Writing simple can be complex

So lately I’ve been thinking (Amazing! I know!) about what it is to be an individual, and how as writers we can create individuals who mirror real life truths on our page.

“An individual is someone who cannot be neatly classified or categorized because he or she cannot be easily dissected or analyzed, divided into definable parts. The individual is, first and foremost, a being-unto-itself, a unique whole

Kevin L Stoehr, “You Who Philosophize Dylan” 

The problem is that people are hopefully complex, yet often in writing there’s this overall simplification of story and character that does not mimic that complexity. It seems like corporate media America has decided that people want simple things, which is fine, as long as there are also complex things to balance out literature, particularly children’s literature. And we all buy into it.

M. T. Anderson talks about something pretty similar in an interview with Joel Shoemaker in VOYA back in 1999.

But maybe that drive towards the simple is something that we should make little rebellions against. Maybe instead of following the grade-school description of what a story and genre should be, we should be fiddling around with that description.

Maybe instead of simplifying our characters we could expand them, make them more complex than hairstyles and clothing choices, than ‘good girl,’ ‘good boy,’ ‘bad child.’ And I’m not talking about giving the evil villain one redeeming quality, I’m talking about giving the evil villain a complex identity. 

Making Things Predictable

 When my daughter Em turned 13, she had one major gripe with the books she read. She said that most plots are too predictable. She said that most characters just have one defining trait, and well, that bored her.

 I’m just worrying that maybe we should be putting some emphasis back on complex stories and characters for the big-time readers who are losing their faith in books. I’m not saying to rid ourselves of the simple stories, I’m just saying we should embrace the complex, too. 

I guess, I’m just worried that in our surge to make lots of money by reaching massive audiences we are making out stories too simple, our genre choices too straight forward.

And we fall into traps because we’re so afraid nobody will buy or understand our books. We don’t want to scare off readers with something difficult to read. We want to keep things straight and common, no eccentric teachers, no bizarre-o main characters.  We make sure the character always has a clear want and they go after it. We make sure the main character isn’t too complicated. Some of us follow formulas and plotting rules, and that’s okay. It’s not bad. I just don’t want it to be the only way. And I don’t want the authors who brave themselves up enough to deviate to be blasted.

Someone asked me why I made Belle have seizures in TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (ex) BOYFRIEND and not have those seizures be an active part of her character development. Okay, first off, I did it because that’s how Belle is. Her epilepsy isn’t about her character any more than having thick hair is about her character. It doesn’t have to be.

It’s only by treating epilepsy as a condition rather than a defining character trait that we can:

  1. lessen the stigma of epilepsy
  2. create a character who is an individual

And obviously this doesn’t just apply to epilepsy. It applies to every condition and physical trait that can cause stigma. But we can’t do this is we make our characters too simple, too one dimensional. It’s only when we make complex INDIVIDUALS that we can really battle stigma and stereotyping and all those things that we don’t want to perpetuate. 

So what I want to know is what happens if we keep making narrative more and more simple. What happens to our minds? What happens to our books? Do we become numb? Do we look sideways at books that aren’t simple? Do we become so used to simple that we start believing it’s complex? And has that already happened? I hope not. I really, really hope not. 

Writing simple can be complex

But there’s another side to things. By making the choice to have a character have hobbies that aren’t necessary to the plot, to quote philosophers occasionally in a romance/horror novel? By making a science fiction origin story, clean and easy to read and focusing on a girl? To make a character have epilepsy but not be defined by it? Those are simple writing choices that can have complex ripples.

Don’t be afraid of the ripples.

Things Referenced

Joel Shoemaker, “Hungry . . . for M.T. Anderson: An Interview with M.T. Anderson,” VOYA 27, 2 (June 2004) 98-102.

“Bob Dylan and Philosphy.” Edited by Peter Vernezze and Car J. Porter. Chicago: Open Court Press, 2006 182-193.

PODCAST

To follow that up, I give you a podcast that talks about writing and poop texts.


WRITING NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

You can buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site.

Carrie Jones Art for Sale

PATREON OF AWESOME

You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).

Check it out here.

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 


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Imposter Syndrome, Again

I was on the #writingcommunity Twitter feed while I was traveling back home yesterday, and I noticed so many people feeling like imposters, worried that they weren’t following the writing ‘rules,’ worrying that they weren’t “real writers.”

It made me sad, honestly.

And it made me remember this post I had awhile ago about Imposter Syndrome, which I’m sharing again with you today.

Why?

Because you’re you. You aren’t fake, damn it. You are real and beautiful and trying. That’s what matters. I wish I could hug everyone out there and say, “Look at how you. You are amazing and shiny. Look at you growing, evolving, trying. What a freaking miracle you are.

You are.

How I Battle Imposter Syndrome

So, recently I was having a big period called, “I Suck At Everything.” It’s pretty much a variant of the dreaded Imposter Syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome? It’s when you feel like everyone is suddenly going to realize that you are: 

  1. A big fraud.
  2. You suck
  3. Basically a big, sucky fraud that’s about to get called out by the YOU TRULY SUCK YOU LYING FRAUD PATROL 

And lots of amazing people have it. What kind of amazing people? People like Maya Angelo who has said, 

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” 

Maya Angelou

So, yeah, Maya Angelou, THE Maya Angelou has it, which kind of only makes mine worse because I think, “Um… I’m not that cool. I’m not even worthy of having imposter syndrome.”

This is even though I logically know that I’ve been on the NYT bestseller list, some of my books were bestselling books in other languages and I’ve even received awards for writing and I get happy reader email. And even though I just looked up “Carrie Jones Quotes” and found all these things I said that someone put to pictures/photos. 

(Yes, I did just google myself).

Anyways, here is the thing: 

Logic does not matter when you have imposter syndrome. 

Some people think imposter syndrome comes from feeling like you’re more important than you actually are. This might be true for others, but – ohmyfreakingword – seriously? I barely think I am doing anything halfway good enough to make this world a tiny bit better. This is so not my problem. It’s totally okay if it’s part of yours though. 

