Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Friends "Forever"

So, remember when I said these were all "chapter books"? I kind of lied. This one is utterly chapterless—but on the plus side, it has an actual ending! Woo hoo! Just don't get used to it...

Friends Forever

Should we keep a running tally of how many books have the word "friend" or some variation in the title? This is #2.

Mandy woke up early, fixed herself breakfast, (which was only cereal because that's all there was to eat) and rushed out of the door to meet Teresa. Over to the big oak tree. "Right, turn. Left, turn." she mumbled. Halfway there she remembered it was a Saturday. "Darn! All the way up here for nothing." She stumbled along the dirt road, kicking up dust.

If this were a normal book, we could be like, "Oh, Mandy lives in a rural area, has inattentive parents, and a life that is so hectic—at age nine—that she forgets what day it is." Here? These details mean nothing. Don't waste your time.

Then, "Hey!" It was Teresa.
"Hi Resa!"
"Why do you have your school stuff?"
She looked down. "Oh no."
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"It's a long story."
Teresa looked at her watch. "I've got plenty of time, Mand."
[Oh, the wit. THE WIT.]
"Okay, I thought it was a school day . . . . "
Teresa giggled.
"Quit it, Resa. I forgot, okay?"
"Okay." she answered holding back another giggle, trying to escape.
"So I got up, ate cereal as usual, and went out. Halfway there I realized it was Saturday. Why are you up and out?"
"I called you, woke your mom up. She said you were out, so I figured you'd be out here somewhere."

Okay, she might have inattentive parents. That's kind of a theme in my books.

"Okay, wanna come to my place?"
"Okay, my mom won't mind."
They ran to Mandy's and went in. They scampered
[what are they, puppies?] up to her room.
"Let's listen to music!" she said.
"No." said Teresa. "First dress up."
"All right!"
They put on mini skirts and long sweaters and lace tights.
[Of COURSE they did!]
"Now music!" Teresa screamed.
"Right on!" Mandy turned it on.
"Papa don't Preach" was on. They lip sanc. They danced and fell and did somersaults
[in miniskirts, I'd like to point out].

Lip syncing was one of my top five favorite activities as an elementary schooler. My sister and I had a well-practiced routine for "Runaround Sue," one of the songs on the Rockin' Classics tape that we bought from McDonald's. We mainly performed for unsuspecting dinner guests.

When it was over, Mandy turned it off.
She bounced down on the bed. "Let's talk." she said.
Teresa crawled onto the bed.
"Who do you like?" Mandy questioned.
"As a boyfriend?"
"You go first."

The worst case scenario in these heart-to-hearts was that you both liked the SAME BOY (as a boyfriend), which happened to me on several occasions and tended to result in varying degrees of disaster. Fortunately, Mandy and Teresa have different taste in the mens.

"Okay, I think Patrick's cute."
"Does that mean you like him?"
Teresa giggled. "The boys call him Patty."
"He has a crush on Sally Crawford."
"I'm sorry."
"That's okay, who do you like."
"Timmy. Timmy Blake."
It was Mandy's turn to laugh. Mandy giggled.
Mandy giggled again.
"It's not funny. He doesn't know I exist."
Mandy burst out laughing.
"What's soo funny!" demanded Teresa.
"He likes you" answered Mandy between giggles.
"Go on." said Teresa.
"He was looking at you the other day.
Staring at you." she said. "Like this." Mandy looked like a zombie.
They started giggling again.

Actually, I remember having conversations like this in elementary school. In fact, if you liked a boy you would ask your best friend to watch him (covertly, of course) to see if he was looking at you and, preferably, to keep a running tally of all such looks on a sheet of paper. At the end of the day, she would present you with the evidence.

"Teresa, honey, Teresa!" It was Mandy's mother. "Sweetie, your mom called. She said you have to come home for lunch. I would have you stay, but . . . . " [" . . . but I'm just giving Mandy cereal again anyway."]
Mandy slammed her door shut. They changed, went downstairs, and said goodbye.

Meanwhile, at Timmy's house, he and Patrick were talking too. "I like Teresa."
"She's nothing like Sally. Sally's beautiful. She has a . . . . . ."
"You've said it a million times! I don't want to hear it again!"
"Okay, but, she still does."

Don't you guys want to know what she has? A hot nine-year-old bod? A sweet collection of vintage Hot Wheels? A really professional phone manner? WHAT???

"Hey," said Timmy changing the subject. "What about Mandy, Teresa's best friend. She's in style and pretty cute. So."

I'm sure fashion sense was at the top of every nine-year-old boy's list of traits he desired in the opposite sex.

"So, I have a girlfriend!"
"Well I don't like 'little Sally Crawford.'"
"What about her?"
"She's a snob."
"So much for best friends!"
"Well, I don't like you either!"
"Bye, wimp!"
"So long crocodile brain!"
"SLAM!" went the door. Patrick was gone.

Um, you guys? I should have had way more boy POV in my stories. "Little Sally Crawford"? Wimp? CROCODILE BRAIN? This is awesome!

Back at Mandy's house, "BRRRIINGG!"
"Who dere?" asked Tommy.
[I'm pretty sure this is Mandy's little brother and not a member of the Lightning Bolts, even though their speech is disturbingly similar.]
"It's not the doorbell. It's the phone."
"Oh. Who on de phon?"
Mandy giggled.
"Mandy, dear, it's Teresa!"
"Tomin'! Ha ha."
"Hi, Resa! Mom you can hang up."
"Hi Mandy."

So Teresa's phone dialogue is all written in mysterious shaky handwriting, which is either meant to denote her (spoiler!) impending illness or just the fact that she's on the other end of the phone, I'm not sure which. Reading it, though, makes me feel like "Teresa" is using a voice encoder and will at any minute start asking Mandy whether she likes scary movies.

"Are you O.K.? You sound sick."
"I'll be O.K."
"Meet me at the bench at recess."
"O.K. Bye!"

The next day Mandy did meet Teresa at recess. She had a note for her. [This part is kind of confusing. The note is actually to TERESA, and she's just showing to Mandy.]
"Resa!" Mandy helped her to the bench. "You, O.K."
"Yes. Here."
"Who's it from?"
"He loves me."
[I'm really enjoying how inanimate objects get their own dialogue in this story.]
"Bye Resa."

Timmy, just an FYI: If you sign your name, you kind of negate the whole "secret" part of secret admiration. Also, what nine-year-old boy dots his i's with hearts? (I was not the recipient of many secret admirer notes, if you couldn't tell.)

Back in school Theresa [whose name is suddenly spelled with an H] felt sick, but, wouldn't show it.
"Resa, you okay?"
"Yeah (yawn) fine."

Is that a yawn of extreme fatigue or extremely playing it cool? I can't tell.

"You, sure?"
Mandy jumped.
"Uh-huh." She answered. "Fine."
But she wasn't. Screaming had made her weak, tired, and she shook. She was trying to get a drink not being strong enough she fell and fainted!
Timmy saw and rushed over calling to Mandy, "Mandy! Theresa fainted!!!"
"What???!!!" she screamed back. She was there in a second.

