Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Life as a Pre-Teen

This week's Book That Never Was takes us back to the rural outskirts of Friendship, NY, where Samantha Rhodes and her two younger siblings have moved in with their Gram and Gramps... for reasons that are never quite explained. The story unfolds (or, more accurately, doesn't unfold) through a series of letters exchanged between Sam and Anita, her BFF back home—a series of letters that quickly degenerates into boy craziness and a roll call of Santa's reindeer.

No, really.

Dear Sam,

I know we were fighting when you left and I wanted to say sorry. Carolyn asked why weren't you here at camp. I told her about your parents. She says shes sorry, but you're tough and you can make it. I know you can too.

Love, Anita

So, it sounds like her parents are dead, right? And that she'll just have to be a tough little orphan and muddle through this hard-knock life, right?


Dear Anita,

Apology accepted and I'm sorry too. Out here we wake up at 5 to eat breakfast. Gram is cooking and Gramps is milking the cows. Missy and I dress in 5 minute flat. Then we dress Jason. Missy has been having bad dreams. I get up and comfort her. We may be back next year.

love - sam sam sam


Ahh, old habits die hard.

so Gram and Gramps own a farm. What did I know about farms?

Farm Fun Fact #1: People on farms wake up early! Crazy early!

Farm Fun Fact #2: People on farms milk cows. Does this mean Gram and Gramps own a dairy farm? Hardly! That's because...

Farm Fun Fact #3: ALL farms have cows. They, like, come with the barn or something.

Also, we learn that Missy's been having bad dreams, which seems to support the Dead Parents theory. But then
the "plot" "thickens": The kids may be returning to their hometown next year? How? Why? What the frig?

But wait—I bet you guys don't even CARE about dairy farms and mysteriously absent parents! I know what you want to hear about: BOYS!!!

Dear Sam,

I think Adam Lone likes me. He calls himself Lone Star. (boys) APOLOGY ACCEPTED.

Love: Ani

Anita? Is that you?

I also like how Adam has nicknamed himself after the state of Texas. Oh, boys!

Dear Ani(ta),

Old Lone Star? Do you like him? Jason rides the donkey and ponies. Missy has a boyfriend named Eddie. He is 8, like her. We went to a county square-dance. This boy called Jeremy asked me to dance. I didn't want to because it was like pimple city.
[Pimple City = my new band name.] Gram and Gramps told him yes without asking me. He sprayed me through his retainer. To top it off this cute guy named Brian kept looking at me. He had been about to ask me when old puss-face had.


love - sam sam sam

According to the Friendship Info folder, Jason is 3. Who lets a 3-year-old ride a donkey?? This leads us to several more Farm Fun Facts.

Farm Fun Fact #4: All farms have donkeys and ponies, strictly for your riding pleasure.

Farm Fun Fact #5: What do you do for fun on a farm (aside from riding the abundant donkeys and ponies)? Why, go to a square dance, of course!

Notice how Sam's coerced interaction with Jeremy and his newly straightened teeth, metropolis of acne, and kitten face (eh?) is FAR more important the nightmare-inducing events that befell her parents. OBVS.

Dear Sam,

Yes, I like Old Adam Lone Star. What are the ponies names? What does Brian look like. Adam got his braces off and his hair buzzed. He's cute. How are your parents. I have been hanging out with Jo and Sari. They are nice. Jo has a cute new haircut. Do you have any new friends? WE ALL MISS YOU, SAMMI.

Love, Ani.

P,S, everyone calls me Ani now.

It is you! Or... is it Lone Star with his newly buzzed hair?? Crap!

Did you notice it? Did you notice it? She asked (or, rather, stated—there's no question mark involved), "How are your parents." Based on that, I think we have to assume they are NOT DEAD, unless there is something incredibly, frighteningly wrong with Ani.

Something wronger than this weave, even.

Also, what is this funny business about kids get their braces OFF in fifth grade? Keep dreaming, sister.

Oh, but let's see how Sam answers this pointed question about her parents' welfare.

Dear Ani,

Lone Star? Grow up and drink some coffee to wash down that Kool-Aid. Brian is so gorgeous I can't describe him.
[...But I will.] Okay, he's got blond/brown hair and blue/greenNOturquoise eyes. He's about 4'11". He's nice and sweet and cute and funny and gorgeous and GREAT. The ponies are called Cinnamon and Ginger. The donkey's name is Tucker. We call him Tuck. The horses names are Dasher, Dancer, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen, Rudolph and Snow Ball Prancer.