My personal imposter syndrome is linked to my I DO NOT DO ENOUGH syndrome. For instance if I don’t make a TO DO LIST and strike things off each day, I will feel like I accomplished nothing all day. If I accomplish nothing all day, I hate myself, feel guilty, and go to bed depressed. So, I always try to make to do lists like this: 

This visual representation, PLUS the advice of a friend on Facebook (Yes, they do exist), made me realize that I had to do the same thing with my imposter syndrome. I had to start collecting visual evidence to convince myself that I don’t completely suck. 

I remind myself that I have been called out before and I have survived. As someone connected to our local, mostly volunteer fire department, I witness our community come together a lot. It is a beautiful and glorious thing to see firefighters leave their families, dinners, jobs and go out and help other people. I blogged about this. A large, pedantic man caught me off guard less than a week later and berated me for writing schmaltz. That schmaltz was my heart. 

I was devastated. I was irate. I survived. 

I try to remind myself of all the things I have survived, sleeping in a car, witnessing a terror attack, sleeping with the enemy, massive amounts of seizures, assault, in order to realize that people thinking I’m a fraud? Calling me out for sucking? It will hurt. It does hurt. But it can be overcome. 

Reminding myself of the bad things that I’ve survived isn’t something I like to do, because I don’t want those things to define me. I don’t let them define me. But sometimes, it’s good to realize that being a survivor is something I can be proud of. 

Some people have imposter syndrome that comes from comparisons. They see someone else doing awesomely (In the book world, a prize, a list, an invitation to a conference) and think, “I suck because that is not me.”

Mine doesn’t work that way.

Mine is about fear not about envy. Mine is about the fear that I will be ridiculed for who I am and how I think. Mine is about the fear that my abilities are not enough. (Honestly, I can barely tie my shoes because my mechanical skills are so awful.) Mine is about being so poor that you don’t know how you’ll survive, about pain from being betrayed, about being hurt physically,  about public ridicule because of your political views or decisions, about cognitive degeneration, about not fitting in because you grew up outside of what society’s norms are. My fear is about things that have already happened to me and I don’t want to happen again. 

My imposter syndrome is about exposure even when I have already been exposed. 

My imposter syndrome is about a society where truth is never good enough because truth is not pretty enough. My imposter syndrome is about a society where people ridicule your heart, your kindness, your vulnerability and other people applaud that. 

My imposter syndrome is about fear. 

That’s all it is.

Fear. 

So I remind myself with my notebook that I have had joys, that I have had tiny, kind interactions, where I have touched other people’s stories and gotten to glimpse at their truths and their lives and how amazing is that? It is amazing. 

My notebook is to remind me that no matter what happens in the future, I have had those moments, been blessed by them, and lucky. It’s to remind me that you can’t be an imposter when all you’re are doing is being yourself. Your real self. 

Don’t let fear make you an imposter. 

Because you are too good for that. Your story deserves to be told. 


WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b5314ed645a47991655395d180f52f5c.jpg

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The-Last-Gods-3.jpg

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Superheroes-7-1.jpg

He Likes to Hug

“He likes to hug,” Terri Olivia tells us about her son, Liandro. “He likes to hug a lot.”

Terri is not lying. 

Come within a foot of Liandro, a thin-calved tall boy with thick, brown hair and the kindest eyes, and you will be hugged. Your elbow will possibly be kissed. If you are wearing sunglasses, they will fall off your head. 

“He is full of love,” she says to the Rotarians from Bar Harbor and Ellsworth, Maine as they bring Liandro a wheelchair. “His heart is so full of it.” 

Liandro’S Scars

His heart is full of love, but his forehead is full of scars. Every time Liandro’s parents try to take him from their home, he collapses, leaning forward, hitting the hard surface head first. It happens in the home, too, sometimes. But mostly it happens outside when he crosses the threshold of the house into the world, the boy whose heart is full of love, panics, and if his parents (who both work at a nearby radio station) do not catch him, his forehead gets another scar. 

“His head falls first. Always first,” Terri says, sighing. “There is a commotion and then he falls.” She turns to Shelly Falk, incoming president of the Rotary Club of Corozal. “Bless you for doing this for us.” 

We all have scars

For a second, I think of my own body and all its scars that have happened from falling – falls I don’t remember because they happen when I had seizures. Scars that appear in random places. For a second, I think of how scared I am sometimes when I step out into the world, worrying about seizure scars and scars that can come from people unlike Liandro, from people who don’t think kindness and love are priorities.

The Rotary Club of Corozal was in charge of the distribution of wheelchairs in its area. Members of the Bar Harbor/MDI Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Ellsworth, Maine raised money to fund the wheelchairs through the Canadian Wheelchair Association and traveled to Belize to help fit, size, and distribute the chairs. 

“I am very happy,” Terri says as Liandro is fitted into a wheelchair and backed out of their home. He doesn’t fall. He doesn’t get another scar. There is no commotion.

Liandro seems happy too. Within minutes he is already hugging from his wheelchair. Nothing can stop a young man who is full of love, not scars, not thresholds, especially not when he has a wheelchair. 


WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b5314ed645a47991655395d180f52f5c.jpg

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m be reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The-Last-Gods-3.jpg

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Superheroes-7-1.jpg


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!


BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!

Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!

No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?

Here is the link to the mobile app. Our latest episode is below. It’s also on YouTube here.


Rejection Doesn’t Have to Be the End

The first story I ever wrote was not the first one I published. It was the story I made up for Em, my kiddo, when we were in the car while I drove to assignments when I worked for our local paper.

Em
Em

I loved this story so much because it was for Em and a piece of it got me into graduate school (It was part of my application) and because it made me realize (again) how much I’d loved writing stories.

I’d spent a lot of time being in crappy situations. My car became my bed for awhile. College-onset epilepsy thanks to a weird Epstein-Barr virus attacking my brain derailed my plans to go to Ireland, to go to law school, and lowered my cognitive abilities. Some people were tremendously mean to me, people that were supposed to love me.

And I forgot who I was and what I loved (other than Em) until I started writing that story.