Yeah, I completely romanticized illness at this age. I thought that if you were horribly sick or fainted or something, this would make everyone (namely, boys) realize how wonderful you were and how desperately they loved you. Also, at some point in elementary school, my sister came down with pneumonia and missed a week or two of school, and her teacher had each of her classmates write her a get well card. Naturally, I was insanely jealous (yes, of her PNEUMONIA) and dreamed of someday contracting a disease of my own (preferably nonfatal) that would require everyone I knew to write me a card.

Mandy got a cold paper towel and put it on her hot forehead.
Timmy was going to carry her to the nurses' office
[where the hell are their TEACHERS?], but, she was too heavy for one. Mandy was too scared to help and was comforted by Maria [???] who was very helpful.

She's cool with getting a paper towel but is too freaked out to help carry her? The hell?

"What's their problem?" asked [little] Sally [Crawford].
Mandy rolled her eyes.
[Not so scared that she can't give a good eye roll, I see.]
"What a snob!" exclaimed Timmy.

Maybe, but she has a . . . . . . totally rad foosball table in her basement???

"Hey," called Patrick. "what's going on?"
"Teresa passed out! I can't get her to the Nurses' Office."
"I'll help you!" Patrick yelled. "Sally, you wait here."
"What? Don't tell me what to do. Don't tell me you're actually going to help THEM. That's really sick! GOSH!"
"Yes, Sally, I AM."
"So long, PATTY!"

These fights are amazing. Let's cross our fingers for more fights in the upcoming books!

So they carried her there.
They all stayed and waited for her parents.

She's still unconscious and the nurse hasn't called 911? I smell a lawsuit.

Teresa did wake up. And, before she left she told Mandy, "Remember, no matter what happens, we'll always be friends forever."

Whoa, is she going to DIE? Teresa, you're not allowed to say shit like that in a book unless you're going to die. Please adhere to the rules.

Pat, Mand, and Tim all visited her in the hospital.
They were ALL friends forever.


Uh, what? WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED? What was wrong with Teresa? Did she ever get out of the hospital? Was "forever" like two weeks or what? Way to get all Lurlene McDaniels and then not follow through. Man! Even the ones with endings don't really have endings!

NEXT TIME: I experiment with playwriting in the riveting Gymnastics Camp. All on the gymnastics bus! (That's a quote, by the way.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dear Girls: Letters to the cast of Rags to Riches

So this post isn't a story, but I'm thinking it might be a good idea to check in occasionally on my nonfictional preteen life, which—let's be honest—did not involve many motorcycle gangs or families living in black houses (my own house, at the time, was beige).

Last time I mentioned that Rags to Riches was my favorite TV show in third grade, but that doesn't properly convey the intensity my feelings. I LOVED Rags to Riches. I loved it so much, I wanted to LIVE it. In fact, my friends and I had decided to put on a play based on "the movie" (we were campaigning our music teacher to produce it), in which we would portray our favorite characters. I was painstakingly transcribing the script from my VHS recording. If I didn't know what the characters were saying? I just made it up! The dialogue of the British butler, Clapper, was particularly troublesome and prone to errors. For example, "This here enormous mansion" became, in my script, "This ear-enormous mansion." (Maybe adding "ear" to words was some sort of British slang with which I was unfamiliar?)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a second to discuss the amazing plotline of the show: A group of spunky orphans (really, is there any other kind?) is adopted by millionaire Nick Foley as a publicity stunt—but, inevitably, he is unable to resist their orphanly charms and ends up becoming a real father to them. Basically, it was Annie. Except instead of one female orphan, there were SIX (well, after the pilot, only five; one of them was written off the show—that is, reclaimed by her mother). Plus they were multi-ethnic and mostly teenaged.
AND it took place in the 1960s, a time period infinitely cooler than the Depression. Like Annie, Rags to Riches was a musical—but instead of original songs, the writers just took popular songs from the '60s and changed the lyrics to suit the storyline, which was either laziness or PURE GENIUS:

Each episode featured maybe three songs sprinkled throughout and rendered in music video–esque fashion. It was basically crack for a nine-year-old girl, and I immediately decided to tape every episode. (Once the show was interrupted midway to broadcast the rescue of Baby Jessica from that godforsaken hole, and I was IRATE. She'd already been down there for two and a half days—couldn't they wait another half an hour until my show was over???)

My friends and I each selected a favorite character (they were not, under any circumstances, allowed to overlap) and developed our respective personas:

Rose: Age 17, somewhat serious orphan leader, had preposterously '80s hair for someone supposedly living in the '60s.
Portrayed by my friend Jessica.

Diane: Age 16, the obligatory boy-crazy clothes horse.
We had our eye on my sister's friend Sara (we needed a blond), but I'm not sure casting for this role was ever finalized.

Marva: Age 15, extremely business savvy and entrepreneurial for a 15-year-old. Portrayed by my friend Katie.

Nina (pilot only): Age 15, attempted to run off with her boyfriend's motorcycle gang... a bit of a mystery, as she was only in the pilot. Portrayed by my friend Maggie.

Patty: Age 13, tough, sporty (somewhat uncouth) tomboy with possible learning disabilities. Portrayed by my sister, Genie.

Mickey: Age 8, mildly irritating and played the saxophone. Portrayed by me.

I think it was because she was the closest to my age that Mickey was my favorite. (There's really no other explanation, as she had by far the least amount of screen time and character development.) I even briefly considered taking up the saxophone, but ruled it out as a hazard to my asthmatic lungs.

Many a recess was spent
getting into character or discussing our upcoming production (we were undeterred by the boys who referred to it as Fags to Bitches). Eventually our music teacher let us down gently by telling us that due to copyright issues, the cost of putting on the play would be too burdensome for our elementary school. But we continued to dream...

After scouring the pages of BOP and Tiger Beat unsuccessfully for a place to send my Rags to Riches fan mail (most of my early celebrity fantasies focused on pen friendship), my wily mother called the local NBC affiliate and wrangled some sort of address from them. I can't remember whether any of my letters ever made it to Hollywood, but here are a couple I found that remained unsent:

April 21, 1987

Dear Tisha, Blanca, Kimiko, Bridget, and Heidi,

Do you like your work? It seems hard to memorize everything. I can't even memorize my songs for our concert. I've been writing the script. It's 20 pages and there's a line on the 21st page. It's very hard to write the script and Jessica wanted me to ask you if you could send us the script if you can. We let Jessica know about writing to you. At first we weren't going to, but, we did. We didn't want people to know because, then, everyone would write you and you couldn't write anyone back.

There's no way anyone else's mom would be as clever as mine. Also, I wasn't going to tell my own FRIEND about writing to them? Good lord, I was like some sort of Rags to Riches Nazi!

