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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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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My Five Favorite Reads of 2011

Do you know how hard it was to narrow down my list to five?  But I did it because…well, I have no reason for choosing FIVE as my target number, other than it seemed good.

Also, I still have a pile of books to read before the year is over, so there could be more awesomeness in my future reads.

In no particular order:

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King 

It was different.  Quirky.  But it still tackled heavy issues.  Death, grief, secrets.  The alternating voices are some of the best (and most unique) I’ve ever read.

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When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 

I can’t get this book out of my head.  Even months later, parts of it still pop up in my mind.  The subject matter, the setting, that haunting feeling it left me with…this book is the total package.

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The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks

(the cover isn’t the one on Goodreads, but wanted to show the same one my library had)

This is one of those rare cases where I liked the book and the movie equally.  I bought the movie (VHS so that shows how old it is) on a whim at a video store sale years ago and it’s stuck with me for years.  The book is just as heartbreaking, about a small, economically depressed town torn apart by tragedy.

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I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

There were some parts of this I found dry and confusing, but it’s the whole concept that won me over.  Vampirism caused by a virus.  The last man on earth.  And the ending – brilliant and frightening.

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Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Two stories that are really one, the past catching up to the present, the concept of family and love…beautiful, gut-wrenching book.

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Honorable mentions:

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

The reason I wanted to read this was the reason I liked it.  Friendship, finding yourself, adulation, being trapped in a dead-end town…all these great themes and no hot, mysterious, solves-all-problems-like-magic boy in sight!

Moonglass by Jessi Kirby

This is one of those quiet books that sneaks up on you.  The writing is beautiful, the descriptions of the ocean made me feel like I was there, and the story made me cry.

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And there it is, my bloggy friends, my last post for 2011 – I’ll see y’all* in 2012!

*I so want to use y’all since I’m from Virginia, but it just doesn’t roll off my tongue.  I’m more of a “you guys” type of girl.  But regardless, have a great Holiday and here’s to lots of writing and reading in the new year!

Clinks glass, discards for a piece of cake, stuffs face, happy carb coma….


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Fall Book Club – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It’s time for reflection!

I must admit, when I saw our September book choice, I went:

Eek!

Me + scary books =s Me having nightmares

I mean, look at the cover, it did not make me want to open the book.  Nor did the description which promised eerie things (courtesy of Goodreads):

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned  bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

^Although I feel like this summary is somewhat misleading…but explaining why might spoil some things, so I’ll remain mum.

Anyway,

It didn’t terrify me like I thought it would.  Even the super creepy pics didn’t bother me, because they really added to the story.  No sleeping with the lights on or anything!

Right away, it didn’t exactly *feel* like a YA to me.  There was something “looking back-ish” reflective about the prologue.

Note: Here is a book where I think the prologue works well, because it sets up the story nicely.

Other thoughts:

I’m not sure how to accurately explain this.  A lot happens, but it doesn’t really seem like it.  I stayed a bit detached from the story.  The MC, Jacob, was likable, but I never got to really know him.  I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I wanted to be.

There was a slight bit of romance (which I’m normally all for), but even that felt a little odd and not just because of the circumstances.

Ransom Riggs was great at creating an atmosphere; I didn’t have any trouble imagining the island.  But I would have liked to get to know the “Peculiars” better because some of them were really interesting.  I liked Bronwyn for her bravery/sweetness and Enoch, despite his creepy “gift.”

Some of the time/space explanations were a bit muddled, but I’m the sort to question Newton’s laws, so it’s not surprising I’d feel iffy about that.  I did, however, figure out one of the twists, so I was quite proud of myself.

The ending was obviously setting things up for a sequel, but it felt a little “eh,” mostly because I was still a tad confused about the time/space  stuff.

All in all, it was a quick read and an interesting concept…just not my type of book.

Edit: I want to comment on your blogs, fellow book clubbers, so we can dish about this book, but my words keep getting eaten when I click “submit”…so sorry if you somehow end up with 500 comments from me b/c of this weird glitch.