That sounds like a perfect trope, doesn’t it? Woman finds self by being a writer, becomes international bestseller, blah-blah-blah. Suddenly she is bathed in romantic lighting, hair flitting around her, singing show tunes or something, birds alighting on her wrist?

It wasn’t like that. My writing journey was hard and full of self-doubt and rejection.

I tell a lot of the writers that I mentor not to give up on their old stories, but to put them away for a bit. Writing isn’t a straight line to success and life isn’t always like that either. This post from pre-published Carrie back in 2005 totally shows that.

Hold on.

Today, is my whining day.


Two days left before Christmas and nothing is done. I haven’t bought presents for my parents yet! This is very, very bad.

But that isn’t the problem. The problem is that today I had the epiphany that I am THE STINKIEST WRITER IN THE WORLD and that I am NEVER EVER GOING TO GET PUBLISHED and that I’m spending $6,000 a semester to be a better writer, which means…. what? I won’t be as horrible as I was before, but still not any good. I am like the super ugly girl who keeps entering beauty contests. I keep losing, but I keep deluding myself that trying is a good thing. I really am pretty/an okay writer/not hideous really, really, really.

All of this is because today I received a rejection notice from Scholastic. They took my story off the slush pile and kept it for a couple weeks and then rejected me… on DECEMBER 23… MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

What did I do? Oh, I am mature. I sat in the Subaru in the parking lot at the post office, put my head on the steering wheel and sobbed while my my friend pet my back, and my sweet little girl watched from the backseat, telling me that my story was “Super, super good and that editor just didn’t have good taste.”

I kept crying.

Now, I know I’ve given her something to talk about in therapy when she’s in her 20s…. “My mom was so weak. My mom didn’t believe in herself.”

Thinking about that just made me more depressed, of course.

Truth Time

That story didn’t get published in 2005. It didn’t get published in 2007. It didn’t get published in 2009. I published it in 2016 after I’d published a lot of other books.

This is that book.

Time Stoppers Middle Grade Fantasy Series by Carrie Jones
Time Stoppers Front – US versions

Time Stoppers is still my favorite because it is about friendship and magic and has crow monsters and dragons, but it’s also my favorite because it made me a writer. It made me persistent. Time Stoppers made me cry in cars. It made me push through rejection. This book made me be able to tell other writers, “Don’t give up. You’ve got this. Write.” I knew that it could happen because it happened for me.

So here, writers:

Don’t give up.

You have stories.

Your stories deserve to be heard.

Keep writing.

You don’t need to be a writer to hear this.

Don’t give up.

You have stories.

Your stories deserve to be heard.

Keep writing.




WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b5314ed645a47991655395d180f52f5c.jpg

YouTube and Us

We’ve started (slowly) to post videos on YouTube. I hope you’ll check them out. They aren’t (cough) high-tech, but they are high-goofy.

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I’m going to launch my Patreon site where I’ll be reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The-Last-Gods-3.jpg

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Superheroes-7-1.jpg


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!


BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!

Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!

No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?

Here is the link to the mobile app.

My YA Fantasy – THE LAST GODS

I’m Carrie Jones, quirky Maine Author, and I want to bring more of my stories out into the world. Most of you who read my blog know that.

That’s what I want. That’s who I am. Making stories and the art to go with them is my favorite thing ever. Even though I’ve been a New York Times-bestselling and internationally bestselling author, the publishing world is slow. The self-publishing world is scary and what I crave is to get to work with my friends and readers in a more constant, interactive way. 

Creating stories and reading them via podcasts and sharing them, my writing wisdom, and my art is a dream. I love doing it. With your help, I can bring stories into the world more often AND pay my health insurance, which is a big deal to me because I have epilepsy. 

The Last Gods is only available on Patreon

The Last Gods

Ericha’s spent her entire high school career taking care of her sick mom, their horses, and making sure that she’s interesting and perfect enough to get out of their small Maine town and into Harvard. 

She risks it all to save an injured deer outside her high school – a major break in the school’s rules – and starts a chain of events that puts her and her friends on the radar of some old gods, ready to battle last time and make the world their own, for good.

Read it only on Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/carriejones 

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HEREthat explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

What I’ll Use the Money For

Hosting for the podcast and the website. I need a decent hosting plan to support the podcast and blog so it doesn’t crash when it gets busy. This is horrifying when it happens.
MailChimp. The service I use to email posts out to the subscription list. This fee grows as the email list grows. 

Adobe suite.This costs a ridiculous amount of money every year, but it has great tools for creators and so… I pay for it.

Supplies. Art costs money. WHY? It is one of the great wrongs of the universe that a tube of oil paint costs so darn much. Weird fact about me (One of many): I’m a writer who needs to paint in order to write. 

Me. I really need health insurance. I am living in a terrified state that I’ll have a seizure someday and bash something or break something, plus I need to continue to eat food, I guess, and feed the dogs and the cat and the gecko. 

Better Podcast Equipment. We need one of those windscreens for the microphone and a pop filter because our b’s and p’s are popping. Also, we’d like to expand into video and for that we need a drone.

The Levels Available – SO MANY CHOICES!

HEAR MY BOOK BABY

$1 or more per month 

What is this magical tier? For it, you’ll hear me reading the podcast of my unpublished books, one chapter a week as well as patron-only posts. 

Yes, you have to listen to my goofy voice reading the book, but you get to be a part of it. You’ll get some downloads of adorable dogs being motivational and be a part of the community. And it’s a community where your voice is just as important as someone who donates more than $1 a month. 

So, we’ll send you a link and if you want to you can be part of the ‘inner confidant’ email list of awesome people who I email when I need help or suggestions. Or you can just let us know when I’m  being too naughty or talking about dogs too much.  

And you’ll get a special, magical, ad-free podcast every month where I talk about writing things and life things and be a dork. 

So, for $1 you get to support a NYT-bestselling dork and hear a cool story that the rest of the world doesn’t get to hear. JOIN $1 TIER

READ MY BOOK BABY

$3 or more per month 

Every month, I’ll email you a pdf of all the chapters that I’ve read on the podcast so far.  Yep, words written down into story chapters. How cool is that? 