Oh, sorry, she was too busy naming farm animals and describing the indescribable Brian to explain anything relevant to the plot of this story. Though, to be fair, Brian DOES sound pretty indescribable, what with the hair that's blond... or is it brown? And the eyes that are blue? Or green? Or—dare I say!—turquoise? But Sam does know that he's 4'11", which seems... odd.

Anyway, that's it! If you thought we were going to get to the bottom of this parental mystery, HA! You better grow up and drink some coffee to wash down that Kool-Aid!

NEXT TIME: My characters like writing letters so much that they start writing to people who don't even exist.

Also, sorry if I've been slacking a little on the posting. (I know, MY REPUTATION IS RUINED.) I've been busy lately in my non-blog life, but I promise I'm not going anywhere. I'll try to keep posting at least once a week.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Gilford Girls

The contents of the Gilford Girls folder (which is actually labeled Don't Be Yourself, though it contains not a word of that story) proves once and for all that I spent far more time drawing my characters—and coming up with their favorite colors!—than I ever did coming up with a plot. Any sort of plot. At all.

The story that's actually in the folder, Living in a Princess's Land....When You're Not a Princess, is a Book That Never Was™ several times over. I rewrote this sucker THREE TIMES, and yet I never got past page two. That's a profound dedication to lack of plot. For your reading enjoyment, I'm going to include all three versions, for each contains a variation in hilariousness that cannot be excluded.

But before we get to all that, let's go back to where it all began, with some pencil sketches of the Gilford Girls themselves—plus a listing of their vital statistics. [Note: If you need a closer look at, say, Anita's boombox, clicking on the drawings will enlarge them.]

The eldest of the sisters is Melanie, whose windswept hair and vacant, glassy-eyed stare seem indicative of a drug problem. She IS a tortured poet, after all.

She SO locks herself in her room and blares the Smiths because NO ONE UNDERSTANDS. Then she scribbles some poems about it—with her MELANIE pencil. She's so deep!

Name: Melanie Gilford
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Blue
Color: Black
Age: 14
When grows up: Poet

Then we are treated to a bit of her verse:

Sweet Spring Morning
Dew drop mist
hung sweet on trees.
Robins sing
the Early Song.
Breathe Deep!
Bring in the
fragrance of roses.
Wake Up!
It's a sweet spring morning.

Um, 'scuse? Shouldn't that be about 7,000 times more angsty? Apparently I did not yet realize that you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders at 14.

Next we have Anita, who has a passion for dancing in spite of her raging case of hydrocephalus (and at least one bizarrely malformed ear).

Good God, that HEAD! This may have been my first and last attempt at drawing in profile.

Name: Anita Gilford
Hair: Brown

Eyes: Blue

Color: Rose

Age: 12½

When grows up: Dancer

Then we have Doreen, the Claudia Kishi sister. She looks utterly shocked, and I can't tell if it's because her hair has inexplicably turned to beads or because she's unfortunate enough to have acquired Michael Jackson's current nose.

Name: Doreen Gilford
Hair: Brown

Eyes: Blue

Color: Rainbow (all)

Age: 11

When Grow Up: Artist

Then, to demonstrate Doreen's artistic prowess, I included this:

Because nothing says "precociously talented artist" like a blind mouselady with a side ponytail and pointy elf ears!

After Doreen is Gloria, the actress. I don't know how to break it to her, but there is no WAY she's going to make it in Hollywood with that weak chin and set of lopsided eyes.

Name: Gloria Gilford
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Blue

Color: Blue
Age: 10
When Grow Up: Actress

And because I KNOW you couldn't get enough of Doreen's artistry:
Gloria was going to be the narrator of Don't Be Yourself. (Don't be yourself! Because she's an actress! Get it???) To that end, the folder contains... uh... inscriptions from Gloria's yearbook? Um, WTF? We didn't even have yearbooks when I was in fifth grade! Please tell me someone else did this!

The yearbook is basically a thinly veiled excuse for various Friendship characters to plug their own books. And for me to practice my mad handwriting skillz. Check it out:

Regina Grubble's book: One of the Best Friends You Ever Had.

Anne Montgomery's book: If the Shoe Fits, Wear It. (p.s. What self-respecting 10-year-old willingly refers to herself as Fanny?)

Sara Doone's books: Me, Super-Girl and its heavily foreshadowed sequel, Super-Girl Flies Again.

Melanie Tibbets' book? You'll never believe it!: Life After Death. Which makes for a totally creepy yearbook inscription, no?

What, I couldn't think of a way to work in Take-Out Order? How about "You were great! I'll see you this summer when you pick up your take-out orders! Love, Lisa"? BOOM.

