Stepping Up and Stepping Out: The Mark of a Man Blogfest

I recently participated in August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blogfest with my post, Don’t Hate the Skinny Girl. Today’s special entry is part of The Mark of a Man Blogfest hosted by fellow author David N. Walker.

I. Love. Men.

businessmanThere, I’ve said it. I really do. I think men are awesome. From the way their Adam’s apples bob up and down pushing against the flesh of their throats, to the shoulders that are broad like fortress walls, to their hands that are thicker, rougher, and have visible veins like tributaries of a river, to their hips that land in a completely different place than women’s. I like their lower voices–tenors, baritones, basses–that can sound so commanding at times and melodious at others. I like that they think differently, in ways that make me imagine a puzzle in their brain that I can’t quite get all the pieces to complete.

I like that men can debate, argue, and even fist fight one minute, and be friends ten minutes later. I like that men generally take more risks, push their bodies and their fears. I like that men often use their strength to protect others, whether in the military, as a father, or as a shield for their woman (see Aurora heroes: Three who gave their lives).

So I guess I was in the perfect position to end up as the mother of boys. Thus, my household consists of three men…and me. I have a front-row seat for how my sons toy with what the mark of a man is–what makes a guy a man.

Two movie moments immediately came to mind when I thought about this.

Lars and the Real Girl (1997) was an excellent film. At one point, Lars (Ryan Gosling) asks his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) what it means to be a man. Gus’s answer starts with the usual stuff, but ends up with him communicating that it’s much more.

The full clip is HERE (which I couldn’t get to play on this site). But, when pressed, Gus goes on to answer:

Gus: Okay, you know, I can only give you my opinion.

Lars: That’s all I want.

Gus: Well, it’s not like you’re all one thing or the other, okay? There’s still a kid inside, but you grow up when you decide to do right, okay? And not what’s right for you, what’s right for everybody, even when it hurts.

Lars: Okay, like what?

Gus: Like, you know, like, you don’t jerk people around, you know? And you don’t cheat on your woman. And you take care of your family. You know, you’d admit when you’re wrong, or you try to anyways. That’s all I can think of. It sounds like it’s easy, and for some reason it’s not.

Gus tells his brother that the mark of a man is stepping up–doing the right thing.

Lloyd & CoreyThe second, oddly enough, is a scene that has stuck with me since I saw this film ONCE in 1989. Say Anything is about Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) risking himself for love. At one point, he’s talking with his good friend Corey (played by the fabulous Lili Taylor), and this exchange occurs:

D.C.: Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?

Lloyd Dobler: ‘Cause I’m a guy. I have pride.

Corey Flood: You’re not a guy.

Lloyd Dobler: I am.

Corey Flood: No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.

Corey encourages Lloyd to step out–to be different and better.

Indeed, Corey, the world is full of guys. And sadly, guys who cheat on their women or don’t take care of their family. Or measure themselves in all the wrong ways–by their financial means, their muscles, their sexual prowess, etc.

But the true mark of a man is doing the right thing. Stepping up and stepping out. We know it when we see it–in the tearful eyes of a soldier saying goodbye to his family to do his duty abroad, in the resolute jaw of the father working 50 hours a week so that his family can be fed and his kids can go to college, in the broad hand of an elderly husband who reaches out to hold the hand of his wife of many years, in the small kindnesses shown by personal generosity and looking out for others among your family, friends, and acquaintances.

True men are still out there. The world may be full of “guys,” but I know many men who do the right thing–who step up and step out day-in and day-out. They live out the mark of a man.

And I salute them all. Because it’s not easy; yet you do it anyway.

Share your thoughts on what the mark of a man is.

Don’t Hate the Skinny Girl: Beauty of a Woman Blogfest

This extra post is my belated contribution to August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blogfest. (Unfortunately, I was unable to post yesterday.)

For most of my adulthood, I have been a size 4 or below. Wait! Don’t stop reading yet. Please hang in here with me.

I remember when I finally passed 100 pounds on the scale, between my junior and senior years of high school.

I didn’t remain there, though. I recently picked up a journal I kept during my first pregnancy, in which I wrote about starting my journey toward motherhood at all of 99 pounds. (Don’t worry; I gained a healthy 32 pounds.)

But much of my adult life I’ve been the “skinny girl.”

I have long advocated that we need to stop putting forth unrealistic ideals about women that include eating-disordered models and plastic surgery as a foregone conclusion. I loathed it when people slammed Alicia Silverstone for her body when she played Batgirl back in 1996. (I thought she looked awesome). I hate that half of the magazines prominently displayed at the grocery checkout chronicle the ups-and-downs of celebrities’ weight or feature covers with models who have been airbrushed into comical proportions.

I wish we would stress health. An unrealistic ideal woman is not healthy. She is quite possibly a size 12 starving herself to be a size 2.

However, some women really are size 2. That’s their body structure, build, and reasonable weight. And being the skinny girl in the room ain’t always the picnic you think it is.

What you don’t know about the naturally skinny girl in the room (one or more of the following are true):

  1. She’s still shopping for bras in the girls’ section, desperately hoping someday that her buds will become breasts.
  2. Her family or friends keep interrogating her about anorexia and bulimia, even though they’ve seen her eat and never once had any reason to believe she’s gagged herself.
  3. She gets “complimented” with comments like these: “You’re so thin, one of these days a big wind might just up and blow you away” (Like being compared to a tumbleweed is good?). “I could fit you in one of my thighs” (What does one say to that?). “You’re so skinny, I can see your bones” (No, you can’t! That’s my belt buckle).
  4. She struggles to find clothes that fit. Maybe the runway models have access to size 0 and size 2 fashions, but they are much harder to find in real stores. And forget shopping in the misses department. Her butt couldn’t fill a ramekin, much less a made-for-a-woman pair of pants.
  5. No one ever thinks she can lift anything or do any task that requires strength.
  6. She feels guilty eating in front of people who hate her for being a skinny girl.

