Kissing the single life goodbye at Hershey tonight with Bruce

Tonight marks my 39th Bruce Springsteen show.

I actually bought tickets to numbers 39 and 40 during the most recent onsale, then the fiancé and I decided that we couldn’t miss that much school and gave the Hershey Park tickets to my parents.

Then a bit of a family emergency struck and we realized we weren’t going to make it to the Mohegan Sun show, and my parents, knowing what Bruce has meant to me, offered us the Hershey tickets back. The fiancé now couldn’t make it on a weeknight, so it’s me and my dad making the drive tonight.

Which I think serves as a great bookend to a certain era of my life.

My journey with Bruce shows began eleven years ago in Richmond on the Rising tour. My brother had suggested that we get my dad Bruce tickets for Father’s Day the year before, but we never managed to get our acts together on that. And his birthday was in February, so the following year, I found excessively over-priced secondary market tickets (I didn’t know any better yet!) for behind the stage in Richmond. My brother couldn’t go, my mother didn’t want to on a school night, and so dad and I went alone.

I was still in school. We left after my last class of the day, driving down in my father’s car, joking that as we arrived in his BMW convertible, I looked like his midlife crisis wife or girlfriend, not his daughter. We listened to a compilation of songs I had put together based on recent setlists and I remember my father joking that we were passing “the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.” And I asked him what song he most wanted to hear that night. He named “For You,” which we knew was a long shot.

I was in one of many rough patches that year.  I had fallen out with my entire crew when my best friend of the last six years and I stopped talking. It was that relationship, not a boyfriend, that inspired Beyond the Palace a few years later. That’s the one relationship in my life that left a permanent scar. And even now, it aches to remember that loss. It was necessary to cut each other loose, but I was lost after that for a very long time.

But something in me clicked that night when the lights went down. For the first time, I felt something that fed that “hunger you can’t resist” that Bruce sings about. I know the people who haven’t felt that are shaking their heads at me, but the ones who have are nodding. And I know they’re out there because I’ve met them over the last eleven years. I’ve made some amazing friends because I discovered that there were other people who felt the same loneliness that I was engulfed in and who felt it lessened with each show. They are the rabid fans who can pick themselves out in the videos, who were there when I danced on stage in Charlottesville, who read Beyond the Palace and who wanted desperately for me to be Laura, not understanding that the reason they connected with the book wasn’t because I was Laura, but because I was Ben.

At first, it was me and my dad because it was our thing. My brother had annual ski trips with him, but the concerts were mine. My Uncle Mike joined us from time to time and started being my date to shows dad couldn’t make it to. He was the “real fan” in the family, with more than 200 shows under his belt, and I remember his friends quizzing me on lyrics and classic shows on the drive up to Shea Stadium in 2003 before deeming me worthy of the ticket my uncle shared with me. I treasure the memories of my shows with him as much as those with my dad. It created a bond between us that is unshakeable, and he is responsible for some of my favorite concert memories and a few key scenes in Beyond the Palace as well. And he claims that it’s in his will that I inherit his Bruce collection, because I’ll appreciate it more than my cousins could.

Uncle Mike in his “Born to Run” shirt, holding me as a baby

In 2008, I was in another of those impossibly rough patches. I was drowning at school, and it was just months after we lost my Uncle Jules, to whom Beyond the Palace is dedicated. He gave me a typewriter when I was eight years old and told me I should be a writer. And losing him hit the whole family with the destructive force of a hurricane. I did a double header of shows that August, going back to Richmond with some friends and then skipping the first day back at school for teachers to go to Hershey Park with my dad. And as was now our tradition, we picked the song we most wanted to hear. We had luck with “For You” at that first show, and even “Santa Ana” in 2005, which will be the song my dad and I will dance to at my wedding, as the “giants of science” line has always reminded me of him. But that night was my 20th show, dad’s 10th, and somehow we hadn’t seen “Jungleland” yet. And at the opening notes that night, I began to cry. It was one of the most cathartic moments of my life. It was the first time in a long time that I could believe things would again be okay. And my dad put his arm around me without saying a word; without needing to, because he understood.

As this most recent tour began, for the first time since March 6, 2003, I don’t feel that deep-seated need to be at as many shows as possible. Maybe I’ve grown up a bit. Maybe it’s because I finally have found that connection that Bruce has always said the characters in his songs are seeking.

Or maybe it’s just been too long since my last show and I’ll come home tonight and cry because my Mohegan Sun tickets are gone. I’ve warned the fiancé that that is a distinct possibility.

