Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


Grief

First day of summer and I’m feeling introspective because of recent events.

I’ve experienced grief before. One of my earliest memories is from first grade when my paternal grandfather passed away. I knew he was gone, but I didn’t entirely comprehend what death was.

I did, however, understand that something was wrong as I lurked around the edges, listening to adults speaking in hushed tones. And after I watched those same adults leave to attend the funeral, I retreated to my room and squeezed into the space between my bed and dresser because I wanted to make myself as small as possible. I felt the confusion and emptiness of grief, even if I didn’t know what it was at that time.

Since then, I’ve lost another grandfather and dear cousins and relatives of my husband’s that felt like my own. I’ve cried, I’ve felt angry, I’ve played the what-if game.

But nothing prepared me for losing my father a little over two weeks ago.

I won’t go into detail about his illness, other than to say he’d been sick off and on for over a decade and he’d fought like hell through every down and tried to make the most of every up.

My dad’s death was both expected, but not. If you’ve ever watched someone you love suffer for years, you know what I mean. You’re scared all the time of it happening, but when it finally does, you can’t believe it.

It was late evening when my mom called from the hospital to tell me. I went into this sort of action-mode. I called my brothers and my dad’s younger sister. I left my best friend a message to call me when she got a chance because I didn’t want to interrupt bedtime with her kids. I unloaded the dishwasher while I waited for her to call back. It struck me that doing something mundane seemed completely ridiculous, but I needed to do something.

Everything I did the next few days felt surreal. I went to the grocery store and wondered why the cashier was chatting away like everything was normal. Didn’t he know? Didn’t everyone know? Something so big had just happened to me and my family, yet life had continued on around us without so much as a pause.

Although, in a weird way, it was oddly comforting to know that all these people had likely experienced their own grief, yet here they were, buying bread and light bulbs.

The funeral was the hardest day of my life and after I was home, on the couch with my husband and cats, my brain finally allowed me to feel sadness.

Up until that point, I’d focused on planning and details. I’d hugged a million people and thanked them for their support and said that cliché line about how I was glad he was no longer in pain, which I actually believe, but it still felt so robotic.

I truly did feel grateful for the kindness of everyone, from distant relatives I’d never even met to the veterans at the cemetery who volunteered their time to give my dad a military tribute, but I’d never felt so tired in my life.

So now I focus on the “new normal” which is a term I discovered on many grief sites. I don’t know what that is yet.

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So long, 2018

A quick recap of my year:

I read 51 books! Since my last post, my favorite was THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE by Rebecca Barrow. Such a fantastic story of friendship, forgiveness, and following dreams.

I also read a moving middle grade that I bought my niece for Christmas called GABY, LOST AND FOUND by Angela Cervantes. Prepare for all the feels.

I wrote! Or, more accurately, I outlined! For the first time ever! 21 pages! WHAT???

Excessive punctuation aside, I enjoyed the process and once the chaos of the holidays wears off, I’ll get to work on a messy first draft.

Well, I promised this would be short, so…

Here’s to 2019! May your year be full of great books, fun adventures, and lots and lots of pet snuggles ❤️

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Fall, fall, guess what, it’s fall! (2018)

Can you tell it’s my favorite season?

I didn’t write the majority of this summer. Instead, I read books, binge watched TV, and worked my way through a towering stack of magazines I’d let pile up for months. I stayed indoors, feeling disgruntled, not only by the heat and humidity, but also because of the constant rain.

But now it’s fall, season of beautiful leaves and cool nights and nostalgia and I’m hopeful as I slowly outline CLAIRE. She’s reticent, much like a professor once told me (not unkindly) I was, so she’s hard to get to know.

Maybe by the new year we’ll be old friends?

A few of the books I read this summer:

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US by Katy Upperman – romantic and so, so thoughtful

DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland – The main character is kick-ass, the storytelling top-notch, and the subtle parallels between society now and then are frightening. As soon as I finished reading, I immediately looked up the sequel release date because I didn’t want the story to end.

SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman – I will read anything this author writes because her words are gorgeous. Another quiet, moving story, just like her debut STARFISH.

What I’m looking forward to in the last months of 2018:

Writing!

More reading. I just started ONLY WHAT WE COULD CARRY: THE JAPANESE AMERICAN INTERNMENT EXPERIENCE, edited by Lawson Fusao Inada, and it’s already an emotional read.

Leaf Peeping – is this a universally known term or just an East Coast phrase? I live near a Skyline Drive entrance, and each fall there’s an influx of tourists we (the locals) refer to as “leaf peepers.” It’s been years since I’ve been up on the Drive and I need to remedy that.

Hanging out with my kittens. They’re about five months old now and, yes, we kept three of the four. The fourth went to an awesome home where she was immediately loved and spoiled.

