Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


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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.

 

 


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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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Word of the Year, Confessions and Resolutions

2017 Word of the Year:

AWAKE

Let me rewind to explain. 2015 was horrible. Several things happened, within a short time period, and after the initial, all-consuming wave of rage/sadness/shock had passed, I was left with low-grade grief. That seems the most appropriate term for it. I functioned and went through the motions, but there was always this underlying anxiety that more terrible things were going to happen.

And more inevitably did. 2016 included the scramble to find a new place to live before our apartment was declared unsafe by the building inspector. The home-buying process was stressful, the move overwhelming. I didn’t write or read anything in November/December.

Confession: During the last two months of 2016, all I managed to do most evenings after work was curl up on the couch and binge-watch “Murder She Wrote.” There was something comforting about Jessica Fletcher always catching the culprit. I ignored the fact this character was involved with 12 seasons of murder and somehow wasn’t emotionally scarred.

Then, a few days ago I was setting a newly repotted plant on the dining room table and the sun was shining brightly through the glass patio doors and I felt something I hadn’t in a long time:

Peace. Hope. Happiness.

Or some combination. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. It was the same feeling I used to have, years ago, when my husband and I lived in an apartment in an old house (ironically, it was just as moldy as the last place) and we had a tiny balcony off our bedroom where the sun would shine on our bed in the afternoons and I would curl up like a contented cat to read.

That one moment the other day made me realize how much I’ve been shambling through life the past few years, always steeled for the next crisis and never fully engaged with anything. Now it’s like I’m slowly waking up. 

A-ha! I finally get to the point.

I don’t expect myself to suddenly be a different person. I’ve always been a worrier, a homebody, the one that’s there to take care of the little details in an emergency. Sometimes these traits have felt like burdens, but ultimately I like knowing that my family can count on me. It’s the way I show love because, although my words/emotions flow freely on paper, I’m not demonstrative in real life.

My reticence, compounded with my low-grade grief, means I’ve missed out on a lot of adventures the past few years. I’m not talking about skydiving or snorkeling, I mean little things, like taking spontaneous drives through the wilds of West Virginia or going to a baseball game.

In 2017, I want to be AWAKE. I want to:

  • Go on an adventure every month
  • Read a book a week
  • Finish a draft of EMMA
  • Get back into working out
  • Make my house feel like a home
  • Feel like a contented cat again

I’m posting these resolutions publically because I feel accountable that way. Maybe it’ll also encourage me to blog more because I’ve been a bit (a lot) lacking in that department.

Here’s to waking up in 2017!

P.S. I finally gave my blog a facelift after years of the same drab background. There’s an updated “About” page and I added a tab about my books (with brief excerpts).

P.P.S. Next week is my seven year blogiversary and I’m planning a giveaway. Check back in a few days for details.


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RTW – Quarter-year update

This week’s topic is: Quarterly check-ins! We’re already 1/4 of the way through the year–where are you on your reading and writing goals?

Based on the January goals that I posted:

Write every day.

Just about, I’m happy to report. I’ve only missed three of four days. Right now I’m in the middle of a massive rewrite, so I’m totally motivated, but I’m curious how well I’ll do when my draft is off with betas. We shall see, we shall see.

My TBR-Shelf

It started at 53 and it’s down to 46. I was aiming to read (or give away, as the case may be) at least 13, so I’m doing well there.

Keep querying

Yep, I am still trudging along in the trenches.

Finish a complete draft of a new WIP

I’m hoping to have the first draft done by the end of this month and to edit the mess by the end of April or May so I can ship it off to beta camp for the summer.

In other news, it’s snowing! A lot! My camera batteries haven’t finished charging, otherwise I would post a pic.

 


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Reading Reflections – March 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I’m trying to find the right word for my reading experience.  “Enjoyed” doesn’t fit because I obviously didn’t get any pleasure from reading about the horrors that Lina witnessed/went through.

But I did like the book and think it’s important for stories like this to be told.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I liked the story overall.  And I liked the time period in which it was set (1940s).  But I did have some issues.

Firstly, the historical error on page 1, that said Brandon Lee was dead and buried in 1986.  Um…no.  I was in high school when he died (1993), I remember very clearly because some of my friends were obsessed with “The Crow.”

And then the whole computer mention.  Granted, I was just seven in 1986, but I do remember my older brother’s “awesome” Texas Instrument.  He taught himself computer language and played a really spiffy football game with the arrow keys, while I typed short stories, using the tremendous word-processing capabilities.  At no time were we able to use our computer to do a person search, like Henry’s son apparently did.

There were a few other, little errors, but those two really jumped out at me and I think it brought down an otherwise sweet and moving story.

If you’re looking for more stories about forced evacuations and exterminations…

^Wow, that sounds morbid and sadistic.  Obviously, I mean it in a historical/educational sense.  All book descriptions from Goodreads, movies from imdb, in italics.  I cut some of the descriptions b/c they were really long.  Click on links for more details.

