My Writing Process: Vlog Edition

My lovely friend and author extraordinaire Christina Delay tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Hop. Christina writes fabulous young adult novels with a mythological bent. If you want to check out her writing process, click here.

Since I’d written before about my writing process, I decided to give this one a go through video. Hope you enjoy my vlog answers!

I’m tagging three writers, all of whom I recently saw at the RWA Conference in San Antonio: Diana Beebe, Callene Rapp, and Angela Quarles. As usual, if you’ve already participated or want to pass, feel free to skip.

The questions:

  1. What are you working on right now?
  2. How does your writing differ from others in your genre?
  3. Why do you write what you do?
  4. How does your writing process work?

Readers, feel free to answer any of those questions below!

The Paranormal Playground: Cover Reveal

I’ve been talking on my blog about short stories I plan to self-publish this year. Well, the first one is coming out very soon. Sometime this month.

Each of these six stories is a young adult paranormal told from the point of view of a teenage girl. Beyond that, they don’t really have much in common. Indeed, I’ve named the series the Paranormal Playground*, because that’s how it feels — like I toured the playground of the paranormal, spending a little time with demons and then fairies and then ghosts and so on.

The first story released will be My Sister’s Demon, and I’m thrilled to share the cover and the blurb. I feel like there should be a drumroll, so just imagine a bbbrrrrrrrrr pish in your head, please.

Book cover for My Sister's Demon short story

Every teenager thinks her older sibling is possessed, but Courtney’s actually is. When big sister Nickie shifts from sweet homecoming queen to evil mischief-maker, Courtney alone discovers the true source of change—demon possession. With Hell invading her home and no one to turn to, is she seriously the only one who can exorcise her sister’s demon?

Cover by Book Cover Corner

That’s it! I hope to release one story every 4-6 weeks and at the end put out a box set. It’s been a challenge and a joy writing short stories. I’m eager to share them with readers!

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. Finished Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro. By the way, I don’t know how this YA contemporary novel got on my radar, but I really enjoyed it. 4 of 12 done.

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Well, I’m on fire for this goal now! Here’s where I struggle about announcing good news: I never want to come across as bragging (because I totally hate that). But hey, I submitted the first chapter to the Utah RWA Great Beginnings Contest and received 1st place. And that’s exactly the impetus I need to get me back into the story to polish it up and send it off! A bit of progress.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. I was struggling with a plot hole on one story and finally figured out the problem involved my not understanding my antagonist well enough. At the suggestion of fellow writers, I wrote the murder scene from the point of view of the villain. It was an exercise just for me, and I felt sick to my stomach when I was done. But yeah, great writing exercise — because it totally cleared up some questions. When I returned to the story, things fell into place, I fixed the plot hole, and I got through one full edit. Major progress!

4. Publish and promote two short stories. Tweaked the book cover with my designer and chose colors for each short story. This series of shorts will have a standard image book cover, with variations of tone and title to distinguish them. I’m hoping to release the first short, My Sister’s Demon, in mid-May. On track!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited 10 blogs this week. Done!

*Major thanks to Melinda VanLone for suggesting this title while we were brainstorming together. It fits perfectly!

Synchronized Swimming and Novel-Writing

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. This past week, I attended an Immersion Master Class with writing coach Margie Lawson and seven other writers.

While in our immersion experience, I analogized writing to synchronized swimming–which got quite a bit of agreement from my fellow authors.

Synchronized Swimming Team
By Pierre-Yves Beaudouin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Above the water are women with perfectly made-up faces, happy smiles, and poised bodies, while below the surface are constant movement, coordination, and control.

Reading a brilliant novel should be effortless. Readers know when it’s not–when something pops out as inconsistent, unbelievable, boring, or hackneyed. We know when the novel isn’t doing its job. But writing the novel that appears effortless takes real effort.

“It’s hard work to make a four-minute program look effortless and elegant.” – Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt

What does that effort entail? Here are some takeaways from my immersion experience.