So, Jessica will be writing to you also. I really want to meet you. You're really cool. I haven't gotten my picture for you yet. Sorry, but, I will get it for you.

I'm sure they were DYING to see what I looked like.

Today was hot. I'm sweating.

And I'm sure they were dying to know that.

Just like yesterday. Yesterday I went to a baseball game. It started at 7:35 and ended at about 12:00! Late. The Indians Lost!!!! (They're not doing good.) My sister is driving me nuts and she's coming upstairs.

Why isn't there a show about Micky? Diane again. I was waiting. But, no. they do one about Diane. Please give her a show. Bigger parts! Please!

I seem to be under the impression that the actresses also WRITE the show. Mickey (I don't know why I was convinced that the female version of this name lacked the E) did eventually get her own plotline, but it involved Girl Scout cookies. Totally lame.

Is it about Diane? I'll have to see. In the T.V. guide it was about her. On T.V. it wasn't. And I thought Patty didn't like Bing Crosby.

Right here I am quibbling with the actresses about inconsistencies in the show: In one episode, Patty expresses a dislike for Bing Crosby; in a later episode, she's all excited about seeing him somewhere. This kind of crap didn't sit well with me even then.

We are also asking your permission to do a play on the movie.

Your pen pal (hopefully),

(P.S. Please, please, please write back.)

This next letter is actually TYPED:

August 30, 1987

Dear girls (I won't write all your names),

Christ, was I lazy!

I went on vacatation. It was a long drive, though. We went camping at the Great Escape Camping Resort. We went to the fun park we were camping behind. It was fun.

Please note: The fun park was fun. Ahh, vacatation.

I went on a lot of scary rides. In fact, I even went on a roller coaster called the steamin' deamon. It went upside-down 3 times. It was lots of fun. We also went to Niagara Falls. I got a real seahorse covered in gold. It was a necklace. It's really cool. I also saw my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, grandpa, and friends. On the first day we stayed at old friends houses. Ooops.

I have no idea what the "Ooops" is about.

Well, they had a cute boy, Brenden. He was nice, too. (some cute guys aren't)

Look how I lay it out for the girls! I am so fucking SAGE.

I don't think he liked me. (girlfriend-like) As a friend–yes.
Tisha–I saw you in Little Shop of Horrors.
Heidi–I saw you in your commercial. I didn't realize you were so short.

Hi, she's EIGHT. Of course she's short!

By the way–I slept in Brenden's room. So did he.

Am I trying to make myself look cool by implying that something sordid went down? Let me assure you, I was not and it did not.

I will draw you a picture of what my room looks like, myself, my house, Katie, my family, and a pencil.



P.S. write back soon

Sadly, the drawing of the pencil was nowhere to be found. But at the bottom of the letter was the following typewritten artistry:

Oh my GOD.

NEXT TIME: We return to the literature with Friends Forever, a story whose opening scene features a character mistakenly going to school on a Saturday. Get ready for realism!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yipee, tricks and stuff!: That's What Friends Are For, Part 3

LAST TIME: Liz (the coolest girl in the 3rd grade) and T.M. (her sidekick and "girl that's a friend") grew closer, making me think there might be some truth to those pesky lesbian rumors. Meanwhile, Allyson ran away from The Dark House, but her parents were too busy kidnapping Henry and planning her upcoming nuptials to bother with an Amber Alert—or whatever the 1986 equivalent was. Liz and T.M. made it their personal mission to hunt Allyson down, and they eventually found her hiding out with her eyelashless friend Charlotte in the poorly named "Moss Grove." Liz pretty much ordered Allyson to return home, and not only did Allyson obey, they ended up—you guessed it!—becoming friends. One rousing sign-language rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and a plate full of chocolate chip cookies later, a stranger knocked on Charlotte's door and everyone reacted like it was the first sign of the apocalypse.

Chapter 13: The Stranger

"It's the paper boy." T.M. was scared. "I'm sure."
"No," replied Charlotte. "He comes at 8:00 A.M."
"Then it's your gramma." T.M. had to find a solution.
"She lives in Florida." Charlotte answered. "And always calls."
"Maybe it was......" T.M. began.
"You guys cool it, okay." I said trying to be calm.
Allyson hid in the corner, stiff and pale.
"Allyson!" I was getting mad.
"Don't let them take me!" she cried.
"You know who it is?" I asked.
She burst into tears.
"Allyson!" Charlotte tried to comfort her.
"It's the 'Lightening Bolts'" she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek. "Don't let them take me."

Oh, DUH! The paperboy comes at 8:00 a.m., so it must be the Lightning Bolts!

"More than one!" exclaimed Tiff.
"Yes." Allyson confessed. "They want me."
"We need a plan." said Charlotte.
"Yipee!" I cried. "I love tricks and stuff."

What is this, an episode of Lost? Why doesn't someone ask her who exactly these Lightning Bolts are and what the hell their interest is in a nine-year-old goth Pilgrim? And, Liz? Your friend is having an emotional breakdown and your response is, "YIPEE, I LOVE TRICKS AND STUFF"??? I can't even get into how inappropriate that is.

"Okay" she said. "Allyson can hide in the passageway tunnel from my room to the attic." She walked around. "In the middle."

Oh, a secret passage. How convenient! I am actually now creating a blog label for secret passage/room, because I was COMPLETELY OBSESSED with secret passages, thanks largely to Clue (I was all about the secret passage from the Lounge to the Conservatory) and Ann M. Martin. After I read The Ghost at Dawn's House, I spent a good week trying in vain to find a hollow wall somewhere—anywhere!—in my house. In my fantasy world, pretty much EVERYONE had a secret passage somewhere on their property, which is probably why no one so much as blinks when Charlotte mentions hers.

"Can I be your sister?" I wondered.
"Sure, you can watch T.V."

Watching TV? That's how she's going to get tricky? LAME.

"I need a mother..."
"We need a mother." I corrected.
[In case you guys forgot this was somehow about Liz.]
"It has to be T.M."
"Okay, I guess." she answered. "But I'm too small."
"Midget." Charlotte.

This is a stunning example of nine-year-old logic. Oh, SURE, a nine-year-old can pass as an adult! A MIDGET adult!!!

"Now," she continued. "I'll answer the door. Allyson and Tiff will be upstairs. Liz, you'll be watching T.V. I'll say my mom's in the shower. So, Tiff, you'll have the shower on upstairs. And if you have to come down, put on my pink bathrobe. It's hanging on the door."

Tiff nodded.
She and Allyson went upstairs and I turned on the television.

This seems like an unnecessarily intricate plot they've cooked up. I'm thinking the easiest thing would be to, you know, NOT ANSWER THE DOOR.

Chapter 14: Thunder and Lightening Bolts

10 seconds later I heard shower water going.
"I hope she wets her hair." Charlotte was nervous.
"She'll think of it." I answered. "She's smart."
"Yeowwww!" screamed Tiff. "Boy, this stuff is cold on your head!" she complained. "Charlotte, you should have told me!"

