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Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Interview with the International Reading Association!

I found out the interview had gone live via twitter:

Bullying, awkward flirting, & middle school politics. Unfriended author covers it all.

Wahoo! These were challenging, thought-provoking questions. Thanks to IRA and April Hall for this!

For all you copy-editors and copy-editor wannabes (we are a strange tribe, but passionate) -- can you find my typo? (Hint: think missing punctuation.) Virtual prizes for all winning entries!

Also -- what are YOUR favorite books about teen friendship politics and bullying? Virtual prizes for those, too. GOOD LUCK, YOU GUYS.


Five Questions With... Rachel Vail (Unfriended)

November 7, 2014
Rachel Vail has done it all: novels, picture books, short stories. She even recently wrote for The Huffington Post about the complicated lives of middle-school students.
Her debut novel in 1991, Wonder, received an editor’s choice award from Booklist, as did the follow-up Do-Over. Her most recent book, Unfriended, takes a look at bullying, as do several of her novels. Her characters take on different dimensions, demonstrating that no character has just one dimension, like those characters written by a literary hero, Judy Blume.
Vail said she sees the act of reading and writing as a weapon against bullying and light to illuminate the conflicts students face every day.

Why have you chosen to write on the topics you have, specifically bullying?
I didn’t really set out to write about bullying. I always try to approach my characters with respect and honesty about how it really feels to grow up right now. I want to tell stories that provoke thought as well as laughter, and ultimately a nod of recognition, “yes, oh, me too. With Unfriended, I set out to look at the social politics of middle school. Bullying is naturally in there. I didn’t want to make characters to embody the archetypes of bully, victim, and bystander. That felt facile—and not really true to how these things usually play out. I wanted to get inside each character at the moment of feeling disempowered or callously mistreated—and then to turn around and see what the other kid intended. Very few of us plan to be bullies, or see ourselves that way. I love writing in the voices of middle-schoolers, who are just beginning to realize they don’t have the full story, and wonder why a friend’s interpretation of what just happened can seem so completely off. The emerging awareness of multiple perspectives is a big reason I wrote Unfriended from so many viewpoints—letting the form of the book reflect the questions it’s asking.
What gives you the authentic voice of a middle-schooler in conflict? Is it mostly from personal experience or your experience as a parent?
Authenticity is one of the most important elements to me in writing. I use many routes in. I started writing when memories of painfully awkward cafeteria snubs and flirtations were still hideously fresh, so I never got to experience the blissful amnesia about adolescence that is the well-earned compensation for achy knees. On the other hand, I have two kids of my own, and the emerging wrinkles to prove it. I also stay in touch with readers and other young teens, who keep me honest. But mostly I use memory and specifically some acting exercises to get to the depths and heights of that crazy tumult of being an adolescent. And then I edit and revise and throw stuff away for a long time, until it reads easy and smooth, like the simple immediate truth.
You’ve not only written books, but you recently wrote a column for Huffington Post about the 15 things middle school kids want parents to know. What compelled you to write that?
Although I am a parent myself, and have been an adult for some time now, I still also owe an allegiance to Team Kid. I promised myself while writing my first book that I would always tell the truth about how it really feels to be in the midst of growing up, without sugar coating anything or goosing the consequences in the direction adults might want them to go. I also spend a lot of time each day thinking in the mind and worldview of adolescents, so that voice is as comfortable for me to slip into as my old gray writing cardigan (which nobody gets to see me in, ever.) I thought I might be able to do a valuable thing, if I could express the sometimes hard-to-hear truths that middle school kids wish their parents could hear, and understand. It was a little weird for me, since I usually don’t write directly for an adult audience. But it was fun—and helpful to me as a parent, too!
Which do you like more, writing series, where you can follow through on big themes over several books, or one-offs, where you can tie up loose ends in a single story?
I don’t really know how to write series, though I have done it a few times. I’ve recently heard other writers discuss the topic and have learned that I do it all wrong, in fact. When I’ve written series, I tend to think I am writing just the one book, but then there is another character within the story, or another journey within the character I still have left over, tapping at my attention, wanting its chance. My characters tend to get their grips on me, especially when I really love one of them or find that voice especially fun or difficult to write from within. It’s like Michael Corleone says: just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
You’ve been writing for more than 20 years now. How have you seen the treatment of bullying change in literature over that time?
I read Judy Blume’s Blubber when I was in elementary school in a single shocked gulp. I remember feeling like Judy Blume got it. She understood that the bully wasn’t necessarily the strongest, prettiest, coolest person in school, and the bullied kid wasn’t simply angelic and perfect. I felt exposed by that book, caught in my complicity in some less-than-kind stuff that was happening in my own school. Paula Danziger, Eleanor Estes, Robert Cormier, and Paul Zindel, among others, also took on the subtleties of cruelty and kindness in kid-world. I think for a while thereafter, the theme of bullying arose mostly in stories of difference and identity—racial, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, class. Bullying may be popping up as a hot topic again now in the context of the rise of social media among middle-schoolers. Authors such as Rebecca Stead, Rainbow Rowell, Wendy Mass, Jay Asher, Mariah Fredericks, and many others are exploring aspects of the social whirl that threaten to consume the kids who don’t always realize how cruel, or how powerful, or even how wonderful, they really are.
It seems to me that reading fiction together and discussing what choices characters make is a great way for adults to broach potentially uncomfortable conversations about what is happening in the lives of adolescents we love. Also, reading is a way of thinking with somebody else’s mind; engaging with challenging fictional characters makes us more empathic. So reading is inherently an anti-bullying strategy.
April Hall is editor of Reading Today Online. She can be reached at ahall@reading.org.

