Monday, September 22, 2014

Why I write

Originally posted at Ellar Out Loud:

In March of 2007, I was at the tail end of my first and only year as a member of the Huntsville Havoc, a minor professional ice hockey team based in Northern Alabama. I had enjoyed a successful college career, and I was proud to earn money as an athlete, living out a smaller version of my wildest childhood dreams.
In one of my last games, we were playing at home against our biggest rival, the Knoxville (TN) IceBears. They were first in the standings and notorious for their physical style of play. We were leading by two or three goals toward the end of the first period, and our fans were rocking.
Then, it happened. One of their players wrapped the puck around the boards. It skittered into open space. I planted my feet from my defensive position and bolted for the puck, determined to beat my man, collect it, and transition to offense. I was so focused on my job, I didn’t notice that Knoxville’s largest forward, #7 Rob Flynn, was going to reach the puck first. I couldn’t turn back. I had already committed. It’s one of the first rules that young defensemen are taught at hockey clinics: “If you pinch up, get the puck or hit the man. Both cannot get by you!” The rule was part of me. I couldn’t have ignored it even if I’d wanted to. I wasn’t going to get the puck, so I had to hit the man.
Picture 10Flynn didn’t see me, either. His head was down, making sure he had full control of the puck. I bent my knees low as I charged toward him, reaching top speed. He turned up ice, lifting his head to find me blocking his path. I exploded up into him, my shoulder connecting dead center with his chest, a perfectly formed bodycheck. Flynn flew backward, his legs ending up above my head as he sailed to the ice with a grunt and a thud.
The crowd erupted into cheer. I was not known as a hitter. I was all speed and finesse and technical passing. The check on Flynn was by far the biggest I had ever thrown in my hockey-playing life. In fact, it surprised me. I had no idea that I could hit with such force.
The play soon ended up back in my defensive zone. I regrouped and poked the puck off their centerman’s stick and passed it up to my left wing when I caught a flash of blue and orange (Knoxville’s colors) in my peripheral vision. It was Rob Flynn’s giant gloved hand.
He grabbed me by the side of my helmet and gripped my whole head like it was nothing more than a basketball. He tugged me toward him the slightest bit before shoving with all his might, sending my head crashing against the Plexiglas that circled the rink. I bounced off and hit the ice, my vision flashing red and gray, my mind moving in and out of slow motion. I lay on the ice, disoriented. Flynn reached down and slammed my face against the cold sheet, laughing. I managed to get up and hobble to the bench for a line change.
I don’t know if I decided right then—struggling in pain on the bench in front seven thousand spectators, trying to hide my glassy eyes from the training staff—or not. But if it wasn’t right then, it was very soon after. I was done playing competitive ice hockey. It was time to give up on my childhood dream and start focusing on something else that was in my head. It was time for me to start writing.
After the head slamming, I was lucky. By the start of the next period, there was no glassy vision, no blurriness, no slow motion. I’d somehow avoided a concussion. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been so lucky in the past.
I’d spent most of my college years fighting memory and concentration issues. It began with the second hockey-related concussion of my freshman year and continued from there. I found myself struggling with class work for the first time. I couldn’t remember what I’d heard in lectures. I had to read and read and read, sometimes pouring over single paragraphs before I could move forward with the information. I needed to take naps in order to make it through my day, and I struggled to sleep at night, often waking up with headaches or bad dreams. I had to completely change the way I went about my life. It was frightening and maddening, but I managed to adjust and cope. Eventually, I figured out a routine and started excelling in school again.
When Rob Flynn slammed my head against the glass and smashed my face into the ice, all of those memories of my struggles came flooding back. I knew that I couldn’t afford to take any more hits to the head. I couldn’t go through that again.
When the season ended, I was hired by a private school to teach history and coach ice hockey. I knew I would be a good teacher. I knew I’d be able to reach the students and relate to them, but I also knew that without coaching, I wasn’t as attractive a candidate. My skill as a hockey player landed me the job over more experienced teachers.
I’ve enjoyed coaching hockey. I still have a passion for the sport, and I hope to stay involved with the game in the future. But I completely fell in love with teaching. Helping students learn and come into their own became addicting.
I was also writing with a purpose for the first time in my life. During a class in college, I’d learned how enjoyable writing could be and I was finally putting in the time at the computer, working through all of the stories that filled my head. Through teaching and writing (and not taking hits), my memory was also starting to come back. I no longer suffered from headaches, and I could finally enjoy and comprehend what I was reading again. It wasn’t a chore. I started devouring great books.
Writing soon took over most of my free time. It turned into something I needed to do for my peace of mind. My hockey life was fading into the background. It was writing that I wanted to move forward with. I knew that I needed to take the next step. I needed to learn about the craft. I applied to VCFA. It seemed like the perfect place for me to start a second life.
Which brings me to the present, MFA in hand, projects on the go. Ready to dig deeper. Ready to keep trying to find the roots of my characters and their authentic voices. My voice. Ready to keep moving forward with my second life, using my first as a quarry for my current and future writing projects.
And taking a moment like this to remember why I write, and to appreciate the fact that I get to.

Monday, April 28, 2014

I've been tagged!

Apparently someone noticed this space visiting the land of unused, misfit blogs because I've been tagged to talk about my writing process by the always gracious and extremely talented Sheryl Scarborough. This game of writing process tag reached Sheryl from our friend and VCFA classmate and super-writer Ellar Cooper. Ellar was tagged by someone else, who was tagged by someone else, who was tagged by someone else, who was (deep breath), you get the picture. I could probably ransack the internet to find the origins of this exercise, but I wont for various reasons, some of which will come up later in this post.

MY WRITING PROCESS

(Yes, I'm trying to make my process sound important by all-capsing, bolding, and italicizing this section)

1) What am I working on?