If I'm not mistaken, this implies that T.M. has never showered before.

"She remembered." I said and we giggled.
"Ding-Dong" went the doorbell.

Charlotte must have the world's longest driveway if the Lightning Bolts are just ringing the bell now.

"Back to T.V." I said. "Good luck."
"Thanks! I need it—so do you." Was the answer.
"Ding-Dong" still.
"I'm comin'. I'm comin'." said Charlotte.
"Good luck, again." I answered and turned around.
"Thanks—again." And she walked over to the door.
"Hello." she said. "May I help you?"
"All-i-son Prie hewe?" asked the first.

I believe what we're reading now is "stupid person" dialect.

"No. I'd get my mom but she's taking a shower."
"Well, could ya tell 'er were here?" This one was more polite.
"I'll see." she said. "Emily! Oh, Emily! Turn off that T.V." Obviously, she meant me.
"Okay, okay." I said and turned it off.
"They'de like to see mom." She eyed me and pointed upstairs.
"Oh." I sounded like a fool.

You said a mouthful, Liz.

"Mom!" I ran upstairs and into the bathroom.
Tiff sat on the toilet seat.
"They want you." I realized I was frantic. "Hurry!" I grabbed the bathrobe.
Tiff took off the towel that was wrapped around her. She had a bathing suit on!
"Why are you wearing that?" I questioned.

Liz was so hoping she'd be nekkid.

"Well." she began. "I was listening to you. I figured I'd have to come down. Then, I saw this bathing suit hanging up. So, I put it on."
"Good idea."

Because it would have been WAY too racy for T.M. to have nothing on under that pink bathrobe.

"Oh." She wet her hair. "Couldn't forget that!"
We smiled.

Obviously the entire plan hinges on this one detail, so I had to include it twice.

"EMILY!" Charlotte was getting impatient.
"We're coming!" I yelled and ran down.
BOOM! went the thunder.
Lightening filled the sky and it began to pour.
"Thunder and lightening bolts" I mumbled.
"What?!" Our guests shreiked.
"I—I said i-i-it was raining v-very h-hard!" Whew!

Liz could maybe use a little practice with the ad-libbing.

Chaper 15: My Midget Mother

As we looked up we saw Tiff walking downstairs.
She stepped slow and easy.
She looked like an—angel.

Well then.

She had her long red hair hanging down on her shoulders.
She wore the pink bathrobe and pink slippers.
She looked beautiful.

It's official: Liz is the biggest lesbian in the 3rd grade. Or at least the coolest.

"Why is she so short?" one asked.
"She's a midget." Charlotte whispered.
"Oh." He answered as if he didn't understand.

Wait, how old are these guys supposed to be? Let's see... they arrived by car, so we can deduce that they're at least 16. Gross.

"Yes?" Boy, she sounded great.
"Well, um, we're lookin' for Allison Pwie. You seen 'er?"
"No. Girls, have you?"
We shook our heads.
"No? Let's see.... Oh! Is she sick? I think I remember her mother calling for you to bring her homework. Have you?"
We nodded.
"What was it she had? Measles, mumps, chicken pox....... That's it—chicken pox. Very contagous."

contagous. Watch out, guys.

"Oh, um, that's O.K. Uh, thanks. Ah, Bye!"
They were gone.
"Now, let's get Allyson!"

Chapter 16: We agree

"Allyson!" Charlotte called.
"Allyson!" I called.
"Allyson!" Tiff called.
Charlotte opened the passageway and Allyson crawled out. She grabbed Charlotte. "Don't let them take me! You wouldn't!" She shook her. "You can't!"

Seriously, could someone ask her WHY THEY WANT TO TAKE HER? And what exactly they plan on doing with her when they have her? Someone? ANYONE?

"They're gone!" I said.
Charlotte smiled at me.
"But, boy," Tiff said "were they dumb!"
"Completely!" I agreed.
"Totally!" Charlotte agreed, too.
"Tell me about it!" Allyson shreiked with joy.

I'll admit, you would have to be pretty stupid to be outwitted by the plan we just witnessed.

"And they didn't know what midget meant!" said Charlotte.
"Really?" Allyson asked.
"And I had to make up this thing about you having chicken pox!" Tiff exclaimed.
"I'm glad it's not true!" Allyson cried.

I don't know about you, but given the choice between a) having a bunch of creepy dudes wanting to steal me away for God knows what purpose and b) having chickenpox, I would go with the chickenpox. No contest.

"Yeah." I said. "We all are."
"Oh, thanks, Liz!"
"Your welcome, Allyson!"
"Who asked you?"
"Why you did, of course."
"Oh, never mind."
"I didn't."

Enjoy this scintillating dialogue while you can, because we've almost reached the end.

"You guys, stop!" Charlotte yelled.
"Okay." Tiff continued "they were dumb!"
"YEAH!!!" we all agreed.

Chapter 17: Mom's real appearence

The door opened downstairs and a voice called, "CHARLOTTE! I'M HOME!"
"Hey, mom! My friends are over!"

I'm sure she's thrilled to learn there's a gaggle of unsupervised children at her house.

"O.K., honey. I see you ate the cookies!"
"Well, yeah, Ma, we did."

AND THAT'S WHERE IT ENDS. Seriously. Mid-chapter, with that line about the cookies. And—even worse—all of our questions about the Lightning Bolts unanswered! So I'll do what I can for you...

My vague recollection is that
the Lightning Bolts were a motorcycle gang of sorts. I know, I know, they showed up in a car. Maybe they read the weather forecast and left the choppers at home? That part isn't so clear, but I strongly feel they were a motorcycle gang.

Oddly enough, this was the influence of my favorite TV show,
Rags to Riches—which was NOT about a motorcycle gang, but instead a group of sassy (former) orphans who liked to break randomly into song. In the pilot (or as I referred to it, "the movie"), however, one orphan does run off ever so briefly with her boyfriend's motorcycle gang. They're called the Road Hogs, and Billy Warlock is one of them, so that should give you an idea of how not-so-intimidating they were. But apparently I was like, "Hmmm... motorcycle gangs. I can use this!"

Sadly, I have NO memory of what went down between Allyson Prie and the Lightning Bolts. When I read it now my main suspicions are "fetish kiddie porn" and "child slavery," but that's probably not what I had in mind at age nine. Maybe Mr. Prie had a gambling addiction that forced him to stray from the Path of Darkness, and he lost Allyson to the Lightning Bolts in a high-stakes poker game? Perhaps Allyson was once betrothed to one of the LBs in his pre–motorcycle gang days, but once he joined the secular world, Mrs. Prie reneged on the marriage contract? And Mr. LB is determined to claim his rightful wife? Or did Allyson simply witness something unsavory back there in Moss Grove? Your guess is as good as mine.

What I DO know is that we need some kind of ending here, so let's discuss: What have we learned that friends are for?