#middlegradebooks #unfriended #bullying #friendship #amwriting

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Marathon Day

Sure, I didn't run the marathon today.

I did, however, run an errand (farmer's market!) and also might later run the dishwasher.

Good thing Lightning and I carbo-loaded last night after all.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Teen Halloween

The first Halloween I had as a mom, Z was a few weeks old. I could barely dress myself, never mind him, at that point. We stayed home and handed out candy dressed as exhausted people in pajamas.

The second year, he was walking and delightful and I was PSYCHED. He loved Sesame Street already so I bought my tiny little man a Big Bird costume. This baby who almost never fussed at all smiled when I showed him the costume, saying "Big Bird!" But the smile turned to panic as I tried to put the thing on him. He was screaming, wailing, sweating like a construction worker in August as I attempted to shove his unwilling little legs into the stripey bottoms. When I had to stifle a curse, I stopped and took a breath. And thought, insanely, WTF is WRONG with YOU, baby?

He lay there on the changing table, looking sad and scared. Was he imagining that Big Bird was suddenly eating him up? Or that he would actually become Big Bird? Or... or, who cares? He didn't want to wear the thing.

So what the heck was I doing? And WHY?

Well, because, he was so cute. And I knew he'd LOVE trick-or-treating. And I also knew I couldn't take him without a costume. Because, rules. Society. What kind of mother was I?

I put him in his yellow feety pajamas, cut a red sweatshirt, and wrote POOH on it. He didn't know he was in costume and it was one of the happiest, best nights of his whole life up to that point.

Fast forward a bunch of years. Now there are two kids, and they are both taller than I am. They still like to dress up...
Z, their buddy J, and my baby L

And they still like to go out:

Though this year Z is in college and L is going out with friends and it will be the first time in so many years that I won't be on 69th street with my friend Lauren, dressed up and trying to find our boys.

But I can't even think about that or I'll cry.

And anyway what I am really thinking about right now is remembering and still coping with the way we've had to navigate the unique and poignant stress that is Halloween for teens.

I no longer attempt to shove their unwilling legs into anything. That would just be weird.

But it's a tough one to manage, Halloween as a teen. Are you too old to trick-or-treat? Dress up? Have your mom or dad plan the evening? Are you also too young to not do those things, or care?

