITATION by Heather Horrocks, Amazon Bestseller!— Breezy Jones is crazy about the weather, rain or shine, which makes her job as the local television station’s meteorologist perfect. That’s before she meets the attractive new general manager, Noah Drake, who is determined to repackage everything—including Breezy’s down-home delivery. *Over 80 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
MY OWN MR. DARCY by Karey White, Amazon Bestseller!— Lizzie falls hard for Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy character and makes a promise to herself that she will settle for nothing less than her own Mr. Darcy. When she meets two men, Chad—a science teacher, and Matt Dawson—who looks and acts like Mr. Darcy, she’s forced to re-evaluate what it was she loved about Mr. Darcy in the first place. *Over 120 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
SHE OWNS THE KNIGHT by Diane Darcy, Amazon Bestseller!— Why does Gillian Corbett have to travel seven hundred years through time to find a decent guy?... Why can't Sir Kellen Marshall find a lady who is obedient, submissive... or at least not trying to kill him? *Over 50 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon*
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I'm going to tell a quick story. It's still a bit raw, honestly.
A few weeks ago we had our annual winter concert. I was so excited! I picked the music carefully and we started rehearsing in August.
We worked and worked and worked, and I could tell we were going to nail it.
One of my classes was particularly strong. They had this beautiful three-part harmony on "Winter Wonderland" and they knocked it out of the park every single time we rehearsed in class. Three distinct parts, balanced and beautifully sung.
I was so confident that I accepted an invitation to go perform at another school. However, scheduling conflicts would not allow it.
I just knew it was going to be good. And honestly, I really don't think there is anything more either I or the students could have done to prepare.
So, the night of the concert came. And this group got up to sing. As soon as they started, I could tell something was wrong. I don't know if it was nerves and being in front of an audience, but they were so quiet I could barely hear them a few feet away.
They didn't sound bad--they just didn't sound like much of anything at all. Those three distinct parts, those beautiful harmonies I was so proud of--they all just vanished.
The next day, we performed for just the school and, although it never quite hit the glory it had in rehearsal, it was much stronger.
I don't know. I really don't. Adolescents are very skittish. They can seem so confident and more until they get in front of a group. It might have been that their parents and older peers were watching.
It might have been that I slightly arranged the order in which they stood on the risers.
Or, it might be the fact that adolescents just have a lot going on inside and sometimes, that overwhelms everything else.
The important thing is not to take it personally. I worked so hard and did all I could have done. I don't know that anyone else could have done more. But it's not about me. And even though I want performances to blow the audience away, I need to remember it's not about me!
The reality is that those kids gained something from all that practice. I believe that the value of aesthetic experience and creation are greater than the results of a single performance.
I believe that the process is right, and, next year, added maturity will combine with the process to produce more visible results.
But if not, it's important to keep my eye on the ball.
My oldest class did a lovely job, actually. They sang wonderfully. Last year, though, they did the same thing--they just froze up and got super quiet.
That tells me that the process is working, but that I need to be patient. There is probably something developmental here, and I need to keep working with it.
If you have an adolescent, or you teach or coach one, you will inevitably have moments when you are are disappointed or even embarrassed. Remember that it's not about you. And it's not really about the game or the concert or the recital or the play or the emotional climate of the family or whatever else the context is.
Remember that we strive for excellence, but we have to understand that the internal aspects of an adolescent's life, and all that's going on there, might well take priority over what we want. (Note: never tell them that. Give them high expectations--but inside, remind yourself that there are limits)
The key, I think, is to have the process down. To continue with patience. The results will come. Just not necessarily when you want them, or how you want them.
So, we all know that I'm a middle-aged, somewhat portly drama teacher who writes books. I am fairly buttoned-down and my biggest aspiration is to be like Jimmy Stewart and Ward Cleaver. So, when I got a message today from a young reader, I have to say it was pretty darned cool. Possibly the first time I've been compared in anyway to these folks. The message was this picture with the caption, "this is how cool you are, Braden." Made my day!!!!