Thank you to my mother, for giving up your ticket to let me go with dad tonight. It’s my last show that I’ll attend with him while I still bear his last name. And while I’m sure there are more shows in our future, there’s something magical to me in getting to go to this show with him.

And Bruce, if you’re reading (hey, a girl can dream, right?), the song I want to hear most is “Sandy.” It’s what my parents will walk me down the aisle to next month as I begin this next chapter of my life.

Thank you everyone who has been a part of this ride, and I can’t wait to start the next stage, where I can introduce you to my new husband at shows!  And I’ll see you all further on up the road.

Roman Glass: An interview with the author, by the author

As you probably know by now, my second novel, Roman Glass, came out this week.

But I still don’t have a publishing contract. Meaning that, among other publicity problems, no one is beating down my door for an interview with the author yet, so I figured I’d do my own interview for my readers. You can just print this out and glue it into the back of the book like one of those book club guides when your copy arrives from Amazon.

Q:  Roman Glass is set in Israel, which is kind of an odd choice, considering that you live in the DC area. What inspired the novel?

A:  What a great question! I’ve been to Israel three times now and the most recent trip, in December 2007 for my cousin’s bar mitzvah. It was kind of horrific timing as my uncle on my dad’s side of the family was dying at the time, but my mother, uncle and I were already committed to go and everyone on both sides of the family told us we should go.

My mom, my uncle Mike, and me in Israel, December 2007

It was an interesting trip, to say the least. I won’t go into too many details to avoid being axe murdered by angry relatives (which yes, is likely to happen. Especially when some of them read the acknowledgments). But the idea for the story hit me as we were sitting in the airport, New Year’s Day 2008, waiting for our flight home. We were in the terminal and there was this super hot guy, who was clearly orthodox (meaning he wouldn’t have given me the time of day), putting on tfillen. (If you don’t know what that is, don’t ask me because I can’t explain it. That’s why we have Google.) And I remember asking myself, “What would it take to get me to stay here? What would have had to have happened this week to make me wonder if I should be getting on the plane today?”

I started scribbling in a notebook then and there and began creating my characters/the scenario of Danielle going to Israel for a family event that she wasn’t thrilled about. Then, on the flight, I pulled out my laptop and wrote the final chapter. Just as I was finishing it, my mother turned to me and said, “You know, there’s a book in this trip somewhere.”  And I started laughing and told her I’d just written the ending for it. She asked what it was about and even though I usually avoid those conversations until the book is close to done, I started discussing the idea and fleshing it out verbally with her.

And Roman Glass was born. (Although it was called Reason to Believe at the time and for a long time after. Then Beshert. Then Random Untitled Novel about Israel Because I Can’t Come Up with a Goddamned Title. Then Roman Glass. It was a REALLY tough call between the last two—I’m still not positive I made the right choice.)


Q: Your first book, Beyond the Palace, was pretty Springsteen-heavy. Is this one the same way?

A: Nope! TOTALLY different concept in this one.  I mean, the characters in Beyond the Palace meet following Bruce because they say to write what you know. I branched out from that in Roman Glass. This one actually required a LOT of research. I lived with Israeli tour books and books on Israeli history on my coffee table for about a year. There’s one direct Bruce reference in it, which is more of a joke than anything else. And a couple of indirect references that only the hardcore fans will spot (For example, Eyal does what Spanish Johnny does in one scene—if that means anything to you, you’ll spot it. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.)

Q: How much of you is there in Danielle? Is she a similar character to Laura from Beyond the Palace?

A: I’d argue that there’s a lot of me in ALL of my characters, not just Danielle. But Danielle is probably the most like me out of any of the characters I’ve written. Except that she doesn’t believe in anything she can’t see or touch and I believe in plenty of things that I have no proof of (especially after watching horror movies when I’m home alone… then I’m 100 percent convinced that everything evil from the movie is living in my house and waiting to kill and eat me. Danielle would never believe in any of that!). She and Laura share some of my characteristics—for example, they’re both insomniacs and they’re both runners. But overall, Laura and Danielle would HATE each other. Like if they were real and you put them in a room together, only one would survive. And my money is on Danielle.

Part of my motivation in creating her though was that I wanted to branch out from Laura. Laura is utterly screwed up as a result of other people. When it came to writing Danielle, it was very important to me to write a character who was screwed up on her own. I didn’t want anyone to have done anything horrible to her. I just wanted her to have a sense of disconnect about who she felt everyone wanted her to be. And because of that, I feel that she has more room to grow than Laura does, which, at least to me, made her a more satisfying character.

Q: Israel is kind of a touchy subject. How did you handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the novel?

