Thursday, January 31, 2013


This post has absolutely nothing to do with writing.

My oldest son turned fifteen today. Not entirely sure how that happened. I just took him to his first day of kindergarten last week, I swear. Despite the obvious fast-forwarding problem that my life seems to be having, I wanted to stop and think about this new development. In one year, he’ll be able to drive. In three years, he’ll be able to vote. We’ve already started discussing universities. I am in no way prepared for these milestones, but that’s not important. What I really need to worry about is whether he’s ready.

Never having been a teenage boy, I’m not sure what words of wisdom he needs most now to guide him. So far, my advice to him has consisted of 1) personal hygiene is critical, 2) all teenage girls are insane, and 3) if he blows off school, it’s his own future that he’s screwing up, not mine. I am well aware that I am lucky he’s such a good kid. He attempts to be a good big brother. He doesn’t really mouth off much. He’s naturally brilliant. He has never shown a lot of concern over whether he is accepted by his peers. He helps out around the house with minimal resistance. He’s kind to animals. Most shocking of all, he still talks to me about his ideas and feelings and problems and aspirations. He still wants my approval.

Since he’s on the autism spectrum, the special considerations that brings up for him tend to eclipse a lot of other typical teenage issues. We’ve been hyper-focused on helping him adjust to what society expects of him since he was three years old. Emotions had to be explained to him like a foreign language. This may be why we’re still able to communicate. I spent so many years learning his language – learning which words to use to reach him – that I still understand a lot of the unspoken information that comes with his questions and stories about his day. Or maybe he still talks to me just because I’m listening.

So much of what I said to adults during my teen years was ignored – just because I was a teenager. I think that this is a profound mistake to make as a parent or educator. If no one listens to you, what does that do to your self-esteem? What motivation to succeed, to learn, to grow can you find if the world around you gives you the clear message that nothing you say is of value? Even teenagers are capable of insight, compassion, innovation, and excellence. When I tell my son that I see that potential within him, I can see his own belief in himself grow before my eyes.

So what words of wisdom can I give my son now that he’s hovering on the verge of adulthood? What lessons have I taught him?

He’s seen me choose my children’s well-being over financial success, so he knows that he’s more important to me than money and he knows what it means as a child to be that important to a parent. Not a bad lesson.

He knows that being true to himself is more important than trying to live up to other people’s expectations. I told him that he can become a Wal-mart greeter if he likes, but only if it’s what he really wants. I push him, but it’s always in a direction that meshes with his own aspirations. He understands that he needs to work hard for the things that are important to him and that he is the only person who can say what those things should be.

He knows that he’s going to make mistakes and that we’ll love him anyway.

He understands that the qualities that make him different do not make him “wrong.” Those differences make him unique, and he can use them to help make the world a better place. He’s had to become both self-aware and self-accepting, and those are two attributes that can only serve to help him through the tumultuous teen years.

I’m ridiculously proud of him.

I don’t think there are any magic words that will ensure that his transition to adulthood is a smooth one. I know he’ll encounter pain and heartache and frustration and self-doubt. I know he’ll do incredibly stupid things that I may not ever find out about. I have to trust that we’ve given him the best tools we could as his parents, and I have to let him walk his own path. Perhaps the most important thing I can give him is my willingness to listen and my belief that he can overcome any challenge that confronts him along the way.

No matter what, I don’t think there are any words of wisdom that will help me be ready to let go of my little boy. All I can do is not make a fuss about it in front of his friends.

I may let him start dating in… oh… twenty more years?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reprint: Q&A with Laura Braley

It's time for more recycling! I promise to start blogging properly again very soon. This is an interview that was originally posted on September 23, 2012, on fellow author Laura Braley's blog in support of my release of "My Apple Tree." The interview was especially fun since the questions came from Laura's daughter McKenzie and she asked some really great questions. I'm providing the link to the original posting below; I encourage you to check out her blog!

How do you get your mindset to write a young adult theme?

