Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


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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.

 

 

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Saying goodbye to a manuscript

April 20, 2014-August 8, 2017

From the first query letter I sent to the last for THE STAINED GLASS SUN AND MOON (aka Jules). During those three years, we went through contests, twitter pitches, two major revisions based on agent feedback, and one rejection letter so needlessly nasty that I wanted to stop writing forever. We’ve had over a dozen requests for pages and so many kind words of like, but no one fell in love. Well, other than me. I’ve been in love with this story and these characters, in some incarnation or another, since I was 17.

But now it’s time to put Jules away, not in a metaphorical drawer, but in a keepsake box with other treasured memories. I’m not going to lie – it’s hard. After three years of fighting for my girl, my disappointment over shelving her feels like a break-up.

I actually started this post weeks ago, after the last thoughtful rejection I received on a full. I still had other queries out there, but something in my heart told me to hang up my boxing gloves. Our fight was over.

After the last email was sent, I took a break from all things writing and focused on organizing the house my husband and I moved into last December. We’d lived in tiny apartments for so long before then that we could never unpack all our stuff and we’d been lugging around unopened boxes for years.

Do you know what was in those boxes? Writing. Of course. I can’t escape it, even when I try.

It’s funny, though, because it was actually therapeutic to read my stories from middle and high school. Some were so cringingly bad and unoriginal I tossed them without a second thought, but there are a few pieces that have a certain line or a cool detail and they made me remember why I love writing so much.

Telling stories, diving into my characters’ lives and pulling them into hell and back out again…

I LOVE IT.

With Jules, it was a book about a girl who falls in love with a boy and when she gets pregnant, they fall apart. Even more so when she has a miscarriage. It’s about picking up the pieces and putting them back together which is made more difficult because nothing fits the way it used to.

My heart was ripped out again. How was I still standing?  I turned toward the door and Jesse grabbed my arm. I whirled around and stomped on his foot like I’d been taught to do in the self-defense course my uncle made me take at the rec center a few years ago. But Jesse didn’t let go and it didn’t matter anyway because no one had explained what to do when the attack and the hurt came from the inside. When you loved and hated someone so much that it physically hurt.

Jules and Jesse will always have my heart, but I’m moving on, testing out the waters with another old/new story called Emma. I hope one day I’ll fall head over heels in love with her, too.

 

 

 

 


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Fresh Air Friday – Manhattan

Last week my baby bro turned 21 and I thought an epic birthday gift would be spending the afternoon in Manhattan. Since I don’t have a/c in my car, I bought bus tickets. I once drove seven hours straight, so how bad could two five and a half hour bus rides in one day be?

Answer: VERY BAD

Also, when you plan an awesome adventure, first make sure it’s not going to be 95 degrees outside. I naively assumed  I understood heat/humidity, coming from Virginia. But then I experienced Penn Station. You know that searing blast of heat when you open the door to a hot oven? It’s like that, only non-stop.

So the bus ride was uncomfortable and the heat unbearable at times, but we did manage to wander around Battery Park for awhile and it was beautiful. My Statue of Liberty photos didn’t really turn out, but I have this pic of a pigeon!

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Note: I once explored Philadelphia in a day and took pics of pigeons there, too. And I probably have some from DC. This is kinda weird.

It was a bizarre, surreal day that didn’t turn out quite like I planned, but at least it was an adventure, which was what I was going for.

A final thought: One of my favorite movies as a kid was THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN. Perhaps it gave me unrealistic expectations because there was nary a roller skate in sight, much to my disappointment. 


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Fresh Air Friday – Luray Caverns Edition

Yesterday I went underground. Literally. I live within easy driving distance of several caverns, but I hadn’t visited any of them since I took elementary school field trips oh so many years ago. I’d forgotten the cool stillness of these places and how it feels like nothing else exists. Granted, I was part of a tour with several dozen more people, but we all seemed to be feeling the collective awe.

Here are some pics, including the reflecting pool which perfectly mirrors the ceiling, but my phone camera can’t really do proper justice.

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Fresh Air Friday – SummySeries edition

It’s that time of year again, when I hide inside from the heat* and read a bunch of books**! There are no rules to SummySeries other than:

READ

I’ll try to update a few times with reviews and such, but I also plan to dive back into a WIP and clean up the mess that still exists nearly six months after moving***, so I may be missing in action until September.

*Or rain, as would be the case this week

**I’m doing an experiment where I start at the top of my TBR-list and either read the book or delete it (with some pauses whenever an out-of-sequence book catches my attention). Obviously I can’t find every book in the library, so I’ll have to skip some for the time being, but I’m curious how long I can maintain this.

***I’m reading about the KomMari method and my husband is afraid I’ll get rid of everything we own. I’ve been known to over-purge in the past because I like when things have a place and a purpose. Usually I do a massive clean before a move, but the second I heard we were approved for a mortgage, I started putting things in boxes because I was ready to get the hell out of our mold-infested apartment. Add our stuff to everything the previous homeowner left and I have a ton to sort through.


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Chris Cornell

Fridays are usually reserved for Fresh Air thoughts, but in a cruel turn of events, I was actually outside, enjoying fresh air, when I heard about Chris Cornell yesterday, so that title didn’t seem appropriate today.

I wish I had the words to post a lovely tribute, like some of the others I’ve seen, but I’m copying my hastily written Facebook words from yesterday morning, because they pretty much sum up my feelings:

Chris Cornell…what can I say? I was obsessed with Soundgarden when I was a teen. First CD I ever bought. Cornell solo was the first non-local concert I went to. I watched ‘Singles’ in the theater bc I knew he had a bit part. I even watched that awful Great Expectations adaptation from the 90s bc CC had a song on the soundtrack. I’m saddened to hear of his passing. And if the suicide rumors are true, I’m even sadder because he, like many people I love and have loved, struggled with the demons of addiction and depression. Today I’m gonna scream along to the music a little louder.