Confession: I like doing giveaways. I really enjoy them. I'm not sure why, but I think they are a lot of fun. I've just decided to get with the program and start a newsletter and put together a mailing list. And so I need people to sign up. Since I like doing giveaways, this seemed like a good excuse.
So: here are the details:
1. You sign up for my newsletter/mailing list. I pinky-swear to never give your information away. I'll send out an occasional newsletter and let people know about special sales or forthcoming releases, but I won't be spammy. If you already did this, then check the box. Free entry for you!
2. You may also like my author page on FB (or, if you already did, you get a free entry).
3. You may also add Luminescence to your to-read list on Goodreads. Very easy.
And that's it!
The contest ends Friday, January 17th at noon, CST. Facebook is not affiliated with this in any way.
Warning: This will probably be quite sappy. Read at your own peril.
With Luminescence about two months from being released, I've had a lot on my mind.
I've written before about how much thought goes in to choosing the people to whom I dedicate my books. I realize that most readers just skim over stuff like this, but to me, it's a big deal, so I spend a lot of time thinking about it. This is especially true for this book, the conclusion to a trilogy that has become very close to my heart.
Of course, there are always many people who have provided help and support. I could honestly dedicate every book to my wife, for example. And to my children and students. And, I did. Again.
My wife is incredible. She has provided support in every possible way--both in emotional terms as well as in practical ways. Writing requires long hours and there is no way around that. She's graciously made that a possibility. Likewise, my younger children have been very patient with me when I was under deadline, and provided encouragement and wisdom along the way. And, as always, my students bring so much into my life and I am richer for their presence.
But there are four specific names that I mentioned as well. One is obvious. My daughter has been an incredible help from the beginning. She has spent hours and hours in the car listening to my ideas as I talked through potential plot ideas and character arcs. She's read draft after draft and provided both support as well as critique. She's been an invaluable help and support in the creation of this whole trilogy, providing patience and enthusiasm. I love her more than I can say, and cannot imagine a better daughter. She brings so much into my life, and I am grateful to have her. Quite frankly, my wife and I did the world a favor and made it a much better place when we brought her into this world.
In addition to my daughter, there are three others who have sort of become like daughters, I suppose. Or at least nieces :) I met each of these young women when they were my students. Over the years, we worked together in the theatre program and classes. They have been stage managers, advisees, choreographers, and performers.
Banished to the front seat of the minivan on the way home from a birthday party, Leah read an early draft of The Kindling one night as the rest of girls in the car chatted and giggled. She provided valuable feedback on all three books, and shot the photos for the book trailers. She was also a first-rate stage manager and the first student to properly observe my birthday, among other things. I also think our plays mattered to her as much as they did to me.
Avery never finished the first draft of The Kindling. It's still somewhere in her house, I think. However, she was Leah's co-conspirator in the birthday observation, and beyond that, she is an extremely talented dancer and choreographer. Since graduating, she's donated her time and talents to her alma mater, making three productions so much better, and becoming an invaluable collaborator and partner-in-theatrical-crime.
Emma came a little after the others, becoming an all-star stage manager in a way that perhaps surprised us both. I've rarely met anyone who is so beloved by younger children, adults, and peers at the same time. Emma blends great competence with a huge heart. Everyone just loves her. And for good reason. At theatre awards, she gave me one of the nicest, most memorable gifts I've ever received. And now, she helps Avery.
Most students move on and that's the end of it. But, for various reasons, these three came back, continuing to help in meaningful ways. This has provided me the opportunity to continue working with them. Over the years, they have gone from being talented students to valued colleagues and collaborators, people I respect and enjoy, and I hope that will continue. Working with them is a great delight, and they are blessings in my life. I love watching them grow into the amazing people they were born to be. Each of them has incredible gifts, and each has given me something unique, for which I will always be grateful. Oscar Hammerstein said, "...if you become a teacher, by your students you'll be taught." So, to these, my teachers, I dedicate Luminescence, a book which explores the way teacher-student relationships evolve and grow as the students mature.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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