As a woman, there are various challenges with being various sizes. I don’t know what it’s like to be a size 12, but some of you don’t know what it’s like to be a size 2. And before you start saying, “I only wish I had your problem,” I’d like to call on us women to stop the comparisons altogether.

The funny thing about my skinny self then (not quite so skinny now) is that my weight never played much into how I felt about my health. I knew I was eating enough and getting enough exercise. But it did play into how beautiful I felt. And I didn’t feel beautiful because I didn’t look like the women I aspired to be.

Beauty is not about comparison. It’s not about wishing you were that airbrushed model; discovering how to lose 10 pounds from some actress with a nanny, a dietitian, and a personal trainer; or even hating the skinny girl.

What does it matter if one woman is size 0 and another 16? They can both be absolutely beautiful in their own right.

Beauty is more about confidence. The way you see your body, the way you treat your body, the way you carry your body shows that you either know you’re beautiful…or haven’t figured that out yet. Appreciating who you uniquely are is the first step to being confident about your own beauty.

I am was the “skinny girl.” I’ve long since realized that I’m not ever going to have curves like Selma Hayek or Sofia Vergara. And that’s okay. I can still be beautiful…as just little ‘ol me.

What do you think? What makes a woman beautiful? Have you struggled with comparing? And if you did a Beauty of a Woman Blogfest post, please share the link below!

Challenges and Changes with the New Year

New YearA New Year is a perfect time to reevaluate where you are and where you want to be. Although really, I’ve been analyzing how I use my time and what I want to accomplish for several months. Sometime in the fall, I concluded that a few changes were warranted.

Here they are.

Blog. I love blogging. I didn’t know if I would, but it’s been a fabulous activity for me to hone my writing and, more importantly, to connect with, inform, and entertain readers. For quite a while, I’ve blogged three times a week–Sunday ROW80 updates, Amazing Words Wednesdays, and Deep-Fried Fridays. I will be taking that down to twice a week.

My Wednesday posts about the labyrinth of language (aka A-maze-ing Words Wednesday) will continue, and my Sunday posts will be devoted to sharing whatever I’ve learned and want to share. In keeping with the labyrinth theme, these will be Scarlet Thread Sundays. This is my last Deep-Fried Friday post.

copy editingCopy Editing. I’m a rare individual who enjoys–nay, delights!–in proofreading for people. It’s not that I’m some sick individual who wants to red pen all over perfectly good pages. To me, line editing, copy editing, proofreading are putting the polish on a finished product–making it shine. I revel in knowing that the read will be easier and flow better with proper word choice, grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. The story itself will come through and not be hindered by avoidable errors.

Consequently, my copy editing services are now for hire. If you are interested, click on the Copy Editing tab on the menu above for more information.

ROW80LogocopyROW80. I will once again be participating in A Round of Words in 80 Days. I still love this challenge from Kait Nolan for its focus, flexibility, accountability, and encouragement. Indeed, I have been a sponsor for several rounds now.

Although I will be continuing my own ROW80 challenge, I am stepping away from sponsorship this time. If you are interested in being a cheerleader for this worthy writers’ experience, head over to the ROW80 website and see about signing up as a future sponsor.

Self-publishing. This year I will be pursuing the traditional publishing route for my YA contemporary novel, Sharing Hunter. However, I plan to self-publish my first mystery, Grace & Fire, in 2013.

There are two sequels already plotted for this mystery trilogy, and it is my desire to write them as well and release all three in 2013 if I can. I have previously stated that, of all the routes now open to writers, the one of hybrid author–both self and traditionally published–appeals to me most.

What changes do you expect to make in 2013? How do you wish to redirect your focus? What are your most important goals for the new year?

Bond-ing with the Family

from Wikimedia Commons

Welcome back to Deep-Fried FridaySeveral months ago, my teen and tween boys asked if they could watch Goldeneye, the James Bond movie of the same name as a Wii video game they wanted. Since I grew up in a family of Bond fans, I simply wasn’t going to grab a 1995 Bond film and have my boys whet their appetite on that. No, no, that wouldn’t do! 

So these two young men were relegated to dealing with a Bond-fan mother who has also been accused of being a little anal-retentive (said charges are thoroughly denied–I’m a lot anal-retentive). We were going to watch James Bond from the beginning and in order.

That’s 22 films with the British agent known as 007. I have watched hours and hours of James wooing women, dodging bullets, and quipping double-entrendres that made me hope–often against hope–that my kids didn’t know what he meant. Here are some general takeaways about the series of James Bond films–those things the movie makers would have us believe:

Bad guys have poor aim; good guys land the first shot. James Bond has been shot at approximately 2,381 times. They all missed. You must not only suspend belief, but ship it to the far regions of the universe, to believe that 007 can outrun bullets over and over and that no sniper has managed to fatally wound him. But going in, we swallow whole the notion that bad guys miss, Bond doesn’t.

A few of the “Bond girls”

All women secretly desire a cad. Cad’s not a word we use often, but it is a man “who behaves in a dishonorable or irresponsible way toward women” ( The message throughout the films is that Bond is irresistible to women–despite the fact that he  is clearly a playboy with little interest in a monogamous or continuing relationship (excepting Tracy and Vesper, who both come to a bad end). In Quantum of Solace, the “Bond girl” says after making love with James, “Do you know how angry I am at myself?”–showing us that even though she had every intention of not sleeping with the rascal, every girl is  inexplicably drawn to the charms of this cad.