Every word matters. Every word/phrase must push the story forward or inform the reader about the setting, character, or point of view. It’s easy to get lazy and include passages that sound lovely or describe the character, but don’t really matter in the overall scheme of the story.

In a well-written story, anything and everything can do double-duty. The weather in a setting can convey the mood of the scene or the characters. The way a person is described can illuminate the reader not only about the character described but the perception of the character doing the describing–the POV narrator. What do they notice? The dialogue and cues show what characters reveal to others as well as their subtext, creating tension for the reader.

Here’s a before-after example of lazy writing vs. revealing writing from my WIP, a young adult contemporary novel titled Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: “No time to lose,” Chloe said. “Did you see those other girls tonight? The vultures are circling.”

AFTER: “Hey, no time to lose.” Chloe blew a smoke ring that hovered in the air before it broke apart and disappeared. “Carpe diem, and all that.”

In the first example, the message is there. Chloe is impatient and wanting to move forward. But the latter version tells you a lot more about her character. She’s a high school girl who’s not only smoking a tobacco pipe, but she’s taken the time to master blowing a smoke ring. She quotes the Latin phrase Carpe Diem, but brushes it away with the “all that.” You get a far better sense of who she is.

It takes longer to write version #2 (And who knows? There may be a version #3), but now the dialogue passage pulls its weight.

Rhetorical devices are an indispensable tool. Most of us know rhetorical devices like simile, alliteration, and allusion. But have you ever heard of epistrophe? Anadiplosis? Zeugma? These rhetorical devices are taught by Margie Lawson through her lecture packets, online courses, and in Immersion Master Class. When used well, they bring the writing to a deeper level.

Without telling you what zeugma is, here’s a before-after comparison from another scene in Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: Couples weave through each other, holding hands and punch cups.

AFTER:  Couples wove through the crowd in tuxedos and dresses, grasping hands and punch cups and memories.

The first is descriptive; you see what’s happening. But the latter goes deeper, gives the reader a better sense of the mood of the prom with high-schoolers all swanked-up and taking mental snapshots that will last a lifetime. Didn’t you grasp a few memories from your prom? I did.

Time and persistence are key. There is a perception among non-writers–and sadly among some writers–that books can be turned out within a few short weeks or months. I heartily disagree. I can get a first draft out rather quickly, but a novel that sings takes far longer. Winston Churchill once said, “Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential.”

It takes time and persistence–continuous effort–to go through draft after draft making sure that you have created the best novel you can. And with life’s distractions and other story ideas tugging at us, it’s hard to keep that proverbial nose-to-the-grindstone attitude and push through.

Yet a well-written novel is a testament to language and beauty and the very best that humanity has to offer. Whether that novel is a literary masterpiece or a frolic-in-the-pages beach read, readers will savor that extra effort under the surface, even if they never see what’s going on in the deep end.

Community is a beautiful thing. One of the highlights was spending the week with some lovely ladies whose novels I can’t wait to read! I shared the immersion experience with Elizabeth Essex, Sylvia McDaniel, Chris Keniston, Christina Henderson, Jaye Wells, Lori Freeland, and Kathleen Baldwin. Not only were they a marvelous group of women and writers, but they helped me with several spots in my own novel.

Being able to walk in and say, “Does this passage work?” and get their feedback was awesome. In particular, they helped me turn one meh phrase into something awesome enough that three teenage girls (my target audience) later responded with, “YEAH!” It helped to have input–not simply from others, but from writers dedicated to craft.

I’ve been so blessed with the community I’ve met through Margie Lawson’s Immersion Class, through the #MyWANA community, and through the ROW80 writing challenge.

And thus, I transition to posting my final progress report on this round of ROW80.

ROW80 Update

  • Read 8 fiction books. Done. I read 11 this round.
  • Read one craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. I finished half of this book and will read the rest in the next round.
  • Visit and comment on ROW80 blogs as a Round 2 sponsor. I missed two weeks, but otherwise I did well. If you’re on the fence about being an ROW80 sponsor, give it a shot!
  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. Done.
  • Complete round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY SHARING HUNTER. I got about 3/4 done, but given what I’ve learned this week, I’ll be rewriting/editing again. But now I’m eager to get going and feel a renewed excitement about this story!
  • Write one short story. Done.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Just didn’t do this one. My bad.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May. Done.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Done.

