“For I have always been a seeker, a dreamer, and a ponderer on seeking and dreaming…” -H.P. Lovecraft
I write fiction. I dream up people and journey with them into places I know and places I have never seen, creating stories for other people to read with the hope that we can journey together and make sense of this collective experience we call Life.
When I was little, there was a treehouse in my back yard, at the top of a tall Mulberry tree. I’d climb up there and spend hours alone reading books and daydreaming. There was something about being up high, surrounded by branches and leaves that made life feel magical.
I could look out over our yard and neighborhood. Everything that seemed boring from the ground became a story. People went in and out of their homes, playing out the drama of ordinary lives but I could imagine interesting plots and intrigues from my perch above. Playing in the theoretical and imaginary.
I was recently interviewed by friend and author, Jonathan Ryan for Patheos.com. I'm reposting that interview here!
What was the one event in your life that got you writing?
There really wasn’t one event. I always kept a journal as a child and started writing stories by the time I was in elementary school. My older sister, Heather, would always tell the most imaginative bedtime stories and I think that really helped kindle a lifelong love of storytelling.
I was also an avid reader early on. My mother has a Masters degree in English Literature and exposed me to wonderful books in my formative years.
When I became old enough to babysit my mob of cousins and neighbors, I became popular with the children for my stories. I started to write them down in the form of interactive, choose-your-own-adventure type games. That was a hit and I was hooked.
All through high school I wrote poems, short stories and personal essays. I enjoyed the process and people seemed to like reading them. I had a lot of encouragement from family and teachers.
Later, as a university student living in London, I was immersed in good literature, interesting people and beautiful places. The very first novel I wrote (which is awful and hidden for all time) was based on that experience while studying abroad.
Are there themes that you are drawn towards in your books?
I love stories of redemption and self-actualization. The genre doesn’t matter as much to me. It can be paranormal, historical fiction or contemporary realism, but the main characters have to make an inner journey, coming to an understanding of themselves, their own culpability and be empowered by it. It isn’t until a person truly owns their shadow side that they can be at their most powerful and at peace with their potential.
I really enjoy exploring paradigm shifts and moments of enlightenment that build the character and make them more self-aware and “other” aware. I also like to dissect relationships and the effect of amity and enmity on the main character.
How does your worldview play into your writing?
I suppose I can’t separate my writing from the way I think. The things that I value or that I’m opposed to, will come across in the stories I write. But I do try to balance what I think and what characters with opposing beliefs and world views would think. Writers, like actors, need to have empathy if they want to be able to write believable characters. I hope to capture authenticity and truth in what I write. By truth, I don’t just mean the perceived absolutes of right and wrong in the universe. Truth is what is. An honest look at the human experience. Sometimes for me, that means writing things that may demonstrate that what I hold as true may have possible downsides or contradictions. Other times it means that things that are generally accepted by our current culture as good are not as innocuous as we tell ourselves. Hopefully, if I write honestly… nobody is safe.
How do you deal with criticism and bad reviews?
Unless a friend points out–hey listen to this good review–it may be a bad idea to listen to negative reviews. However, if the criticism is sound and comes from a trusted source, I’m all about considering what they say if it can improve my writing. Sometimes, I can be too close to my work and fresh eyes are helpful.
But you can’t please everyone and some people are just going to hate it no matter what.
What advice will you have for the teen writers at TABC?
Have fun writing! Learn all you can about the tools of how to write well and to reach your audience.
Write about things that matter to you and never stop working on your craft. Don’t worry about reviews or what people will say—you can’t please all readers and everyone is a critic! Don’t even worry about if you will ever get published. Just write for the love of it and pursue publishing if that is what you want—there are so many options for getting your stories to readers now. Most writers will never achieve fame or fortune. Do it because you love it.
Tell us about your book. Where can people get it?
Teen psychiatric wards can be “throw-away” places for kids whose parents can’t or won’t deal with them. In Oak Dale, teens battle their inner demons and not all of them win.
The concept of Against Her Will came from the experiences of co-author, Serita Stevens who has worked in a teen psych ward for many years. It was interesting and fun to develop characters based on some actual patients she had known and put them together into a story line and a plot that will hopefully show the emotional journeys of teens who struggle with mental illness and other challenges.