Desmond Llewelyn as Q

Spies have super-cool gadgets. One of my favorite supporting characters is Q. I have been disappointed by his absence in the Daniel Craig movies (but I can discuss that later). Actor Desmond Llewellyn played Q through five different actors for Bond, and John Cleese took over in two movies with Brosnan in the lead role. Q’s role is to unveil what new gadgets the British MI16 has developed and to demonstrate their uses to the cavalier Bond. Of course, each gadget turns out to be exactly what Bond needs to complete his mission, even to the point of having an invisible car in Die Another Day. To which, most of us say, “puh-lease.” I can go for a skeleton key hidden in a wristwatch or a bullet-proof car with shooters in the front, but sometimes I had to tuck my eyeballs back into their sockets when the perfect and impossible gadget appeared and my eyes rolled back too far.

Chases are 40% of a spy’s job. I’ve seen James Bond in chases that involved cars, trucks, tanks, motorcycles, boats, skis, planes, helicopters, and more. If it moves, Bond apparently knows how to operate it–no manual or instruction needed. Destruction to streets, buildings, and nearby onlookers is irrelevant because all is okay if (1) James Bond gets away; and/or (2) James Bond nabs his target.

A well-made tux is easy to find. Has anyone ever seen Bond walk into a hotel with a suit bag? And yet, he always has a tuxedo at the ready for whatever posh event he must attend.

The world would end, if not for Bond. Remember all of that trepidation over the Mayan Apocalypse prediction for December 2012? Perhaps you didn’t know, but the end of the world really was eminent; yet, the destructive plot was discovered by MI16 and averted by the brilliant and athletic feats of secret agent James Bond. The battle was not covered by the news channels because it occurred on an unknown island where the evil mastermind had been building billion-dollar accommodations, researching and developing global weaponry, and housing scantily-clad women without anyone’s knowledge–that is, anyone except Bond.

I suppose I enjoy the Bond series for the same reasons I mock it: It is a rollicking ride steeped in fantasy and swagger. Action heroes do all of these things, but somehow Bond does it better. (Wasn’t there a song about that? “Nobody Does It Better”?)

And now, there’s the all-important question of Who is the best Bond? I will rank my preference:

  1. Sean Connery
  2. Pierce Brosnan
  3. Roger Moore
  4. George Lazenby
  5. Daniel Craig
  6. Timothy Dalton

If you wonder why Daniel Craig is so low on my list, I’ll give my take on his Bond movies. Craig is an excellent actor, but I am not convinced that Craig is Bond. He lacks the look, the attitude, and the line delivery. I understand that some of this is the choice of the film makers to reboot the series with Casino Royale so that it follows Ian Fleming’s character more closely. To me, however, that makes the last two movies I’ve seen with Craig great action films, but not the Bond I’ve come to know and love. I have yet to see Skyfall, but it is coming up as our last Bond-ing with the family activity.

Now in case you haven’t seen the whole series, here’s a list of what my family watched over the course of months as our schedule and Netflix rentals allowed:

When I asked Piper Bayard what my boys would think of Ursula Andress, she suggested, “Look at that big hunting knife.” Ah, sarcasm, Piper.

Sean Connery as Bond
Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
Thunderball (1965)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971-Sean Connery)

George Lazenby as Bond
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Roger Moore as Bond
Live and Let Die (1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Moonraker (1979)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Octopussy (1983)
A View to a Kill (1985)

Timothy Dalton as Bond
The Living Daylights (1987)
Licence to Kill (1989)

Pierce Brosnan as Bond
GoldenEye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)

Daniel Craig as Bond
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)

What do you think of the James Bond series? Who is your favorite Bond actor? Or who is your favorite Bond girl? What elements do you find appealing and which ones are unbelievable?

My WANA Island

It’s Deep-Fried Friday, and boy do I have a sizzling something for you today! Yesterday on her blog, author Jenny Hansen announced a party! But before I give you the deets about that lovely event, let’s take a look at the lonely road of writing.

When I wrote my first novel, I was like the main character in the movie of Cast Away. Remember that flick with Tom Hanks and his volleyball friend “Wilson”? Check out a quick clip from the movie:

That’s how many of us live on writer’s island. We have an imaginary friend or two we chat with, we diligently work at our craft, and we celebrate alone when we achieve something. Sure, it’s great that we made fire wrote a book, but the endeavor involved just one person and no one was there to make or enjoy the fire with us. Even introverts, like me, can get lonely and feel a little lost.

Now let’s head to another island…

I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island…I mean, a LOT of Gilligan’s Island. To the point where you I can see the first scene and say things like, “This is the one where they put on a play, but Mary Ann gets hit in the head with a coconut and thinks she’s Ginger, so then Ginger has to be Mary Ann, and then . . .” I can also sing ALL of the lyrics to the theme song. Despite the years of mockery this show has endured, it has, well, endured.

Because Gilligan’s Island might actually be one of the best ways to be on a deserted island–with others. Sure, these people didn’t know they could become friends, but throw them on a tropical island with a broken boat, one radio, and a whole lot of palm trees, and pretty soon they’re doing okay. They want to be rescued, but as long as Ginger’s sequin dress lasts, they could stay a little longer.

Imagine Hanks with that fire. Wouldn’t that have been more fun with Gilligan and the gang? They could have danced a conga line around that bonfire!

When I started writing, I was on Cast Away Island. Then I found friends online–mainly through the We Are Not Alone (WANA) world. Kristen Lamb, Social Media Jedi and fearless leader of WANA, has helped to link hundreds of writers to each other and to readers. After reading her book and taking her class and following her advice, I have met–online and in person–some of the most supportive writers I could imagine. They are much more fun than Wilson.