I didn’t really set out to write a YA story originally. My initial idea did deal with a young boy and girl, but it followed them into adulthood. I revised and expanded the story quite a bit, and in the end, it seemed to fit into the YA category. I think that if I had an idea for another story or book that was YA, it wouldn’t be hard to get into that mindset. You’d be surprised by how many adults vividly remember what it’s like to be a teenager. It’s a tough period in life, and the memories of the feelings and thoughts you had tend to stick with you, no matter how much you grow and change.

How are you able to get a good plot without over explaining?

One tip they give often in writing style guides and writing workshops is “Show, Don’t Tell.” It’s a delicate balance. You have to give the reader enough background to understand the events in the story, but it’s better to let the characters reveal things through their actions, their facial expressions, and their interactions with each other. When you’re hanging out with your friends, one might tell you a story about something that happened, but you’re going to be able to visualize what she’s describing by the words she uses, her body language, and even the pitch of her voice. You can tell before she says it that she was angry or embarrassed or excited from those clues. Writing works the same way – if the writer shows the reader what the characters are feeling, it allows the reader to be right there in the moment with the characters. That makes the entire reading experience and the reader’s understanding of the plot much more dynamic and exciting.

How much time do you put into an average story?

Months and months and months. I can write a first draft pretty quickly in maybe a month or two, but shaping and honing and polishing and reworking it takes a lot longer. I usually will put a manuscript away for awhile and work on other things so that I can come back to it with a fresh perspective. Sometimes years pass before I will consider a piece really finished.

When and why did you start writing?

I’ve always written stories as long as I can remember. Even if I don’t actually write them down, I get ideas everywhere I go – whole characters and scenes will just pop into my head as I go about my business throughout the day. I think most writers have that experience, and we start writing the stories down just to get them out of our heads!

Has there ever been a time when you couldn’t think of any ideas?

Not really – I have tons of ideas all the time, but they’re not always “complete.” I might have an idea for a scene but not the full story around it, and that’s when I get stumped and have to wrack my brain for more ideas that are specifically for that particular set of characters in that particular situation. That’s the situation in which I will really find myself stuck until a solution occurs to me.

How hard is it to keep your writing from interfering with your personal life?

I think usually my personal life interferes with my writing – and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Most writers would love to just write all the time. It is personal relationships and housework and bills and families and errands that pull us away from our computers or notebooks and force us to be in the real world. That’s not a bad thing. I love my husband and kids and friends, so I’m not sorry to have to spend time with them. Also, writers need to interact with the real world and real people, otherwise we wouldn’t understand real life enough to write about it. My family and my responsibilities to them will always be the most important thing, so it’s not hard to put them first (unless I’ve got a REALLY good idea!). Writing’s like any other job; you’ve got to get the work done to make a living. Going to work physically takes you away from your family if you have a “traditional” kind of career – the only difference is that as a writer I’m still home while I’m working.

Do you tend to use your kids/friends’ names in your stories?

Rarely. I will use names that I associate with certain types of people, but I tend to stay away from namesakes. It’s tough for me to imagine writing a love story in which the male lead is named after my son, for example. Especially since I’m not going to let him date until he’s at least thirty-five. I’m much more likely to base characters’ personality traits on people I know; depending on what those traits are, I may or may not actually tell the person about it. Very close friends might recognize the inspiration behind a scene or a character, but I do try not to make it obvious.

How do you stay committed to your writing?

I’m very fortunate to have a career that I love. Writing is something that’s in my blood, and I enjoy it tremendously. It’s challenging and a lot of work and often heartbreaking, but it is a part of who I am. Even when it looks like I’m just staring out into space, I’m working on my writing. It’s easy to stay committed to something that you love, that brings you joy, and that helps you be the best version of yourself possible. For as much effort as I put into it, it gives back so much to me in return. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

See the original post here:

Laura Braley: A Little Q&A with Elizabeth M. Lawrence