What have you learned about writing/editing recently? How was your ROW80  round? What compels you as a reader to keep reading?

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?

Christmas Song and Belated #ROW80 Update

Santa Baby, slip a laptop under the tree
For me
Been an awful good girl
Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa Baby, a literary agent or two
To argue
Over my stunning debut
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Think of I’ve the fun I’ve missed
Think of all the social invitations I dissed
Next NaNoWriMo I could write just as good
If you’d check off my Christmas list

Santa baby, I want a spot
In Amazon’s shop, the top
Been an angel all year
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa honey, there’s one thing I really do need
A lead
On a six-figure deal
Santa honey, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa cutie, fill my stocking with royalty checks
What’s next?
I’ll sign my X on the line
Santa cutie, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With shiny book covers for my trilogy
I really do believe in you
Let’s see if you believe in me

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing
A string
Of movies made from my books
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry, tonight

ROW80 Update

My goals were a bit fluid this round, but here’s a summary of what I accomplished.

Writing & Editing

  • Posted three times a week: Sunday ROW80 updates, Amazing Words Wednesdays, and Deep-Fried Fridays.
  • Interviewed four guests for my blog.
  • Wrote one short story and submitted it to an open request for an anthology.
  • Wrote a couple of chapters on another short story.
  • Rewrote one-fourth of SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel.
  • Started a young adult mystery, the first of THE PK MYSTERIES (Everyone know what a “PK” is?). The novel stands at 23,549 words.



  • Read seven fiction books, one non-fiction book, and two short stories.
  • Read 5,129 blog posts. Okay, not really, but I know there were a lot of great posts I read during this round.


  • Exercised, then pulled a calf muscle, then exercised a little–nothing really worth patting me on the back for.
  • Sorted through numerous pictures and came within a few pages of finishing a family scrapbook.

I didn’t accomplish my biggest goal of rewriting SHARING HUNTER. But a few weeks in, I discovered some issues in the novel that I needed to think through and resolve before I pounded out another full draft.

I had been feeling frustrated that I didn’t knock that goal out. But when I made that list above, it sunk in what I’ve said to other ROWers before: Even you I don’t accomplish all of your original goals, you can make a lot of progress with A Round of Words in 80 Days. I did far more than I realized.

I will be back for ROW80 in 2013. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

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?

What You (Don’t) Need for Christmas and #ROW80

I’ve been out in the stores lately shopping for a few more Christmas gifts. As I’ve taken a look around, I’ve seen many awesome gift ideas. However, there are also many items on sales racks and displays that make you wonder who exactly thinks they must purchase such a thing for a loved one or friend.

Cooking with Beer cookbook

So that’s what my cooking has been missing! I have actually enjoyed beer-battered shrimp a few times, but I’m sure there are many other uses. If you give this gift, you might want to include a six-pack with it. (from Barnes & Noble)

Dog Santa Costume

Perhaps it’s that I own cats instead of dogs (and no self-respecting cat would ever allow himself to be used as a dress-up doll), but is this really what your pup needs? Albeit if they can pull off this look with a pair of black leather boots, I will be impressed. (from PetSmart)

Deer Wine Bottle Holder

Now wine is usually an upscale drink, so the idea of this orange-vested deer holding the next bottle to be served to guests is, well, odd. Bass Pro Shops must have instinctively known this; thus, the substitution of a margarita bottle instead. (from Bass Pro Shops)

Yard-O-Beef (Beef Summer Sausage)

Because who doesn’t need an entire yard of beef? Move over, Hickory Farms, we don’t need your cute-sized cheeses and meats anymore. We can get a whole 3 feet of beef! (from Sam’s Club)

Elf boxers

Not to be outdone by your pet (see above), you might need your own pair of Christmas-themed boxers. Forget the fat man, though; you always dreamed of being an elf, right? By the way, they are velvety for that cozy winter feel. (from Walmart)

Moving on from presents to progress, here’s my regularly writing goals update:

ROW80 Update

Editing: SHARING HUNTER, young adult contemporary novel.