Just like on Gilligan’s Island, WANA Island has writers with a wealth of knowledge like the Professor; some with fabulous resources like Thurston Howell III; some with constant encouragement and kindness like Mary Ann; and some who’ll share beauty tips book-writing tips with you like Ginger. In fact, this crew is better than Gilligan’s Island because I’m pretty sure if we were all stranded, my WANA friends would have a tiki bar up in no time serving up whatever you would like. The raft would be already made and sitting off in a corner ready for us to embark as soon as we were done having our fun.

Welcome to WANA Island!

I cannot stress how much I have learned and been encouraged by my relationships with the WANA (and ROW80) folks. If you want to bring in the New Year right, come join us for a TGI2013 Twitter party today from 5:00-9:00 CST at the #MyWANA hashtag!

Check out Jenny’s post with the details at her blog, More Cowbell.

Learn more about WANA at Kristen’s website from her post, Join the Love Revolution.

And see the current course line-up for WANA International.

Meanwhile, if you’re a WANA, let me know in the comments what this group has meant to you. And if you’re not, ask me anything about WANA, and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

And be sure to pop in tonight at the #MyWANA hashtag for our TGI2013 Twitter party!

High School Halls: Your Best Memory

Welcome to the last installment of my High School Halls series on this Deep-Fried Friday For this series, I’ve looked at high school then (when I was a teen in the ’80s) and high school now. If you want to check out any of these posts, click on the High School Halls tab on the menu bar.

Today’s subject is your best high school memory. I asked friends on Twitter and Facebook the opportunity to share their memories with me.

Here is a sampling:

Alica McKenna Johnson: This boy, Marc, came up to me in chem and said, ‘Alica if you ever want to date a real man let me know.’ I blinked and said, ‘do you know any real men?’ All the other girls were cracking up and the guys were snickering. It was great. Most of the time I think of great comebacks hours later, but I was in the zone. Lol.

Erin Brambilla: I loved competitions. We had them every Saturday during marching season. There’s something so fun about performing in front of a crowd (all there to appreciate band and not football ). And if I had to pinpoint one specific favorite band memory–it was probably when two of the older girls in band came up to me my sophomore year and told me I should try out for drum major. I probably wouldn’t have done it, but they said they thought I’d be good at it. So I tried out and I got it! And then I’d say telling my dad about getting the position was pretty awesome, too. I think he was just as excited as I was.

Donna GalantiProbably all the tricks I played on the nuns and skipping class.

Laura KreitzerLeaving!

Amber West I was an assistant to a first year teacher my Senior year. Lots of interesting memories from that one. 

Virginia Lori JenningsI was home-schooled… My favorite ‘high school memory’ is taking the pretest for the GED just to have the lady look at me with shock and awe when I turned in the math test so fast and then to tell me I scored higher than any of the other pretests she has seen in math. My look was of confused amazement…. Math is my weakest subject-> how bad is everyone else at math! 

Tiffany A. White:  It’s kinda sad, but the night we lost to our big football rivals our senior year. The players and trainers had grown so close over the previous three years, and that night our bonds showed. We sat in the weight room after the game, still in our game attire, and cried and hugged. It was one of the sweetest moments, even if we were all devastated.

August McLaughlinI had senioritis from sophomore year on, but adored all things music, writing and theater. Saving graces!

IJ VernSkipping classes to go play pool.

Christine Ashworth: Graduating. I never felt like I belonged in high school.

Catie RhodesGraduating? Never going back? LOL.

As for my best high school memories, they are mostly small incidents with friends–an encouraging comment, a fun evening out, a band or choir trip experience. One event, though, stands out for me–my senior prom. Here’s why:

  1. I didn’t go with anyone. I could have gotten a date, but I made the conscious decision to go alone and be the captain of my evening. I wore what I wanted, arrived when I wanted, danced as I wanted, left when I wanted. I treasure that choice because it demonstrated that I had finally realized that I could be happy without a relationship, that being me was far more important than being with anyone.
  2. My mother made my dress. She’s a talented seamstress, and in this case, dress designer. We talked about what I wanted, and she figured out how to make it. My dress was mirrored after Anita’s party dress from West Side Story, one of my favorite musicals.
  3. My father bought my corsage. Actually, it was a nosegay. However, I felt particularly special and loved when my dad presented me with a small bouquet of flowers that he had carefully chosen for my night. I knew in that moment that daddies love their daughters far more than any stinky ol’ high school boy could (unless, of course, that high school sweetheart ended up as your husband).
  4. I won Best Singer senior superlative. Among the Most Likely to Succeed and Best Couple awards was also girl and boy “Best Singer.” Although I was in choir, I had absolutely no anticipation that I would receive the award. It caught me off guard, in a tingle-to-my-toes kind of way.
  5. I spent the evening with good friends. I had a close group of friends and found plenty of guys to dance with. We chatted, laughed, and danced the night away. And my lovely girlfriends loaned me their dates when it came picture time. I have had great fun with this prom photo over the years, claiming that I had three dates instead of none.
My friends’ dates and ME
Senior Prom 1986

Perhaps that was foreshadowing of my current novel–SHARING HUNTER–in which Hunter Mills ends up at senior prom with two dates. I’m excited about this work in progress and love writing for teens.

Happy high school memories!

If you didn’t get a chance to share your best high school memory, please do so! What did/do you love/hate about the high school years?

High School Halls: Moving the Tassel, Throwing the Hat

We’re coming to the end of the year and the end of my High School Halls series, in which I’ve looked at how high school was when I was growing up (in the 1980’s) and how the experience is today.

So welcome to Deep-Fried Friday. Next week, we’ll celebrate a little, but first we have to cross the stage and get our diploma.