A: CAREFULLY! I wanted to show the extreme distrust on both sides, because that IS a huge part of life in Israel, but I also didn’t want to make the novel a huge political statement. And while, as a Jew, I’m obviously pro-Israel, I really wanted to show that the extremists on BOTH sides are wrong. Eyal points out in the novel that his mother believes that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab.” I’ve actually heard Israelis say that! And while I’m in no way ever going to condone any of the acts of terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian extremist groups, I also cannot condone the idea that every Palestinian is evil and needs to be destroyed. Danielle’s cab driver in the beginning of the novel goes off on an anti-Arab rant to illustrate the attitude that you can find running rampant in Israel, but I think I make it pretty clear in the novel that it’s the extremists who are in the wrong, not the entirety of any group of people.

My mom and me, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, December 2007

Q: Are readers going to be able to relate to this book if they’re not Jewish?

A: I definitely think so!  It’s less of a book about being Jewish than a book about a character figuring out how she fits into her own family and her culture and I think a lot of people have felt a disconnect from who everyone else wanted them to be at some point in their lives.

I also had my characters spend a lot of time at sites that were holy to other religions as well as non-religious historical sites. Because it doesn’t matter what you believe in, Israel is one of the places where the world has changed for everyone quite a few times. And that’s what one of the most crucial scenes in the book is about—that we’re all connected and we’re all part of something bigger. Even if we can’t see what it is from where we’re currently standing.

Q: Beshert seems to be a big concept in the book. What is your definition it?

A: There are a couple of definitions actually. The literal translation is “fate,” “destiny,” or “meant to be.” But a lot of people use it as a noun describing a soulmate. I kind of use both versions in Roman Glass. And it’s a concept that I find extremely comforting. If you can believe that life is going to work out the way that it’s meant to, then it means that even when it feels like you screwed up big time, you’re just taking another step on the path you’re meant to take.

But I don’t think it’s ALL beshert in life. Which is why I started with the quote “Somehow we choose our own destiny” (and thank you Jesse Malin for letting me use that—That line was the first thing that I wrote in that notebook in Ben Gurion airport when I came up with the idea for the book, so it’s kind of cool that I later met him and actually got permission to use it). I think that at least some of the choices you make DO matter. I’m not sure that we’re all part of some master plan, and there are a lot of days when I’m pretty sure we’re not. But as Eyal explains to Danielle in the novel, that’s the definition of faith: being able to believe something without definite proof of it. And I have faith that things ARE going to work out in the end, which is my definition of the word beshert.

On top of Masada, with the Dead Sea in the background

Q: What’s on the agenda for the next book?

A: Geez, I just put this one out! Give it a rest already!

I’m mapping out ideas for the next one now. I’ve spent the last couple of years kind of mulling over the idea of the Arthurian love triangle. Guinevere usually gets blamed (TH White is kind of the exception, but she still came across as a whiney shrew in The Once and Future King), and I’ve been toying with the idea of three characters who ALL genuinely love each other (no, not like THAT—not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s not going to be an actual King Arthur story, but I’m working on that relationship angle.

But my mother keeps telling me to write a funny book, so I don’t know. I’ll bring a notebook to the pool with me once school ends and see what inspiration strikes me. Either way, when I’m NOT laying by the pool this summer, I plan to be working.

Q: Do you have a contract yet?

A: NO! PLEASE tell your friends if you like Roman Glass. I need all the new readers I can get!

If you have any other questions you’d like answered, post them in the comments section and I’ll be happy to answer them. Just no spoilers for the book please!

Peace, love, and rock and roll,

-Sara

Teaching teenagers what makes Gatsby so Great is a tough job. But it shouldn’t be.

There are days when being an English teacher feels like the worst fate known to mankind.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was literally jealous of the guy who wears a chicken suit on Rockville Pike to advertise for a tire store (still haven’t figured out the connection on that one. But I kind of want to go check out the tire store just to see why their mascot is a tuxedo-wearing chicken. So maybe their ad campaign works after all). And when you’d rather be standing on a corner in a chicken suit in 30-degree weather, you know you’ve hit a low point in your career.

The problem? I’m teaching The Great Gatsby. Which I love. A lot. My copy looks like it’s been through the wars because I’ve read it so many times. The margins are covered in notes and half the lines are underlined or highlighted. And this is only my second year teaching it.