The main characters have all experienced different forms of bullying. Cassidy, from a wealthy home, has parents who have no time to show her love. Their primary concern is that she upholds the proper image. Her parents manipulate and shame her until she acts out and makes a string of bad decisions. Rather than trying to understand or support Cassidy, her parents have her locked up. Tony comes from serious domestic violence which has left him feeling powerless so he turns to pyromania to feel in control. Gina, is a defiant trouble maker who becomes a bully herself after enduring a childhood in the foster care system, in and out of unsafe homes. Erin, the anorexic, was horribly bullied and humiliated by peers from school and controlled by her perfectionist mother. And Julia is an endangered child, exposed to drugs and prostitution because of her mother’s lifestyle. They all play off one another within the walls of Oak Dale where unfortunately, some things only get worse.
I read the first book, 3 Gates of the Dead over a year ago and was impressed! It was scary but also, thought provoking. Within a paranormal thriller, Ryan depicts the inner workings of a minister having a crisis of faith with insight and honesty.
I was able to read an advanced copy of Dark Bride, the sequel to 3 Gates of the Dead, which releases today! This book does not disappoint! Jonathan Ryan really steps up his game in this terrifying next installment. As we follow, Aidan Schaefer in his continued struggle against the evil forces around him, a frightening and complex plot unfolds. The book deals with some very heavy topics--the disintegration of a family, human trafficking, dark powers and supernatural evil. The story will will freak you out and pull you along until the last page. You will think about the book long after you put it down. I loved it and hated it! Well played, Ryan, well played.
"For those who like to mix deep theological debate with full-throttle horror, there's no better bet than the works of the Benedictine-trained master of the macabre, Jonathan Ryan.”—Robert Masello, best-selling author of The Romanov Cross
“[Dark Bride] successfully knits religion, demonology and suspense to produce a tapestry of excitement and originality that will please any fan of the genre.” —Andrew Neiderman, author of The Devil’s Advocate and The Terrorist’s Holiday
“A remarkable novel.”—Michael W. Collings, author of The Annotated Guide to Stephen King
“A tale steeped in the fantastic and simmered in faith, a book as terrifying as it is profound—Dan Brown collides with Stephen King collides with St. Augustine.” —Jack Slay Jr., author of Sleeping Policemen
Order Dark Bride, the sequel to 3 Gates of the Dead from everywhere fine books are sold. Released in Print, Ebook and Audio from Open Road Integrated Media and Audible
Last weekend I had a book signing at the Viridian and launched Against Her Will at Teen Author Boot Camp! I was blown away by the support and enthusiasm shown to me and my book. Thank you to everyone!
TABC was epic this year. With a crowd of over 700 people and so many great classes to choose from, it was like a day-long author party! The teens make it the best. Their talent and enthusiasm creates so much positive energy.
We kicked off the day with a silly video in the manner of Kid History (Bored Shorts) with a little help from actor Richard Sharrah.
The book signing was high energy and the kids had us signing books, t-shirts, notebooks, programs and even arms!
Our keynotes, Brandon Sanderson and Jessica Day George were so awesome! Some ninjas (from the dojo where I trained for my black belt) performed a Mistborn inspired routine to introduce Brandon Sanderson and he said it was the best intro he'd ever had. The crowd went nuts over it!
There was also an author lip sinc for a smashing finish to an awesome day. My group, Writers Cubed, puts so much into TABC each year, and it is worth all we do! We are truly grateful for the gang of talented writers who come and participate each year.
Against Her Will is a YA novel about teens battling their inner demons in a psych ward and not all of them will win. I'm excited to be on a YA panel and signing books at the Viridian events center on April 10th. Come see me!
The book will be launched at Teen Author Boot Camp to nearly 700 teens and authors with prizes and a book signing! It will be a blast!
The concept of Against Her Will came from the experiences of co-author, Serita Stevens, who has worked in a teen psych ward for many years. It was interesting and fun to develop the characters based on some actual patients she has known and put them together into a story-line and plot that will hopefully show the emotional journeys of teens who struggle with mental illness and other challenges.
I feel strongly about mental health and also bullying—which is a big problem in society today. Both issues can be misunderstood and affect lives so dramatically that it is always good to have more ways to discuss and examine them. We have a long way to go as a culture, to not stigmatize those who struggle with mental illness and to allow an open conversation without shame attached. Shaming is just a form of bullying and it never helped anyone. When the opportunity came to work with Serita last year, I was eager to explore these topics and help to develop a story addressing some of these issues, embedding themes of hope and empowerment. Kindness to others and to oneself can go a long way to help in the coping and recovery process, no matter what a person has been through or what their struggle may be. Be a hugger not a hater. (To read more on my views about bullying and the dire effect it can have on the mental health of young people click HERE.)