1) Giving you unsolicited makeovers
2) Attempted manslaughter
3) Pointless bickering
4) Forcing you to reunite with your mildly sinister family
5) Teaching you sign language
Eating cookies
7) Pretending to be a midget so you can escape from motorcycle gang members who are so stupid they actually forget their motorcycles
8) Never asking questions, even when they really, really should

That, you guys, is what friends are for.

NEXT TIME: The full scoop on my Rags to Riches obsession, including letters to the cast that discuss everything from the weather to boys to my exciting souvenir shop purchases.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What happens in Moss Grove...: That's What Friends Are For, Part 2

LAST TIME: Liz, the coolest girl in the 3rd grade, made friends with woefully unstylish (but limber!) T.M. in spite of her short fingernails and green shoes. She then hatched a plot to make over Allyson Prie (member of the puritanical, possibly goth, definitely weird Dark Family) even though she had never spoken a word to her. All in a tizzy to start picking out pastel shades of nail polish and high-heeled shoes for "Ally," Liz canceled her after-school date with Henry, who retaliated by calling her (what else?) a lesbian.

Chapter 6: Rumors

During math everyone was whispering and I was nervous. I'll bet Henry got a rumor going. That, that... nerd!
[Ooh, BURN!] That's it—nerd. Henry is a nerd. Henry The Nerd. I'll get a rumor out about him. Ooooo! I'm mad.

So I'm sure every nine-year-old pretty much lives in fear of being called a homo, but come on, Liz! You're the coolest girl in the third grade! What's the big deal? Methinks she doth protest too much.

"Liz." Huh? "Liz." It was the teacher. "Liz, dear, are you okay. You look sick. You're so.... so.... red." Ooooo!
"No, Miss Laney. It's just a sunburn."

Good one, Liz! Way to cover!

That's over with. Whew!
Uh-oh! I'd better get going! Math!
I finished my paper just in time. Now I could go home. Once outside. "T.M. Over here. What did he say? What did he say? Tell me!"
"Okay, he said 'Liz Craw is gay. She has a girlfriend.'"
"That's you."

Oh, really? You guys, I'm starting to think this rumor might have the ring of truth.

"A girl that's a friend."
"Yeah, well, anyway, all the girls and boys are ganging up on him in..." She looked at her watch. "5 minutes at the river bank."
"Let's Go!"

Chapter 7: At the Riverbank

Tiff and I raced each other to the riverbank. She won.
Suddenly, she stopped.
I looked back. "What?"
They beat us."
There were kids in a circle. They had their faces wrinkled and their fists clenched. I suspected Henry was in the middle.

"Go!!!!" I yelled and ran down the hill. T.M. followed. We joined the circle shortly afterward.
He was in the middle.
Everyone made room for me. I gave orders. "Throw him in the river." I commanded.

Yeesh, Liz. He calls you a lesbian and you decide to... KILL HIM? That seems a bit harsh.

"No, no, please!" he pleaded.
I was disgusted. "Now!" I yelled.
That's what they did.

Wow. Don't fuck with Liz and her third-grade minions.

Now, while Henry was freezing in the river
, a black car pulled up.
"Beat it!" I screeched. It was 'The Dark Family.'

She's probably more worried about the aquamarine outfit she has on than the attempted homicide.

The pretty lady came out. She said, "Oh George, dear, there's a boy drowning in the river. Fish him out. We'll take him home and fix him up."

I love how calmly she says this, like she and George come upon drowning victims on a daily basis.

I saw Allyson roll her eyes.
"Allyson!" Obviously, so did her mother. "Mind your manners." she snapped.
Allyson smiled sweetly.
Then, they drove away.

Chapter 8: Allyson, dear, where are you?

Word was Allyson Prie had run away.

All of a sudden, Liz sounds like a detective from the '40s.

I decided Tiff and I were going to do some spying at the dark, dark, dark, witch black house. I told T.M. and she agreed right away.
"Yippee!!!!" she said. "Dark, dark, dark. The Darkest, darkest, dark." She went on and on and on and on. "Dark, dark, dark. It's darkest at the Dark's Park. It's dark, dark, dark."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I know. O.K.?"

Those two are like an old married couple. INTERESTING.

"Mmmm! Yes, I understand. No more. End of discussion. Zip!"
"Quit acting like a robot."
"Immediately." She shut her mouth.

"Acting like a robot" might be the single most realistic thing a nine-year-old has done in this story.

Off to the 'Dark' house we went.
"Shhh!" I ordered.
"Okay. Okay." Tiff answered.
This is what we saw:
A pretty lady in gray was walking around saying, "Allyson, dear, where are you?" It was true. The rumor was true. Wow!

You know, I want to poke fun at Mrs. Prie's terrible parenting, but truthfully, every time I "ran away" in elementary school, I was usually somewhere in the yard. Once I made it to the end of the block.

"Hey, Tiff, you here that? The rumor was true. She's really, really gone. Wow!"
"She's more gutsy than I thought she was." Agreed T.M.
Then, "Oh, George, how's that dear boy we pulled out of the river?"

He's still at their house??? I guess if you pull a boy out of a river, he's fair game. Getting thrown in a river? Practically makes you an orphan.

"Oh, don't you think he'd make a nice addition to the family?"
"Yes, of course. But, he has parents.
[BAD parents apparently, if they leave him with strangers for days after he NEARLY DROWNS.] You know that Lana."
"Yes, yes, I know. I mean with Allyson, if she turns up, in the future."
"I see what you mean. I'll think about it."
"Yes, dear, see you later." He left and she went back to calling, "Allyson, dear, where are you?"

Um, excuse me? Discussing arranged marriages for your nine-year-old missing child? (If she turns up, that is.) Mrs. Prie is genuinely creepy! I can see kidnapping a boy you find in the river, but I draw the line at pimping out your third grader.

Chapter 9: The Ally Cat

Over the weekend T.M. and I decided to have a search party for Allyson.
We searched high and low.
Under and over.
Here and there.

We looked near moss grove, but, didn't dare go in.

I'd like to point out that "Moss Grove" is a completely un-sinister name. It sounds like a nice spot for a picnic and a nap.

"Should we go in?"
"But we gotta!"
"She might be in there."
"She might."
"I don't think she's that way."

??? How much do you guys want to bet that Moss Grove is the local lesbian bar? (Er, all-ages lesbian club? I keep forgetting that they're nine, what with the high heels and dating and all.)

"She ran away."
"Okay, we'll try it, satisfied?"
We went in.
Suddenly, we heard, "Meow!!!!"
Ally cats! I thought. We screamed.

I don't get it. Moss Grove is an alley? I thought it was, you know, a GROVE. (...Or a lesbian bar.) Also, they're afraid of CATS? What in God's name?

Chapter 10: Charlotte

We heard a voice. "Allyson, cut that out."
"Aww, Charlotte, come on. It's fun."
T.M. and I giggled.
Then, a head popped up.
Soon, another head.
The second head was Allyson Prie's.
"I told you." said T.M. She was bragging.
"Nah, nah, nah."
"We found her."
"So! We found her. And all you can say is 'SO'?"
The heads giggled.
"Hello, Liz. Hello, Tiffany. This is Charlotte."
The first head smiled.