When I was in elementary school and, okay, maybe a bit beyond, I always wore elaborate costumes I had to explain at every door, when a well-intentioned adult would look at my friends and me and say: Oh! A football player, a witch, a ballerina, two apples, a pumpkin, and... hmmm... what are you this year, Rachel?

I would show my multiple props and explain what seemed obvious to me: I'm Mozart! (violin, sheet music) I'm Thomas Jefferson! (same white wig, but now the Declaration of Independence and a quill pen)...

On and on. I think maybe if Halloween had happened more frequently I'd have remembered the excruciating horror of humiliation I'd set myself up for the last time and choose to be something normal, obvious this time. But it took me years

The ski jacket over my costume might have also hindered the recognition of various 18th Century heroes. (Okay maybe it was ONE of the problems though.) My mom was afraid I'd be cold. She should have known the flop-sweat and burning embarrassment would keep me nice and toasty.

Eventually I just went as a skier, with my jacket zipped and goggles on. Fine, the first year or two I might have brought ski poles. 

(Is it any wonder I write about the humiliations of being an adolescent? I prepared SO WELL.)

All to say, it's hard to navigate this holiday of childhood imagination and adult campiness for those who are smack in between. 

So my question to you -- how do you manage, yourself or with your tweens and teens?

And: what was your most embarrassing costume ever?

The adorable little ones are easy to be sweet to. Please remember the big galoots need some sweets and some sweetness too, if only this one last time, these precious last grasps of being a kid...

Take their picture, too...

Mine already don't look like this anymore, either...

Happy Halloween!

Rachel Vail

Monday, October 13, 2014

Next weekend -- and a review!

It's Monday -- time to start thinking about next weekend! Will you come hang with me, hear me read from my new book UNFRIENDED*, and I could sign a copy for you? Here's where I'll be, when:

Saturday Oct 18 4 PM The Hickory Stick Bookstore in Washington, CT

Sunday Oct 19 2:30 PM Bank Street Bookstore NYC (112th and Bway)

Lemme know if you can come!

* UNFRIENDED just got a STARRED review from Bulletin! Here it is:
R* Gr. 5-8
After two years of rejection, Truly is finally summoned by her ex-best friend Natasha to the eighth-grade Popular Table in the lunchroom, little knowing the disaster dominoes that will consequently topple. In changing groups, Truly leaves behind smart, arrogant, and determinedly offbeat Hazel, who’s none too thrilled at being jettisoned in favor of girls she considers beneath her; additionally, angry, insecure Natasha grows convinced that Truly is conspiring to nudge Natasha out of the group, and the actions of Hazel and Natasha result in a growing anti-Truly storm that rages over social media and text messages. Those are only a few of the strands of this fascinatingly intricate, poignantly authentic look at middle-school dynam- ics and their amplification through technology. Narration alternates between six eighth-graders: Truly, Hazel, and Natasha, plus the popular group’s low-key leader, Brooke; Brooke’s long-term friend who’s starting to become a romantic possibility, Clay; and the boy who likes Truly, Jack. The result hearkens back to Vail’s wonderful The Friendship Ring series in its opportunity to see how various characters delight, suffer, and rationalize, complicating the portrayals: sweet Truly really does dump Hazel without a backward glance; Hazel repents her pot-stirring account hacking and finds herself liking Brooke; Natasha is so influenced by her bitter and puni- tive mother that it’s a miracle she manages to be functional. The author rises to the difficult technical challenge of keeping all these chaotic plot elements in clear and compelling play, and she not only plausibly pulls her characters out of their combined downward spiral but manages to give everybody some grace and hope. This will be an irresistible starter to a discussion of ethics and values, and readers will appreciate both the cautionary tale and the message of survival’s possibility. DS

Friday, October 10, 2014

New piece (by me!) in The Washington Post

My piece on The Top 5 Things Adults Get Wrong About Teens just went live on the Washington Post's website!