My name is Cassidy Connor and my parents hate me. Well, they can go to hell. After yet another fight with my manipulative lawyer father and bible thumping mother, I disappear onto Hollywood Blvd among the other street kids. Or so I thought. The cops pick me up for a BS crime I didn't commit, and Dad announces the only way I can avoid charges is to voluntarily admit myself into Oak Dale, a psych ward for crazy teens. I don't belong there -- my parents are the real nutjobs --but it's not like I have a choice.
At Oak Dale, everyone is going on about the kid who just killed himself trying to escape. How could they dump me in a place like this? I'm thrown in with my anorexic roommate, Erin; foster care system victim, Gina; and pyromaniac Tony. Guess he likes to light 'em up. All of us are unwanted baggage, here against our will.
I quickly learn only the strong survive Oak Dale -- and some of us won't make it out alive.
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On March 30th, Against Her Will releases and then the launch party will take place at Teen Author Boot Camp! I'm excited to share this book with the hundreds of teen who will be there--this year our registration numbers are the highest they have ever been. The book brings up important topics such as bullying and how ultimately their own decisions affect their lives more than the decisions of others. It also holds the message that life can be hard and people can treat you bad, but we each get to choose who we'll be and how we let our struggles define us.
Elana Johnson, author and friend, agreed to read the book and blurb it for me! I snagged the review she wrote on her blog and am posting it here.
“A compelling glimpse of
life inside the teenage mind, AGAINST HER WILL, was a fascinating train wreck I
couldn't look away from and read in one sitting.”
--Elana Johnson, Author,
the Possession series
About AGAINST HER WILL: My name is Cassidy Connor and my parents hate me. Well, they can go to hell. After yet another fight with my manipulative lawyer father and bible thumping mother, I disappear onto Hollywood Blvd among the other street kids. Or so I thought. The cops pick me up for a BS crime I didn't commit, and Dad announces the only way I can avoid charges is to voluntarily admit myself into Oak Dale, a psych ward for crazy teens. I don't belong there -- my parents are the real nutjobs --but it's not like I have a choice. At Oak Dale, everyone is going on about the kid who just killed himself trying to escape. How could they dump me in a place like this? I'm thrown in with my anorexic roommate, Erin; foster care system victim, Gina; and pyromaniac Tony. Guess he likes to light 'em up. All of us are unwanted baggage, here against our will. I quickly learn only the strong survive Oak Dale -- and some of us won't make it out alive.
"I absolutely loved this book in a sort of love-hate way. I couldn't stop reading it, and I wanted to yell at the characters. Things like, "No! Don't do that!" Or "Please eat something." Or "This is a bad idea..." Or "Tell someone! Tell someone!"
AGAINST HER WILL is an emotionally powerful book -- I called it a train wreck I couldn't look away from. It stuck with me long after I finished it, and I find myself still thinking about it from time to time.
I think the reason it impacted me so much is because it is the polar opposite of my experiences as a teenager. Cassidy's story opened my eyes to things I knew about, but didn't really KNOW about, if that makes sense. It is a fantastic read for anyone -- if you relate to Cassidy's story, if you don't, and anywhere in between.
AGAINST HER WILL doesn't come out until March 30, but you should pre-order it now so you can devour it then." -Elana Johnson
As a writer and literary agent, there are some writers I read because I love what they write and others I read because I love who they are. With my friend, Elana Johnson, it's both! She's so freaking awesome in every way!
I'm so excited about Elana's new YA/NA futuristic fantasy series, which includes Elemental Rush, Elemental Hunger, and Elemental Release.
About ELEMENTAL RUSH: Eighteen-year-old Adam
Gillman has trained for twelve years to earn a coveted spot on the Supreme
Elemental’s elite sentry squad. His brother, Felix, is the commander, but Adam
is still thrilled when his official assignment to serve Alexander Pederson comes.
He moves into nicer quarters and can stop getting up at four
a.m. to complete his mandated work out time. He still rises early though,
because he needs the solitude of early morning to practice his airmaking
Element—something that Adam has kept secret from everyone, even Felix, because
he can’t be both an Airmaker and a sentry.