Honestly, you are an angel and this might make me get all verklempt and cry. But here, you get to be a part of the patron-only feed. We hang there. 

(Plus all previous rewards)JOIN $3 TIER

HOLD ON! SO MANY BOOK BABIES

$5 or more per month 

RANDOM SURPRISE IN SNAILMAIL, 

EARLY PODCASTS, and an AWESOME BOOK RAFFLE 

What the what? 

We’re talking serious money here and you are basically sacrificing a cup of monthly store-bought coffee and that’s a big deal to me. Thank you so much. 

This means you’ll get a random surprise (probably art) in the regular mail (if you’re cool with giving me your mailing address) and be entered into the monthly FREE ALREADY PUBLISHED BOOK RAFFLE where you get a signed book. 

So, here you’ll also get every episode of the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE (my other podcast)  podcast a day early and with no poopy ads. 

Plus all previous rewards, obviously. 🙂 JOIN $5 TIER

REAL BOOK IN THE MAIL, BABY

$10 or more per month 

THANK YOU’S EVERWHERE AND RANDOM MAILED SUPRISES AND A BOOK (In real-printed form)

Wait. This is a really big deal. This makes a huge difference to me and my life and I want to tell you how big a deal it is. 

It is a big (insert strong adjective of your choice) deal. 

So, you obviously get all previous rewards, plus, you’re named in the back of my next traditionally-published bookafter IN THE WOODS (as a thank you for helping me survive); your name in the thank you section of all podcasts after you start supporting, random occasional surprises in the mail. 

And if you support me at this level for 12 months, I’ll send you a free, signed book (of mine) in the mail. JOIN $10 TIER

MONTHLY HANG-OUT, BABY and ORIGINAL ART

$25 or more per month

Are you an investment banker? Heiress? Wow. THANK YOU SO MUCH! Here, you’re invited to a monthly ZOOM hangout where you get to hang out with me (or us) and we’ll chat about whatever you all want and maybe give you a random tour about some aspect of our life. You know you want to see the basement where I make art. The lawn where the dogs poop? 

And you after two months, you can also opt-in to receive a piece of art (the physical kind) that I’ll mail to you.  Plus, all the previous rewards, obviously. JOIN $25 TIER

Virtual Coaching

$100 or more per month 

Cough. This is serious money here. Every episode you get a shout-out and written credit at my website. You have saved my family. We will drink apple cider in your honor! Okay, Shaun will drink Bud Lite. 

You get a half hour of monthly feedback on a private video chat every month (or written feedback if you are shy) if you send me 20 pages of your writing. I’m actually a kick-butt writing mentor. Who knew? You can check out the testimonials on my website. Plus, all the other rewards, obviously. 

And finally, at the end of every podcast, we’ll read your personal sponsorship or dedication message. 

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Professors I Have Hated and Loved

I only hated two professors in college. One because he was misogynist buttface who only liked guys and was openly derisive about women being incapable of creating art because we were busy “focusing on making babies.” I walked out of his class after yelling at him for a good three minutes.

Most people think I am mellow. I am not mellow. Sometimes, I have no chill. This was one of those times.

I was the only woman in that class. My boyfriend was in that class. Two other guys were in that class.  Nobody else walked out. Just me.

The other professor taught poetry and liked to tell students that they weren’t real enough or raw enough. She wanted pain. She wanted authenticity. She wanted confessional poetry and most of us just sort of wanted to write about white baseball caps, rainbows, and dolphins.

In retrospect, I sort of feel badly for her because I probably would have gotten frustrated about all those poems about white baseball caps, rainbows, and dolphins, too.

But still. It was what we were right then, a lot of us – baseball caps, rainbows, dolphins.

And the rest of the professors? They were amazing. I had really great professors in theater and poetry even though I was a political science major.

Here’s a letter I wrote to one of them recently when he retired from teaching. I was thinking about this a lot after I reposted my Seamus Heaney blog. 

Dear Professor Farnsworth,

I don’t think you will remember me, but I will always remember you because you, your class, and poetry helped save me in a time of my life when salvation seemed highly unlikely.

I spent most of my time at college sick with seizures caused by an Epstein Barr virus that had attacked my brain. I spent most of my time wondering who I was, how I could fit in, and what my voice could possibly be when my broken brain was no longer my own.

You helped me reclaim my voice, but more than that? You helped me expand it.

I was not much of a poet.

I am still not much of a poet.

And you?

You had such a voice.

Resonant, understanding, persistent, encouraging.

You read my poems, all our poems – even the ones about vampires, and taught us that even if we didn’t know our voice right then, our voice would find us if we gave it space and attention.

Space and attention.

Space and attention and intention.

Those very same things that you gave to us.

You are one of the best teachers we could ever know.

You taught us to build up ourselves and our poems, to construct our stories and our voice, piece by piece, word by word, symbol by beautiful symbol. You taught us to craft our poems and our lives with patience and love and strength.

Patience.

Love.

Strength.

Add insight? And that is what you, Robert Farnsworth, represent to me. Patience. Love. Strength. Insight.

Your legacy?

Your legacy is huge and important and ripples into so many other lives? So many lives…

You have helped us to become.

Thank you. May your next stanza of becoming be as beautiful as this one has been.

Timestoppers3_005

DO GOOD WEDNESDAY

Write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life. Send it.

WRITING NEWS

 I am super excited about the upcoming TIME STOPPERS book coming out this August.  And honestly, if you want to help me feel less stressed about failure and the writing world, leaving a review for the books and buying them? That is the best thing you can do for me.

Anyway…

This middle grade fantasy series happens in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine and it’s all about friendship and magic and kids saving their magical town.

An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –  School Library Journal

 

“Sticks the landing . . . The world building is engaging . . . between the decidedly wonderful residents and the terrifying monsters who plague them.” –  BCCB

 

“Amid the magic, spells, adventure, and weirdness of this fantasy are embedded not-so-subtle life lessons about kindness, friendship, and cooperation.” –  Booklist

 

CARRIE’S BOOKS

For a complete round-up of my 16-or-so books, check out my website. And if you like us, or our podcast, or just want to support a writer, please buy one of those books, or leave a review on a site like Amazon. Those reviews help. It’s all some weird marketing algorhthym from hell, basically.

OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs
The podcast of awesome

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

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My Nana’s Funeral Was Awful – Seriously Awful

Because my family is a bit – um – all over the place, I ended up having multiple grandmothers when I was growing up. I had a Nana, a Grammy, and a Avó or Vovó. And every single one of these women was eccentric and radically different from each other.

One had the worst funeral ever. Unless you count the funeral where my aunt passed out and everyone thought she died.

I’m not counting that one.

Or the one where I had a complete #metoo moment. That was my dad’s funeral actually.

I’m not counting that one either.

Anyway, about my grandmothers.

One grandmother was the chairwoman of the Republican women’s party in our state. She believed in manners, in propriety and responsibility, and all that stiff-upper lip stuff.  She drank alcohol once every five years or so, on Christmas. She wrote one poem.

One grandmother was an artist and poet who never let the world see her art, who cried over the beauty of a ripe tomato. She believed in prohibition, probably because her husband forced her to believe in prohibition. She also believed in Julia Child.

One grandmother was a collector of all things ceramic, lover of all things Bingo, and could not care about ‘propriety’ at all. She drank.  She never wrote a poem. She lived one. Some of the lines were flawed, but it was real and raw and authentic.

These ladies didn’t interact much. They are all dead now, but the one I’m thinking about is my nana and what writing lessons I can get from the life she lived and the funeral she had.

My nana basically had the worst funeral in all of history. Or… well… she’s in the top three for my family funeral disasters.

Why?

Oh, let me count the ways. Learn from this, writers, okay? 

The setting was bad

They put all of us closer relatives in a family grieving room before the funeral started, but the room was the kindergarten room for church school and so the whole thing was filled with a giant table and church muppets. People sort of had to stand with their backs flat up against the walls like a police line-up. When new people came into the room, everyone would have to do this sideways shuffle scooch along the walls to make room.

The church muppets were all flopped on top of each other and it looked really naughty. My nana would not have approved. I made Jesus muppet hold hands with Minister muppet because they looked lonely.

It wasn’t a place or setting where emotional resonance could happen. It’s hard to comfort other people or even be super introspective when your back is to the wall and you are staring at puppets who look like they might be trying to make muppet babies.

Know Your Main Character

My nana was 100 when she died. She was a really smart woman. You’d go to her house and she’d have a newspaper clipping for you and she’d be like, “Have you seen this censorship issue that the American Library Association is lobbying against?”

Or she’d be like, “Did you know that Medicare is (Insert large word)?”

She went to this same church that her funeral was at for about 8,000 years.

But the minister’s sermon was all, “Think of the things Rena saw change in her 100 years,” which is nice, but it was like a history lesson.

A history lesson! Ugh. And I kind of wanted it to be personal, not a eulogy you can use for anyone over 98. But that’s what it was.

In a book, you have to know your main character inside and out or else their story doesn’t mean anything. That’s what happened here, too.

Instead of hearing about my nana and her life and her interactions with everyone and with the church, it was a sermon about… history? Full of random dates and events but with no actual human content. Her life as told in his sermon didn’t exist.

Our lives and our characters’ lives have purpose. We aren’t just meant to be a backdrop for a history lesson.

Random Characters Thrown In For Effect 

Part of my family looks like they belong in the Jersey Shore. Seriously, my nephew Brooks saw someone and screamed, “OMG! It’s Snooki!”

Funerals are often places where families see branches that they forgot about or have deliberately avoided for years. That’s okay in a funeral, but in a book? Characters need to have a purpose.

Lack of Emotion

Nobody sobbed. There should be sobbing at a funeral, but I guess since it was History Lesson Funeral, people just took notes, worrying about the test later or something.

People loved my nana. They missed my nana. My family is a high-drama, emotional family that sobs at anything. But here? It didn’t happen.

In life and in books, you have to be able to have the space for sorrow, you have to have an emotional aspect to a story, to understand their worries, their drives, to know that their departure would leave a gaping hole.

That doesn’t happen with bad writing or bad preaching.

The only time emotional resonance happens during a history test is when you realize you’re going to fail it, honestly.

Don’t make your life or your book a history text.

Sometimes Following The Rules Isn’t Healthy

I had to sit in the front row so the minister kept looking at me, which meant that I had to pay attention to the history lesson and nod appropriately, which would have made my nana proud I’m sure.

But following the rules and doing the proper expected thing isn’t always healthy for you. Crying can be good even if it isn’t at the ‘socially acceptable’ time.

And I guess that’s why I’m sad. I wanted my nana’s funeral to make her proud of the life she lived and of all of us people she left behind. I wanted to feel some sort of closure, but I didn’t. I just sort of felt like someone had forgotten to pick her up and give her a ride over.

My nana loved for people to give her rides. She also loved to food poison people with dairy products, talk politics, play cards, get angry at you for beating her at cards, talk on the telephone, and hang out with her friends. She was smart and lively and stubborn and an absolutely horrible cook.

When I asked her why she was so involved in politics she said, “Because I remember what it was like to not even be able to vote.”

She was ten when women got the right to vote.

“It meant something. Women are just as good as men,” she said. “If not better. Stronger. They didn’t let us use our minds.”

She was the valedictorian of her little class in Weare, New Hampshire. She wrote a poem in her yearbook. She was proud of it, but (unlike one of my other grandmothers) it was pretty much the only poem she ever wrote. She didn’t have time for that, she’d said.

When I asked her why she was so smart, why she spent so much time learning and understanding things, she’d said, “Women can’t afford not to be intelligent. Not in this world.”

And another time she said, “It’s our responsibility to learn everything we can learn, to make good decisions, informed decisions.”

A farm girl, she’d married a jazz drummer who played in big bands and toured the country. One time he didn’t come back. He remarried. She never did. I don’t think she ever even dated anyone, but she did think Ronald Reagan was a ‘looker.’

She raised her kids as a single mom back in the 1940s and 1950s. Her oldest son went on to desegregate the fraternity system at UNH and though they were desperately poor, he ended up a valedictorian at his high school, at UNH, and then went on to Harvard Law.

