Why the heck does she write?: My intention and my first chapter: A lot has happened in this past year. Enough for it’s own book, before we move on to that book and the new year, I want to share with you th…
A lot has happened in this past year. Enough for it’s own book, before we move on to that book and the new year, I want to share with you the first chapter of the book I worked on this past year–Rebels by Accident. My great agent and friend, Alexandra Soiseth, has it under submission right now. I hope if you like what you read, you will want to read more when its right home is found.
Happy New Year, Happy Writing and Happy Reading~
Rebels by Accident
This isn’t my first visit to Mayflower police station. The last time, Mom took me with her to register a complaint about a pothole. It was, like, the size of a quarter, but Mom insisted it was dangerous to drive over and she had a child in her car. I was thirteen.
This time, I’m at the Mayflower police station as a criminal. Sixteen (well, almost sixteen), and I’m behind bars. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. It’s not like we’re locked up with serial killers or slashers, but we are in a cell. Deanna’s with me, along with about thirty other underage girls who were at the party and didn’t manage to run away in time or convince the police to let them go. As we were piled into squad cars, I watched these girls (and even a few guys) put on all the moves to get out of the arrest—crying, flirting, screaming, fainting, and even begging—but none of it worked.
I have to say that Deanna gave it her best. Not being able to crack a smile really worked to her advantage. I could see that she wasn’t kidding when she told me she was a great litigator like her mom. When the cop found me hiding in the bathtub with the shower curtain drawn (Could I have picked a more obvious place?) and dragged me downstairs to line up with the rest of crowd, there was Deanna telling the police that we shouldn’t be responsible for the actions of some stupid guys who brought beer to the party. She almost had one cop convinced to let us go when good old Karen, the bane of my existence, stepped forward and threw up on his shoes.
All through grammar school and middle school, Karen and her butt-kisser Beth talked shit about my family and me. Their favorite insults were that my dad was in Al-Qaida and my mom was only one of his many wives. And Karen didn’t stop with the name-calling. Right in the middle of the entire school cafeteria, she shouted, “Hey, towel head, you forget something.” When I turned to her she blew her nose into a napkin and stuck it on my head. Well, at least she’s not in our cell. They put her and all the other vomiting kids in a separate cell—with buckets.
Still, it stinks in here. I stick my nose through the cell bars, trying to breathe air that doesn’t smell like puke, beer, or raw fish. Who has an open sushi bar at a high school party? Then again, what would I know about parties? Yes, tonight was also my first party since first grade.
“Come on, Mar. It’s not that bad.” Deanna pushes against my shoulder. I don’t budge. I don’t say anything.
“Funny how we started tonight wanting to get on the inside, and now we’re hoping to get out.” Deanna stands closer to me. She’s trying hard to make me feel better, but it’s not working. I can’t even look at her now; I know if do, I’ll start to cry. Like I’m not already the biggest freak at school.
“Look, I know you’re freakin’ out here, but I’m sure everything will be okay.”
“Are you kidding me?” I turn to her. I lower my voice. “I’m in jail. Do you know how happy this is going to make my parents?”
“Now they can feel totally justified when they never let me leave the house again.”
Relax! We’ve just been arrested! And are now in a holding cell with girls who have picked on me—or, worse yet, ignored me—since kindergarten. On top of that, my parents are going to kill me! Why did I let Deanna talk me into going to this party?
* * *
Okay, the truth: she didn’t have to talk me into anything. I wanted to go. I would’ve done anything, even lie to my parents, to crash a party, even though I knew I wasn’t wanted, that I would probably be kicked out on my ass as soon as I was seen there. But forcibly removed—by the police? That I didn’t expect. Still, I shouldn’t blame Deanna for helping me get what I wanted. But I do. It was amazing tonight—music and dancing—yes, I was dancing; three guys asked me to dance, and I said yes. And nobody made jokes about my dad being a towelhead or my uncle being Bin Laden.
Ever since those people tried to build their mosque near Ground Zero and there was all that controversy, my life has been worse than ever. The kids at school treat me like I’m one of “those people.” But I’m not. Yes, my family is Muslim, but I don’t think they should be building a mosque so close to Ground Zero, either. I mean, I believe in freedom of religion and all, and I know that Muslims died at Ground Zero, too, but why would they want to be where they’re not wanted? I don’t get it. If it’s causing so much trouble, why not just build their mosque somewhere else? It’s just selfish to cause so many problems.