Obasan by Joy Kogawa

I haven’t read this yet, but it’s on my TBR-list.

Based on the author’s own experiences, this award-winning novel was the first to tell the story of the evacuation, relocation, and dispersal of Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War.

The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman

My dad was reading this and handed it to me when he finished.  It’s a short book; I was done in a matter of about two hours.  But it’s one of those stories that makes you question humanity and your own survival instincts.

The Nazis kept the fires of Treblinka burning night and day…there was no pretense of work here like in Auschwitz or Birkenau. Only a train platform and a road covered with sand…Chil Rajchman, a young man who survived working as a “barber” and “dentist,” heartsick with witnessing atrocity after atrocity…Rajchman provides the only survivors’ record of Treblinka.

Paper Clips (documentary, 2004)

As a part of their study of the Holocaust, the children of the Whitwell, TN Middle School try to collect 6 million paper clips representing the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

The earnestness of these kids…that really got to me.  They asked this seemingly simple question of “how many is six million” because none of them could even comprehend such a large number. I couldn’t, either.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

I read this years ago for a Resources for Children class – it was one of those moments where I went, “Holy crap, this is a kids book???  This is amazing!”  The drawings are spectacular and it explains history and political ideas in such a way that kids can understand but that will also keep the interest of adults.

Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adolescence brought questions. Cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country. Sís learned about beat poetry, rock ’n’ roll, blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. He let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, and joined a rock band. Then came the Prague Spring of 1968, and for a teenager who wanted to see the world and meet the Beatles, this was a magical time. It was short-lived, however, brought to a sudden and brutal end by the Soviet-led invasion. But this brief flowering had provided a glimpse of new possibilities—creativity could be discouraged but not easily killed.

The Gendarme by Mark Mustian

The story is fiction, but based on the Armenian genocide (1915-1923).  It’s told from the POV of a former gendarme (military police), so it’s painful to read some of the violent scenes and to connect them with what otherwise seems like a kind, feeble old man.  Don’t be fooled by the description below, this isn’t any sort of love story.

Emmett Conn is an old man, near the end of his life. A World War I veteran, he’s been affected by memory loss since being injured during the war. To those around him, he’s simply a confused man, fading in and out of senility. But what they don’t know is that Emmett has been beset by memories, of events he and others have denied or purposely forgotten.

In Emmett’s dreams he’s a gendarme, escorting Armenians from Turkey. A young woman among them, Araxie, captivates and enthralls him. But then the trek ends, the war separates them. He is injured. Seven decades later, as his grasp on the boundaries between past and present begins to break down, Emmett sets out on a final journey, to find Araxie and beg her forgiveness.

Ararat (movie, 2002)

Interrogated by a customs officer, a young man recounts how his life was changed during the making of a film about the Armenian genocide claims.

I didn’t dislike the movie, but at times there seemed to be too much going on, especially with the young man’s girlfriend.  I felt like that character could have been cut out and more focus given to either the guy’s story or to the film that was being made.

I did like how the filmmaker’s actions raised some important questions.  At one point, he wanted to have Ararat (mountain) in the background of several scenes and his consultant said, “No, it wouldn’t be visible from here.”  And he just sorta brushed the concern away because he was going for interesting instead of accurate.

Rabbit Proof Fence (movie, 2002)

This movie is based on the book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington (which I haven’t read, the author is the daughter of one of the girls, Molly).  The notes at the end of the movie said that Molly was taken a second time and again made the journey home by foot.  Pretty amazing.

The remarkable true story of three young girls who cross the harsh Australian desert on foot to return to their home.

Following an Australian government edict in 1931, black aboriginal children and children of mixed marriages were gathered up by whites and taken to settlements to be assimilated…forbidden to speak their native language, forced to abandon their aboriginal heritage…the three girls scared and homesick planned and executed a daring escape from the grim camp…headed for the nearby rabbit-proof fence that stretched over 1,000 miles through the desert toward their home.

Grandpa’s Mountain by Carolyn Reeder

This is one I need to reread, haven’t picked it up in twenty years.  I’m pretty sure it was my parents who handed this book to me, to learn more about what went on in my neck o’ the woods.  The story itself is fiction, but the historical events are real.

It’s not on the scale of the other books/movies I’ve mentioned, but it was a big deal to the people living on the mountain, who were suddenly forced to give up the only place they’d ever known as home.

Carrie has always loved spending summers at her grandparents’ home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Not even the Depression, so much on her mind back home in the city, can change the safe, carefree feeling she gets from the old farmhouse where her grandfather has lived all his life.

But this summer, shortly after Carrie arrives, she finds out that the government is planning to create a national park that will include Grandpa’s mountain, and the state of Virginia is buying up land for the park — and evicting the people who live there.

Grandpa is determined to save his home, and Carrie believes he’ll win his battle. As Grandpa’s increasingly solitary struggle drags on, Carrie learns a lot about the importance of fighting for what you believe in — and knowing when it’s time to move on.

So there’s my mini list – any reading/viewing suggestions for me?