She was so proud of him. Why?

“Because he is a gentleman and because he can think,” she said once when we were sitting on her couch and I was trying to avoid eating any of her food because – food poisoning. And then she said it again, “He can think. So can you. Use your brain, Carrie. Use it. Don’t be afraid of it.”

My nana was pretty cool, and worth way more than a history lesson. She was an epic, a woman of resilience and persistence in a time that was hard.

“All times are hard,” she’d say.

And this, also, is true.

But all times also have beauty and good and resonance. Don’t be afraid to embrace that, too.


 This is my nana. She is 100 here. She would hate this picture. 😉

Do Good Wednesday

I have had seizures.

It started when I was in college and I had Mono. The Epstein Barr virus that causes Mono attacked my brain as well. Eventually, the virus left, the seizures lessened, but it made my brain less resistant to future seizures.

There are all kinds of seizures and all types of triggers for people and all sorts of degrees of severity. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological condition and in the United States, 3.4 million people have epilepsy.

That’s a lot of people and yet there is a ton of stigma about it. So, my Do Good Wednesday call is just this. Go check out this website. Learn a little about epilepsy. Don’t be afraid when someone has a seizure. If you are a parent or a loved one, don’t make it all about you if a loved one has a seizure.

That’s all.

xo

Carrie

Lessons I learned at my grandmother's awful funeral
Dance

Writing News

Yep, it’s the part of the blog where I talk about my books and projects because I am a writer for a living, which means I need people to review and buy my books or at least spread the word about them.

So, please buy one of my books. 🙂 The links about them are all up there in the header on top of the page.  There are young adult series, middle grade fantasy series, stand-alones for young adults and even picture book biographies.

CARRIE’S APPEARANCES

I’m being interviewed live on WERU radio on Thursday, May 10 at 10 a.m. You can call in and ask questions and be on the air with me! The livestream for the station is here. 

I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1 at 11:30 – 12 at the Lerner booth signing copies of the Spy Who Played Baseball. A week before that,

I’ll also be in NYC presenting to the Jewish Book Council . Come hang out with me!

PODCAST

The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along!

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs
The podcast of awesome

Why You Should be Vulnerable in a World of Trolls

Last week, I got the first pass proofs of ESCAPE FROM THE BADLANDS, the third book in the TIME STOPPERS series.

I am afraid of pass proofs.

But they are still super cool.

Why am I afraid of them?

Well, they come after the copy edits, so even if you suddenly realize that having your main character fall in love with a bottle of ALL NATURAL SNAPPLE ICED TEA was important to the plot of the book, you can not magically make this happen now. It is too late!!!!

 SnappleIs it ever really too late to make SNAPPLE an important plot choice/love interest? I doubt it.

Yes, Snapple! It is too late.

Why is it too late?

Well, the first pass proofs are really what the book is going to look like on the page. It’s sort of all set and ready to go.

And that’s scary. Your book baby is ready to go off into the world of anonymous reviews and bookstore shelves, and there is nothing you can do now to toughen her up, make her street smart. She will be out there on her own very very soon and you just have to pray she won’t be a train wreck and become the kind of book that the paparazzi take pictures of because she’s always forgetting to wear her underwear when she gets out of cars.

And all of this made me think about vulnerability.

Because writing a blog, a book, a podcast, creating art, any type of true communication and art is an act of expression and it makes you vulnerable. And this world? This world is currently full of people who attack others. Some of those attacks are horrific and visible. Some are hidden.

So, why do it? Why do anything?

Because if you don’t, the trolls win.

Because if you don’t, fear wins.

Because for every troll attacking you, there is someone who needs your story and your voice. That’s why.

This is why you should still be vulnerable despite the evil in this world. Ready?

Vulnerable People are Leaders

People who lead need to connect to others. Vulnerability and authenticity are ways of connection, ways that we break out of our comfort zones and reach for bigger, better things.

Vulnerability Helps Others

Almost every time I blog or post about something that isn’t considered cool, (Having epilepsy, growing up poor, sleeping in a car, being assaulted), people tell me that I’m inspiring. I sure don’t ever feel inspiring. At all. And I have a hard time accepting that compliment, but… I appreciate that kindness because it means that it means those people are getting something positive out of my life or what I’m saying.

Plus, how cool is it that they took the time out of their lives to deliberately say something kind and supportive.

Honestly?

Can there be a bigger gift than hearing that you’ve helped someone else? Somehow? Even though you were just being you.

 

Vulnerability Is Contagious

Being brave and exposing yourself and your truth? It helps others be brave. Sure, it can backfire. When I first posted about my daughter being worried about me going to the Boston Marathon, trolls said my daughter (who is a Lt in the Army) must be a terrorist and have known about it or else why would she be worried about me. Yep… They actually went there.

And that’s the thing. You never know when someone is going to attack you or what for, but you can’t let that fear of evil suppress your voice, your story, your thoughts or your truths.

Silence is oppressive.

But vulnerability? It’s contagious.

Telling your story gives strength to others who haven’t been able to tell theirs yet. Facing your demons helps others to face their own. Isn’t that the kind of infection we want? Instead of a lack of civility and a parade of trolls, how about we work towards authenticity and vulnerability and truth?

A vulnerability contagion…I think that would be pretty cool. So, today’s Wednesday Writing Wisdom is to be vulnerable. No art is any good without it.

Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones
Do Good Wednesday!

DO GOOD WEDNESDAY

The Human Utility has a water assistance project in Detroit, Michigan, USA, and other cities around the country.

From its website:

Water companies are turning off the tap in cities across the U.S., forcing low-income families, seniors and single parents to live without basic necessities.

Families without water are forced to go elsewhere to take showers, clean dishes and get a drink. Your donation can help turn the water back on.

You can give money, provide services or partner with them.

WRITING NEWS

Yep, it’s the part of the blog where I talk about my books and projects because I am a writer for a living, which means I need people to review and buy my books or at least spread the word about them.

I’m super good at public image and marketing for nonprofits but I have a much harder time with marketing myself.