But tonight I was dancing and laughing. I wasn’t a freak or a weirdo; I was just another girl having fun.
* * *
“Actually,” I say, turning to Deanna, “thanks.”
“You’re thanking me?” she says.
“Hey, I know I’m in deep shit, but tonight was an adventure—probably the last one I’ll ever have until I’m at least thirty.”
“Don’t mention it,” she says. Most people would say she has no expression on her face, but I can tell she’s smiling.
* * *
When I first met Deanna last summer, she’d just moved here from San Francisco with her mom. I was the first person she told about her face. I googled it to try to understand better why her face doesn’t work the same way as most people’s faces, but after reading pages and pages of medical blah, blah, blah, it really just boils down to the very first thing Deanna said to me about it: “The muscles in my face don’t work.”
“Does my hair look okay?” I hear some voice from behind me say. “Do I have anything in my teeth?”
I hear another voice say, “No, but do I have anything in my teeth? My mascara smeared?”
“Are they kidding?” Deanna says to me. “We’re in a cell, and they’re worried about their makeup. They should call our school Airhead High.”
“Shush,” I say.
“Mar, no one is listening to us. This crowd is too busy hearing themselves not think.”
Deanna knows they’re shallow. The only reason she even wanted me to crash the party with her was so she could show me what I wasn’t missing. But look at the rest of them. Not one seems the least bit freaked out. Are their parents that laid-back? Damn. Maybe that’s the secret to their coolness—cool parents. If that’s true, I don’t have a chance in hell of ever being in with this crowd.
“Well, it could be worse,” she says.
“How?” I say.
“Oh shit,” she says, watching an officer unlock the large cell door. There stand Karen and Beth—Bitch and Bitchier.
“In you go,” the officer says.
Deanna looks at me. “We could be locked in here with them.”
“Look at this.” Karen stares at me. “Who’re you supposed to be? Cleopatra?”
I rub my eyes. Black eyeliner wipes off on my fingers. I’d forgotten that Deanna had done my makeup before we went to the party. You look like an Egyptian queen, Deanna had said. But not any Egyptian queen. She insists that I’m Hatsheput, the queen who ruled Egypt for over twenty years. Deanna says Hatsheput was the queen who was a king. Deanna loves anything Egyptian, which is probably why she’s even friends with me. But I don’t want to look like an Egyptian queen, even if she was a king. I don’t want to look like an Egyptian anything. I rub my eyes some more.
“Back off,” Deanna says, moving in between Karen and me. Karen is a half foot taller than Deanna, but my bets are on Deanna.
“Hey, Beth.” Karen steps back, banging into the bars. “I just realized why these two are best friends.”
“They come from the same place,” Beth says, like the two of them had rehearsed this scene. Now everyone is listening. “Cleopatra and the Sphinx.”
“You mean Sphinx Face,” Karen laughs.
“She didn’t just say that,” I hear someone say.
“Yes, she did,” someone else says.
Beth lifts her hand to high-five Karen, but Deanna grabs both their hands and, just like a professional wrestler, pulls their arms behind both their backs.
“Fight, fight!” people shout around us.
“Get off of me,” Beth says, struggling. Karen winces.
“Apologize.” Deanna pulls both their arms back harder.
“You’re hurting me!” Beth stops struggling.
“Apologize,” Deanna says.
“Fine. Fine. I apologize,” Beth shouts, and Deanna lets them both go.
“Get the fuck out of my face,” Deanna says.
Beth scrambles over to the other side of the cell. “You’re crazy,” she says, but it’s obvious she’s trying to save face with everyone watching. I know Deanna hears this, but she doesn’t take her eyes off of Karen. Karen opens her mouth, but before anything comes out of it, she closes it and walks over to Beth.
“You okay?” Deanna says.
I nod, but I have never felt lamer. Here she stood up to both of them for the two of us, and I just stood there watching, doing nothing. I didn’t even say anything. And she’s asking if I’m okay? They called her Sphinx Face, and I didn’t do or say anything.
