Month: June 2011

The perfection problem

I don’t think they do this anymore, but when I was in second grade, a good part of our year was spent studying penmanship. We practiced stringing our cursive letters together, scrawling them over and over across lined paper, mimicking the shapes and words that our teacher wrote on the board.

If I’m being honest (as opposed to humble) I have to say, I was the best at this. My f’s, g’s, j’s, p’s, q’s, y’s and z’s all fell to exactly the right depth. My h’s, m’s, and n’s had textbook humps. Even the angle of my slant was impeccable.

In fact, my handwriting was so good that the teacher selected me to be her special assistant and help enter everybody’s grades into her grade book after class. Oh yeah, I was the bomb dot com.

How did I win such a coveted honor? By pushing my penmanship to perfection.

Or so I thought at the time.

Now, with my “kid vision” off, I can see that my r’s kind of look like v’s, and sometimes the loops are too wide in my b’s, d’s, and l’s. It’s no big deal, though. Of course my handwriting isn’t perfect! Nothing is.

Yes, my cursive was better than many of the other students’ — but that isn’t what got me the job. So why did my teacher ask me to be her grade book assistant? Because I had a good attitude, I worked diligently, and I paid attention to detail.

(And oh yeah, I wasn’t going to go gossiping about what so-and-so scored on her spelling test, or what whoseewhatchit got on his rainforest project.)

Sometimes I forget this lesson that I learned almost (holy cow) two decades ago. Sometimes I forget that perfection cannot be attained. Sometimes I spend hours sitting in front of my computer, paralyzed by a single sentence, because I’m trying to shape it into something flawless instead of just telling the dang story.

(Note to self: Stop that, you moron.)

Unfortunately, last week was one of those “sometimes.” But don’t worry, I’m back in business now, pushing forward with my “kid vision” on. I’m approaching my manuscript with a good attitude, working diligently, and paying attention to the details of plot and character. I know that when it’s all said and done, the writing won’t be perfect. But as I learned (so many!) years ago, perfection isn’t really what life’s about.

My life with the X-Men

1. Story

I was never a good collector. Action figures, pogs, Magic cards… I didn’t possess the drive to find them all, to make complete sets. It was too much work, and I just wanted to have fun. But the things that I did own, I took great care of.

I had a dozen or so X-Men comic books, each one read gently and then stored in plastic sheet protectors. That white binder held a special spot on my shelf for years. I used to flip through it reverently, running my fingers over the colorful illustrations of my favorite characters.

Rogue, the sassy Southern belle whose touch could kill. Gambit, the sweet-talking Cajun with a dark past. Their flirtation, their love. Their misunderstandings and secrets. The invisible, insurmountable wall between them.

The X-Men were so damn cool. They had superpowers, adventure, and yes, sexual tension. Most of the mature themes were beyond me, but the hint that I understood was enough. I was hooked for life.

2. Imagination

Even more than the comics, I loved getting up early on a Saturday morning, sitting on the couch with my T-shirt pulled over my knees, and waiting for the glow of the television to light up the room. Every week before Chinese school, Professor X and his students battled evil — both human and mutant. Then my friends and I would continue the story after our classes let out. JM was usually Cyclops or Wolverine, and we always made his little brother Eric play the bad guys. The three of us raced around their room, jumped on the bed (or each other), and generally let our imaginations run the show.

It was fanfiction before the age of the internet.

3. Nostalgia

As with most childhood passions, my love for the X-Men has cooled. But I still “geek out” a bit whenever they show up in my life. It’s hard to silence the echoes of your younger self, you know?

The latest film was fun. Not perfect, but what is? I loved the “bromance” between Charles and Erik. I loved the humor, especially in the recruiting and training scenes. I loved the cameos, and I loved Michael Fassbender.

Most of all, I loved all the memories it brought back. Of that precious binder, and those Saturday mornings, and that big dark theater in Madrid where I watched the third X-Men movie dubbed in Spanish.

Sometimes it’s not about the quality of the script, the performances, or the visual effects. Sometimes it’s just about how you feel when you walk out of the theater.

And me? I felt like a kid again.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

I was all set to blog about X-Men today — and about my gorgeous Hollywood boyfriend Michael Fassbender — but over the weekend something more important came up. Hope you don’t mind the delay.

I’m not sure what’s going on at the Books department of the Wall Street Journal, but my suspicion is that they’re trying to attract more readers by being shock-jocks. First they misrepresented the Tiger Mom, now they’re condemning YA literature. While I can’t blame them for focusing on their bottom line, I don’t respect the tactic.

The one good thing coming out of all this is that controversy generates discussion. But do those much-needed conversations offset the potential harm done? There’s no real way to know.

I shudder to think about how many parents might blindly refuse to let their children read YA literature after reading Meghan Cox Gurdon’s op-ed (which was not labeled as such but should have been). Books that might help their kids through a tough time. Books that might make their kids more understanding of their peers. Books that might not even be “dark” but have been lumped in with the ones that are, all under a battle cry of “Watch out, YA is dangerous!”

YA isn’t dangerous. YA saves.

There are thousands (maybe millions) of tweets and dozens of blog posts to prove it. Believe me, I spent all of yesterday reading them, and being moved to tears by the personal stories that were shared. Not just by teens, but people of all ages.

I won’t deny that there’s a lot of “dark” stuff on the YA shelves nowadays. There is. And it can feel overwhelming. And not every teen should read it. Not every teen wants to.

But for Gurdon to say that NO teen should? That NO teen needs these books? That’s simply preposterous.

If you don’t want (or have time) to read all the great responses, here are 4 5 that I highly recommend:

To be clear: the issue here isn’t differing opinions. I know how to respectfully disagree. To be honest, I don’t even disagree with Gurdon on all of it. And I would certainly love to live in a world where these “depraved” books didn’t resemble reality.

But they do. So the issue is Gurdon’s lack of research, and her use of scare tactics, and her endorsement of book banning as good parenting.

I’m speaking out against those things because, like Gayle Forman said, “as any reader of YA knows, the only way to defang a bully is to stand up to them.”

Love in the air

The giveaway winners are Jon, for THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING, and Mari, for A THREAD OF SKY. I’ll contact you shortly for mailing addresses. Thanks to everyone who entered, and congrats to Jon and Mari!

I’ve been in a romance mood lately. Maybe because when I was back in Houston a couple weeks ago, I reread a bunch of my favorite Nora Roberts books. Maybe because I’m in the middle of some intense action/fight scenes in my own manuscript, so I’m looking for a contrast. Or maybe because my Hollywood boyfriend Michael Fassbender has a new movie out today, and he looks/sounds positively scrumptious in it!

(I’m trying to convince my real life boyfriend to go see the movie with me. He says it depends on the Rotten Tomatoes score.)

Whatever the reason, I’ve been looking for some good, tingle-inducing love stories to read. I picked up PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles a couple days ago, since Amazon had it on sale as part of their “Sunshine Deals” for Kindle. I’ve also got a Lurlene McDaniel book that I won in a giveaway, and though the cover looks like a super-cheesy adult Romance title, it’s actually about a teenage girl with a brain tumor. (Who falls in love with a fellow patient, so it still fits the bill.)

Do y’all have any other recommendations for a good love story? Something sweeping and powerful. Something that should be made into a movie starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. Something that will make me hit Andy on the shoulder and say, “Why can’t you be more like {insert name of the hero here}?”

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