Whatims – April 9, 2018

Lord and Taylor. You’ll notice that I missed last week’s post. That was because last week was a doozy. The biggest lesson I learned: when life gives you lemons, sometimes you throw them back up.

I was struck by some wicked mystery illness that knocked me out for a couple days, and the timing was terrible. I had to cancel a signing and a meeting with my editor at the Texas Library Association, which was just such a bummer. In this writing biz that can be so solitary, I was really looking forward to getting to interact with people! I’m feeling myself again, finally, and here’s what I’m doing this week.

What I’m Writing: I was able to start the third draft in my fantasy middle grade, and this draft is all about emotional layering, tugging at your heartstrings and all that. For me, the emotional layering is the hardest part. It’s got to feel authentic and right for each character in their specific life situation, but I’m feeling so connected to these characters at this point that I think I’ll be able to make them and me cry as we go down this emotional rabbit hole.

What I’m Reading: Jessica Townsend’s NEVERMOOR. This is such a great middle grade fantasy-adventure about a girl who finds herself in the fantastical city of Nevermoor after one real lousy childhood with parents who should be ashamed of themselves, Bethenny Frankel-y. But all the magical adventures she has with a cast of quirky new friends make her sad beginnings worth it.

What I’m Thankful For: Librarians! I was able to spend one nice afternoon with librarians at TLA before being struck by the Ailment from Hades. Librarians are superheroes, and I’m so thankful for them championing books everyday. Here’s me waving to all the librarians I met last week and all the ones I have yet to meet!

Whatims – March 26, 2018

What I’m Writing: I just finished the second draft of the fantasy-adventure middle grade THIS MORNING! I’m feeling on fire! Got back from Kinko’s with the printed and bound copy so that I can go through that and hand edit for Round 3. I’ll be getting into emotional layers to make sure this puppy really sings (aka makes us cry).

What I’m Reading: Carrie Jones’s TIME STOPPERS. Carrie is teaching the Write. Submit. Support. group I’m in at the Writing Barn, and she’s a middle grade master! I’m having fun diving into her fantasy world and learning from the best!

What I’m Thankful For: Customer Service! Today has been chock-full of needing to call Customer Service numbers for flights I messed up and WordPress issues that technologically-stunted me cannot always figure out. Everybody was so nice and patient with my “Wait, I need to do what-nows.” I have become my grandmother, and I’m not looking back.

Love Letter to LOVE, SIMON

It’s been a week since LOVE, SIMON, Greg Berlanti’s film adaption of Becky Albertalli’s SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, came out (and for the first time in my life, I’m going to say “no pun intended”). I’ve seen it twice. Both times I’ve seen it I’ve been a total mess. The movie opens with Jennifer Garner as Simon’s mom covering Nick Robinson as Simon’s eyes as she is about to give him his first car, and I just instantly burst into tears. You can feel the unconditional love drip off Simon and his parents and his sister. From their first displays of unconditional love, I knew this was going to be a monumental movie. I tried to choke down my tears—sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes empathetic—for the rest of the movie, but I failed miserably.

I realized that—no matter what the reason for or type of tears pouring from my eyes—I was crying because this was 100% the gay love story I needed. Not only as a 30-year-old married gay man today, but as the 17-year-old gay kid I used to be who was so afraid to come out in high school. A TIME article was recently titled, “Love, Simon is a Groundbreaking Gay Movie. But Do Today’s Teens Actually Need It?”

Yes. Today’s teens need it. Yesterday’s teens need it. Teens who turned into 30-something millennials need it. The oldest generation of gays—those who had life-long “roommates” and who feared ever being open about their sexuality—need it.

Let me tell you why.

The TIME article’s author had this to say for his main criticism:

“Kids like Simon, in 2018, already have a good shot of fitting in. They don’t need this movie. Will they look up from Netflix to notice that it has premiered? Love, Simon feels like a film responding to an entirely different culture, like one in which gay marriage was never legalized. That decision both acknowledged that equality for gays had won the day and opened the door for far more interesting and challenging fights, ones the next generation will lead. Movies that integrate those stories are ones worth anticipating with relish. Love, Simon, by contrast, simply feels like looking back in time.”

Kids like Simon, which is to say a gay teen with loving parents and supportive friends may have a good shot of fitting in, but the very fact it has to be labeled as a “good shot” indicates there’s also the chance those teens will be ostracized, ridiculed or bodily harmed when finally taking that brave step to come out.