I was actually very excited to teach eleventh grade because I love The Great Gatsby so much. And A Streetcar Named Desire, which is also in the eleventh grade curriculum. I’d taught ninth grade for years, and was ready to scream if I had to deal with Romeo’s whining again. Like I was getting WAY too excited when he kills himself by the end. I still love To Kill a Mockingbird, but I was kind of rooting for George to hurry up and kill Lennie so Of Mice and Men could be over. Which meant that it was time for a change.

So I was looking forward to the opportunity to share one of my all-time favorite books with kids and instill that same love of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece that I have in their young, impressionable minds.

Except they hate it. Like the way I hate the Cowboys, Delaware, and people who ride their bikes into oncoming traffic.

Okay, that’s misleading. The ones who are actually READING it hate it. But they’re in the minority. Because a huge percentage of them admitted yesterday to not even having read the SparkNotes, let alone the book itself. And I teach honors classes.

I don’t understand that. Granted, I’ve had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember. And I keep reminding myself of Nick’s father’s advice to remember that others haven’t had the same advantages that I’ve had (namely, in this case, parents who instilled a love of reading in me from early childhood). But to be honest, I prefer my favorite literary characters over most of the real people I know. No offense, but if I had to choose between Rhett Butler or Mr. Darcy and you, you’d probably lose.

Then again, I have a theory that the best men in all of history were written by women—I’m starting to feel like there’s no one out there who can live up to the men that Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, and Charlaine Harris have created. Yes, I’m lumping the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books along with those literary giants. Because I love Eric Northman. I’d marry that fictional vampire in a heartbeat. Sorry Edward Cullen—I don’t like my fictional vampires all emo and sparkly.

This might be why I’m still single.

But I digress.

Back to Gatsby.

I had a college professor who said you needed to read The Great Gatsby every five years. Okay, that professor was the biggest tree-hugging hippie I’d ever seen, and I’m pretty sure he came to class high every week. And he taught film studies. And I think he lived in his mom’s basement. And he used to go off on hour-long rants about how Walt Disney was just as bad as Hitler. Actually, I wasn’t a big fan of that professor.

But he was right about Gatsby.

I describe my first novel as being about the quarter-life crisis. When you’re in your mid-twenties and are suddenly one of the “adults,” but aren’t quite ready for all of the social responsibilities that that title entails.

And that’s what Gatsby is about. Nick basically, at thirty, leaves home to go live at the beach for a summer, rather than marry the girl his family and friends all expect him to marry. He’s jaded, and he feels a disconnect with most of the people he meets. And he gets wrapped up in a party culture, of people who drink illegally to avoid reality and who think they’re immortal because they’re young and they don’t understand that the choices they make now are going to affect them for the rest of their lives.

How could any teenager NOT love that book?

One of my favorite parts is when Jordan Baker describes to Nick why she doesn’t have to be a good driver. She shrugs when he tells her she’s an awful driver after almost hitting a pedestrian, and she tells him that she doesn’t have to pay attention, because other people are good drivers and they’ll stay out of her way. Nick asks what will happen when she meets another bad driver, and her answer is merely that she hopes that doesn’t happen.

That attitude is why teenagers get into so many accidents. It’s why they think it’s okay to text and drive (okay, I’ll admit it, it’s why I still text and drive more than I should). It’s why they think they’ll be okay when they drive too fast. And it’s why the final tragedy of the book is inevitable. How different is that from all the little celebutantes like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan driving when they’re smacked out of their minds?

It amazes me every time I read Gatsby that Fitzgerald so perfectly captured the emotions and logical fallacies that define my generation in a novel that was written nearly ninety years ago. And every time I read it, I’m both inspired to write more, and I’m a little discouraged because I know that I will never be able to so beautifully define the fragility and mistaken bravado of the human condition.

Hopefully the new movie version will help. I think Baz Luhrmann (of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge fame) will do an amazing job at capturing the wasteful opulence of the 1920s. And Leonardo DiCaprio will be great as Gatsby, not just because I love him (and I do. A lot), but because I think he’ll be able to portray that element of Gatsby’s character trying too hard to be someone that he’s not far better than Robert Redford did in the definitive movie version from 1974.

But a small part of me kind of hopes that the new movie isn’t THAT good. I mean, I want it to be great and do justice to this incredible book. But I don’t want teenagers to think that seeing the new movie is an acceptable substitute for reading the book.

Until it comes out, however, I’ll continue beating my head against the brick wall of teenagers who think they’ll live forever and who see reading as a waste of time. But I’ll keep trying because, as Fitzgerald put it, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald may have never been a teacher, but that line alone tells me that at least one other person out there understood the feeling of futility that I’m experiencing right now. And the reason why I’ll keep trying and vainly hoping to instill my students with an appreciation for this amazing novel, even when it feels like I’m accomplishing nothing more lasting than Nick does when he erases the obscenity from Gatsby’s steps.

