Star Wars?

In July, 1977, I was sitting in the front row at a movie theater (with a date who shall remain nameless) in the old Fayetteville Mall multiplex in Fayetteville, NY. I was 15. As we settled in with our popcorn, I was a little nervous about my date. He had roving octopus hands. A nice guy, fun to go out with, but when it got dark, you needed a Taser to keep him in line.

Then it happened…. ten magical words that scrolled up the screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

He didn’t touch me once. We sat mesmerized by the entire movie, and walked out like every one else in the theater – stunned – at what we had just witnessed.

If you are younger than 35, it’s hard to understand the impact that the original Star Wars had on us. Until that point, movies meant “Herbie and Love Bug”, or “The Sting”. There had never been anything that came close to the special effects, or solid story telling (the pacing of that original is flawless IMHO). If the movie kept Mr. Octopus Hands in check, you know it was good.

Which brings me to today’s question: should I see the new one? I have heard vastly different opinions. Some people say it is horrible, poorly written, and a waste of time. Others claim to have had religious experiences of joy and ecstasy. And the third group says, it’s good enough for $8.

Have any of you guys seen it? What do you think?

PS – Mr. Octopus Hands did not last long with me. I threw him back in the ocean.

Prom joy

Finally, a prom entry not related to my book! Mer’s Prom was last night. I’ve only heard brief details, but it sounds like it was great. They had more than 500 people! After the prom, Mer and her buddies went bowling, then they crashed at a friend’s house. Now they are on their way to the Jersey Shore for the day. It is good to be a high school senior every once in a while.

Image hosted by Greg (Mer’s dad) and I were part of the paparazzi and momarazzi crowd. The rain stopped just in time for photography sessions. We took an obscene number of photos.

Image hosted by We took pictures in two different places. When you look this good, you want to get it recorded for posterity. Aren’t they beautiful??? (Mer is on the far right.)

And no, I didn’t cry once. Shocking.

More writing today. Had a surprising aspect of my main character’s personality pop up yesterday. It was a good thing. Would love to hammer through another chapter or two by dinnertime.

Emptying the mail bag

It is raining here, first time in 20 days. It is raining because tonight is prom. It is supposed to clear up by the time the photo ops are scheduled (6ish). Here’s hoping everybody has a blast tonight!

Since I grew up in Central New York, rainy days are my second-favorite (what I really love is a good blizzard). Writing comes easy on dreary days and this morning has been no exception. While I had to beat the words out of me yesterday, today I can’t type fast enough.

Right now it’s time for a coffee break, and time – finally – to deal with some recent mail. First, many thanks to Sara in Wilmington who says she’s “not a book worm” but read and liked my books anyway. That’s mighty high praise. Likewise the writer who signed her/his note LOVEUREBOOKS. Good luck with your own writing. Thanks also to Olivia who wrote in appreciating my use of humor, and to Jenn in Oswego who knows my sister and sent me a wonderful poem.

Kourtney writes: Hi we were asked to write our authors and see if they wrote back. I was wondering if you could explain why you write controversial teen novels, and if it bothers you when people criticize the subjects involved.

I don’t think I write controversial teen novels. Story requires conflict. Sensitive people (I’d like to put myself in that category) write about age-appropriate conflict for their audiences. If you write for adults, you can write about anything. If you write for children, you choose the subject matter carefully. For example, there are books written for younger kids that involve death or violence, but usually they are written in a way that won’t unnecessarily scare or upset the reader. We would all love to shield children from the ugly facts of life, including death, but this is impossible. So authors generally try to tell difficult stories in a way that will allow the reader to think and mature.

Writing for teenagers puts you smack in the middle of these two worlds. Teens cannot be protected from reality. Sex, violence, substance abuse, cheating, academic, social and family pressures, confusion – you name it, most of them are dealing with it. I do not feel there are any subject matters “off-limits” for my books. I also do not recommend my YA novels for readers younger than 8th grade. Are my books going to hurt anyone? Absolutely not. But reading about teen characters makes a lot more sense when you are actually a teenager, than when you are in, say, 5th grade.

I care deeply about teenagers. I think our culture abandons and exploits them. We drown them them in crap TV and movies, then yell at them when they mimic the behaviors of the icons of popular culture. I think literature is a fantastic way for teens to help figure out who they are, who they want to be, and why the world doesn’t seem to make sense most of the time. In my books, characters mess up. They make mistakes. Sometimes they drink. Sometimes they have sex. Sometimes they cut class and are disrespectful to adults. They mess up and then they have to deal with the consequences of messing up – just like in real life. I don’t think any of that is controversial. I think my books (and many of the wonderful YA books out there) are honest reflections of adolescent life today.

I wish I could say the negative criticism of my books does not affect me. But I can’t. It kills me when people criticize my books. I don’t mind it so much if people say they didn’t like a character, or the plot wasn’t interesting to them. That is a matter of personal taste. I don’t like all the books I read, either. But I get sad when people yell at me for “daring” to write about characters who mess up – drinking, sex, etc. And I’ve been a little bummed that some people don’t like PROM because it is funny and lighter than my other books. Some people seem to want me to write SPEAK over and over again. That’s not going to happen. I have plans to write other dark (hopefully sensitive) novels, but I don’t want to do that every time out. To write basically the same kind of book over and over would be dead-boring, and it would not help me grow as a writer.

Wow – short question, long answer. Next!

Mark writes: Dear Laurie, I first got started one your books by my school. My teacher Ms.Mckay (Argo community high school) had the class read speak and i got hooked. I loved it. I love to read and just wanted to say thanks for these books. I can’t to wait see if your going to write a new one(i have read speak,prom and catalyst). And was wondering if you were going to incorporate a view for a teen male. Thanks for your time.