“Deanna . . . ”
“You’ll get it the next time,” she says, like she’s just treated me to a mocha cappuccino.
I force a smile. I can’t imagine doing anything as courageous as Deanna just did.
So, since Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. I’ve decided to make a Halloween Resolution!
I, Patricia Marie Gena Dunn, promise to blog at least once a week.
If you care to make your Halloween Resolution, please do. I think studies have shown that people who make Halloween Resolutions follow through much more than those who make New Year’s Resolutions.
This study was conducted by a very unreliable source and the study was with one participant.
So, take it for what it’s worth.
I used to get asked a lot why I was writing a book for young adults. Now, with the young adult market booming (have you seen how much space Borders now gives to its YA section?) I don’t get asked so much. I think people assume it’s because the market is there. Now, I’m grateful to be writing for this audience and happy that kids, teens, today are reading, especially after a friend of mine just told me that he has students at his college, and it’s a good school, English Lit majors, who brag about how they get away with reading as few books as possible, and never the whole book!
I can’t blame these students, okay, I can, but really they are the lost reader generation. You see (and, yes, I know I am aging myself here again) when I was a child, we only had 6 channels, well, really 5 because who watched PBS? Except for when the Electric Company was on. I’m too old for Sesame Street. We didn’t have a lot of choice but to read when we were stuck at home and we needed an escape from the pressures of teen life or teen angst or just from our freaking parents who we thought were too old to get it, and “it” as in every thing. When I was thirteen my mother was only thirty-three.
It was different when we could go outside where we played in traffic and, I mean, literally we played in traffic. When it came to us kids, our parents had their long lists of things they pulled their hair out over — our using drugs, having protected or unprotected sex, planning the wedding after the rabbit died, making sure we ate fish on Fridays- but what wasn’t on their freak-out lists was when we played games like—see a car coming, jump into the middle of the street, and when the driver slams on his breaks inches away from your body, extend your right arm out in front of you, and sing, “Stop in the Name of Love.”
Like our parents once were, though we could never imagine it, we were city-kids and city kids played in the streets. When it was hot we swam in fire hydrants and when it was cold, and the pavement icy, we hitched on the back bumpers of city buses and slid until we lost our grips or the bus driver slammed on his breaks and cursed us away.
Yes, this was our version of snowboarding. Only we didn’t need a snowboard. We probably needed our heads examined, and we certainly could have used helmets, but those were for people who did really dangerous stuff, like Evil Knievel. We were just kids having fun. And this kind of fun may have not kept us off the streets but it did keep us off drugs, well, for a few years anyway.
But on the days you stayed home sick, especially if your mom knew you were faking but she didn’t have the time to argue because she was already late for work, you couldn’t go outside and play in traffic, you had to stay home. And Grandma controlled the TV. Grandma and her Soaps–A woman is held hostage in September and nine months later when you turn on the TV that same woman is still tied up in that same room. Only now she’s fallen madly in love with her kidnapper. You see that scenario once, twice, and well, it just gets boring. So what else was there to do but read? Sure, there were books for kids– Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown– but you were a teenager, a pre-teen anyway, and you want sex, drugs, and rock and roll, adult stuff to read about. If you were lucky, your mom had another book that she had bought that she hadn’t read herself, or she wouldn’t have left it right there on the shelf in between Betty Crocker’s Cook Book and the Dr. Spock book you thought was about Star Trek and was grateful when you finally did read it that your mother hadn’t. There was that book about where the small town girl goes running off to Hollywood to find fame but instead finds, bad men, drug addiction, and dies from either drugs or a broken heart. The ending was ambiguous. But you savored all 445 pages of it.
So we read, we read books that were age appropriate when we had to for school, but for pleasure we read books that should have been hidden in the back of our parents’ closets, so we wouldn’t see them, the same way our best friend Rita, and her three sisters, had to hide their Kotex pads way in the back of their closet so their one, and only, brother wouldn’t find them. In those days, boys were kept in the dark about menstruation until they were old enough to understand the meaning of, “I’m late.”
Then an innocent game that you played on a television console was invented and that was the beginning of the age of video-game addiction.