People who know me well, can you spot my house in this picture? Look carefully!

The Disney-fication of Huck Finn: An American Travesty

When I got home from school yesterday, I was greeted by some disturbing news on Twitter. No, the disturbing news isn’t that the trending topics on Twitter are now my primary source of news (although I DO immediately Google anyone who’s trending to see if they’re trending because they died). It was something far more disturbing to an English teacher and a writer.

New versions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are going to be printed substituting the word “slave” for the much more controversial “n” word that is used approximately 220 times in the book.

On the surface, this change is long over overdue and a step in the right direction. No student should be subjected to a word that is so unapologetically racist and hurtful in any classroom, and I appreciate the idea triggering people who protest against novels that contain that kind of language.

But as a writer, I’m appalled. And as an English teacher, I think this is a huge mistake and a far more offensive move than anything that Twain wrote.

I know that sounds strange. I’d like to preface what I’m about to say by explaining that I do not tolerate students using that particular racial epithet in my classroom, nor do I tolerate students mocking or belittling others based on race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. Under ANY circumstances. And when I’m teaching a book that has the “n” word in it, I personally am not comfortable saying the word, even in the context of reading aloud from the book.

With that said, however, I do teach Huck Finn. And I think it’s an important part of the curriculum and an even more valuable teaching tool to a generation of students who have largely grown up thinking that the “n” word is appropriate slang amongst friends.

If you haven’t read the novel, or haven’t read it in many years, I’ll outline the issue for you. Huck Finn takes place before the Civil War in Missouri. In other words, the blatant racism in it is absolutely appalling. Huck refers to Jim using the “n” word without even beginning to comprehend that there’s any problem with that. And Huck often, particularly at the beginning of the novel, views Jim as less than a person. And even though I’m a white woman writing this 150 years after the action of the novel takes place, I find a tremendous amount of what’s in the book to be grossly offensive.

Which is exactly the point and why it NEEDS to be taught.

Because a huge amount of what happened in this country WAS grossly offensive.

And I’m not even just talking about before the Civil War. Electing Barack Obama by no means heralded the end of racism in America. But to remove accurate historical elements of the atrocities that occurred is, in my mind at least, far more offensive than teaching about it could ever be.

It’s easy to dismiss Twain as racist if you’re not familiar with a lot of the context of the novel. He was a southerner who grew up before the Civil War in the deep south. It’d be pretty much impossible to come from that environment without being a racist.

Which is why Twain is so celebrated. The most amazing thing about him isn’t the quality of his writing. It’s the fact that he was able to come from the background that he came from and write such a powerful anti-racism novel. Because the use of language in the book isn’t there to belittle or degrade. It’s there to show just how bad things were in the south for a black man.

My students just wrote their research papers on this exact topic. And the point that they made, again and again, was that if Mark Twain wanted Huckleberry Finn to be a racist novel, he failed miserably in that task because Huck goes from being an ignorant child, who sees Jim as nothing more than property, to a young man who is willing to defy society and give up his immortal soul for the “sin” of helping Jim escape from the life of slavery that he was born into. Huck knows that he’s breaking the law by helping Jim, and he has been taught that freeing a slave was equivalent to stealing.  And he has countless opportunities to turn him in and even make money off his capture. But by the end of the novel, he understands that Jim is a person, just like he is, and that his own freedom is worth no more than Jim’s. Which, for the time period that the novel was written and set in, was an absolutely revolutionary concept.

Every year, I get kids who complain that we’re reading “another book about racism.” They feel it’s been done to death, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. And so each year, I tell them the following story:

When I was a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about having to learn about the Holocaust every year in Hebrew school. It was depressing, and I felt that the topic had already been covered in such depth that it was overkill to hear over and over again about what happened in Germany. And my parents (whom I respect tremendously for the fact that they never once in my childhood gave me the answer “because I said so”) gave me an answer that really stuck with me. They sat me down to talk to me and explained that it IS, in fact, necessary to learn about the Holocaust because educating people about it is the only way to prevent that kind of horror from happening again.

I feel strongly that this concept applies in the context of Huckleberry Finn.

And honestly, if they do this, where do the revisionists stop in their desire to Disney-fy history? Will The Diary of Anne Frank end with a passage saying that the Germans took all the Jews to a farm upstate somewhere so they could run around and have more space, like the lie that parents tell children when they don’t want to let them know that their dog died?