CARRIE’S APPEARANCES

I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1 at 11:30 – 12 at the Lerner booth signing copies of the Spy Who Played Baseball. A week before that,

I’ll also be in NYC presenting to the Jewish Book Council . Come hang out with me!

I’ll be at Sherman’s Bookstore in Bar Harbor on April 28 from 1-2.

To find out more about my books, there are links in the header. And if you buy one? Thank you so much. Let me know if you want me to send you a bookplate.

PODCAST

The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along. Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

 

COOKING WITH A WRITER

I have started a tongue-in-spoon subgroup in my blog all about cooking vegetarian recipes as a writer. It is silly. The recipes still work though. Check it out here.

Black Bean Soup Recipe. Cooking with a Writer
There are white beans in this image. Try to pretend they aren’t there, okay?

THE CLASS AT THE WRITING BARN

The awesome six-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support! is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money. We’ll be having a Zoom class to learn more about it and I’ll share the details as soon as they are official.

Write Submit Support
Look. A typewriter.

FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES

These books are out there in the world thanks to Tor.

What books? Well, cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.

This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action School Library Journal

Things We Haven’t Said

I don’t usually write about the bad things that have happened to me.

That’s a choice I deliberately make that has nothing to do with other writers and their choices. It’s just about me.

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I don’t usually write about the bad things that have happened to me because I don’t want them to define me. I want people to meet me, Carrie Jones, and not think about my past, or things I’ve battled. I want them to just see me. I don’t like pity. I really don’t like stigma. I like to just be my goofy, quirky, flawed self.

And tonight I don’t get to do that.

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That’s because I made a choice to be a part of THINGS I HAVEN’T SAID, an anthology for teens about surviving sexual assault. I made a similar choice when I edited DEAR BULLY and wrote about being bullied for my voice. That bullying is part of the reason I get so stressed about our podcast. I still have people mock my voice. Adults.

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But both of those times, I made the choice that makes me uncomfortable because I believed it was for the better good. I made those choices because stories of surviving and eventually thriving need to be out there. My sexual assault gave me mono. The Epstein Barr virus that causes mono attacked my brain causing cognitive degeneration and seizures. I live with the knowledge that I used to be smarter, more articulate, with a better memory. I live with the knowledge that this changed because of what someone did to me.

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And I thrive.

It resurfaces. There is still frustration and annoyance and pain.

But I thrive.

www.carriejonesbooks.blog

I even get hugged.

And that’s why when someone like Erin asks me to help kids by sharing my story? I do it. Even though I don’t want the labels, or to be defined by the things that were done to me. I want to be defined by the things I do, the choices I make, the stories I write.

There’s power in that.

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But anyway, THINGS I HAVEN’T SAID is out now. I’ll be in Exeter, NH tonight at Water Stone Book Store at 7 p.m. as part of a panel. I’ve never been so afraid of being part of a panel before. Ever. But the proceeds of books sales go to HAVEN, that serves women, men and children affected by domestic and sexual violence and tries to prevent violence.

That’s a big deal. Come hang out. Help me be brave.

a.s._king

Three Ways To Create Characters W/ Epilepsy and Not Make Them Stereotypes

Don’t let one attribute define the character. An author can’t make a character’s one attribute be that she has seizures any more than the author can make that character’s one attribute be that she is only her race or only cranky or gay or hearing-impaired or short or really into ping-pong, so into ping-pong that she only refers to it as table tennis.

What did the nurse do when she saw that her patient was having a seizure in the bathtub?

She threw in the laundry.          

  -Common epilepsy joke on the Internet

Lovely, right?  Dehumanizing. Who cares if the patient drowns. The laundry is more important.

 

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Me being more than someone with epilepsy

 

  1. Don’t Let One Attribute Define an Entire Character

 It’s the same as creating any character. Don’t let one attribute define the character. An author can’t make a character’s one attribute be that she has seizures any more than the author can make that character’s one attribute be that she is only her race or only cranky or gay or hearing-impaired or short or really into ping-pong, so into ping-pong that she only refers to it as table tennis.

Some authors use sketches to create a full character, asking themselves questions such as: What does my character want? How old was she when she crawled? What was the worst thing that ever happened to her in kindergarten? Does she like hot dogs and if not, why?   

     

 Characters always need to be well rounded, whether they have epilepsy or not.

“A helpful concept to remember when developing characters for a story is that, as in real life, they should exhibit a mosaic of overlapping, sometimes contradictory traits.” (Epstein 56)

I was at my in-laws house and several teenage cousins were sitting in the living room watching television. Someone was dancing poorly on the sitcom they were watching.   

“Oh my God,” one of the girls said. “It’s like she’s having a freaking seizure… look at her.”   

“What a spaz,” another girl said.

She snorted.   

“Freaky.”   

“Super freak.”

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Me. The person they call freak. 

2. Be Aware of the Stereotypes

Writers can and should incorporate characters with epilepsy and disabilities into children’s fiction and they can do it without perpetuating negative biases against people with disabilities. To do so, authors must be aware of the stereotypes, write against the stereotypes, and create well-rounded characters.

Yeah, I’d like it if tv writers did it as well. But, right now, I’ll take what I can get.

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Em hugging a dog. She does that well. 

My daughter Emily snuggles into her bed. She stares at me, smiles, pulls me down into a hug and says, “Mommy, I wish you didn’t ever have seizures.”           

“Yeah, me too,” I say and smell her hair, which reminds me of bananas.           

“It’s not a big thing, though, right?”            

Her eyes are teddy bear sweet and her fingers twirl a piece of my hair.            

“Nope,” I say. “Not a big thing at all.”  

Do a web search on fictional children’s books dealing with epilepsy and you don’t come up with much. Even epilepsy foundations have meager resources for picture book fans. Epilepsy.com lists just eight books that deal with epilepsy in a fictional narrative. Yet, at least 300,000-plus American children with epilepsy have friends and schoolmates. Not many of those children connect with books that deal with the subject.            

A majority of books that do exist for children have their characters whose development comes from growing beyond a negative stereotype of someone with epilepsy.