Brilliant minds think alike, Mark. The novel I am working on right now has a 17-year-old male main character. Stay tuned!!

Felicia writes: I love your website but Mattie was 16 years old and in the questions in the teachers guide it says that she was 14 years old.

There is an error on the Library of Congress information and some flap copy in some of the editions of FEVER 1793. Mattie is 14 and turns 15 during the year of the book.

Sara and Meagan from Lawton Chiles High School in Tallahassee, FL, write with these SPEAK questions:
How did you get an idea to write about this topic and speaking out for yourself?

I know a lot of people who have dealt with the aftermath of sexual assault and I personally know how hard (and how necessary) it is to talk about painful things.

How did you get the idea to use trees as a tool to symbolize Melinda’s change and growth?
A tree showed up in the first draft and I ran with it.

Exactly how did you want the reader to interperate the trees throughout the book?
Readers need to interpret books for themselves. If you don’t find meaning in the trees, there is nothing wrong with that. For me, the trees reflect Melinda’s growth and maturation.

How did you make the school setting so real and up to date, research or experience, or both?
I did very little research for this book, but I had visited large suburban high schools when I was a newspaper reporter, and I think that helped.

Is this a true story?
No and yes. SPEAK is a work of fiction. The stuff that happens in SPEAK goes on all the time.

Both Ashley and Liz wrote in asking if Mr. Neck is known by that nickname by all the students in Merryweather high, or is it just Melinda who calls him that?

I think everybody calls him that. Do/Did you have nicknames for any of your teachers?

Tears at the end of motherhood

I’m not even sure if I’m going to post this, but I have tears streaming down my face, and that is usually a good time to start writing.

I am the mother of very fine daughters and now they are grown.

Meredith’s band/chorus concert was lovely. I sat with friends which made it extra nice. They had a son up there too, and we’ve watched these kids grow up together. What we weren’t expecting came at the end of the concert (which, for the record, lasted nearly two and a half hours). They filmed all the senior musicians being goofy a couple of days ago. The filming was done on the front lawn of the high school. They played the video for the audience on a giant screen. Basically, it was four minutes and four seconds of the kids waving good-bye. The chorus sang through the whole thing.

Ripped me right up. I cried, and fought to keep it only at crying. What I wanted to do was to burst into hulking sobs.

So I came home, more or less putting it together in the car. Shortly after I got in, the phone rang. The call was from my oldest, Steph, at the U2 concert in the Meadowlands. She called and held up her phone so I could hear the band play “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, because she knows I like that stuff.

That did it. I’ve been blubbering for half an hour. I can only now begin to see the screen.

Why is all of this affecting me so powerfully? I was not like this when Steph graduated two years ago. I think it has everything to do with Mer being my “youngest”. (Yes, I have a stepson in 7th grade, but that is a shared custody situation, and I wasn’t there he was small. But you think I’m bad now? I shudder to think what I’ll be like when he’s ready to go. ) These two girls were the babies I carried inside me, the babies I nursed. I’ve watched them from the beginning. I was a young mother (23 when the first one was born) and I made more than my share of mistakes, trust me. That they have turned out as well as they have is testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.

This feeling has something to do with watching them be both vulnerable and strong at the same time. I know what an awful, scary, hideous place the world can be. And I know that to realize their purpose, they have to go out there and take their place among those who fight for the betterment of all. Both girls have been through hard struggles, and they have emerged women; women I am proud to know.

So my job is done. Or it’s changing, drastically. You never stop being a parent. But the heavy lifting is done. It feels like we’re walking down a one-way street. I’m pretty sure that the adventure at the end of the block will be a blast, but right now I’m bittersweet about leaving.

But then again, I’m not. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Meredith is ready. She has earned those wings she’s so busy flapping.

OK, enough drama. If you’re still reading this, thanks for sticking around. Next time I bitch about a certain high school senior having a flat tire or a speeding ticket, remind me of this post. Oh, and a warning. Mer’s prom is Friday night. I might need medication to get through the weekend.

I going to chat with God now and give thanks for this amazing life.

You should write too

No traffic yesterday, just words, and some fine mashed potatoes I made for dinner.

Many thanks for all the music suggestions. I will be dipping into iTunes this weekend trying them all out. I wrote a lot in the library yesterday. It’s proving harder than usual to write at the apartment because where ever I look, I see things I need to do as part of the upcoming move. Concentration is easier to maintain in the library or coffee shop. After some exercise and breakfast, I’m headed back there today.

purplefairy1688 asked for another photo story starter. (I did this back in March when I was in Kalamazoo.) Using the two photos below, construct a story. You can keep it to yourself, post it here in a comment, or post it in your own journal and link to it here.

Image hosted by how are these connected? Image hosted by

How many of youse guys are interested in story ideas or writing stuff like this? I’m still trying to figure out the purpose and focus of this LJ. I really like it a lot, but I want to make sure it’s interesting to readers. Let me know what you want to see more of. (BTW, brace yourself. Tomorrow’s entry will be answering some piled up mail.)

I’m still working on the barbeque scene in my WIP. I finally figured out what was wrong with the first part. The character was standing around giving us paragraphs of backstory instead of actually doing something. Late yesterday I wrote the climax of the scene (which I love). This morning I have to go back and fill in a couple missing pieces, then begin on the following chapters which deal with the aftermath of the Bad Thing that happens at the barbeque.

Tonight is Mer’s second to last band concert. Her prom is Friday. All of the “lasts” are adding up… she’ll be graduating in a few weeks. She is my youngest biological kid. I can’t begin to express how strange it is to watch her finish high school. I have to stop writing about this now because it is way too early in the day to start crying.