This "head" thing is getting weird. Quit giving me head, Liz!

This is a description of Charlotte: A regular sized 8-year-old. She had curly blond hair, pink lips and cheeks, green little eyes. She had pink polish on her nails. She had a shirt with a pink butterfly on it. She also wore pink shorts.

But what about her eyelashes??? Great, now I have NO IDEA what she looks like.

"Nice to meet you." she said.
"Yes." I said. "We have to take Allyson home.
[Whatever, Liz. Quit harshing everyone's mellow!] Allyson?" I looked at her.
"Your mother is worried. Please, come home."
So, we took Allyson home and we—the four of us—were a great team.

Chapter 11: Trademark

After school the next day when Tiffany came out of the building I called, "Trademark. Trademark."

"What?" she answered confused.

"Trademark." Louder.

"Crazy people, crazy names, boy." she mumbled.
"Hey!" I jumped in front of her face. She stepped back and fell over. Her knee was bleeding.

Jesus, Liz is an asshole.

I got down on the ground. "You okay?" I asked.
"Yeah. Yeah. Just fine." She got up and wiped her hands on her jeans.

"I'll walk with you," I said, changing the subject.
"Okay" she said. "I don't have dance class today."
I giggled.

"What's so funny?"
I giggled again. "You" I said. "dance class."

So T.M. is kind of butch. Doesn't mean she can't take a dance class. Free your mind, Liz.

"Yes." she answered. "Who were you calling 'Trademark'?"
"You." I answered.

She didn't take it kindly. She stubbled
[yes, stubbled] backwards and this time I caught her. I stood her up. "T.M. stands for trademark."

This is me trying to show off, in the dorkiest possible way. I had just learned what all those little
™ symbols I was seeing everywhere stood for—and I reasoned that if I didn't know, other kids didn't either, so I thought it my duty to educate my readers.

"Boy, you have some weird teachers." She laughed.
Then, Allyson and Charlotte came over to us.
"We know some sign language." They said together and started laughing. "We can sing 'Row, row, row your boat.'" They said together again. They started laughing all over again.
"Taffy taught it to us!" Charlotte said.

"To you." Allyson said.
I taught it to you." Charlotte said.

"Taffy." mumbled Allyson.
Then, they laughed again.
"These people have the laughing disease." I said.
"How do you cure it, Doc?" Tiff asked.

"I dunno. There's no cure yet." I answered.

"We'll show you!" suggested Charlotte.

"Good idea!" answered Allyson.

Because sign language comes across SO well in a book.

They showed us 'Row, row, row your boat.' Not the cure.
"That's great." I said. "
Who's Taffy?"
"A friend." answered Charlotte. "Hey, my mom's bakin' chocolate chip cookies. You guys wanna come over?"

"Sure!!!" We all answered together and laughed.

Boringest. Chapter. Ever. Sign language? Cookies??? Where's the intrigue in that? We need a plot twist STAT.

Chapter 12: At Charlotte's House

"Race ya!!!!" screamed Allyson at the top of her lungs
[in total violation of Dark Family Rule #3]. She won and I was last.
"You're the rotten nag! You're the rotten nag!" chanted Tiff.

This was something my sister and I used to say; we thought ourselves incredibly witty.

"Nobody said anything about rotten eggs!" I complained.

"Rotten nag!" she corrected.
"Let's forget about it." suggested Charlotte.
"Tiffany." She inspected her carefully with a cat's eye.

Again with the "cat's eye"! I'm assuming I picked this up from other YA authors. I don't think I was spending too much time contemplating feline eyeballs myself.

"Okay." was the answer that finally came.
"Good. Now we can go inside. I'm starved." was Allyson in a desprate voice.
We walked in.
"Mom." called Charlotte. "Mom."
We put our bags down.
"Guess she's not home yet."
"No cookies?" cried Allyson.
"Yes cookies." answered Charlotte. "Just made 'em few munites
[munites!] ago. Just had to go to store for somethin'."
"How would you know?" questioned Tiff.

You read my mind, T.M.

"Mind-reader." was the answer.

You did NOT read my mind, Charlotte.

We followed her to the kitchen.
"See, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies."

Maybe I shouldn't knock the cookies. That actually sounds delicious right about now.

Allyson grabbed one and started munching on it.
"Allyson, shame on you!" cried Charlotte.
But soon we were all grabbing and munching.

Are we still talking about cookies?

Suddenly, a car pulled into the driveway.
"Mom?" called Charlotte. "Mom?"
She looked out the window and then turned around stiff and pale.

Ooh, cookies PLUS intrigue!

"What?" I asked. "Who is it?" My mouth was full of food.
"Hey, Charlotte, you okay?" Allyson walked over to her.
"I don't know who it is." She said. "It's a stranger."

Dun dun DUN!

NEXT TIME: The not-so-thrilling not-so-much-a-conclusion. On the plus side, it does involve T.M. in a bathing suit (Liz is so psyched!) and midgets. Sort of.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cool! Completely cool!: That's What Friends Are For, Part 1

Prior to third grade, I'd been flirting with the idea of being an artist when I grew up, or maybe a teacher, or possibly even an art teacher. But once I turned nine, it was time to stop dicking around and get serious about the writing. (Plus, I figured I could always illustrate my own books. Genius!)

This zealousness was in part the result of meeting Marilyn Gould, a childhood friend of my grandmother's and an ACTUAL PUBLISHED AUTHOR—of young adult books, no less! She lived in the decidedly more glamorous state of California, but she was coming back to Ohio to see the old 'hood, visit with my grandma, and—more importantly—give a talk at my elementary school about what it was like to be a real, live author!

By the time she arrived, I had read all of her books. But she ended up giving my sister and me a copy of her latest work in progress, which was amazing for two reasons:
1) It was semi-autobiographical and contained a character based on my grandma (her name was even on the dedication page!), which was possibly the coolest thing ever, AND...
2) It was a MANUSCRIPT, making it pretty much my nine-year-old wet dream (although at this point I hadn't yet read Then Again, Maybe I Won't, so I didn't know that wet dreams even existed).

At any rate, the manuscript was seriously inspiring stuff. It was called Max, Braunschweiger, and Me, and basically it was about three friends, a voodoo doll, cooking potatoes in mud, and pretending not to be rich when actually you are. Oh, and something about a war and Nazis. I was like, "Heck! I can do this!" Here's what I came up with:

That's What Friends Are For

To My Friends - Katie and Jessica

If Marilyn Gould taught me anything, it was that you need a dedication page. And if Katie and Jessica were anything like my grandma, having a book dedicated to them might make them cry.

Chapter 1: Liz Craw—Me

My name is Liz Craw. First, I will describe myself. I have long blond hair and blue eyes. I have rosy cheeks and a pink little mouth. My nose is small and my eyelashes long. I am short and thin. I wear clothes that are in style. I have long finger nails.
I am the coolest girl in the 3rd grade at Treeline Elementary. At least everyone says so. I'm smart and cute.