When Alex assigns him to kill a group of rogue Elementals,
he balks at completing his mission for the first time. See, his only friend is
Isaiah Hawking, and he’s the Earthmover on the accused Council. When faced with
the prospect of killing him, Adam finds he can’t do it.
He’s well trained in assassination, but he thought he’d be
murdering bad guys—not innocents.
When Alex buries the Elemental Academy—and kills over one thousand
Elementals—in a fit of rage, Adam’s loyalty cracks. When he discovers that Alex
is really a woman, and his brother’s lover, he defects. He hops from city to
city, from Elemental school to Elemental school, always escaping only minutes
before Felix can embed a knife in his heart or a tsunami can make a classroom
his watery grave.
He tries to fight back, but he’s just one Airmaster with
exceptional tracking skills. He does his best to warn those in danger, but as
the last Elemental school goes up in flames, he knows he needs to get some real
firepower on his side.
ELEMENTAL RUSH is a prequel novella to the full-length
futuristic fantasy novel, ELEMENTAL HUNGER.
About ELEMENTAL HUNGER: The second installment in
the Elemental series, a new futuristic fantasy for young adults and new adults
from acclaimed author Elana Johnson, ELEMENTAL HUNGER is a full-length novel
that continues the story that began in ELEMENTAL RUSH, an Elemental novella.
Sixteen-year-old Gabriella Kilpatrick can shoot fire from
her hands, which would be great if she didn’t get blamed for a blazing inferno
that kills 17 schoolmates. When Gabby is commanded to Manifest her Element,
everyone knows what she is: a genetic abnormality. Not to mention guilty.
So she does two logical things to survive.
1. She runs.
2. She hacks off her hair to assume a new role—that of
“Gabe”, because in her world, only boys are Firemakers.
Not only does she have to act like a guy, she has to pretend
to know everything a Firemaker should know. When Gabby meets Airmaster Adam
Gillman, he believes her act and pledges to serve on “Gabe’s” Council. But Adam
has the mark of a sentry and spent years obeying Alex, the Supreme Elemental.
And Alex wants Gabby-the-genetic-freak dead and gone before she can gather the
magical protection of a full Council.
With Adam’s lies that sound like truths and rumors that Alex
isn’t really a Firemaker—or a man—Gabby sets out to charter a Council of her
own. In order to uncover the truth, Gabby will have to learn who she can trust,
how to control her own power, and most of all, how to lead a Council of
Elementals, most of whom have more control over their power than she does. If
she can’t, she’ll find herself just like those 17 schoolmates: burned and six
Look for the third and final installment, ELEMENTAL RELEASE,
the final Elemental novella.
About ELEMENTAL RELEASE: Two months after
returning to the capital city of Tarpulin with a Council of his own, Airmaster
Adam Gillman is ready to start repairing the relationships in his life. Up
first: his Councilman and the girl he’d like to be more than friends with,
But first, he has to figure out how to be the Airmaster his
Firemaker needs. In order to do that, Adam attends Elemental training and
discovers that to truly command the air, he must first be in control of his
emotions. And in order to master those, he has to grieve for the loss of Hanai,
make amends with his brother, and earn the trust of Gabby.
Amidst all that, Adam must also learn how to grapple with
the jet stream, because a dangerous Airmaster is loose in Tarpulin. And Adam
will need to find his emotional center in order to work with the atmosphere and
defeat the threat.
About Elana Johnson: Elana Johnson’s work,
including Possession, Surrender, Abandon, and Regret,
published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster), is available now everywhere
books are sold. Her popular ebook, From
the Query to the Call, is also available for download, as well as a Possession short
Her self-published novels include two YA contemporary
novels-in-verse, Elevated and Something About Love, as well as a YA/NA
futuristic fantasy series, which includes Elemental
Rush, Elemental Hunger, and Elemental Release.
I like to eat healthy, whole foods. I eat organic as much as possible too. I've seen a marked improvement in my health and weight since I made the switch over a decade ago.
A lot of people wonder how I can stand giving up refined sugars and flours. It is not that hard once you detox and replace them with yummy, healthy alternatives.
I've had many people ask me about recipes. So here is a favorite.
