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 For my unpublished books.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!):
We Can Live Without Boys...Can't We?*
Another Way Of Putting It
Who Needs Another Mother?*
The Sabrina Story*
The New, Improved Tiffany
Cynthia, The One Who Hates The World*
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
Kayla Takes Over
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.
11 months ago