If we gloss over the horrors and racism of slavery, we’re dishonoring the memory of both the people who suffered through it and the people who fought and died to end it.  And even worse, by ignoring the issue and refusing to teach it because it’s controversial and unpleasant, we’re opening the door to allow that sort of atrocity to happen again.

If I made you laugh, I was serious. If I offended you, I was just kidding!

Blogging is still a fairly new experience for me, and I’m learning a lot about it as I go.

When I started, I assumed I’d basically be writing humorous columns, like the ones that I teach my journalism kids to write. Ten years ago, I really couldn’t have done that, because I sucked at writing columns when I was in high school. News? I was your girl. Features? Not my favorite, but I was good at it. Sports? Oh, you’re funny. Columns? No way.

It’s not that I wasn’t funny. It’s just that I hadn’t grown into my writing voice yet. News was easy because it was more like a puzzle. You had to squeeze as much information into as few words as possible and keep it in order of importance. Compared to the New York Times crossword, that puzzle is a piece of cake.

Columns involved writing in first person and being able to make fun of myself, and I hadn’t quite gotten there yet. When I started teaching them and helping OTHER people write THEIRS, that’s when I grew into my writing voice. And while I do look forward to the day when I can stop teaching and write full time, I’m not sure I would have been able to write as well if I hadn’t had the experience of teaching other people to write.

Students learning to write columns in my class have several style elements that must be included in their work. I give them a long list of methods of development and they’re required to use at least ten of them in each column they write. The list includes things like hyperbole (extreme exaggeration), self-deprecation, made-up facts and statistics, personification (giving a non-human human characteristics), etc. The basic point being that a column is NOT supposed to be 100 percent true.

Which brings me to the main point of this particular column. Apparently a lot of my nearest and dearest who read my work think that every word of it is true.

To those of you who believe this: you’re idiots.

No offense.

Just stating a fact.

(A non-made-up fact.)

But the biggest thing that I’ve learned about blogging is that if I’m going to be funny, I’m going to piss someone I know off with every blog post. That means that three times a week, I get at least one angry phone call/email/text message/person coming up to me and telling me how mad they are. And the other four days of the week, I get angry people asking me why I’m not blogging that day.

I can’t win.

Here’s the thing to remember though, if everything that I said was true, wouldn’t I be in jail by now? I’m pretty sure I outlined a plan to launch what basically equates to a terrorist plot on the states of Delaware and Texas, confessed to breaking several laws (including telling people how to commit assault at a concert), and have threatened murder numerous times. If you believe that all of that was completely serious, then I’d also like to warn you that if you don’t give me a million dollars RIGHT NOW, the world is going to end.

Although the plans for Texas and Delaware WERE actually serious. I DO plan to get rid of both states when I take over the world. And I DO think my dog is an evil super genius. And my grandmother DOES suck with technology.

Okay, maybe there IS some truth in what I write. Let’s try this again.

If I say something that pisses you off and it’s NOT about Delaware or Texas, I was kidding.

But the complete truth isn’t usually as funny as the embellished truth. With the exception of the story about when the girl threw up in my class. That, unfortunately, was the God’s honest truth. Every word. It sucked. A lot.

And there are some totally true stories that I feel like I can’t tell because I KNOW the people involved will hate me. I was a bridesmaid in a wedding that had some hilarious (now that it’s over) aspects to it. But if I write it as it happened, the bride will come after me with a vengeance that would rival a biblical plague. Literally. I think she’d start bringing frogs and locusts and cattle disease on me. (And if she’s reading this, I LOVE YOU! Please don’t smite my first born!)

So if you’re offended, please remember that that wasn’t my goal. I’m just trying to entertain. And if you can’t handle that, there’s no one holding a gun to your head to read my blog. You can stop reading any time. (Although that WOULD be pretty cool if someone was holding a gun to people’s heads and making them read MY blog. I’d LOVE to have such dedicated fans!)

And if you’re so offended by my work that you feel the need to have someone else call me to tell me how mad you are at me (yeah, it happened), then fine, I’ll try to not mention you in my blog.

But when I eventually get to write full time and am living in a Unabomber-style shack in the woods to write without people harassing me all the time, all bets are off.

Consider yourself warned.

Confessions of a self-published drama queen

Self-publishing a book has been an interesting experience for me all around.

And by interesting, I mean a nerve-wracking, panic-attack inducing, keeping-me-up-at-night-in-fear-of-it-failing ordeal.

To be fair, I’m not exactly a person whom anyone who knows me would call calm. I’ve been known to be a drama queen and I’ve never needed an excuse to freak out about things.