Chewy Chocolate Cookies
1 ½ Cubes Butter
½ Cup brown rice syrup
1 Cup coconut sugar (if needed add a little agave for more
Beat that together and then add and mix:
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
Then melt together:
Another cube of
butter with ½ C healthy chocolate chips of your choice
Mix ¾ Cup of cocoa powder with the melted mix
Stir all ingredients together and then add:
1 Cup almond flour
2 Cups rye or whole wheat flour
Add chocolate chips and chopped nuts if desired.
Bake for 7 or 8 minutes at 350 degrees—let cookies be a
little under baked. Let cool.
My YA novel, Against Her Will, is being published at the end of March. The publisher has made it available for pre-order on Amazon now! An official launch and book signing will happen at Teen Author Boot Camp on April 11th. The story follows the struggles of teens in a psych ward who battle their inner demons in a place where not everything that happens is for their own good.
Co-author, Serita Stevens, is a nurse in a facility where she witnessed the sometimes horrific outcome of young people who have been the victims of mistreatment. The book has strong themes about bullying and the dire consequences it can have.
Bullying has become a universal issue. Recently, I've had to deal with my own young, special needs son being bullied at school. The affects of bullying can be heartbreaking and sometimes quite serious. Studies have connected bullying to the rise in youth suicides.
Bullying on a grand scale takes the form of a benign or aggressive dictator, ruling in fear and with supreme control. I recently watched a documentary on North Korea that made me ill. The way the people scrape and bow and cry with "gratitude" when speaking of their beloved oppressor is disturbing. They clearly fear his disapproval and the consequences of his displeasure to the point that they pray to him and pour on the worship. It's chilling to see.
On a smaller scale, bullying takes many forms from: stonewalling, withholding affection and approval to criticizing, demeaning and physical aggression. Almost always its about control and manipulation. A lot of people find themselves ensnared in an abusive relationship without realizing they are being bullied, because a bully isn't just the scary kid at school who beats you up for your lunch money or the mean popular girl who publicly shames you for wearing last years' fashions. Bullies can be in a position of trust, a person whom we should be able to count on for fair treatment or loyalty.
Some bullies are hard to pinpoint because they are sooo nice and have done so many things for their victim, as is often the case of an abusive parent. Beware of a person if their sticky sweetness becomes, harsh and punitive when you fail to meet the needs or expectation of the bully. No matter who the bully may be in your life, you can choose to say "No". When they threaten and demean you, or try to scare you into compliance--no carrot they dangle or consequence they may bring down on you is reason to allow the continued damage to your core self.
In researching bullying and abuser behavior these personality traits and behaviors were mentioned over and over:
Insincerity (their compliments come at times when they want something or just feel wrong and forced)
Jealousy (threatened by success of others, resentful of your other relationships etc)
Negative thinking (assuming worst, harsh judgement of others, mean gossip, poor sportsmanship etc.)
Controlling Behavior (everything from who your friends are, what you're allowed to say or the micromanaging of a tyrant boss)
Unrealistic expectations (you'd better not mess up ever!)
Isolation (want you to themselves, resent other people or things in your life that may take precedence)
Blame-shifting for their problems
Blame-shifting for their feelings
Hypersensitivity (constantly ready to bite your head off for mostly imagined offense)
Cruelty or Disregard for people of no use to them (children or people without enough power or connection)
Verbal Abuse (shaming, criticizing, blaming, accusing, threats, blackmailing, name calling, sabotage of the reputation of others etc.)
Jekyll and Hyde behavior and mood swings
History of substance abuse
History of unstable interpersonal relationships (repeated dating/marriage disasters, no long term friendships/relationships or only very few close family)
Not all of these have to be true to mean you have a bully or abuser in your life. If you now wonder if you are being bullied or are in an abusive relationship, consider these points: A bully wants you to kiss their rear, obey them without challenge,they want you to question your own worthiness, they want to feed your paranoia that you deserve what you get and everyone thinks badly of you (This is possibly most apparent in abusive relationships where a partner tries to convince you that you are nothing without them and nobody else could ever see any value in you). "You're lucky I put up with you," is not something somebody who is loving and trustworthy says.Disagreements and arguments are normal parts of life but an abuser will yell, scream and hurl stinging remarks and even if they don't raise their voice their words will be mean and punishing rather than an attempt to find agreement and understanding. And a bully can rarely apologize, but when they do it is an insincere manipulation because they want something or fear losing control.