That Was Then

I graduated in May 1986 with 212 fellow seniors from Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas. There were several necessary components to the graduation experience. I’ll cover them in turn.

Senior Pictures. For grades 9 through 11, the yearbook published a black-and-white photo for each student. But for senior year, photographs looked far more professional and were printed in color. Those who didn’t like the picture from the school photographer, or those who wanted something different, had their own senior pictures taken. Here’s mine.

senior pic
Good gravy, I look so young!

Class Ring. Many seniors chose to get a ring with Class of 1986. The ring company came to school, made the pitch, and presented options. Rings were customized, money was spent, and students showed off their new jewelry with pride. Practical gal that I was, I passed. Never got a class ring–in high school or college.

grad announcementGraduation Announcement. The graduation announcements were all the same, with the same stilted language and the same fancy script. What we seniors each got to do was to add the little card with our name on it and then tuck the announcements into envelopes and mail them to people who cared. Or at least people we thought might give us something for finishing school.

Cap and Gown. To this day, I do not understand the fashion choice of paper-thin gowns and flat cardboard caps. Who looks good in that hat? I remember paying attention to what dress I would wear underneath, but that didn’t really matter. I was dressed like everyone else–in a maroon gown with a square plate on my head.

Pomp and Circumstance. That song goes on forever. At least it did at my graduation. Sir Edward Elgar, an English composer, wrote a series of Pomp and Circumstance marches, the first of which is used as the traditional graduation song. Its slow cadence and steady snare drum rhythm make it an appropriate song for the long ceremony that will follow.

Speeches. Traditionally, the valedictorian and salutatorian of the senior class are given the opportunity to speak to their fellow students. I did not say a word. I also have no idea what our female valedictorian or male salutatorian said, although I was friends with both of them from Honors English classes. I’m sure it was uplifting, forward-thinking, and profound.

Diploma. It’s just a certificate, but somehow having that diploma in hand is a wonderful feeling. However, at the graduation ceremony, all you get is a piece of parchment paper rolled up and secured with a ribbon. It’s a fake, and your real one won’t arrive until later.

Proud Family. Whether your parents were unsure if you’d ever get through school or whether you breezed through your four years, you hopefully had a proud parent or two hanging out to hear your name called. Some families were rather obnoxious, quite frankly, when their loved one was announced and they erupted into cheers like their child had won the Heisman or an Oscar. Others shed tears before, during, or after the ceremony. Still others got a pat on the back or a punch in the arm. It all counts as pride.

Celebration with Friends. Hopefully, you had a friend or two or twenty to share the excitement of finally finishing your thirteen years of primary and secondary schooling. I remember gathering with my friends–all of us wearing big smiles and 80’s hair. We didn’t break out into a chorus of We Go Together, but it was a fun moment nonetheless.

Grad w friends

One more thought on my graduation: Looking through my mementos, I saw that I led the school song with another student. I have no recall of that. It was nice to see my name on the program, though!

This Is Now

I did a little online research and interviewed a good friend who is approaching graduation with her teenager. According to my friend, graduation preparation now happens earlier and bigger. It’s the same as our graduation, “but on steroids.” Indeed, she estimated that the total cost of all of the graduation activities and swag for her daughter would likely land somewhere around $2,000. Ouch.

Senior Pictures. This is big industry now. Not only are teens getting head shots, photographers now have graduation-themed props, several scenes and wardrobe changes, and packages easily ranging in the hundreds. The cheapest photo package at my friend’s school was $229…and that is from the school-scheduled photographer. Unless you can also use your photos to get a modeling gig, this seems like a lot of money to me.

Class Ring. We ordered class rings maybe between junior and senior year, but now senior rings are offered in the junior year. It makes sense to wear them longer, but it also means that you start paying for graduation long before you ever finish classes.

Graduation Announcement. There is the standard school announcement but you can add to that design, with photos or other flair. Unfortunately, you will still have to load and lick your own envelopes.

Cap and Gown. I’m advocating right now that we stop the madness and not require future teens to wear the flat hat. How about no hat? So far, however, the cap and gown remain a part of the graduation experience. Yet the fabric has improved. The material seems to be sturdier–although I don’t know why. You’ll only wear that gown once.

Pomp and Circumstance. No dubstep version yet. Stay tuned.

Speeches. Love to Know Teens gives sample topics for graduation speeches. Their suggestions? “How We’ll Measure These Years,” “The Future Is in Our Hands,” and “A Debt of Gratitude.” But really, once the administrator passes over the microphone, they’ve lost say in what happens next. It’s a fascinating high school tradition that the teachers turn over the mic to students and let them say (or sing) whatever.

Diploma. Whether your class has 30 people or 300, commencement still includes the calling of each name and the student crossing the stage to shake an administrator’s hand and grab a diploma. But be careful, your real diploma can be denied if you misbehave at the commencement ceremony. Check out some of the headlines I found while researching:

Oklahoma High School Valedictorian Denied Diploma for Using “Hell” in Speech

Cheering at Graduation Leads to Arrest, Diplomas Denied

Teen Denied Diploma after Tebow-ing

Denial for misbehavior is usually temporary, contingent on an apology or penance of some sort. But still, don’t you want to grab that certificate and go when you’re done?

Proud Family. Some things don’t change. In fact, for those families who are spending up to $2k or beyond to graduate their kids, seeing the senior walk across the stage should evoke a thrill or at least a huge sigh of relief. If you are graduating, just get ready for your parents and family members to smile or cry a lot. It goes with the territory.

Celebration with Friends. Going with the bigger theme these days, some teenagers really invest in the big night. They may enjoy a night on the town, rent a condo on the beach, or take a vacation with friends to celebrate the end of the high school era. As usual, be responsible, however you choose to entertain yourselves. This time is also the beginning of a new–and hopefully wonderful–era.