I love the photo they chose to illustrate it:

So now -- what else do YOU think adults get wrong (or RIGHT!) about teens?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


My first public read from UNFRIENDED is tomorrow night!

Please join me and all these awesome authors for Teen Author Reading Night tomorrow, Oct 1, at 6-7:30 PM, Jefferson Market Branch of NYPL, corner of 6th Ave and 10th Street.

Here's who'll be there, doing short readings and then answering any/all questions you may have:

Moderator: David Levithan

Lisa Amowitz,Vision
Laurie Crompton, Adrenaline Crush
Timothy Decker, Lies in the Dust
Heather Demetrios, Exquisite Captive
Jaclyn Dolamore, Dark Metropolis
Amelia Kahaney, The Invisible
Gordon Korman, Memory Maze
Rachel Vail, Unfriended

So... now I better figure out which bit to read!

If you've read Unfriended yet -- any suggestions?

Since there are 6 narrators, I know I have to do a piece that has at least 2 POVs... can I manage 3?

Do you have a favorite narrator?

I am so psyched to hear all these other authors read...

Monday, September 29, 2014

How You Know It's Not The End of the Story Yet

Just saw on the news this morning that a huge truck is jamming up the entire FDR drive here in NYC -- they had to shut the whole thing down, which, with the UN in session to boot, is no doubt making a LOT of people really, really cranky this morning.

It brings me back to the U-Haul truck I drove home from college one year. I dropped off my boyfriend at his house, not far from mine, and proceeded home. It had been many hours for me behind the wheel (my then-boyfriend was not a fan of driving a truck and did not want to take a turn; I felt lucky he even rode with me) during which I kept checking my mirrors because I felt way TOO WIDE for my lane.

So as I approached what my family calls the Troll Bridge, right off the Bronx River Parkway -- maybe any readers from Westchester County NY know what I'm talking about? -- I was a little nervous the truck would be TOO WIDE to fit through. But no, we looked just slim enough. So in I went.


What the...???

I checked my mirrors. No problem. Only then did it hit me, a few minutes after the top of the tunnel hit the roof of my truck. TOO TALL.

I tried to get out of the cab of the truck to survey the damage but couldn't open my door. Somebody yelled to me to keep going. So I tried. No. Stuck. More horrible sounds but not much movement. Somebody else yelled that I had to throw it into reverse and back it up, out of there. There were cars lining up on both sides of the Troll Bridge, waiting to get through. I felt like Pooh in Rabbit's hole.

Put it in reverse and floor it! The stranger yelled again.

Not wanting to spend the rest of my life in that Troll Bridge, and without a better idea, I did what the unseen stranger suggested.

With a great clattering and screeching -- and probably the truck was making noise too -- I backed out of the Troll Bridge. It was kind of slow and then POP I was out, into the daylight again.

I got out to survey the damage. Everything looked fine except the tires, weirdly, were on a sheet of metal.


I had sheered the roof right off the top of the truck and backed up onto it.

Exhausted, humiliated, grateful, I thanked the crew that had very helpfully gotten out of their cars and helped me, including helping me back up off the roof and lug it to the side of the road, and drove the now convertible truck filled with all my sad belongings from a failed rooming situation at college home for a Thanksgiving and family that were waiting for me.

My dad returned the truck for me the next day because I was too humiliated and depleted, and explained to them where they could retrieve the top portion of the truck I had rented.

When an envelope arrived a few weeks later for me from U-Haul, I was scared but not surprised. I was living with new people by then, strangers, and feeling very raw and tender and fragile in the world. And this would be just one more thing, one more blow. I opened the envelope slowly, wondering if the U-Haul people were suing me or just demanding some huge payment I didn't have.

It was a check.

For the full amount of my deposit.

I started to laugh and couldn't stop for a while. My new roommates probably thought I was nuts. I called home -- my parents thought I was kidding. When I swore I wasn't, they cracked up too. A check! They sent you a check? Maybe you could get a part time job wrecking stuff; it pays pretty well!