What the author’s criticism overlooks is even if Simon and the real-life kids like him have a supportive friend group, a loving family, and live in a world where same-sex marriage is legal, those children do not live in a bubble. They still live in a country where state supreme courts refuse rights to same-sex married couples that our right to marry was supposed to grant. They still live in a world where state senators can deny same-sex couples the chance to adopt a child and start a family. They still live in a world in which the U.S. Department of Education said it won’t hear valid complaints from transgender students who are forced to use a bathroom that does not correspond with their gender identity.

We still very much live in a world that expresses hate toward the LGBTQIA+ community, and a world in which that hate is constantly trying to be made legal. Would this make a kid, even with supportive friends and family, nervous to come out?

Absolutely.

Just because Simon and kids like him appear “normal”  (whatever that means) on the outside, does not mean that they don’t have a very real emotional struggle going on on the inside. I found myself in a situation very much like Simon’s when I was in high school. I knew I was gay, and I found my own version of Blue. I dated him in secret, not telling my friends and family even though they routinely expressed how much they cared for me, even though I was involved enough in school to be elected homecoming royalty and high school president. This is not to say, “Look at how great my high school experience was,” but to point out that despite these superficial markers of high school popularity, I was still nervous as hell for my “huge ass secret,” as Simon calls it, to come out. I was so scared that my life would crumble and that I would be ostracized by my classmates. I had nightmares about being hated and beaten that stressed me out so much a streak of my hair turned gray when I was 17 and never turned back. So I forced myself in the closet longer than I should have so I could experience what it felt like to be liked before I became hated.

Fortunately, my fears never came true. Like Simon, I was accepted by my family and most of my peers. But this definitely was not the norm for many teens who came out in the mid-2000s, and is definitely not always the case for teens today, especially in Southern states where so much of the anti-gay legislation discussed above is being passed.

Despite being out for 13 years, I still hesitate before coming out to strangers. Even as a confident 30-year-old married gay man in Texas, I’m never sure how people will react when I tell them. There is always that split second of pause where I wonder how the person I’m talking to is going to react when I reference my husband. Will their eyes widen in recognition, their thought of “Oooooh. You’re one of those,” practically audible in the room? Or will they quickly change the subject, their eyes darting around as they try to find someone else to talk to? Sometimes those reactions are not meant with hate, but sometimes they are very much meant to somehow shame me back to heterosexuality.

So yes, we do need movies like LOVE, SIMON. Teens need it, whether they are teens today or were teens years and years ago with the pains from adolescence still holding a place in their hearts. We need movies that say the Boy Next Door doesn’t have to be straight, movies that say love will conquer all despite the world we live in where disgust for the LGBTQIA+ community can so quickly be found.

I know that this post has the potential for me to be called a dramatic millennial, or a liberal snowflake that can so easily melt.

Well you’re right about one thing: I can melt. The love I get from my husband every day makes my heart melt in the best way. If LOVE, SIMON tells us anything, it’s that having your heart melted by the person you love makes any of the lows of the world totally worth it.

And I have to say I agree.

Love, Jason

Whatims – March 19, 2018

Lord. And. Taylor, folks! Just got back home from seeing LOVE, SIMON, and it is the greatest coming out/gay love story I’ve ever seen! More on that later this week. It’s taking everything in me to dry my happy tears and focus on something else, but I’m going to give it a shot!

What I’m Writing: I’m heading into the last quarter of the second revision of my MG fantasy-adventure. These past few days I’ve actually been able to use a couple scenes from the first draft. Although about 80% of that first draft is getting cut, it feels good to know that some of what I wrote before can be used!

What I’m Reading: Holy smokes, y’all! I just finished Tomi Adeyemi‘s CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE this morning, and it is an absolute must-read. It is a YA African fantasy with epic battle scenes full of butt-kicking magic and forbidden romance that makes Romeo and Juliet look like they had it easy. Go. Out. And. Get. It.

What I’m Thankful For: This week I’ve got to give a big thanks to all my Picture Book II students in the online course I’m teaching through the Writing Barn. It is so easy for me to get caught up in middle grade when I’m in the midst of writing one, but these 12 writers have reminded me how exciting and enriching it is to be a picture book author as well. Thanks for reigniting that PB flame, you guys!

Whatims – March 12, 2018

Last week was an action-packed five days full of school visits, energetic kids and superhero librarians! I always get a little anxious leading into them, but have such a blast while reading and creating stories with the students. They keep me fired up to write more so I get to visit more!