I know she's only nine, but I'd like to serve Liz a large slice of humble pie. And in case you're having a problem envisioning her pink little mouth:

Wow, Liz looks kind of like a nine-year-old Tammy Faye. And as you can see, I thought that cropped, uh, vests(?) and matching capris were cool! Completely cool!

I have a younger sister and an older brother. My sister is 5. My brother is 11.

...And that's the last we'll hear about those two.

I am 9. Now I will begin my story.

Phew! Now that we've gotten all of the really important details (like fingernail length) out of the way, we can get down to business!

Chapter 2: T.M.—Tiffany Markerton

PLAGIARISM ALERT! This next bit is completely lifted from
Max, Braunschweiger, and Me (which was eventually published under the inferior, singsongy title Friends True and Periwinkle Blue). In Marilyn's book, during recess on the first day of school, the narrator meets a girl with two long red braids who demonstrates her prowess on the uneven bars by doing an impressive array of loop-de-loops. Afterward, the two become friends. Knowing that, see if you don't have a feeling of déjà vu while reading Chapter 2...

On the first day of school at lunch recess in the corner of the playground I saw kids yelling. They said, "Go T.M. Go T.M. Go, go, go, T.M.!" I skipped over there, and, in the middle of the crowd was a girl with long red ponytails doing what she called a "double flipped headstand marcher."

Just so you know, I have no idea what that would look like either. I'm hoping it involves a majorette hat.

When she was done, the children left. I was alone with her. I spoke up. "What's your name?" I asked sweetly.

Add that to the list! Liz: COOL, cute, smart, sweet... did I mention COOL?

She looked at me. "Tiffany Markerton." She answered in one breath, which meant she wasn't out of breath from her performance.
"Tiffany Markerton."
"Oh, yes, the great T.M."
[Holy bitchface, Liz!]
"Yes, who're you?" she questioned.
"Liz Craw." I answered coolly.

Oh, Liz! As if you could answer any other way! You're so cool! COMPLETELY COOL!

"The coolest girl in the 3rd grade?"
"Wow." She was impressed. "Neato." She acted strangely.

Um, if Liz is the coolest girl in the third grade, wouldn't the other kids, like, know what she looks like?

I could get a good look at her now. She had long red, red ponytails. She had big green eyes. Like a cat. She had thick lashes.

Apparently I believed eyelashes to be an integral part of one's appearance.

Her cheeks and lips were a bright red and she had ribbons in her hair. Her clothing was out of style. She had an orange shirt, short overalls, and green new-shoes.

Oh my God, an orange shirt??? Liz is just a saint to make friends with her. Oh, and "new-shoes"? Yeah, that's a term I coined when my sister and I used to play department store. I would make little catalogs filled with drawings of the many fashionable items my sister could purchase, e.g., furry hooded jacket, "Jungle Girl" dress, new-shoes. In actuality new-shoes were flats; I just didn't know what they were called.

She had short fingernails and I liked her right away.

Is there some sort of correlation between those two things? Anyway... oh, what's that? You can't quite wrap your mind around those short overalls and new-shoes? Fine:

Something weird seems to be going on with her nose, but I'm glad to see her eyes aren't all smooshed together (ahem, Liz). And I couldn't fit it in the scan, but in the original drawing, next to her name it says "out of it," because that's how fucking uncool Liz thinks she is.

Chapter 3: The Dark Family

What I'd heard about the Dark family was bad.
I heard these:
#1. You must wear nothing but black and gray.
#2. No friends.
#3. Do things quietly.
#4. Mind your elders.
#5. Act proper.
#6. Defend your beliefs (our belief).
#7. Know everything.
[Seems slightly unrealistic. Just sayin'.]
#8. Own only things that are dark in color.
#9. No parties.
#10. Live in a black house.

Whoa! The Dark Family (whoever they are) are either modern-day Puritans or just really, really, really goth. Like, A BLACK HOUSE? When the frick have you ever seen a black house?

That's all 10. Some kids say the house is a witch's house. A girl named Allyson is in that family and my class. She seems to follow those rules.

Once, when I walked down Stray Ave.
[awesome], I saw a car stop. (A black car.) A line of children came out. They lined up in size order.

I had watched The Sound of Music too many times and thought all strict parents with lots of kids would operate
à la Captain von Trapp.

They were all wearing black. A pretty woman in black counted them. A man in black [Johnny Cash???] said, "Hurry back in. All of them are here." They followed that order promptly. Then they were gone. That was 'The Dark Family'. It gave me the creeps.

Chapter 4: Allyson Prie

I thought Allyson was Pretty. So did T.M. Let me tell you about Allyson. She had long brown hair and thick bangs.

Of COURSE she had brown hair. Popular media had already ingrained in me the Hair Color Holy Trinity—we already have a blond and a redhead, so clearly the next character must be a brunette! It's only logical.

She had bright brown eyes. She had red lips and pink cheeks. She had black nail polish. She always wore a black pearl necklace. You know about her clothes. Also, she has black new-shoes with straps. (Cool! Mine don't have straps!)

Hmmm... she seems overly accessorized for a Puritan:

And yet that dress has "Pilgrim" written all over it. Either that or "Wednesday Addams."

I had a plan.
Later walking home. "Yo, T.M.!"
She jumped. "Huh?"
"It's me—Lizzy Craw. Remember?"
"Right, yeah. Whew."
"We got work, Tiff." T.M. followed me. "Ya know Allyson Prie—top secret."
She cackled. "Dark, dark, dark." she chanted.
I rolled my eyes. "Quit it." I mumbled.
[Oh shut it, Liz! You're nine! It's, like, your job to be annoying.]
"So what're we gonna do?"
[Uh, wha? How did "tomorrow" clarify anything?]

I'm not entirely sure what just transpired.

Chapter 5: Plans

My plan (on a piece of paper): To Fix Up Allyson Prie by Liz Craw. Helper – Tiffany Markerton.

Yes!!! Just what this book was needing: a makeover! (You know, so far, this plot is a lot like an Olsen twins movie.)

Allyson needs a nickname: Ally
New clothes in colors: Pink, purple, blue, yellow, and red (A little black) Also, white (of course)
New clothes like: Pants and shorts and overalls and short tops and long sweaters.
Wear hair up: Braids. Ponytail(s). Pigtail(s). Bun(s). (Or any other thing)
Odds and ends: Jewelery. Long nails. Nail polish. Toys. High Heel Shoes? (or not) Friends. Talk louder. Thank You!
That was it. Not too good. It was good enough.

Let's review. First of all, orange and green? Way uncool. (I hope you're taking notes, T.M.) Second, hold the phone! Overalls are cool? As long as they're not short overalls? You guys, being cool is so complicated. I'm just going to toss my hair in a bun, put on a long purple sweater, and call it a day. Maybe I'll even slip on some high-heeled shoes. Or not. Since I'm nine. Also, I like how Liz considers friends to be in the "odds and ends" category. This speaks VOLUMES.