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Summy(Series) 2018

I’ve had a hectic last few months and the country is metaphorically on fire which makes me anxious and angry, so I’ll make this quick.

Remember my last post when I talked about the sweet cat my husband and I rescued from a snowstorm? Well, not long after that, we noticed her getting a bit round in the middle…

Kittens!

 

The pics are from a few weeks ago, the last time I could get them all to sit still (and just barely, hence the blurriness). We’re keeping two, adopting two out in a few weeks. My house is currently chaos.

Also in animal news, only this time it’s terrible: I’ve had to call animal control twice about raccoons. They were definitely sick, probably rabid, and it was very sad to see.

In writing news, I finished reading my plotting book! I’ve been trying to outline, but there was a huge plot point I couldn’t figure out until a few days ago, so hopefully I’ll get back into the WIP game soon.

I’m still reading a ton, some really great books, including PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Plans for the rest of the summer:

Dive into outlining, get some outside time in if it ever stops raining (the localized flooding in my area has been awful), finish organizing the box of old photos I randomly decided needed to be taken care of right now…

Remember to breathe.


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Spring…?

Happy spring! It took awhile to get here in Virginia (and it’s still not too sure). Here was the first full day of it at my house:

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On that same day, my husband and I adopted another cat. I won’t tell you how many that makes…

Here’s the little girl (or “young adult,” as the vet called her, which was pretty perfect):

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The first time I saw her was during that extended cold snap in January, staring in the patio doors at my snuggly warm cats. She was too skittish to approach at first, but we kept trying during the sporadic times she would appear and, finally, when the above-photographed storm dumped nearly a foot of snow on my mountain, we snatched her shivering, icy butt up and put her in a spare room.

By the time we took her to the vet the next afternoon, she was purring in my husband’s arms like they’d been friends forever.

But, what else have I been up to, you ask?

BOOKS

I read SO MANY the past three months. I’ll highlight a few and link to their pages on Goodreads:

DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy – such amazing voice. I’m excited about the upcoming movie, I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. And, really, how can you go wrong when Dolly Parton music is involved?

OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee – Feelings, feelings, feelings. I adored the main character and her love for her family and the friendships. I may have gotten teary once or twice (or 10 times). I also adored Lee’s book, THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE.

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon – on the surface it’s a boy meets girl story, but it’s so much deeper than that and I LOVED (can’t stress enough) Natasha’s personality because I can totally relate to her outlook of: everything has a logical, scientific explanation. I’m also looking forward to the movie adaptation.

There’s another book I read that is currently a movie and it was a big NOPE for me. I won’t mention a title, but you may be able to figure it out with these keywords: fanboy, info dump, have you ever actually met a Japanese person?

WRITING

I’m in the process of reading a book about plotting. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on it until I found a notebook to jot ideas in. I finally got one at Family Dollar and was inexplicably pleased it only cost a dollar. I do that every time in any dollar store, like my brain doesn’t actually process that everything is cheap, until I get to the register with a pile of stuff and I can get it all for like $10.

GOALS FOR SPRING 2018

  • Outdoor time! I can’t wait to take a walk by the river and not freeze. Or lounge on the deck and read a book.

There’s also a lot to do in the yard. That nor’easter that came through about a month ago brought down a lot of trees on my mountain. My yard has one small tree, but mostly branches and sticks. This is my neighbor’s property and the tree is still leaning like this, held up by another tree. Freaks me out every time I drive by it.

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  • Finish reading my plotting book and get started on an outline. The book opens up on a humid-as-hell day so hopefully I’ll be ready to write all the words this summer when the atmosphere is just right.

Note: I will not be on the deck during the summer, I will be basking in the cool indoor glory of my a/c.

FINALLY

Don’t forget that April is national donate a life month. Please think about becoming an organ donor or donating blood, money, or time. A few minutes could save a life ❤ 


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Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

Truth:

I often feel overwhelmed and distracted by The Internetz. There’s so much social media and news that I can rarely focus. Or I focus too much…20 awful news stories and ranting Facebook posts later and I’m still sitting like a lump and I feel even more agitated that the world is figuratively (and sometimes literally) on fire and I’ve done nothing on my to-do list.

I like lists. More than that, I NEED lists and routine. I have family members who feel happiest when they’re traveling and exploring. I like my feet firmly on the ground, surrounded by the familiar. Neither is right or wrong, it’s whatever works.

I didn’t make a list of resolutions this year, but I do have a few general goals, which I’m splitting into quarters (winter, spring, summer, fall). I’ll share them on my blog so this poor space doesn’t fall even more to the wayside.

WINTER 2018

Less Internetz

Read a book about plotting because I’m stuck on my WIP and need to try something different

Spend a lazy day in bed, watching movies

Lots of cat snuggles

Remember to step back and breathe

And that’s it. I’ll post again in March or April. Happy 2018 fireworks


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Why my current WIP is making me insecure

When I was a kid, I devoured The Baby-Sitters Club books and Claudia Kishi was my favorite character, hands down.