What I’m Writing: We’re going strong with the revision of my fairytale-based fantasy MG (and by we I mean me and all the characters screaming inside my head). Still at that chapter a day pace, and feeling confident I can keep it up to have this draft done by the end of the month. I didn’t just jinx it, did I?

What I’m Reading: Sayantani DasGupta’s THE SERPENT’S SECRET. It’s the first in the new middle grade fantasy-adventure series, Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond. I totally recommend this for fans of the Percy Jackson series. There are so many fantastic magical hijinks, all centered around Indian folklore which I have never had the opportunity to dive into before. I’ll be looking for the sequel when it comes out!

What I’m Thankful For: I am so into all the book-to-movie adaptations we are getting this month, starting with A WRINKLE IN TIME through to READY PLAYER ONE at the end of March. The movie I’m most excited for is LOVE, SIMON, the movie adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA. Teenage Me can’t believe that there is going to be a major movie about a gay, high school love story. I’m going to see it this weekend when it releases so that movie studios know people will spend their skrilla on LGBTQIA+ movies at the theater! Let’s all go!

The Invasion (of My Perfectly Peaceful Week, Thank You Very Much)

So I read in this BuzzFeed listicle that journaling is supposed to really help you out when you’re stressed to the max, so I went and got myself one and here we are. The first entry in my diary of a Yeerk.

This has been a doozy of a week, let me tell you.

Everything started off perfectly fine. I had been assigned to my favorite human yet. Her name was Ethel, and her favorite pastime was watching reruns of Golden Girls. That Blanche gets me every time!

So there I was, forming some serious squad goals with those golden ladies when I get a call from Iniss 226 that I need to head back to the Yeerk pool ASAP to swap into a Taxxon and assist with Visser Three’s arrival.

can’t stand Taxxons. It’s all, “Let me eat this” and “Imma devour that.” Every time I’m made to Control one of them, I end up covered in blood, and Bethenny Frankel-ly, it really grosses me out. So Innis 226, I’ve only got one thing to say to you: Thank you for being a jerk!

Anyway, I get sent down as a Taxxon with a bunch of Human-Controllers (I don’t see why they couldn’t just let me help out as Ethel, but whatever) and a couple Hork-Bajir. When we get there Visser Three is facing off with that Andalite prince, Elfangor-Something-Something. Elfangor slashed the Visser and my first thought was, “Giiiirl, you are going to regret that.”

Boy, was I right. Visser Three turned into this epically huge Antarean Bogg, nabs Elfangor in a tentacle and devours him whole. Unfortunately, this is when my Taxxon instincts kicked in and downright begged me to gobble up some of the Andalite bits littering the ground. What can I say, I couldn’t resist. Those Taxxons are incorrigible.

So I sent a thank you up to Cher (I have got to do an entire diary entry on her, let me tell you) that the night was finally over and I could get back to Ethel and continue on my way all Golden Girls and chill.

But guess what? Some flipping kids were watching us and got away. Ooh child, did that ever spike Visser Three’s Kandronas. He went into a raaaage. He ordered us to do this whole city-wide search for the group of teenagers that were watching us. I was like, “Seriously? You want us to find five teenagers in a city swarming with teenagers?” That’s like finding an authentic Louis Vuitton zip-fold wallet on Ebay for under three hundred dollars. It doesn’t happen.

Anyway, the kids still hadn’t been found, but it was time for me to soak up some Kandrona rays. I was assigned to a new man, Gregory (never Greg, BTW), and contemplating why we could never do something like lavender-scented Kandrona rays circa my favorite bubble bath scent when I see these two weird kids standing off behind a storage shed of Dracon beams acting like they had just completed the Cinnamon Challenge. That is to say, weird.

I had just told a Hork-Bajir and a Taxxon to nab the kids when a fracking monster with wrinkly gray skin, huge ears, a thick worm-like nose and monstrous teeth comes barreling behind them. Gregory kindly let me know the thing is called an elephant. But then that Cher-forsaken elephant wraps its worm nose around me and chucks me through the air.

Lord and Taylor.

I came to and there was Visser Three literally spitting fireballs at a ragtag group of Earth animals. Gregory says they were a tiger, a gorilla, a horse, and that capital R Rude elephant. Turns out they were Andalites in morph, and it was those guys who were at the construction site, not a bunch of kids. But they got away again, and the Visser is in a tizzy.