I just thought of something. At my age I was out on dates. [!!!] I had a date after school at the mall [where else?] with Henry McCaw. I didn't like him that much. I turned down another date for him. Well, I had to break it.

She doesn't even like him, but she turned down another date for him? What's up with that? Wait, why am I trying to make sense of this? They are NINE YEARS OLD.

At recess I walked over to Henry.
"Henry." I said.
He looked at me. "Yes, Liz?"
"I have to break our date."
"What?!" he almost yelled.
"I have to do something with my girlfriend."
"Your girlfriend?!" Yick! "Well, if a girlfriend is more important than me then...."
[He's already passive-aggressive at age nine. Run, Liz! Run!] What, what? "You have a girlfriend?"
"You're gay!"
Oh, no! "I'm not gay. You, you..."
"Ha! Ha! HA! Liz is gay!!!!"
I turned red!

WOW. Now watch me awkwardly attempt to defend my nine-year-old homophobia: You guys, I was raised in a liberal (albeit Midwestern) city by open-minded parents, but I obviously believed that being labeled "gay" would be the biggest social catastrophe that could befall you in the third grade. That is how afraid kids are of being perceived as "different." Did I really have a problem with gay people? I don't think so. I mean, I remember thinking it was "gross"—but I also thought that French kissing was "gross," and I definitely ended up changing my tune about that. Actually, one of my best friends in second grade was very likely transgendered. And I say this not because she liked to wear a tie rather than a skirt when she had to get dressed up (although that's also true), but because one day on the playground she said to me, "If I ever get a sex change, my name is going to be David. And we will not fall in love." I was like, "Cool. Let's go play on the monkey bars."

NEXT TIME: Liz gets her revenge on Henry, and it involves the n-word: nerd!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The backstory

Growing up, I was shy, gawky (see photo), and unathletic. When people ask, I tell them I was an "indoor child." It's not like I never went outdoors, but I preferred activities with a PLOTLINE. (Playing outside? Yeah, sure. Playing that we live in Japan outside? Totally! Playing that we are blind orphans stranded in the woods outside? Hells yes!!!) If you gave me a few books, a pen and paper, maybe some markers, I was set for DAYS.

In second grade, I read my first "chapter book" (it was The Valentine Star in the Polk Street School series—ah, Emily and Beast), and there was no going back. I was a bookworm. Actually, I was more than a bookworm: I was a BOOK COBRA. I swallowed books whole. And it was only a matter of time before I was churning out my own. I started with picture books. Early storylines included arguments between owls and skunks, families getting lost in the woods, and the sex lives of our pet rabbits (who it turned out were NOT both female). In a particularly inspired third grade work, a girl nearly meets a tragic end during a family picnic by the river—but is saved by a pair of do-gooder dolphins just seconds before her inflatable boat goes over the falls! (I soon discovered that dolphins do not actually live in rivers.)

Partway through third grade, I decided to cut the crap and start writing my own novels, with much more mature plotlines, mainly revolving around the timeless themes of friendship and boys. Not necessarily in that order. And "start" is really the operative word, because most of them aren't finished. (A couple have endings, but they are... weird. You'll see.) But beginnings? There are a METRIC TON of those. Being a pack rat, of course I still had them all in storage at my parents' house, most of them in neatly labeled manila folders (because I was freaky organized even as a kid). But putting them on the Internet hadn't really crossed my mind (uh, why would it?) until I discovered the twin inspirations of Mortified and blogs recapping young adult books from my youth. Sleep deprivation may have also been involved. A few months later, I visited Cleveland and hauled half my childhood back with me: the aforementioned manila folders (but also a few with puppies and heart-shaped balloons on them, naturally), school journals, diaries, and assorted other goodies. The thing about the suitcase-full? Not hyperbole.

One of the folders, helpfully labeled "Book Information," contains pretty much marketing material. For my unpublished books. Written when I was, like, 12. It includes a list of book titles that is three pages long. Some of them we'll get to, but there's a large portion for which I NEVER WROTE A WORD. Yeah, I just liked coming up with titles. Here's a sampling (asterisk = we'll actually get to read part of it!):

Quintuple Trouble*
We Can Live Without Boys...Can't We?*
Syra Cuse*
Another Way Of Putting It
My Diary*
Mr. Magic
Who Needs Another Mother?*
The Sabrina Story*
Bonnie's Zoo*
The New, Improved Tiffany
Running Away*
Being Me
Cynthia, The One Who Hates The World*

Take-Out Order*
Living With Princesses
No Way To Spend A Summer*
More Quintuple Trouble
(That's right, I was planning SEQUELS to unfinished books)
I Love Boys
It Takes Guts To Be A Girl
Super-Girl Flies Again
Jealousy Is My Best Quality
Gossip Central*
Kayla Takes Over
Ghost Girl
Always And Forever, Cabin 5*
All Of Us*
Baby Ducks Are Ducklings
(You guys, I have no idea...)
Life After Death
Silvie, Open The Door
In The History Of The World*
Miracles Do Happen
One Of The Best Friends You Ever Had
If The Shoe Fits, Wear It
Don't Be Yourself*
The Human Giraffe
Winter In Wonderland
The Good Witch Of Boston
(Please note: I had never been to Boston)
Forever & Friends
B-O-Y-S Spells Trouble
100 Ways To Get Even
That's Why There Are Friends
Ginger, Bubbles, Frieda, And The Styrofoam Witch
(I truly wish this one had a folder)

Are there others not included in this list? You better believe it.

So here's my plan: I'm going to work in a semi-chronological fashion, because that's just how I operate. I don't know exact dates, but because I'm usually the same age as the protagonist, we can go by grade level, starting in third (1986–1987; initially, 30 will be the new 9) and eventually working our way up to eighth (1991–1992). I promise you, there will be bad fashion and references to Chad Allen. I'm going to publish each story in its, uh, "entirety" (complete with spelling errors and possibly offensive content)... all the while making fun of it. I'll discuss anything that I remember as being an influence: other books, TV shows, or (way less likely) actual events. There are several acts of plagiarism I can recall, and probably more that I can't, but I'll fess up to those I remember.

Also, a lot of the folders contain extra stuff: drawings of the characters, so you don't have to waste your time trying to picture them in your head; things written and/or drawn by the characters (I was a method writer, apparently); ill-conceived floor plans of their houses; etc. I'm also going to sprinkle in various other writings: school journals (fourth grade's is a comedy goldmine), personal diaries, book reports, scripts for radio (read: tape recorder) programs, and more. It's going to be fun. And embarrassing. Extremely embarrassing.

NEXT TIME: My first attempt at chapter-booking (and at naming a book after a popular song), That's What Friends Are For, featuring Liz Craw, the coolest (and least modest) girl in the third grade.