I have felt ever since that it was a moment of grace and forgiveness, receiving that check. Maybe it was somehow a sign from the universe that in spite of how things seemed to be going, right then, the end of the story wasn't me stuck in a rented truck sans petulant boyfriend, sans escape route, sans roommates, sans friends, sans ROOF, in a TROLL BRIDGE.

The end of the story was yet to come. A check. My money back. A funny coda. A memory of a crowd of people yelling at me to FLOOR IT and then clapping when I emerged, backwards, topless.

And that experience seems to me to be a perfect metaphor for something. But what? Maybe to keep going through the bad part because the funny is just a few beats down the way?

Or maybe the real nugget of wisdom here is: don't drive trucks through Troll Bridges. Or on the FDR drive.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Off they go, as well they should...

It started as an idea in my head, some voices, some characters -- the social whirl of middle school, the question of bullying and how that feels, and popularity and why we want it and what we're willing to sacrifice for it... and how each of us has a different interpretation of the scene, even as we experience it together...

And for many, many, many months, it was not quite a thing. Or it was a hideous mess of a thing. A hideous mess I had serious doubts would ever form itself into a readable, coherent manuscript. Notice I said "form itself" because the one thing that WAS gin-clear to me at that point was that I was beyond doubt unable to make it either readable or coherent. I had no clue how to proceed.

So on I slogged. Often hitting dead ends. Kept afloat by encouragement from wise friends and oceans of good milky tea. And a lack of other skills to fall back on.

Until, eventually, this showed up at my door:

And it hit me once again that seeing my book, multiple copies of it all boxed up and done, uneditable anymore, in piles, felt very much like seeing my kids begin to wobble forth on their doughy round feet, when they were little.

And it is so dear and sweet to grab them up and hold them and even smell their new scent... but I'm no rookie, book or kid-wise, so I knew what was just ahead... they will make their way out into the world, soon, so soon. And as the author, or the parent, I will no longer be fully in charge of what happens. Some people will like them. Some won't. They will go out there and affect people in their own unique ways, bearing my love and my continued attention with them always, but still, making their own way among their peers.

And here I will be, knee-shakingly proud to see my book among amazing volumes like these... 

and finding new friends...

just as I am to see each of my kids finding his friends...

and finding his way, a kid among kids...

And here I'll remain, hoping for the best for them all. Taking a deep breath to keep myself from chasing like Polonius after them, offering last minute advice or impossible, too-late edits as they go to find their ways in the world.

Being reminded to take it slow and keep exploring...

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Unfriended comes out today!

As does the truth: Yeah, I do write standing up. At the wine rack.

Here's the proof. Also some info about the book.

And here's more info about the book, plus how to get your own copy!

Saw it today for the first time on a book store shelf, at Bank Street Books.

That is always an exciting moment.

As was this: my lovely husband toasted the occasion with me:

And now, bedtime.

Goodnight, friends, and thanks for all the love... right back at you all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The day before

I just took a break from baking

this plum torte for tonight's celebration at my mom's house...

to look for my lost cuppa tea.

It's one of those days when I'm doing so many things, I end up chasing myself around the apartment and losing my tea. When I find it, it is tepid and sad. And my microwave is broken. And though I have finished making 3 of the 4 recipes I'm making, my kitchen is a mess and also that leaves one more thing to make and it's sweet pea risotto which why did I offer to make that and also WORK and my tea is yucky. So: break time.

So I picked up my laptop and saw that the piece on HuffPo I wrote, Top 15 Things Your Middle School Kid Wishes You Knew, just hit 200,000 "likes."

That is so many likes, you guys. Thank you so much. For the validation, of course, but also for making it so clear to me how much we are all in this together. As parents, we hunger to connect with our kids, even when they are being particularly impossible. We want to teach them, guide them, help them -- of course. We're perplexed by them sometimes, and we can't help but worry, even as we root for them to become independent, resilient, happy, productive and generous adults. Not yet. But someday. And as we struggle to connect with them, we sometimes feel SO ALONE.