If there is somebody in your life who is toxic in this way, reach out for the support of good friends and get help if you need it. Get out while you can. Leave that person behind with a heart full of forgiveness and equity. If it is a family member or somebody you cannot cut loose for some other reason, draw strong boundaries and do not give power to the bully. Let them throw a tantrum but hold your head high. Their behavior is not your responsibility.
On the other hand... if you read this and are self aware enough to see yourself in the list, you might want to get some help so you don't burn all of your bridges and continue in an unhappy pattern that will only bring a stormy life and ultimately end in loneliness. It's really no way to live to wonder why all your relationships go bad and wondering if you can ever be loved for who you are. Because in the end, a bully is always somebody who feels worthless. You aren't worthless. You can find happiness another way besides owning and controlling other people. You''ll never find true love that way.
Wise teachers in all cultures agree that real love is: Patient, kind, not envious, not prideful, doesn't put itself first, is not easily provoked or offended, does not think evil and negatively, is full of hope. This is something worth fighting for--both to have and to give.
Despite the heavier themes in Against Her Will, the prevailing message is that of hope. There is hope for the oppressed and even the oppressor. When people own their life and decide to live consciously no matter what anyone else does, they will become empowered. I believe in the healing power of real love, humility and forgiveness. In the end, our will is something nobody can truly control but us.
As wisely and beautifully said by Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms ... to choose one’s own way...The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
Pop culture often gets a bad rap, especially from those styling themselves as intellectuals and “real artists”. Some argue that it dulls the senses, doesn’t encourage “higher thoughts” and deadens the cultural tastes. A few critics would go further to say it poisons our minds. They are right in some ways. Popular culture wields a lot of power in defining the music, food, fashions and even the way we talk to others.
There is no doubt that pop culture is a giant menu and we get to pick what we consume. What we choose on that menu says a lot about who we are and what we want. What we want often changes with circumstances in our lives. Some days, we want a deep, reflective art film. Other days, we would rather watch a mindless comedy. While it’s important to nourish our brains and souls, sometimes we want something light. At times that’s all we can take when life gets too heavy.
When my third son came along, nothing was normal. He entered this life through an emergency C-section and nothing has been easy since. Jack was born with multiple birth defects including an open palate. This meant I couldn’t just take him home. I couldn’t hold my baby and feed him as I did with his older brothers. He spent the Holidays in the NICU hooked up to blinking machines. He should have been home with his family and the twinkling Christmas lights on our tree.
When I could finally bring him home there were monitors and an oxygen tank. Every two hours, day and night, I would use a breast pump. We’d push a tube through little Jack’s nose and into his stomach for feedings. During this time of no sleep, recovering from my surgery and heartbreak I wrestled to come to terms with the immensity of the truth. My child was not “normal”. He would not have an easy life. How do I help this tiny boy? What would his life be like? What would mine be like now? I didn’t know what to do.
I mourned and I prayed. I researched his condition. I couldn’t take it with my aching heart and on so little sleep. Most of the time, I forced myself to eat more than Jello so that Jack would get the nutrients he needed to live. However, when it came to my pop culture buffet, I loaded up on everything that arty types say is not nourishing. Buffy and Alias were comfort food for the soul.
During the long hours of pumping and feedings, I escaped into all five seasons of Alias and all the Buffy episodes I could get my hands on. It passed the time and it transported me into the lives of strong women who faced life and death, disappointment and betrayal, setbacks, sorrow and ultimately triumph. Sure, it was cheesy stuff and not exactly intellectually stimulating. However, it truly helped as much as the medication I took to numb the pain and it also gave me hope.
Time went on. Jack needed constant special care. He grew and developed slowly. Jack’s life was punctuated by frequent doctor visits and discomfort. At a year old, he weighed only eleven pounds. Then there were several surgeries (with more to come).
Through this difficult time his personality emerged. Despite everything, he became a sunny, silly boy. His very favorite thing to watch on TV was SpongeBob SquarePants. Many parents I know find that cartoon annoying and off putting. We love it because it made Jack happy. He would smile and laugh at every episode. When he could finally speak, his first sentences came from the show. While In the hospital for surgeries, Jack liked to have his SpongeBob blanket and doll. It brought him comfort and grounded him with its familiar, cheery yellowness.
SpongeBob is a pop culture icon. The cultural references and satirical characters tell us something about who we are. The archtypes are familiar ones: Squidward the pessimist, Mr. Krabs the greedy boss, Patrick the fool, Plankton the megalomaniac, among others.
