Banned Books: In the Hand of the Beholder

Written By: Dawn - Sep• 25•13

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Welcome to the American Library Association’s annual Banned Book week where we celebrate what it means to read in the United States!

In preparing for this post I looked up the 2012 Top Ten Challenged Books and was surprised to discover Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series at the top of the list. With titles like Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets (Pt.1) I can’t fault people for being skeptical or concerned but given that the first book came out in 1997, I expected a more current title, with more graphic content (as compelling as nasal secretions are, we all know stickier situations exist).

Confession time- this librarian banned Captain Underpants in our home. Back in the day (early 2000’s) when I read to my boys every night, I brought home one of the books because I knew they were popular, especially with boys. (Boogers!) I read one chapter and stopped. It wasn’t that I minded the potty humor (As the mom of two boys how could I not?) but I hated the way the adults and kids spoke to one another. Neither side had respect for the other and that’s what I wanted banned from the house.

Pilkey is a hugely successful author both commercially and critically, his picture book The Paperboy was a Caldecott Honor Book. His books continue to be favorites of school-age readers which shows me that had I been willing to finish reading an entire book of his, I might have read more. You could call what I did censorship, but I’d prefer to call it parenting.

The books that continue to be challenged (like The Hunger Games, To Kill A Mockingbird and most recently Ralph Ellison’s classic Invisible Man) are as popular and relevant as ever. Why? It’s quite simple- people connect to the characters and story. As a writer it’s my job to create characters that readers can relate to and root for. It’s the level of connection that creates bestsellers or classics. Captain Underpants makes kids laugh and gets reluctant readers to enjoy, perhaps for the first time, a chapter book. Is that a bad thing?

Books are a form of art and art is subjective, but all art tells a story. Sadly many of the stories about the human condition involve pain, war, death and a host of other upsetting topics. Keep in mind that where there’s darkness, light will follow.

Parents should feel comfortable being informed and involved in  media choices for their own children. Just remember, the book that offends you might very well be a life-saver for someone else.

It’s All Geek To Me #1- Dragon Con (aka Geek Mecca)

Written By: Dawn - Sep• 10•13

 

The Dr. Who Ball attendees.

The Dr. Who Ball attendees- TARDIS (Reamani), the Doctor (Tiffany), a Dalek (Julie), Amy w/gender issues (Jason), the Brigadier (Keir), a Weeping Angel (Reg) & a second TARDIS for good measure- me.

I  returned home last week from another universe- Dragon Con. Held in Atlanta, Georgia every Labor Day weekend, Dragon Con is a fan centered SciFi/Fantasy/Gaming/Comics convention for the proud, the geeky and the Jedi. Many Muggles (non-geeks) seem perplexed by these events and my participation in them (including some family members).

First and foremost a Con is a celebration. We celebrate movies, comics, art, books, podcasts and games in the genres we love- scifi, fantasy, paranormal and dystopian to name but a few. As a writer, I cannot help but be drawn to an event that highlights the best there is in story-telling. But that doesn’t quite explain why I own a custom made Jedi Knight costume complete with a sound-chipped light saber.

So why go there? Why go full Jedi? Shouldn’t a 46 year-old woman being doing better things with her time? Certainly I could, but it’s the time spent not doing the things you should that makes doing them all the better when you finally do.

Did you get that?

When we talk about work and life balance, it always centers on achievement. Like there’s a specific formula for success and if you master it you’ll never feel like you’re short-changing some area of your life. That, my friends, is an urban legend.

When I think of balance, I want to feel like I’ve fit in some time to do things I enjoy on a regular basis. But there’s never enough time. Even at work I run out of time. I read everyday. Often for only ten minutes before bed, but as long as I get that time in, I feel balanced for the day. For other people daily exercise or bible reading makes them feel centered and calm. Pick your elixir, you get the idea.

For me, dressing up in costumes with other adults is a way to reconnect with my inner child and with my creativity. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s silly, always it’s fun. I’m not worried about work, about my family or global warming. However, I do enjoy meaningful  conversations with other attendees. This year I attended a panel discussion about gender and minority roles in the Star Wars universe as well as one discussing how cleverly the Game of Thrones women must maneuver around the rules of their patriarchal society.

Now you might not consider these “real” world issues, but remember that all art is an expression of the themes, fears and questions about societal paradigms.

And after all that heavy stuff, I rush off to attend something like Hobbit Drinking Songs- BYOB (You bet your second breakfast I did!).

The Brobdingnagian Bards leading us in song.

The Brobdingnagian Bards leading us in song.

 

In short, I came to Atlanta, I saw my good friends, plus made some new ones, and I conquered a group of Mandalorians who ganged up on a Han Solo at the bar. Good, clean (sort of, costumes make you sweat after a while) fun.

Here's me, saving a Han Solo.

Here’s me, saving a Han Solo.