But here is proof: we are not. We are so in it together, all trying to get it right, this most important thing we will ever do.

I am beyond excited about that. 

I will write more tomorrow and beyond about this book and why it means so much to me... 

But for now, I am thinking about all of us, parents of young adolescents. If you are interested in getting inside the heads of middle school kids, this may be the book for you as well as for your favorite middle schooler. There's friendship and social politics, multiple and spiraling misunderstandings, cyberbullying, crushes, big sandwiches, playground disasters, stumbling growth toward some tentative and incomplete measures of grace.... 

Here's a link to read more about the book, and to buy it. (That would be a great thing to do, btw.) 

If you do get the book, please let me know. I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you are reading it with your kid, in some way. Do you have the same favorite character? Different reactions/predictions as things spiral out of control? Were you angry at the same characters as your child was? Do any of the characters remind you and/or your child of any of his/her friends? Were you surprised by any of your own reactions, or your kid's?

Sometimes it is far easier to begin discussing awkward topics like friendship and morality in third person (why did that character do that???) rather than in second person (have you ever done that? -- or, worse for getting any kind of conversation/information flow going: YOU'D BETTER NEVER DO THAT! Though, yeah, that temptation, dead-ender though it is, flares up in all of us...)

Anyway, in addition to being PUB DAY, tomorrow is also Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year. I wish all who celebrate a sweet and joyous celebration -- and wish all of us a year to come filled with laughter, love, celebrations, health, and peace. And not too many homework battles. And that your kid's socks won't be scattered around the house each night like little wayward sock brioches.

Is that just at my house? Oh. Oh well.

Off I go toward sweet pea risotto and a fresh hot cup of tea.

Much love,
Rachel Vail


How do you know if there is cyberbullying going on? Sometimes it's so subtle, the bruises don't show -- but they sure are felt, especially for middle school kids. What can you do if it's happening -- or to prevent it?

(Is there anything I feel less secure about than watching myself on video? Oh, yes, actually; there is: asking other people to watch me on video! UGH. But I am trying to live up to the advice I am giving kids, here, and not be a hypocrite, so... taking a deep breath and embracing the insecurity, here is a video of me, discussing cyberbullying, taking a breath, and how to be a friend.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Some reviews of UNFRIENDED

It's pub week! UNFRIENDED is coming out this Thursday!

Here's what people are saying about it so far:

Praise for Unfriended:

"With keen insight, Vail reveals the internal struggles with uncertainty and self-doubt that can plague young teens regardless of popularity status. . . With a resolution that is both realistic and hopeful, Vail captures the complexity of middle school social challenges, insightfully addressing the issues of friendships and integrity." —Publishers Weekly

"Vail has a great ear for dialogue, and her characters. . . are well differentiated and realistic." —VOYA

"A realistic portrayal of middle school life. Truly is depicted as a complex young adult, not a single-minded social climber. . . [and] the other characters are multidimensional; they have struggles and worries, and are not the flat, stereotypical popular kids that are sometimes portrayed in YA novels. . . A solid choice that will ignite meaningful discussion." —School Library Journal

"Another winner by Rachel Vail. At times laugh-out-loud funny, and other times heartbreaking, Unfriended is the kind of book I wish there were more of: emotionally complex, beautifully written, and impossible to put down. I never wanted it to end." -- Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries and Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls

"Rachel Vail should be required reading for all middle-schoolers. Deft and funny, this tale of the doom and drama of friendships played out in a digital universe is pitch-perfect and sheer fun. I loved it!" -- Judy Blundell, author of What I Saw and How I Lied

"Rachel Vail's ingenious, humorous, and compassionate storytelling brings her six narrators so fully alibe that by the end of her book you cannot imagine ever 'unfriending' any of them." -- Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Treehouse books

I'm looking forward to your thoughts...

Click one of these -- or go to your favorite bookseller to preorder!