But the book situation is scarier than I expected it to be.

I decided to self-publish Beyond the Palace because nothing was happening with it and friends and family were nagging me to do it. I’d written literally hundreds of query letters to agents and never even got an agent to read it. I’d heard that for every twelve letters you send out, you’ll usually get one hit. By that logic, I should have dozens of agents beating down my door. Maybe I suck at query letters. Or maybe the publishing industry is a front for a massive drug ring and I’m the only one who didn’t get the memo that agents don’t actually read books. I’m not sure which it is.

So after a couple years of nothing happening, I did my research and decided on amazon.com’s self-publishing options.

And call me naïve if you will, but I secretly thought it would be an overnight sensation.

Not because I believe in myself, but because I actually thought people I knew would rush to buy the book.

Hah.

I learned the hard way that that just wasn’t going to happen.

That’s right. If you’re reading this and haven’t bought my book yet, you’re a terrible friend/coworker/student/total stranger, etc. In fact, if you’re a frequent reader and you’re not supporting me by getting my book, you’re practically stealing from me.

I thought that my coworkers would want to read it. Well, okay, not all of them, but I figured that English teachers at least must LOVE to read.

Apparently that’s not the case.

Or else they all secretly hate me. I’m not sure which it is.

And I was positive that every student I’d ever taught would buy it.

Not because I instilled them all with a deep love of reading, but because I figured they would all want to see if I wrote a sex scene.

Nope.

Several of them flipped through it LOOKING for a sex scene. But when they realized that there were no pictures and that my writing style wouldn’t double for a letter to Penthouse (are those actually real?), they lost interest quickly. Although if I drew a pair of boobs in the margin, I’d probably have had a much wider teenage audience.

And I figured that my friends who had read it in a rough draft in a binder would all buy it, because that was the deal I made with them when I let them read it in a binder.

Didn’t happen.

The first day, I sold eight copies. I have over four hundred Facebook friends, not even counting family, school friends, etc. who AREN’T on my Facebook page. Eight copies.

To say I was devastated would be like saying I’m a LITTLE excited when I’m at a Bruce show. Or that Lady Gaga is slightly odd.

MASSIVE understatement.

My parents tried to comfort me by saying that if I sold eight copies a day for the rest of my life, I’d be a millionaire.

Good thing they’re not math teachers. Eight copies sold gives me about $25.  At that rate, they’re right.  I WOULD be a millionaire.  It would just take approximately 110 years.  Of course, I’d still only be in my late twenties in 110 years, because I will NEVER be turning 30.  But that’s an awful long time to wait.

So I began nagging everyone to buy it. Which annoyed the crap out of everyone who knows me, but helped sales somewhat. And I ventured into the world of Facebook advertising.

Sales are better now, but I’m still spending more money on ads than I’m making off the book. But I’ve started to pick up fans on Facebook who I don’t know, meaning that people other than the people who I’m forcing to buy the book are reading it.

The problem is that because I self-published it, I can check my sales in real time online. Which means that I no longer have a life, I just sit in front of my computer waiting for the next copy to sell. And when I absolutely HAVE to leave the house, like to walk Rosie or go to work, I check the sales from my phone. I’m driving myself, and everyone else I know, completely insane.

I figured out why it’s so scary though: before I self-published it, I wasn’t succeeding because the book wasn’t out there yet. Now, if I fail, it’s because I’m just not good enough. And when I might not be good enough at the one thing that I want to spend the rest of my life doing, that’s a REALLY scary concept.

Luckily, people seem to be loving the book. My lowest review on amazon.com is three stars, and all of the others are four and five star reviews (at least half of which were written by people I don’t know and didn’t force to write reviews, which is encouraging).

So if you haven’t bought my book yet, check it out. You’ll probably like it and it’ll keep my future therapy bills lower. And if you HAVE already bought it, you’re awesome. Thank you. Now go tell all your friends to buy it too.

And whatever you do, don’t leave me a negative review. Because I plan to take a cue from Jay and Silent Bob and go after anyone who does that.
(NSFW)

Literally. I have the song that played during that part on my iPod, ready to go. It’s called “Kick Some Ass” by Stroke 9. I’m not kidding.

Ooh, someone just bought a copy! Yay! Thank you, whoever you are.

The word gullible isn’t in the dictionary. Don’t believe me? Look it up!

I think the best part of being a teacher is that I get to take kids who were never that into writing as an art form and show them how exciting language can be.

Yes, I’m a nerd.