What do you remember about high school graduation? What are graduations like now? How have things changed or stayed the same?

High School Halls: The Soundtrack of Our Teens

Welcome to another High School Halls post on Deep-Fried Friday. I’ve been taking an extended look at aspects of the high school years, both then (when I attended in the 80’s) and now.

Today’s topic is a fun one: Music.

Of course, what you experience in any generation of music depends on what you listen to. Are you a country music fan? A punk rocker? A folk follower? Do you turn your radio to pop, rap, or R&B? If I ask two different kids what music characterized their teenage years, their soundtracks would be different.

But certain songs carry weight in the moment and in our memories. Certain music artists connect with what we feel and experience. Certain tunes or lyrics can spark a visceral reaction.

I’ll be covering music from my teens, but I’m a bit lost on the current music scene. Thankfully, Gavin, teenage son of YA author Coleen Patrick, agreed to let me interview him on today’s music scene. First, me . . .

That Was Then

What trends characterized my teen years?

Hard rock/heavy metal became mainstream with bands like: Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns & Roses, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Metallica, Motley Crue, Pat Benatar, Van Halen, and Whitesnake.

Guns N Roses
Guns N Roses

Rap music took hold with artists like: Beastie Boys, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, and Run D.M.C.

New wave became the music of nightclubs and videos with the likes of: The B-52’s, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Devo, Duran Duran, Erasure, Eurythmics, Flock of Seagulls, Talking Heads, and Yaz.

Soft rock singers included: Air Supply, Alan Parsons Project, Chris Isaak, Christopher Cross, Peter Cetera (Chicago), Lionel Richie, and Whitney Houston.

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston

Rock-n-roll in its basic form was brought back by artists like: Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams, Huey Lewis & the News, John Mellencamp, and Steve Winwood.

And then there were general Pop artists like: Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, The Go-Go’s, The Police, Prince, and U2.

Looking at the mainstream pop world, I think three M’s deserve a spotlight: Michael, Madonna, and MTV. They are intertwined, of course, because Madonna and Michael Jackson likely wouldn’t have experienced their vast success and become the King and Queen of 80’s Pop without being able to show their dance moves, their fashion, and their creativity.

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson

MTV launched in August 1981 and, in my opinion, set the tone for the whole decade. Suddenly, we could see the music artists–not just a photo on an album cover or in a magazine, or those few who attended a concert. The masses saw them perform, in whatever way they wished to present their songs.

The top-selling artists of the decade, however, didn’t all have choreographers. Here are the top 10 by most #1 songs:

Steve Wonder (4)
Prince (4)
Bon Jovi (4)
Lionel Richie (5)
George Michael (5)
Hall & Oates (5)
Whitney Houston (7)
Phil Collins (7)
Madonna (7)
Michael Jackson (9)

Who were my favorites? What was my soundtrack? Well, my music taste ran the gamut (and still does). I liked everything from Janet Jackson to Rick Springfield to Rush (all concerts I attended). I never got into rap music, though. And I spent some of that decade discovering artists like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, David Bowie, Harry Belafonte (saw him in concert too), Fleetwood Mac, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Led Zeppelin.

Maybe my taste is best seen by which 80’s artists I have music from. In my CD collection, you’ll find Kate Bush, Janet Jackson, John Mellencamp, Journey, Huey Lewis & the News, Peter Gabriel, Steve Winwood, and Yes. However, I really miss the cassettes I once owned of Genesis, ‘Til Tuesday, Robert Palmer, and Rush.

I also attended concerts by the following 80’s artists: Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis & the News, Janet Jackson (twice), Rod Stewart, Rush, Tina Turner, and Yes. I know I’m missing a couple, but memory fails.

This Is Now

G sings
Gavin, our teen music expert

Gavin has eclectic taste and a music background. He participates in chorus, an acapella group, and the music production club at school. He also plays the piano.

Welcome, Gavin! What trends do you see in music for teens today? What music styles are popular?

Pop with electro-dance influences, like dubstep which was very popular last year. Indie music with folk influences, like Mumford & Sons.

I had to look up “dubstep.” Good to  know.

How do most teens listen to music? What are their sources for trying out a new artist or listening to their favorites?

I listen to music using my iPod or YouTube. Spotify is another popular app for listening to music. Pandora is good for discovering new music too.

Do teenagers still attend concerts regularly? Why or why not?

Yes. Even though music is very accessible these days, you can’t recreate the live experience.

I agree. Have YouTube and shows like American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor affected today’s music? Do they seem to matter to teens?

YouTube for sure. In my opinion, TV hasn’t made big impact on teens.

Who are your own favorites? What music or artists would you put in the soundtrack to your teen years?

My favorites right now are Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra. It’s kind of unusual but I’ve been into jazz for the past year and I like to sing that type of music. Some of the artists that I listened to over the last couple of years include Red, Dead Poetic, Chevelle, Bare Noize, The Avett Brothers, Ben Kweller, and Story of the Year.

Thanks so much, Gavin! I enjoy Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra. I didn’t know anyone else! Guess I’ve been living under a rock or listening to my old music too much. (Okay, yeah, today I listened to The Best of Pat Benatar. *shrug*)

Just in case my readers are not aware either, here are a couple of songs from artists Gavin named–Chevelle and Story of the Year.

If you have any idea what this song means, let me know.

Liked everything but the screaming. (Does that make me old?)

Now it’s your turn! What would the soundtrack to your teen years include?