And when your grandmother got up to make dinner, well there was now so much more than just the one After School Special to watch. There was now television programming not just for babies, but for teens, and not just in the afternoon but at night, prime time—let’s not forget, The Not for Ready For Prime Time Players, which our parents let us watch because there was no school the next day and in those days there were no for adult audience warnings posted on the corner of your television. Besides, our parents weren’t watching Saturday Night Live anyway. Saturday nights were date nights. And then there came the mother of all inventions—the one thing that gave ever teen the ultimate reason to never have to read for pleasure again, CABLE. While I was in college trying to get through Freshman Comp, my sister and her teen friends were moon dancing to MTV. Remember? Before the commercials?
How could books stand a chance? I’m not saying kids of the generation(s) that followed soon after mine didn’t read. Many did. Many wanted to, but they didn’t have to for entertainment. They didn’t have to read to get a taste of the forbidden, the stuff that peaked their curiosities and hormone levels, but were never discussed among mixed company, meaning their parents. They now had Pay TV and scrambled porn.
But by the grace of god and authors like Daniel Handler (pen name, Lemony Snicket) and J.K. Rowling who gave kids a lot of credit, who knew that kids wanted fantasy, but they also wanted characters that were real and who would take chances and do stupid things like jump into traffic and sing and who also suffered loss. Finally, there were books that could compete with cable, and Fios, and Nintendo. These books were written for them. And yes, books were again read not because they were assigned, but because they were fun and even sexy. Books are no longer for adults or nerds or that bored kid stuck at home with nothing else to do. Books are written for kids, teens, young adults, whatever the market wants to call them, and they are cool.
Here we are 1400 and something words later and I still never answered the questions I started with– YA? Why Not? I did say, I had struggled with Freshman Comp. If this weren’t a blog, and this was a paper for Freshman Comp, and I wanted at least a B, I would go back to the beginning and revise and do that inverted pyramid thing (am I mixing up composition terminology with cheerleader lingo again?). But, this is a blog, and according to the rule of blogging, as I understand them, I can just hit publish post.
Well, it’s been a month and half since I last posted. A lot of my time has been spent trying to get my writing out in the world.
There was a time when writers could write and just write or stress about not writing. Today a writer needs to know how to market and how to sell. And we need to know not only how to network but how to social network.
I started to blog because I was stressed about writing and trying to sell my writing, and now I’m stressing about blogging or not blogging? I think it’s time to take a yoga class. Or would I just stress about breathing or not breathing?
My son, two days into middle school, says to me tonight–“I’m not EMO. I’m poetic.”
I know where he gets his dramatics from. Both sides of his family have their many moments. But that confidence in his dramatic flair I only dreamt of when I was his age–hormones raging and every family dinner ending with me shouting, “NO BODY LISTENS TO ME!” Is that why I write?
You may have noticed that my last post was a link to another blog where the writer talks about why she writes and also about food! Writing and food have always been two of my great loves and why I write and why or what I eat and when I eat it have been two of my dreaded obsessions. The ones that on Saturday tickle you from your nose to your toes, just like you’re favorite children’s book. The same ones that on other days infect you like an investation of bedbugs–you want to stop thinking about it, you would give anything not to think about it, but the itching just won’t stop.
(By the way, there are inexpensive ways to rid your place of bedbugs. My dad was an exterminator for years, so bugs may not be a love or an obsession for me, but definitely a hobby. If you want to know how to rid your life of these extrodinary creatures, and they are extraodianry, send me a note. Oh, and remind me one day to share my father’s story of how he saved a women’s life because of his bedbug extpertise.)
Along with your bedbug questions, I am inviting you to post on this blog. Let’s get a dialog going about why we write and how we manage or don’t manage to keep our writing lives alive. This is one of the places you don’t need to worry about spelling, unless that’s one of your obessions of course. Of course, if you want to revise and revise or just revise, that’s great too. The point is, yes, I do get it eventually, I am inviting you to use this as a place where you can share and swear and hopefully find support to keep on going. Let it spill! Words, unlike oil, need some days to pour out.
So, tell us–Why do you write?
The Whatever Cook: Why I Write: "Friends & I saw Eat, Pray, Love last weekend & bantered while eating Italian food about what was our “Word.” In the movie, an Italian friend…"