But wasn’t the one who let them get away, so for now I’ve found a good caftan and I’m just going to enjoy another GG marathon. As the brilliant Sophia once said, “People waste their time pondering whether a glass is half empty or half full. Me, I just drink whatever’s in the glass.”

 

Whatims – March 5, 2018

I am SO into a book right now (you’ll see which one at the end of this post) that it took everything in me to turn away from it to write this entry!

What I’m Writing: I’m deep into the second draft of my MG fantasy-adventure and I’m loving it! I’m feeling that excitement that comes from knowing what direction your story needs to take, and I’ve been able to up my daily goal to a new chapter a day, whereas in the first draft I was writing 500 words a day. I’m hoping to have this draft done by the end of the month, and have it submission ready by the summer so I can relax and look like this:

What I’m Thankful For: This week I have so much love for author Carrie Jones. She is an amazing writer, and a SO-FANTASTIC-THERE-SHOULD-BE-A-PARADE-IN-HER-HONOR writing mentor. Carrie is leading the Write. Submit. Support online program for novelists through the Writing Barn this spring (and you can sign up for the summer session with her here) that I’m currently taking. Every note she has given me has been outrageously helpful. Carrie, thank you for your enthusiasm, encouragement and thoughtful feedback.

What I’m Reading: Dhonielle Clayton’s THE BELLES. You guuuuuuys. I’M ROBSESSED! This young adult book is set in a world where six young women control the power of beauty and can alter anyone’s appearance. In THE BELLES, we follow Camellia “Camille” Beauregard’s journey as she becomes an official Belle and navigates the political maze of a world obsessed with beauty. AND THINGS ARE NOT AS GORGEOUS AS THEY SEEM. I’m so freaking into this that I have to get back to reading it right n—

 

 

Gym Buddies Premiere!!

At the end of 2016, I was feeling a little creatively frustrated. I was writing away, but I can only write for so long each day before I need to let things simmer in my mind so that I can come back to the page the next morning ready to rock.

But I would still be creatively anxious (what an obnoxious term—I’m rolling my eyes at myself) in the afternoon, wanting to let out some more steam. I decided I would take acting classes, and I was instantly hooked. I got immediate feedback from an expert, and found that my ability to get deeper into characters in my writing was getting better and better thanks to acting exercises all about getting into the minds of other people.

Then I thought I would try my hand at auditioning for local projects, and the first thing I was cast in was a web series called Gym Buddies. It’s written and created by the brilliant Shruti Saran, following the story of Aparna and Quinn when Aparna hoodwinks her BFF into joining a gym with her after a nasty breakup.

I got to play the part of the extremely awkward and sweaty gym manager, Rob, who really has no business running a studio dedicated to physical fitness. It was so fun getting to ham it up and play this guy who really feels so out of place next to body builders, but whose can-do attitude, despite his overactive nerves, won’t let him back down from the challenge.

The first episode (of five) premiered today! Here it is:

Hopefully this gets me closer to one day getting to work with Anjelica Huston. Fingers crossed!

 

Whatims – February 26, 2018

This week is giving me LIFE! I’ve got a fire under me on this MG fantasy project I’m working on, plus I’ve made a deep dive into the TV show “Don’t Be Tardy,” and it may go down as one of the Top Ten Best Decisions I’ve Ever Made.

What I’m Writing: I finished the first draft of my MG fantasy-adventure this past week! I’ve been taking this first draft way slower than I usually do (more on that later this week), which allowed me to have all kinds of ideas for the revision. I’m going to jump back in TODAY!

What I’m Reading: Jacob Sager Weinstein’s HYACINTH AND THE SECRETS BENEATH! HYACINTH follows the titular character as she discovers that the rivers that flow under London are actually magic, and just what happens when the mischief in that magic is accidentally unleashed. I am flying through this, and I’m robsessed with the dry sass of Lady Roslyn, Hyacinth’s elderly companion on this adventure who I’m picturing a lot like Mrs. Doubtfire.

What I’m Thankful For: This week I have got to give a ginormous thank you to Debbi Michiko Florence. Not only is she an amazing writer (if you haven’t started her JASMINE TOGUCHI series, you have got to stop what you’re doing and get the first two books in the series RIGHT NOW), but she is an amazing friend. This past year Debbi and I started emailing each other on a regular basis, cheering each other on in our writing and filling each other in on our current adventures. I look forward to our emails, and it feels so great to have somebody who gets the author life by my side—even virtually—on this crazy writing rollercoaster.

Debbi, you complete me!