Sources: Billboard, Rolling Stone, Rotten Tomatoes, Rapworld, Like Totally 80s, Yahoo-Top Twenty New Wave Bands-Part 1, Yahoo-Top Twenty New Wave Bands-Part 2, Yahoo-Ultimate 80s Soft Rock Playlist, Nostalgia Cafe

High School Halls: The Hairstyles

I’m back on a Deep-Fried Friday with another installment in my High School Halls series. I’m taking a look at the teenage years back when I experienced them and now.

Lori FreelandA few weeks ago, I covered the fashion trends, but I stated that hair would need its own post. Today young adult author Lori Freeland joins me to talk about hairstyles, then and now. I recently met Lori at a Margie Lawson workshop hosted by the Houston Writers Guild. She’s even more delightful in person (and has beautiful hair).

Welcome, Lori! So thrilled to have you here.

Thanks for asking me! We went to high school at the same time, so this should be fun.

That Was Then

Flock of Seagulls. Yep, that’s where I want to start. Because when I think about all of the crazy hairdos of the 1980s when I was in high school, this is the picture that comes to mind:

Can you explain this? What were we thinking?

Were we trying to mix genders? Or maybe switch them? Not sure.  I do know my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband, liked the Duran Duran look.

What hairdos were popular when you were in high school? Did they have anything in common?

Big hair. I had a tight perm than I teased the crap out of it. I do have to say, my best hair? Eighties big when the perm had grown out halfway.

Lori big hair

Do any celebrity hairstyles stand out as getting a lot of attention back then?

Madonna was hot when I was in high school. Whatever she did, we did. The high side ponytail comes to mind. Along with the mandatory leg warmers. Not sayin’ I ever sported either.

Lori side ponytail
*slightly embarrassed grin*

What was your usual hairstyle? Did you do ever anything unusual with your hair?

Big and bold. I had Texas hair in Wisconsin. In the picture of me in the red dress, there’s more hair than girl!

Lori red dress

What hairstyle tools were imperative for a teenager living in the 1980s? What did we need to get the right look?

Like a said, a perm provided a great foundation. Add a sturdy comb for teasing and a huge bottle of extra-hold Aqua Net. A curling iron and hot rollers always sat on my bathroom counter.

My hair is too fine and too straight, so I could never achieve the big hair look. Perms fell out in less than a month! Here’s one of my 80’s looks–not very “in,” I’m sure.

10th grade

This Is Now

I have noticed that girls aren’t getting perms these days; they are straightening their hair instead. What do you notice most about hairstyles today versus the hairstyles of our past?

We definitely went from one extreme to the other—super high to super sleek. Although neither look is wash-and-wear. We use flat irons now in place of hot rollers and perms.

Yeah, you know Selena's hair got flat-ironed here.
Yeah, you know Selena’s hair got flat-ironed here.

What about the guys versus the girls? What characterizes their hairstyles?

There will always be the guys that keep their hair long and I have to say, some of those guys are hot. But gone are the feathery styles and mullets. Girls are wearing their hair more “guy short” these days and the crop looks great—on some girls. I will never be a short hair girl. I think guy hair runs the gamut from sport short to boy band long.

What current celebrities inspire teens’ hairstyles?

I think whatever is popular in Hollywood and on the cover of People magazine eventually trickles down. Everything from royalty and Princess Kate to pop and Pink. There are so many choices and bold seems to rock.

Princess Kate
Princess Kate
Pink (pic by Corbuzon, Wikimedia Commons)
Pink (pic by Corbuzon, Wikimedia Commons)

What hairstyle tools should a teenager have in his/her bathroom cabinet today? What do they need to get the right look?

I’ve moved on from Aqua Net, but I do still own a bottle of pump hairspray and a set of hot rollers. The rollers mostly live under my sink but some days they emerge. Tools now are wide-tooth combs, diffusers, bed head type products, and of course the flat iron.

Thanks for coming by, Lori! Maybe someday you can show me how to get the proper tease going. 🙂

Wild at Heart Volume 2Lori Freeland is a Young Adult author that lives in the Dallas area. In addition to being addicted to flavored coffee with just the right amount of cream, she’s a little obsessed with imaginary people.

Lori’s short story, “Refugee” can be found in the Wild at Heart, Volume II, anthology for young adults.

What do you remember from hairstyles in high school? What are high schoolers sporting today? What grooming tools are a must for your look?

High School Halls: Dating, Young Love, and Breaking Up

Teen Love
Remember Me (2010)

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday and my High School Halls series. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome a guest to my blog to discuss high school dating, young love, and breaking up. Lydia Sharp is the author of the young adult romantic comedy novella, TWIN SENSE, now out from Musa Publishing’s Euterpe Imprint.

So Lydia, let’s talk about our young love first and then how things are today.

Parents often set rules for their kids dating. For me, I had to be sixteen years old, the guy had to call (because I wasn’t allowed to call boys unless they were at boyfriend status), and I had a curfew. What rules, if any, did you have for dating in high school?

My parents’ dating rules were very simple: don’t do it! Of course, I rebelled against that one, and I still think it was a stupid rule. Telling a teenager they aren’t allowed to be social and fall in love is like telling water it isn’t allowed to be wet.

Did you date a lot in high school? Or perhaps have a single long love during those teenage years?

No, I wouldn’t say I dated “a lot.” I was very very shy. But even so, boys were always giving me attention (which was not always a good thing, but we won’t discuss that today). When I was a sophomore, I met a guy who I still refer to as “my first love.” Unfortunately, I started seeing him at the same time I was dating someone else. He was “the other guy,” if you know what I mean. But we had to keep it secret and that was hard. Oh and did I mention the two of them were friends? That’s how we met, actually, we were all in the same circle of friends. I know, it sounds like something straight out of a YA rom-com. This stuff really happens!