I'm working on a YA dystopian political thriller. I'm also working on about thirty-seven other projects in the back of my head at various times throughout the day.

2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My current project has two main characters living in two different places. One is wrapped up in a dystopian struggle, the other a contemporary political mess. By having two characters confront their own individual problems, my hope is that a reader won't think each character is involved in too many things at once.

In other projects, many of which involve sports, I like to focus on minorities. I don't mean racial, political, or religious minorities, either. I mean the kid who often lives on the fringe of his team because he thinks too much: about who he is, about violence, about how he supposed to act or who he's supposed to like... stuff like that. That was me. I think it's a lot of kids and teens.

3) Why do you write what you do?

My gut reaction is to say that I have no idea.

My next reaction is to say that I write it because I have to, which means that it's what I'm thinking about and forces itself out of me and onto the page. I rarely write something that is a brand new idea, meaning that what I write is usually something that has been in my head for a while and won't let up. It may start as a tiny glimpse of something that gets jotted down as just a couple of bullet-points in my notebook before slowly snowballing into something that screams at me until I start really writing it down (typing).

I also write things that I want to read. I use the I to mean me at every possible age. I might write something that I'm currently thinking about, but I usually write something that I think a younger version of me would have craved. I don't think I'm being conceited when I say that I know if I like it, then others will like it. I don't believe in writing for others (real or imagined) to try to create some sort of "product." I believe in writing for others through me. I always have to start with me. Which is one of the reasons I haven't written here in a while. I didn't feel I needed to. I've been writing for a hockey website, and I've done some guest blogging for others (some conversation creating stuff), and it just didn't feel like I had anything to say to myself. I didn't really need this space. I've been so engrossed in trying to finish my current project that I haven't needed to reflect. Not right now. I haven't really been online much, either, unless it's for work or news or hockey scores (it's playoff time!).

4) How does your writing process work?

I just write.

When I can (usually late at night). Where I can (so many places). I rarely outline until way later in the process. I just let that screaming snowball of an idea pour out of me for a little while. Sometimes it works.


~I've failed at passing on this game of tag just like I failed at chain letters in fifth grade. But please check out the links on the other blogs I mentioned above. They have better tag skills than I.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Postscript to last entry

I know Tim Wynne-Jones should be cited Wynnne-Jones, Tim. I copied and pasted that list of books from an email. Sorry, but I felt the urge to clear that up... with myself, at least.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Green Mountain Book Award


I have been chosen to serve on the Green Mountain Book Award Committee. Our task is to choose the nominees for Vermont's annual teen-choice reading award. Each committee member reads a portion of the nominated books in the first round. Liked books are then moved on to a next round where all committee members will read them. My initial reading list consists of books nominated by me and others:

  1. Armistead, Cal.  Being Henry David.
  2. Cline, Ernest.  Ready Player One.  
  3. Cochrane, Mick.  Fitz.  
  4. Dawkins, Richard.  The Magic of Reality.
  5. Forman, Gayle.  Just One Day.
  6. Griffin, N.  The Whole Stupid Way We Are.  
  7. Hubbard, Jenny.  Paper Covers Rock.
  8. Jones, Tim Wynne.  Blink and Caution.  
  9. Kraus, Daniel.  Rotters.  
  10. Leavitt, Martine.  My Book of Life by Angel.
  11. McCormick, Patricia.  Never Fall Down.  
  12. McMann, Lisa.  Dead to You.  
  13. Mignola, Mike.  Joe Golem and the Drowning City.  
  14. Myracle, Lauren.  Shine.  
  15. Newman, Leslea.  October Mourning.
  16. Ottaviani, Jim.  Feynman.  

    There are many more terrific books on this years' nomination list, and I can't wait until we get into the next rounds and start deliberations.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Just. Keep. Writing.

This is nothing new. I've said this many times before. A good book is the single biggest motivator to keep writing. It might be the tone of the story or the narrator's original voice or maybe just a couple of passages that fill me up with that feeling only written words can give you. That feeling that makes me think, wow, that's exactly how I would be feeling if I were in that situation. The ability to make a reader feel that way is probably a writer's greatest gift. 

It makes me want to try to make someone feel that way, too.

Thank you, Michael Northrop.   

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hidden Gems

I love finding new books. The more I read, and the more I immerse myself in the world of writing and books, the more I realize how many books and authors I've never heard of. But it's an amazing problem to have.

Just today in the the library I work at, I came across two books that completely mesmerized me. First, I was in our 20th Century history section, looking for books to pull in order to help a social studies class with a WWII assignment, when I came across photographer Joe O'Donnell's collection of post-atomic bomb photos from his time in Japan in 1945. I'd seen some of these photos before, but never in a collection quite like his, and I couldn't help but study them over and over and over. It was the type of moment that makes working in a library and trying to find sources that will help students absolutely worthwhile.

Later in the day, an unrelated conversation took a couple of sharp turns and landed on Tobias Wolff. One of my colleagues mentioned a book of Wolff's called Old School, which I'd never heard of. My colleague was surprised. I was, too, since it concerns a boys' boarding school and a writing contest and a visit by Robert Frost. Right up my alley! What surprised me even more was that we had it in our collection, right under my nose. Now, obviously, I'm aware that I don't know every title we have, but I just felt weird to have missed out on this one until now.

Such a happy accident to add to my reading list.
 

Just Finished: A Study In Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Currently Reading: The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles
Up Next: Old School by Tobias Wolff

More links!

I've adapted my VCFA graduate lecture into a mini-lesson over at Ingrid's Notes, my classmate's fantastic blog. See my post here.

And, view my latest hockey article here. (Be warned: this one is pretty hockey-nerdish).