 

Of course I made Han buy a round after I saved him!

Of course I made Han buy a round after I saved him!

 

 

Han and Chewie- BFFs

Han and Chewie- BFFs

 

The good company I keep!

The good company I keep!

 

 

Pigskin Princess #4 Cross Pattern: The Intersection Between Writing and Football

Written By: Dawn - Aug• 20•13

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People are always surprised when they find out that I coach freshmen football. Not only am I a woman who has never played the game (I lettered in track in high school) I’m a librarian and a writer. At first glance none of these things appear congruent with the football coach personality type, but after one season of coaching I can tell you that football is as creative and collaborative as any artistic endeavor.

The only way to become a writer is to write. A lot. And a lot of what you write is never going to be seen by anyone else. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but there’s no way around it. The more you practice, the better you get.

This obviously applies to sports. In football we practice plays and different skill drills, such as ball security, footwork or tackling. In writing there are exercises for setting, dialogue and point of view.  After the exercises you edit, and edit more, trying to perfect a play or paragraph. Whether you’re playing or writing, drills, exercises and editing can tire you out. The real test is how you keep moving forward through fatigue, through exhaustion and occasionally through fear.

While I would never want a player to be afraid on the field, I do believe fear plays a role for athletes and artists alike. Fear can serve as a warning device, but at its most effective, it presses on ego and boosts determination to push past it. While writers are rarely in physical distress (I guess if you spilled hot coffee on your lap…) football players can become injured. Fear keeps one alert and focused, both necessary ingredients for success on the page and the field. Fear also prevents complacency, which is dangerous to all of us.

I’ve been afraid as writer when I’ve felt stuck on a plot point or faced the dreaded writers’ block. On the field I’ve stood too close to a drill and missed being tackled by inches. Sometimes a ball whirls by my head and I realize I narrowly missed being hit in the face. That kinda scares me. At the same time, I feel both fear and excitement when I hit the send button for a piece of writing I want considered for publication. It’s scary to risk being rejected, but it’s exhilarating having skin in the game.

Players and coaches experience that same combination of nerves and adrenaline on Game Day. Will the plays be executed as we practiced? Can we stop the run? Can the line give the quarterback the time he needs? For all the practicing we do, the reality is that anything can happen in the heat of the moment. In every game the unexpected will emerge in all its incarnations: good, bad and the ugly.

A live football game is not a situation with guaranteed outcomes. While we can predict that if players run their routes incorrectly, the play will be be broken and an opportunity missed, players (not unlike fictional characters) will often go their own way because practice doesn’t always make perfect. Writing is the same way. I can work hard on writing the best novel I can (done that). I can craft an amazing query letter for an agent to represent me (done that). I can start a blog and build a web presence (done that) but none of those things will guarantee I will ever find an agent and get my book published. (Still waiting.)

So why bother to play the game at all?

In football we win or lose. In writing the line between success and failure is more challenging to define. Am I a failure as a writer because I haven’t secured an agent? Am I a winner because I “own” my writing life and embrace it and take it seriously? As an artist I have to define success differently than an athlete would if I want my physical and mental stamina to last.

I write and I volunteer to coach football in order to be on the field, both literally and figuratively, to see that point on the horizon where an opportunity is within my reach and I grab at it with all my might.

Maybe the YMCA philosophy is right, maybe everyone is a winner, just for being willing to play the game.

 

No Blogging Here or What I’ve Been Doing the Last Six Months

Written By: Dawn - Aug• 01•13

Wow, I didn’t realize it’s been six months since my last blog post. Some of you might be relieved, but I’m embarrassed.

So if you stayed around long enough for all the images to upload, here’s a snapshot of what’s been keeping me away from Method to the Madness. Fun, games and travel. In short, real living, which now has provided me more fodder under the “write what you know” category.

A lifelong dream fulfilled- floor-to-ceiling bookshelves! I unpacked 23 boxes of boxes. Sometimes I like to stand in the doorway and just look at them.

A lifelong dream fulfilled- floor-to-ceiling bookshelves! I unpacked 23 boxes of books. Sometimes I like to stand in the doorway and just look at them.

 

Little Bug's lacrosse season consumed March, April and early May. Go Huskies!

Little Bug’s lacrosse season consumed March, April and early May. Go Huskies!

 

It is not summer without Phoenix Comic-Con. Big Boy and I enjoy a bit of cosplay.

It is not summer without Phoenix Comic-Con. Big Boy and I enjoy a bit of cosplay.

 

I ran into a little problem in the bar at Phoenix Comic-Con, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.

I ran into a little problem in the bar at Phoenix Comic-Con, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.

 

The Better Half whisked me off to Italy. Here I am in Roma.

The Better Half whisked me off to Italy. Here I am in Roma.

 

Then we headed to Venice.

Then we headed to Venice.

Yes, that's a bottle of Jack & Coke. There's so sophisticated in Europe!