Then in the middle of that school year my family moved away and the long-distance thing was even harder than keeping us a secret. We went from seeing each other every day at school to never seeing each other at all. I found out, through him and a few other close friends, that my boyfriend was with someone new only a week after I’d left. “The other guy” kept in contact through letters and phone calls (this was in the 90s; email was still new and texting didn’t exist) but we drifted apart, and after high school we both married other people. I’m not sorry for this, though. I love my husband more than I ever loved “the other guy.”

Do you remember your first kiss? What was wonderful or awful about that first kiss?

First kiss
Hunger Games (2012)

If you mean my first kiss ever, there isn’t much to tell. I was seven years old and did it on a dare. The boy in question ran away immediately afterwards. But if you mean my first *real* kiss, then…

Yes, I remember. It was very awkward. I didn’t know how to hold my head, or where to put my lips, or how much pressure to apply, and then there’s the whole tongue issue. I also felt like my nose was always getting in the way. I have a big Italian nose, but if my ancestors could kiss then darnit so could I. There’s so much to worry about, you can’t really enjoy it. But fortunately, most people get better with practice (same goes for sex). And even though it’s awkward and not as good as subsequent kisses, the thrill of a first kiss is almost wonderful enough to outweigh all of that. Almost.

A typical date was dinner and a movie, but sometimes a guy would get creative. Do you have any particularly memorable dating experiences from high school?

I never had the typical “dinner and a movie” date until after high school when I started dating my husband. During high school we mostly did stuff in groups. Not necessarily parties, just groups of about four or more. If we had the chance to sneak off alone, we would, but we couldn’t do much in the way of “going out places” because none of us had any money. We would go bowling (it’s cheap!) or hang out at a pool hall (also cheap!) or just crash at someone’s house (the cheapest of all!). We always had fun, but there is nothing really memorable about this. It’s just the way it was.

Sometimes young love is brushed off as being less important than adult love, but young hearts are passionate. And they break when a relationship comes to an end. Tell a story of how your best or worst handling of a break-up.

Let’s rewind back to when I was dating a guy and seeing his friend at the same time… when I found out he was with someone else almost immediately after I moved away, without so much as a phone call to tell me this himself, yeah, that hurt, even though I never truly loved him. There were times when I thought I loved him, though, and we did have a lot of fun together. We shared a lot of the same interests. He’d even given me a promise ring, and written me a goodbye poem that brought him to tears when he read it to me. I thought he loved me, so when I found out he didn’t, it was brutal.

I cried a lot, which also made me feel guilty because I was still keeping in regular contact with “the other guy.” Confusion, guilt, misery, and falling in love with someone else at the same time, do not make for a good emotional mix. On top of that, I was at a new school and extremely shy. I made no real friends until the following school year.

This was a very dark time for me, and I was only fifteen. So yeah, it does upset me when I hear adults say that teenagers are being overly dramatic when they get upset over a breakup. They obviously don’t remember or just never experienced it for themselves, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Your own book is about dating, young love, and break-ups. Who are the main players in TWIN SENSE, and how is their world thrown off balance?

The four main characters are Kevin and Keith (identical twin brothers), and Layna and Sherri (the twins’ girlfriends). Layna is the main character; the story is told through her eyes and mind. Early on, Sherri breaks up with Keith, and Kevin tries to get closer to Layna by giving her a promise ring. Shortly afterward, Layna and Sherri start spending more time together and develop feelings for each other, so now Layna is torn between affections and both choices seem good. It’s a tough spot to be in.

There are also some other things in the story that directly relate to high school dating, and how ridiculous social expectations can be. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, though.

How did you get into the head of a teenager and how he/she would feel as their relationships change?

I do my best to draw on my own experiences and feelings from that time of life, and combine that with what I see in teens today. The rest is an unexplainable magic.

Why do you enjoy writing about young adult romance? What’s special about that time with romantic relationships?

Everything about being a teen is thrilling. You’re not really a kid anymore, and you’re still trying to figure out how to be an adult. Your hormones are on crack, but romance isn’t your only passion. You have plans to change the world because you’re still young enough to have the time and energy required to make it happen. You dream a lot. You fantasize. You’re scared and nervous one second, bold and courageous the next.

But my favorite thing is that the teen years can be where you experience real love for the first time. You will remember your first love for the rest of your life, even if you don’t stay together into adulthood. That person carries a piece of your heart with them forever, and you carry a piece of theirs. It’s a huge, delicate privilege, not to be taken lightly. And there are so many different ways people can find each other and fall in love, despite their relationship being tested. I just love creating stories that allow readers to enjoy that experience over and over and over again.

Thanks so much to Lydia Sharp for talking with us about dating, young love, and breaking up. Check out her book and share about your teen dating days in the comments!

Twin Sense: As girlfriends of the Taylor twins, Layna and Sherri have only been friends by association. But when Sherri breaks up with Keith (for real this time), and Kevin gives Layna a promise ring (whoa, what?), Layna’s whole world spins off balance. She avoids Kevin’s unwelcome pressure to commit by spending more time with Sherri.

Without the twins around, Layna and Sherri are tempted to go beyond friendship status. Then Keith tries to win Sherri back, and Kevin apologizes for rushing Layna. Now she’s stuck inside a double-trouble love quadrangle that has her reaching for the consolation cheesecake. The only way to sort out this mess is to make an impossible choice—between the one she wants and the other one she wants—or she might end up with no one.

Lydia Sharp is a novelist and short fiction author who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. Then she got tired of finding sand in her clothes so she moved further inland, but she’ll always call Ohio home. Laughing is her favorite pastime. Kissing is a close second.

For Lydia’s published and upcoming fiction, click HERE.

Lydia is also a regular contributor to the Write It Sideways blog and the award-winning Writer Unboxed blog.



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