But as a writer, it’s really cool when I get to show kids the power that their words can have. Unfortunately, running the school newspaper, more often than not, they see that their words are powerful when we get in trouble over something asinine that someone has complained to the administration about. And while I hate that part of my job with a passion that rivals my hatred for the Cowboys, it’s still an opportunity for the kids to learn about the importance of writing.

One of my favorite moments every year is when the students who are new to the newspaper staff get to see their first byline in print. I still remember my first byline (an article in the December 1995 issue of the Rockville High School Rampage about the school band taking a trip to Florida), and I truly enjoy getting to share that moment with my students when they first see their work in the newspaper.

This year, I’ve had new opportunities to share writing with my students through the publication of my novel (Beyond the Palace, if you’ve been living under a rock and therefore STILL haven’t checked it out yet). I’ve talked about my writing for years, but getting to actually show them a hard copy of the book has had a significantly more impressive effect. And I’ve actually had several students tell me they have started writing books because they were inspired by the fact that I did it.

The other new opportunity has been in the form of this blog, which, if I’m being completely honest, is really just written in the same format of the columns that I teach my journalism students how to write. Of course, they whine about writing six or seven a year. I’m doing at least three a WEEK. Amateurs. But one of my students started his own blog this year too. But he gets like a couple of blog hits a day, and I’m getting around a hundred a day.  So he asked me to give him a shout-out in my blog to get him some more hits. And here it is. Go check out his blog.

And while we’re on the subject of Taylor, I should admit that I lied. Instilling students with a love of writing is the SECOND best part of my job. The best part is actually messing with the kids’ heads.

Which I do on a daily basis.

Don’t judge. I need SOMETHING to keep me sane until summer vacation.

And sometimes it’s just SO easy to mess with their heads. Because they’re gullible enough to believe everything I tell them.

In fact, they’re even gullible about the WORD gullible. One of my favorite tricks is to tell a kid (with a completely straight face, of course), that gullible isn’t in the dictionary. If they don’t believe me, I tell them to look it up. Which they do. Because they’re that gullible. And the worst part is that after they’ve fallen for that, I can STILL get them by telling them that someone wrote gullible on the ceiling—they ALL look up. Every time.

 By then, they no longer believe me, which means I have to get them again. I tell them that gullible is spelled with three l’s. They argue that they’re not that stupid and they’re not falling for my tricks again. And then I explain to them that it actually IS spelled with three l’s.

I have other favorite tricks too. For example, whenever anyone asks me if we have a test that day, I ALWAYS say yes. Unless we DO have a test, in which case I say no. And when they freak out about the unexpected test, I act irritated and ask why they hadn’t spent all week studying for it. Anything they ask me for, the answer is always no. Which I usually say before they even finish asking the question, just to see how hard they’ll argue.

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

“No.”

“Do you have a bandaid?”

“No.”

“Can I get a drink of water?”

“No.”

“I accidentally cut my arm off, can I go to the nurse?”

“No.”

 “A lion is attacking me! Help!”

“No.”

And so on.

My favorite thing to do, however, has to be personalized on an individual basis, depending on what the individual kids will get riled up about. Which is where Taylor comes in.

I was working on the newspaper at lunch with my editors one day, when another student made a comment saying that golf shouldn’t be in the sports section because it wasn’t a real sport. Now I normally defend everything in the sports section fairly emphatically (because I don’t want cheerleaders or poms having a grudge against me, and if it’s athletic, I think it belongs in the sports section), but Taylor started arguing that golf was, in fact, a sport. And he got kind of heated about it.

Which meant that I had to disagree with him. Not because I have a strong stance on golf (which I don’t. As one of the least athletic people on the planet, I don’t have any room to judge), but just because it amused me to see him try to argue that golf is a sport.

So for the last month, every time ANYONE has mentioned golf OR sports with Taylor in the room, I’ve turned to him and told him that if my 85-year-old grandfather plays it, it’s a game, not a sport.

But even though I know I’m driving him nuts, and even though golf isn’t a sport, TAYLOR is a good sport. So check out his blog. It’s about football, and it’s actually very well written. But do me a favor when you DO look at it: leave him a comment about how football may be a sport, but golf isn’t. The look on his face when he sees comments about that will be a great way to pay me back for all the entertainment I’ve given you with my blog.

It shouldn’t be hard to do. It’s not like leaving a comment is a sport or anything. Just like golf.

And right now, Taylor is reading this and saying, “Oh my God, golf IS a sport! Why is she doing this to me?”

The answer? Because I’m easily amused and you react. But if you don’t believe me, I hear they put your picture in the dictionary. Right next to the word gullible. Go ahead. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Sometimes I DO love my job.