Yes, that’s a bottle of Jack & Coke. They’re so sophisticated in Europe!

 

This is THE drink in Venice, a Spritz. Hey, when in Ro.. I mean Venice!

This is THE drink in Venice, a Spritz. Hey, when in Ro.. I mean Venice!

 

The Grand Canal.

The Grand Canal.

 

 

The best way to experience the Grand Canal.

The best way to experience the Grand Canal.

 

In Sorrento we saw a Salvador Dali exhibit. This piece was my favorite.

In Sorrento we saw a Salvador Dali exhibit. This piece was my favorite.

 

Taking a dip off the coast of Capri.

Taking a dip off the coast of Capri.

 

Sunset in Sorrento.

Sunset in Sorrento.

 

Unfortunately the sun sets on vacation time, so we headed back to Arizona. I spent July working on my novel by day and coaching football at night  with one brief interlude to California to see my friend Lady D. We took San Diego Comic-Con by storm for one day.

 

I'm not sure who was more excited- us seeing Admiral Adama (aka  Edward James Olmos) or Eddie being ticked by our Battlestar Galactica uniforms.

I’m not sure who was more excited- us seeing Admiral Adama (aka Edward James Olmos) or Eddie being ticked by our Battlestar Galactica uniforms.

 

Yep, we make these uniforms look good!

Yep, we make these uniforms look good!

 

And though I didn’t blog, I feel like these last few months have been my most creative yet. I read almost a dozen books. Dressing up and going to SciFi events and being surrounded by others who enjoy or make a living in the creative arts always inspires me. Traveling to new places gave me more to think about in terms of my own experiences and my characters’. Walking through the Dali exhibit (an artist I knew little about) stretched my mind further as I sought to understand the narrative behind his incredible work. I even saw a couple at the museum who have inspired a short story.

Summer is over for me now, I’m back to work on August 5th. Writing time will drop dramatically but I’m better prepared to make and keep a realistic schedule after a such a productive and creative summer.

And boy, do I have stories to tell!

Do Not Disturb

Written By: Dawn - Feb• 28•13

 

Disney's Sleeping Beauty

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

 

This morning when I was getting ready for work I put nail cuticle cream under my eyes instead of my fancy eye cream. How did this happen?

A) BC (Before Coffee).

B) I didn’t have my contacts or glasses on.

C) I was exhausted.

If The Better Half had a say, he’d add D) There was too much crap on the bathroom counter, but I can assure you that had nothing to do with it.

If you guessed C, you’re right. Last night Little Bug had a lacrosse game. We returned home after 10:00 p.m. and after setting the coffee maker, petting the animals, some kitchen KP and the usual bedtime routine, I found myself in bed at 10:45 with a book in hand. I read for about fifteen minutes before shutting off the lights.

That’s when I did the math- my alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m.- I’d be lucky to get a full five and a half hours of sleep. I could hear Little Bug mulling around the house after my light went off. Teens’ circadian rhythms get reset at puberty for later bedtimes, usually just past 11:00 p.m. According to the Mayo Clinic, Little Bug needed nine hours of sleep and I needed seven to nine for optimum health.

We’re falling short. Given that I work at his high school, we are on nearly the same schedule. We both leave the house at 6:40 a.m. I arrive at 7 a.m. and open the library. The school day runs from 7:25-2:20, with me staying until 3:00.

Factor in homework, sports or school activities and perhaps a part time job and the average teen is pretty busy. The average teen parent has a full time job, dinner and household duties and either volunteering for their child’s activities or viewing them. I’m not talking about being over-scheduled either. One activity, like a sport, can take up an enormous chunk of time for the teen and the adults in his life. All those after school obligations go late into the night, often past 9 p.m. not including travel time. That’s not going to change.

Years ago the district queried parents about switching start times- having the younger students start earlier, the older kids later, as is done in other Valley schools, but the notion never took off. I keep hoping it will get revisited.

Now I know I could get up later than 4:30 a.m. to add some much needed sleep to my schedule and if I had one of those post-apocalypse pixie cuts like Carol on the Walking Dead I’d consider it. The only thing worse than feeling exhausted is feeling rushed, and my early rising affords me a full thirty minutes to sip my morning coffee and prepare for the day. Priceless! (That’s what concealer is for anyway.)

When we got home last night, Little Bug begged to skip first hour the next morning so he could sleep in. I said no. When I rubbed that thick, sticky cuticle stuff underneath my eyes this morning, I realized we both should have come in a bit late.

After nearly two years of working on a high school campus no one knows better how snarky, temperamental and moody teens can be. But keep in mind that there’s nothing beautiful about being exhausted and most teens are exactly that.

I’m going to soldier on and get through the day with a Starbuck’s elixir or two.

It’s a pity youth is wasted on the young because I’m not sure they have the time to fully enjoy and appreciate it anymore.