  • Complete full rewrite. One-fourth of the way through. On hold for a little while, as I work out some plot kinks.



  • Write two short stories. Sent a short story to three beta readers and got feedback. Edited and polished it up for submission. Sent it in to the anthology judges. Then wrote 1,167 words on a second short story.
  • Write 3,000 words per week on young adult novel. Not sure of the working title, but it’s murder mystery with a preacher’s daughter as the protagonist. Worked on the short stories instead, and I’m okay with that.


  • Nothing special here. Just read. A lot. Finished Wicked Sense, a YA paranormal by Fabio Bueno. Highly recommend it!

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Took a long walk with the hubby on Saturday (to and from the library). 
  • Sort through photos and complete at least one album. (I stopped scrapbooking five years ago, and it’s piled up into a big mess. Moving into digital albums.) Woo-hoo! I got quite a bit done here. I completed several scrapbook pages, plus I finally ordered a photo album online that is realistic in terms of my current habits.

I can’t believe we’re so close to (1) the end of ROW80; (2) the end of the year; and (3) the end of the world. I’m unprepared for them all! Hey, I just put my Christmas tree up yesterday.

So how was your week’s progress? And what present ideas have you seen while shopping that made you smile or laugh out loud?

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: Holidays

I’ve been looking at high school then and now with my High School Halls series here on Deep-Fried Friday. Since it’s Thanksgiving week and students are almost all out for a holiday break, I thought I’d look at holidays today.

Also, since you’re on holiday, I decided to make this brief and just give y’all a quick reference chart.

That Was Then This Is Now What’s Changed
Labor Day Labor Day Not much. Some schools start in August and get this holiday, and other schools don’t start until after Labor Day.
Columbus Day Teacher In-service Day Columbus goes from hero to plunderer in the history books, so we rename it. But teachers still need a break from students after only one month with them.
Thanksgiving Holidays Thanksgiving Holidays 2 to 2½ days becomes 3 days to a full week. Preparing the turkey dinner or planning your Black Friday strategy takes time.
Christmas Holidays Winter Break Keeping the name neutral, most people still purchase trees and make Santa lists.
  Martin Luther King Day The man with a fabulous dream is recognized as a national civil rights hero.
Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays Presidents’ Day Perhaps the other 40+ presidents felt left out.
Spring Break Spring Break As far as I can tell, nothing’s changed here. Don’t mess with a good thing!
Good Friday Spring Holiday This holiday shifts around in March/April as it is set according to the Jewish calendar. It was originally a Catholic holiday commemorating the death of Jesus. Sunday is either the day Christ rose and/or the day the Bunny delivers chocolate.
Memorial Day Memorial Day A day to honor soldiers, whether they were World War II and Vietnam soldiers in my teens or casualties of more recent wars in Middle East now.
Summer Vacation Summer Vacation Except for those of you who are in year-round school, in which case this whole chart is wrong.

My district also let out for three days in January for the livestock show and rodeo. I was tempted to list that, but I’m guessing few schools follow suit. Our school simply had too many students involved in FFA and FHA to hold classes. What did the rest of us non-rodeoers do during those three days? Why, we went to the livestock show, of course!

So what holidays did/does your school honor with a holiday break? Do you have any suggestions for changes to your school’s schedule? What holidays do you wish schools would acknowledge?

High School Halls: What If High School Sucks

Throughout this High School Halls series on Deep-Fried Friday, I’ve waxed nostalgic about various topics like fashion, school spirit, football, friendship, and dances. However, plenty of you have shared that high school was not an exciting time for you. These were not your glory days. You lived under the radar or rebelled against the system. You wouldn’t want to go back for anything, and you’re glad you’re out.