However, I love how the star of the show, SpongeBob, is the most irrepressible optimist on TV, perhaps only rivaled by Leslie Knope of Parks and Rec. And that optimistic sponge, who finds fun in everything (and lessons) during hard times, is the character my struggling little boy identified with at a time when pain seemed to be the only thing he knew.
A couple of years ago, after his most recent surgery, we received a very special surprise. My uncle, comedian Mike Guido, is friends with Tom Kenny. Tom is the very talented actor who does the voice of SpongeBob. Mike told him about Jack and how he is a big fan of the show. Tom sent us a personalized voice recording as SpongeBob just for Jack. When we played it for Jack post-surgery he was the happiest little patient on the planet. He smiled and laughed and made us all listen to it over and over. It made me cry. To this day Jack enjoys listening to it and quoting it and it always warms my heart. (Listen to hear his message in the video above.)
When I thanked Tom he said, “I was happy to do that for Jack. Being able to do things like that is one of the perks of my job that I treasure. Sounds corny, but it’s true. In addition to the fun job, hopefully I get to make people who are dealing with challenges smile for a minute or two.”
Tom Kenny’s job is grounded in popular culture. It’s his vehicle for reaching out to others. And the way those messages and feelings are received is inextricably linked to the mode of communication that we call Pop Culture. Because that’s what it is. All commerce, everything that’s for sale, is an expression of wants and needs. Pop culture is a business that provides those things, both positive and negative. But it’s also the language we speak, how we express ourselves and communicate as a culture. Pop culture is the embodiment of our common ground and voice.
We should celebrate the good and examine the bad in our popular culture. It’s up to each of us to choose responsibly from that big cultural buffet. To quote the yellow sponge himself, “Let go of what kills you and hold on to what keeps you breathing.”
Imagine a future without family. A new YA novel from a debut author. Nine is the ninth female born in her batch of ten females and ten males. By design, her life in Freedom Province is without complications or consequences. However, such freedom comes with a price. The Prime Maker is determined to keep that price a secret from the new batches of citizens that are born, nurtured, and raised androgynously.
But Nine isn’t like every other batcher. She harbors indecision and worries about her upcoming Remake Day—her seventeenth birthday, the age when batchers fly to the Remake facility and have the freedom to choose who and what they’ll be.
When Nine discovers the truth about life outside of Freedom Province, including the secret plan of the Prime Maker, she is pulled between two worlds and two lives. Her decisions will test her courage, her heart, and her beliefs. Who can she trust? Who does she love? And most importantly, who will she decide to be?
Ilima met with me the other day and loaned me an advance reader's copy of her novel. Once I started reading it, I was hooked. Not only was the story a fresh twist on the genre and the characters engaging, it made me think about how the social issues in the book relate to our own society. I considered my own views on what freedom truly is and what makes a person free.
The story also made me examine the complex layers that our culture wraps around the authentic self. Do we over-complicate identity? What makes us who we truly are? Do we define ourselves according to the dictates of trend? And if so... isn't that the opposite of freedom? It also reconfirmed how much I value my family. The joy of being a part of a family and of being a mom is very important to me. What if those freedoms were taken away?
The main character, Nine, is brave but also tender and vulnerable. Torn by so many decisions and conflicting feelings makes her relatable to not only teens but anyone struggling to define themselves within the noise of culture and what is considered normal and acceptable. Her quest to see past all of that to find her inner truth is one that makes her both sympathetic and heroic.
With some great world building, memorable characters, adventure, self examination and some romance, REMAKE is a worthwhile YA read with heart that is both fun and compelling. I'm so ready for the sequel.
Writers Cubed is excited to have Ilima Todd as one of our Drill Sergeants for Teen Author Boot Camp 2015 this coming April. So, read her book and then come and meet her at TABC!
Healthy, happy, and empowered mama...with a black belt in taekwondo.
I grew up in a big family in the Bay Area of California, attended college at BYU London, England and stateside. Then married my filmmaker/artist husband and have three sons who also love the arts. Creativity abounds in this house!
I'm a proud member of Writers Cubed and Co-Founder of the super cool and successful Teen Author Boot Camp. When I'm not doing my own writing I keep busy being Jr. Agent at Gateway Literary.
Life is good. (=