Saturday, October 14, 2006


Okay, so I'm sitting in my classroom, listening to my best friend the breast pump as I do every lunch, and the group of boys who routinely trash I mean use my front ramp for lunch was talking the way boys do. They're not a bad bunch--9th & 10th grade, mostly, and if they're not the Valedictorian set, they're not the "I'm just here to make a drug deal so back off" set either--in fact, they're my favorite kind of kid--good hearted, slightly goofy, and more interested in an interesting class than in making perfect grades. I can hear their chatter through the open window, letting the perfect October breeze come in (but with a curtain and a dark room, so they can't see inside) and I hear one of them say, "Man--you wanna go skydiving? Now that's a waste of a perfectly good airplane!"

Writing is like that.

I'm writing a book for my kids. Or it was going to be, but it turns out my brain is just frickin' incapable of writing for anybody but itself. So now I'm writing a book that my kids could read that won't embarrass me or get me arrested for foisting pornography on my children. And it's freaking me out.

Where do I draw that line, people?

My first book, VULNERABLE, had, well, lots of swearing and lots of sex. I told my Advanced Placement students I had written it--some of them, ordered it, which was fine, as long as, I told them, their parents would be fine with it. In an AP class that's not a problem. They read it. They TRULY loved it. (I know this, because I didn't let them use this book for anything having to do with a grade. If a kid reads a book they're not graded on and THEN praises it, that must be a pretty good book to them.) A few kids a year since have read the book--and have loved it. One of them who read it got it from another teacher who read it, much to my flattered embarrassment,

Two weeks ago, that student's little brother came up to me and asked for the name of the second book, WOUNDED. He told me who his sister was and told me she wanted me to sign the second one for her, and I was, again, flattered. Then he told me that he read the book two years ago in 8th grade, and suddenly, I wasn't so flattered.

I was flabbergasted.

I wouldn't let MY eighth grader read that book. Of course, Trystan takes things literally, and the book is too old for him, and the vocabulary is too advanced, and the idea of discussing the stuff that happens--not just the sex-- makes me nauseous with the whole 'teaching as parenting' thing, so that's probably not a good example. How's this. I wouldn't let my SEVENTH GRADER read this book until she got to be an 11th grader at least--and she's in the advanced classes. And I'm a pretty liberal parent, basing much of my judgement on the trickier questions of parenting on the "shame is bad, information is good" rule of thumb.

So what do I do with this new book?

I mean, a lot of it is NOT sex. In fact, most of it is not sex. Most of it is action, adventure, a little thematic preaching (forgive me--my oldest son just got to the point where the F-word is a big deal--no, not the one I like, the one that rhymes with truck, the other one. The ugly one that rhymes with maggot, and I can't stand it that he thinks that this is okay. If I can write a book that makes him not use that word and all of the prejudice that goes with it, it will be worth the time and effort) and a sweet, "wait for me" kind of romance at it's heart. But what about that other part? I mean, it's there--I can't deny it's not. I can play the "lights go down and we all know what happens" game for much of it, but if I don't write the whole scene, at least in my head, I don't know the nuances of how the characters behave afterward, and that makes for shallow writing. But I don't want to dump that on my kids, either.

So where do I do the big 'dump edit' where I cut out the scene and put it on my 'director's cut' document that I will publish on my blog for the lucky ones who really want the dirty stuff?

I'm just borrowing trouble, I know--although the book is almost entirely plotted out in my head, I'm only on manuscript page 85 of what promises to be another monster sized manuscript (at least in the self-publishing world) so I have lots of time to make that choice. I'm just musing here, playing the 'when will I' or 'am I a bad parent because' or 'what makes gratuitous and what makes necessary' kind of game...and the kids never really have to read it, although I did promise, and it was an important promise, and I don't want to break it...I mean, it's a hobby at this point, right? It's only important to me? So it's not worth this angst, this musing, this fretting like a sore tooth, is it?

Who knew writing sex scenes could be so much like skydiving? The trick is knowing how not to waste a perfectly good airplane.


Roxie said...

Kids have to learn about it somewhere. Do you want them to integrate the MTV version or the video game version or would you like some input on the version they will get at much too young an age?

I was a precocious reader and got hold of the book my mom got for my older brothers to explain the birds and the bees.. I was in second grade. When my wierd uncle took me aside, I was able to figure out where he was going, and get aaway from him before too much damage was done.

Knowledge is power. My advice?Give good knowledge.

Rae said...

Judy Blume taught me so much in 6th grade. My now-mom status makes me shudder at the thought of my some-day 6th grader reading that stuff, but you know, we talk about penises and periods and tampons and boobs and all that other stuff with the 2 year-old. She's gonna get it some day, and as I told my mom before she had "the talk" with my brother - "Mom, he knows it all already. Now what he needs to know is 1) it feels good, you'll wanna do it, but you have to be safe; 2) it may feel good to you, but you better be sure it feels good to the girl, too; 3) there's a time and a place to talk about that kinda stuff, and around me [the mom] ISN'T the time for guy-talk; 4) be respectful of all folks.

You can't be in dismay about life. You simply write about life. You can't control others' lives.

And by the way, it's really cool that you write books, teach, knit, mom, wife, and all that other jazz.

Starfish said...

Well, I don't have kids and I don't write, so not sure if my two cents have any merit on this topic. But I would say you have to decide if you are writing for you, as an outlet of the swirling crazies in your own brain, or if you are writing for others, including your children. I would write whatever the hell you want and let them read it when it's appropriate. And only you can know when that is.