What I’m wondering is why?

In her paper, “Portrayal of People with Disabilities in Children’s Literature: 1940s to 1980s” Maeleah Carlisle wrote, “Children’s literature often reflects the current society’s values and attitudes.” (1)           

That is true today.

It is no wonder that many authors use negative epileptic stereotypes for their protagonists. Most people have slight understanding of the disorder. Is this true about other conditions? Other disabilities?

In a paper about epilepsy and stigma printed in the Journal of Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology, the scientist’s conclusion was, “Stigma not only coexists with lack of information, but also with inappropriate behaviors .” (Fernandes 213)

Children’s authors have been unintentionally perpetuating those stigmas. But the lack of literature itself is also perpetuating the silence around conditions and disorders.  This is troubling because “Children’s literature can inform and influence children’s images of people with disabilities.” (Carlisle 5)

 Colin Barnes and researchers Biklen and Bogdan illustrated multiple ways in which literature and the media stereotypes people with disabilities. Those stereotypes also exist in children’s literature .

Those stereotypes include: 

  1. Person with disabilities is pitiable.
  2. Person with disabilitiesis the helpless victim of violence.
  3. Person with disabilities is evil.
  4. Person with disabilities is saintly, godly, a superhero. Some sort of extraordinary trait occurs to make the reader love the epileptic champion/hero.
  5. Person with disabilities is worthy of ridicule.
  6. Person with disabilities is “own worst enemy.” They could get better if they would just take their medicine, not drink, etc…
  7. Person with disabilities is a burden. They are a drain on their parents’ emotions, money, time.
  8. Person with disabilitiescan’t live a regular life with normal activities. (Biklen and Bogdan 6-9; Barnes 2-7)

 In examining the existing children’s literature, I found that in most books the protagonists’ character development hinged on breaking free of the stereotypes of epilepsy. This is also somewhat true of other disabilities, but not always. It’s the “not always” that gives me hope.

While at Vermont College in January 2006, I told fellow students my thesis topic.            

“Wow,” they said.

Then they’d usually nod and something would shift behind their eyes. They would pause, maybe bite their lips, maybe look to the side and then almost every single one of them asked. “Why are you so interested in epilepsy?”          

 “Because I have seizures,” I said.           

“Oh,” said one.           

“Really,” said another.           

My favorite person? She just nodded and said, “That’s cool.” 

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Me hiding behind a gnome. 

3. Do Whatever You Can To Understand Epilepsy

If you are writing about an experience outside of yourself and that experience is often used to ‘other’ people in a really bad way, you need to put in the work so that you don’t reduce your characters, so you can get your head into a space that is close to empathy and understanding.

What’s it like having seizures? It’s not really like anything for me. It just is. But my experience with epilepsy isn’t everyone’s experience with epilepsy and that’s important to remember. There’s no one way to have epilepsy or autism or diabetes or anything. There is no one way to be.

I sort of hate referencing my own life and books when I post about things, because it always seems so self-serving, but when I wrote TIPS and the sequel, LOVE AND OTHER USES FOR DUCT TAPE, I wrote them because I wanted to have REAL characters with complicated problems and complicated thoughts and complicated personalities. My daughter, Em, was begging for this. But something inside of me was begging for this too. I wanted to write a book where someone had seizures, but it wasn’t the end of the world, it wasn’t what defined them, it was just something about them, just like it was something about me.

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Author Rick Riordan said in our correspondence, “As far as why is it important to have characters with differences, again I had a very personal reason. I wanted my son to relate to the hero and feel better about the learning problems that were causing him trouble in school. It’s also real life to have lots of different kinds of people, and it can make for richer writing.”

That’s so important.  It’s something we’re still learning in so many ways. All of us.

Sources: 

Barnes, Colin. “Disabling imagery and the media.” <www.ncpedp.org/comm/commresrch.htm>.  January 17, 2006

Biklen, D. and R. Bogdan. “Media portrayals of disabled people: a study in stereotypes.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin. 8: 1977, 4-9.

Carlisle, Maeleah. “Portrayal of People with Disabilities in Children’s Literature; 1940s to 1980s.” Beta Phi Mu — Chi Chapter. 1997. Indiana State University. 24 Jan. 2006 1987

Fernandes, Paula. “Stigma Scale of Epilepsy:Conceptual Issues.” Journal of Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology 3 Dec 2004. 21 Jan 2006 <http://www.epilepsia.org.br/epi2002/JEp213-218.pdf.

Jacoby, Ann. “Public Knowledge, Private Grief: A Study of Public Attitudes to Epilepsy in the United Kingdom and Implications for Stigma.” Epilepsia Nov 2004. 21 Jan 2006 <http://www.epilepsia.org.br/epi2002/JEp21http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.

Martin, Jenna. “Teens with Epilepsy: Living with Stigma.” Epilepsy.com. Epilepsy Therapy Development  Project.. 20 Jan. 2006 <http://www.epilepsy.com/articles/ar_1089388403.html>.

Mellon, C.A. “Evaluating the portrayal of disabled characters in juvenile fiction.” Journal of Youth Services in Libraries. 2(2): 1989, 143-150

 

Writing Prompt: 

What is it about you that you don’t feel like people don’t understand? That they make into a stereotype?

Life Prompt:

How can you show someone that you see them? What can you do to see them better?

 

Random Other Writing and Work News:

The pub date for THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID, is March? You can preorder it here or anywhere. It’s an anthology that I have a piece in.

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I’m starting a podcast. The landing page will be here and also on my website and in all those typical podcast places, hopefully. It will be raw. It will be quirky because seriously… look at me… I don’t know how to be normal.

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I am incredibly terrified about this podcast. So, please leave a review once you check it out.

Also, on my website are the stories of how my books like the NEED series or TIME STOPPERS came into being, how I paint to get more into my stories, or more info about me and all that stuff that’s supposed to be on websites.

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My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who was a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

And there you go, Friday’s blog post. Please let me know here if you can (and not just on Facebook) if you’ve checked it out. I hope you have an amazing, wonderful weekend where you shout out who you are to the world and the world loves you for it.