Lots of love,
Rachel Vail

My piece on the Huffington Post

Top 15 Things Your Middle School Kid Wishes You Knew

Posted: Updated: 

1. Respect me. I'm my own person, not just your kid. Sometimes I might have opinions that differ from yours. Sometimes I just want to be your baby. Respect me either way.
2. I still want to have fun with you, and feel like home is safe and happy. Smile at me.
3. I need to make some of my own choices, and maybe some of my own mistakes. Don't do my work for me or get me out of every jam. You don't need to be better than me at everything. Don't condescend; you don't need to impart your elderly wisdom on me if I have a problem. Please wait for me to ask for your help. If I don't ask for it, I might want to work it out for myself. Let me rant without offering advice. Sometimes that's all I really need, just to talk my way through something and for you to just listen to me.
4. Sometimes I'm going to be moody and annoyed and frustrated. You need to just let that happen (though you shouldn't let me be rude to you; that's weird and embarrassing). It might just be a mood or something might be going on that I'm not ready to talk about yet. If you hang around doing stuff near me and don't interrupt or try to solve it as soon as I start, I might feel comfortable talking with you about things.
5. Trust that I'll do my work. If I don't, you can help me manage my time, but wait until I'm not taking care of responsibilities to think I can't. Don't just assume I can't handle responsibility because of my age. Believe in me.
6. It feels really good when you ask me to teach you about what I'm learning or what I'm good at. You don't have to be awesome at computer programming to let me teach you some cool stuff, for instance. I have to be a beginner constantly. Show me it's OK to stay relaxed and present when you are struggling to learn something.
7. I don't like the drama either, and it surprises me as much as it does you. You think it's rough having this alien lunatic in your house? Try having it in your body, and you can't even get away.
8. If you don't like my friends, it feels like you don't trust my judgment or like I am stupid about choosing friends. Or both. Ask me what I like about them, or what we have fun doing together, or just to tell you about a new friend. Stay open-minded. Still, if you think my friends are being bad to me, I need you on my side that much more.
9. Sometimes I am completely overwhelmed and need to zone out for a while. I am not becoming a slug and will not stay in my room staring at a screen for the rest of my life. Maybe just for the rest of the afternoon.
10. I will fight you every step of the way if you make me do stuff I don't want to do (get some exercise, do my homework, write a thank-you note, practice piano, apologize to my sister, take a shower, wear deodorant... so many things), but you should probably make me do them anyway. I know I will feel better if I sweat and shower each day, and develop my study skills, and show up tomorrow prepared, and, and, and. I know! But please don't overwhelm me. I might not be able to do what I should right away. I might need reminders, later, which will annoy me completely. Remind me anyway.
11. Explain why I'm being criticized or punished. It feels scary if I don't understand anything beyond that you are mad at me. And sometimes what I need more than a scolding is a hug or a cuddle. Especially when I am more porcupine than puppy.
12. I need to have private jokes with my friends and not explain them to you. It's how we bond. You don't need to be involved in every aspect of my life to still be loved and needed by me.
13. If my social life gets to be too much, I may need you to force a little vacation from it on me. But most of time what I need is to work through how to navigate life online and with peers. Now is my chance to learn how to deal, with your help. Just shutting it down keeps me from learning how to build my life online with scaffolding provided by you. Stay calm and cool, let me explain what's going on, and talk things through with me. Ask more, tell less.
14. Especially if I've been feeling stressed, maybe you could just hang out with me. Go to the park or get an ice cream or have a catch, whatever; it feels good to just do something together without discussing or solving or teaching anything.
15. I like it when you think I'm funny. Or interesting. Or awesome. I actually do care what you think about me. Please find something specific you actually like about me because sometimes I can't find anything in myself to like at all. I might roll my eyes, but your words and judgments do matter to me, and I will remember them, the good and the bad. I will keep them with me like treasures even when I lose my keys and wallet and ID. Which I probably will. More than once. Sorry.
And bonus extra important thing you should know: The fact that my opinions on this and anything else might change tomorrow does not mean I don't feel them fiercely today. Keep up. I love you. Remind me you still love me, too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Some reviews of UNFRIENDED, coming Sept 25, have appeared! Here's one from VOYA:

5Q 4P M J

Vail, Rachel. Unfriended. Viking/Penguin, 2014. 288p. $16.99. 978-0-670-01307-


Unfriended is the story of middle school popularity and bullying told from multiple

viewpoints. Truly is an eighth grader who is on the shy side. When her former

best friend, Natasha, who dropped her at the beginning of middle school to chase

popularity, invites her to join the “popular table” at lunch, Truly ditches her friend

Hazel the same way. Hazel takes revenge by unleashing an online brouhaha that

affects all the characters, from Brooke, the most popular girl in school, who is

also honestly nice, to Jack, the jock who loves to make gourmet lunches and has

a crush on Truly.

Vail has a great ear for dialogue, and her characters, while not initially

very likeable, are well differentiated and realistic. These teens are not just

interested in advancing in the middle school pecking order; they are also

concerned about academics, their parents’ finances, their siblings being

accepted, and a myriad of other real-world worries. The large number of

alternating voices makes it a bit difficult to differentiate the personalities at first,

but Vail’s use of texts, lists, e-mails, Facebook posts, and first-person narratives

eventually reveals the full picture. As the final third of the book veers into online

bullying, the pace threatens to spin out of control, but Vail leavens the tension

with some appealingly straightforward romance and some shockingly (and sadly)

realistically bad parenting.—Barbara Fecteau.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I am the cheese.

Writing tip of the day:

Be alert.

Take inspiration where you find it.

Sometimes it's smiling tentatively up from your slice of cheese.

Friday, August 1, 2014

writing tip of the day

Here's a good writing tip you should try

and I should have tried


Don't put a plate on the stove

Touching the wok you're cooking in

and then pick it up

or you end up with burns on your pointer and thumb

and can only type 5-6 words

at a time

between ice breaks

which makes it hard

to find your flow

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rambling around

I'm in San Francisco. Spent the morning wandering in Golden Gate Park. I happened upon a place called the Conservatory of Flowers, which was filled with so much gorgeousness which I would show you pictures of if my cranky iPhone would let me email myself photos, or download them onto my laptop, or ANYTHING. Oh well. For now just trust me. If you are in SF, you should make a stop there.

One of the highlights of my visit: while there I overheard a couple maybe in their eighties talking.
Man: Honey, is this a colitis?
Woman: That's a coleus, dear. Colitis is, remember?
Man: Oh. Right.

Then I wandered a lot more and made my way back to the hotel to see Germany demolish Brazil in the World Cup. I only watched the first 25 minutes, but Germany had scored 5 goals already. When I was on a soccer team in high school, we played a game like that once where my team was the Brazil of this example and it was HORRIBLE. And we didn't even care about soccer, which I am going to bet a majority of the guys out there today actually do. Most of them, probably. So it's probably way worse for them than it even was for the ragtag bunch of us who just wanted to get a high school letter and hang with our friends after school and it was the first year of girls' soccer so there were no cuts. Most of our games were, in fact, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot like that game today (not in level of play but in lopsidedness) but only one was called on the mercy rule. Turns out there's a mercy rule. If one team scores like 100 goals and the other team hasn't touched the ball yet, they just end the game. Maybe the ref just made that up right then and there. (I didn't think of that possiblity until JUST NOW.) We didn't object. We were ready to go home anyway. It was exhausting, watching all those girls on the other team run around kicking the ball to each other so much. People weren't crying at our thing, though. Brazilians had looked so happy just half an hour before I had to turn off the TV.

After that I had lunch with an old friend who is one of those people you can pick up with after years, and within minutes be telling each other stories and laughing like you'd stayed up way too late with her as usual last weekend. What a great bit of life, friends like that are.

Now I'm back in my hotel room, looking at poems to help my younger son put together a poetry piece for speech team. This probably won't work for him but it sure hit me square in the nose -- hope you'll like it too.

The Writer

by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

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