Yeah, it’s true. For some people, high school sucks.

If it didn’t suck sometimes, young adult authors wouldn’t have nearly so much to write about or readers who could relate to a main character’s struggles.

For myself, I didn’t hate high school. It was fine. But when I graduated, I was done. I didn’t look back. I moved on. In fact, I was MIA from the reunion committee for almost 20 years. I had a mixture of good and bad, and my future looked better so I put my focus there.

Twenty years later, I discovered that my high school friends are worth keeping up with, but I covered that in the post about my high school reunion.

So what do you do when high school sucks?

If high school already happened, you probably pushed it to the side of your memory. Tried to forget about the loneliness or the hurt or the feelings that you didn’t fit in or the desire to study at your own pace or the sense that none of this mattered anyway. You started marking time when you got out of high school or sometime after that–when your life was in your own hands and you could make it what you wanted.

Some people harbor feelings of hurt and resentment about things that happened in high school. Perhaps they were the victim of bullying or taunting, or the carrier of a broken heart from unrequited teenage love, or the teen who was woefully underestimated by staff and students alike. Those feelings can follow you into the future. Frank Peretti wrote a book titled The Wounded Spirit which friends have recommended for those who still carry pain from their past.

But what if you’re smack dab in the midst of the misery? What then?

Define yourself. I’m repeating this point that I found on a funny video called How to Survive High School (yes, it’s worth a click). But it is true. Whether you are popular or a misfit, the people that seem to have fared best in the long run are those who didn’t have regrets about who they were. They figured out their identity not as a negative reaction to others around them or to cliques that invited them in or family or teacher expectations; they had a sense of self based on what they were good at, what they enjoyed, what interested them, and what made them unique.

Discover friends. You don’t need a whole posse, but you should have friends. If you’re struggling in that area, expand your sights. Believe me, there is someone else at your school who would like to befriend you. Get involved in an extra-curricular activity (most schools have numerous sports and clubs) to find friends with similar interests or look for the loner at the lunch table. You might not hit it off, but you might. I met one of my best college friends when I forgot to bring my pen to an essay test and borrowed one from her. Small thing . . . one conversation led to another . . . still friends.

Develop yourself. Yes, you have to take English and math and history, etc. But you should have a little wiggle room in your schedule to find a class or activity that develops your talents. You’ll fare better at school if you have something to look forward to–your drama class, the tennis tournaments, yearbook staff, student council, etc. Even if your thing is jamming in your basement with an electric guitar or drawing anime comics, look for opportunities to use those talents at school. If you don’t know where to start, find your favorite teacher or the school counselor and start asking questions. You’re in high school anyway; you might as well use the time to get good at something you might do for work or a hobby someday.

Defend yourself. No one should accept bullying. If you or a teenager you know is being cruelly attacked, speak up. You should not spend your high school years dodging physical or verbal blows from other students (or even a teacher). Be an advocate for yourself and for others. You may need to get people in authority (parent, teacher, school staff) involved. But don’t spend another day in fear or plotting revenge; just stand up for yourself.

Note: After I published this post, I found Lisa Hall-Wilson’s post on Bullying: The New Dynamic. It’s a good look at bullying then and now.

Disarm yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in how much things suck and become overwhelmed and sink deeper and deeper into the abyss of angst. Don’t do that. Disarm yourself with humor and perspective. Lighten up. Whatever seems so awful likely isn’t the end of the world. This is four years of your life and, while those years may seem like forever, they aren’t. Find ways to amuse yourself. Be charming. Be funny. Be optimistic. Some of the best comedians came from terrible circumstances; they learned to weather difficulty through humor. You can try it yourself and see how it works.

What if high school still sucks?

It might. But if you survive intact–knowing who you are, what you’re good at, and with a friend or two, you’ll be okay. Memories do fade, and you can create newer, better ones. Some people who hated high school are living pretty fabulous lives now.

How about you? Did/does high school suck? What did you do to get through? What advice would you give for surviving high school when it’s not all it should be?