The way she dressed was SO COOL and I’m guessing it’s the inspiration behind old pics of me wearing the giantest of scrunchies, 5 plastic watches at once, and two different color knockoff Chucks.

She loved snacks and they are, to this day, my favorite food group.

And there was the matter of her super smart, stuck-up older sibling. To be fair, my genius older brother was always kind, completely unaware of his own intelligence even when he was taking all three foreign languages (Spanish, French, Latin) offered by our high school at once.

I rarely felt inferior to him, the way Claudia seemed to of her older sister, but I was sometimes jealous, especially when the school set up a program, just for him, to distance-study Japanese.

It wasn’t that he was getting special treatment that bothered me, it was about him learning Japanese, our grandmother’s first language.

In BSC books, Claudia lived with Mimi, her wise, soft-spoken Japanese grandmother who taught her about traditional tea ceremonies, but in my life, my grandmother lived hours away and rarely talked about her life before coming to the U.S. My only knowledge of Japan came from these books which, in hindsight, was likely a stereotypical depiction.

So I grew up feeling vaguely different, but not, if that makes sense. My family didn’t do any of the things I thought Japanese people did, like bowing or eating with chopsticks. We ate hot dogs and boxed mac n’ cheese and watched Sesame Street and Family Ties. It was all very American.

But there were those other moments, like the time the principal of my elementary school, where my mom worked, was excited he could mark down he had an Asian-American employee, which meant the school was diverse.

Or the 5th grade field trip to a museum in DC where I saw, for the first time, newspaper headlines from WWII, screaming: GO HOME JAPS!

In high school, someone used an ethnic slur against me – I won’t repeat the word – which was jarring because I always thought I looked “white.” The same with my mom. But just a few months ago, someone saw my parents together and asked my dad if his wife was Mexican. I have also been asked if I was Mexican…or Russian or Ukrainian or Slavic or…(you get the point). And surely my brother looked white since he has my dad’s blue eyes. Yet a couple years ago my husband worked with a guy who went to school with my brother and remembered him as being “Korean or something.”

Most of the time, people are just curious and I don’t take offense*, but it’s always a reminder that, somehow, I’m different. Only, I don’t speak Japanese. I don’t know any of my relatives in Japan. I’ve never been anywhere near the country. And I’m Jennifer Lynn, which is pretty much the most American name in existence. 

Which brings me to my current WIP. I call it a new/shiny old idea because the main character was always part-Japanese and there were a few places in the manuscript where she had encounters similar to ones I’ve had, but I never really dug deeper.

The reason I didn’t was because I didn’t feel like I had the right to. I thought it would be insulting to “real” Japanese-Americans who had more genuine experiences than I did. Then I realized how problematic my thought process was, because what exactly is a “genuine” experience?

Like I mentioned above, Mimi from The Baby-Sitters Club is wise and soft-spoken and drinks tea. My grandmother is intelligent, but she’s also blunt, drinks coffee, and, as I recently learned, grew up in Japan eating sandwiches.

Claudia’s older sibling is good at math. This is often touted as an Asian stereotype, but my grandmother is a retired math teacher and my older brother has a degree in the subject.

Revisiting this manuscript and knowing I need to infuse it with more of my own experiences and insecurities is terrifying. I’m afraid I’ll do something “wrong,” even though it’s essentially my story.

And there’s the fear of haters. A couple months ago, I was tagged in the comments section of a funny Facebook video featuring a cat. It should have been 30 fun seconds of my life, watching adorableness. Instead, the focus of the comments turned to the people in the video. It was set in Japan, I could tell by the overlaid text, so when someone made a remark about China, I said, nicely because there was a winky emoji, that it was actually Japan.

This turned into a shit-storm of angry white dudes saying all Asians eat cats, so why did it matter what country they called it. I tried to explain that their assumptions were offensive and one guy said something like I shouldn’t be upset because it wasn’t like the comments were aimed at the part of me that was Japanese. And oh, by the way, remember that Americans dropped nuclear bombs on Japan?

I left the conversation at that point because I felt sick and unsettled. On the surface, I’d pointed out a geography mistake, but what I’d really done was force several people to face their own bigotry and narrow-mindedness and they were having none of it, hence the passive-aggressive threat.

It’s an ugly, ugly world and allowing myself to be vulnerable in it, through this book, is terrifying. Even the small act of posting these words is scary.

**I don’t personally take offense, but I think it’s part of a larger societal issue where some people only feel secure if they can categorize others by race, gender, religion, etc. And once they’ve stuck everyone into these boxes, they decide which is bad or good, based on what makes them the most comfortable.