Justine didn't have her own book, but her older sister did, and the "tough times" she's referring to? That would be finding out that the woman she thought was her mom? Yeah, not really her mom at all, but someone who SECRETLY KIDNAPPED HER AS A CHILD. Tough times indeed.

No book title here, but I dare say there should be.

Her handwriting looks so popular!

Last up is tomboy Patsy, who looks frighteningly like a young Paula Poundstone. She seems to be wearing a batting helmet for fun, and is definitely giving some unfortunate soul the crazy eye.

Name: Patsy Gilford
Hair: Brown

Eyes: Blue

Color: Purple

Age: 9
When grow up: First ever woman baseball player!

This was circa 1989, so A League of Their Own hadn't come out yet.

Young Patsy is the narrator of our oft-rewrit tale. Now that you have some (disturbing?) mental images to accompany the prose, let's hop to it!



Do you have any idea what it's like to be the baby of the family? To have 4 accomplished big sisters? Well I do. My name is Patsy Gilford. I guess I'm sort of a tomboy. The reason is this: The thing I love most in the world is baseball. Every other one of my sisters has some special talent. But not me. Not Patsy. NO WAY.

I like how, in my mind, athleticism was not a talent. Have I mentioned that I used to get picked last in gym class?

MELANIE GILFORD. The oldest in the family. Sophisticated Melanie is 14. Her poems never rhyme; And I quote, "Rhyming is babyish." If I need to write a poem for English, I come to her for help and she says, "Patsy, dear, that would be like cheating, having an experienced poet like myself, helping you." So my poems always rhyme. Melanie's favorite color is black because, and I quote, "Black, to myself and most other poets, seems to have more life than hot pink."

Settle down there, Johnny Cash. By the way, my idea of a "poet" was based entirely on Myron Krupnik's students in Anastasia Krupnik. Key point: Poets wear black. Lots of black.

ANITA GILFORD. She is the most serious dancer you will ever meet.
[Booyah, Baryshnikov!] Ballet/Dance class after school Monday-Friday. Every morning she wakes up at 5:30 and exercises. I quote, "A dancer has to stay in shape. Exercise and plenty of sleep. Relax your muscles." She goes to bed at 7:30. She's always asleep by 8:00. Well, her ballet class is doing "The Nutcracker", Anita's favorite movie, for their show. It's between Anita and her best friend, Amie South, of who will get the lead female role of Clara.

What the hell Nutcracker movie am I talking about? Does anyone recall a popular Nutcracker film?

DOREEN GILFORD. This 11-year-old was a born artist. And she still is.
[Good thing I clarified that!] Doreen does not have a favorite color because, and I quote, "All colors are equal. It's not really the color itself that's important; it's the color's meaning that counts." Doreen, for some queer reason, likes sleeping in until noon on the weekend. [Probably so she can avoid Anita and her gartantuan head.] Living with her bedroom like an art museum, this stylish girl loves sunlight and nature.

Why does this all of a sudden feel like an ad for mail-order brides?

GLORIA GILFORD. We didn't realize what Gloria's talent was until last year when she snatched the leading female role of Cinderella out of the 5th graders hands and elegantly strolled past their faces with a peculiar grin on her face.
[Creepy!] At that time she was only a 4th grader. Everyone was amazed with Gloria's new-found talent. Before that, Gloria and I had searched for talents so we could be like our big sisters. After Gloria found hers it left me on my own.

I gave up. I admit it. I'm a quitter. But the others didn't find theirs when they were looking. So why should I bother to look anyway? Give me one good reason why and I will. Can you think of any thing. NO. Well, I didn't think you could anyway. Now don't give me any flimsy

You can see I was rapidly running out of steam. The plot of the book was supposed to be Patsy searching for—and ultimately discovering—her own talent. Whatever that was. I decided to give it another shot, this time without quite so much quoting.


Living in a Princess's Land

You have no idea what it's like to be the baby of the family. To have 4 older, accomplished sisters who do everything right. They're perfect. They have good manners, style. They're perfect young women!

My name's Patsy Gilford. I'm 9. I just started 4th grade yesterday. My sisters are Melanie (14), Anita (12½), Doreen (11), and Gloria (10).

I'm sort of a tomboy, I guess. I L-O-V-E love baseball. Last year I was the best. That was at my old school. We moved because we needed more space. I mean, I was sharing a room with Gloria and Doreen.

The horror!

Let me tell you about Melanie. She's a poet. Some of her poems were even printed in magazines!

Yeah, magazines published by the International Library of Poetry, maybe.

Her long brown hair falls down to her armpits.
[Always classy to mention armpits in a character description.] Every morning she wakes up early and sweeps it quickly over to the side - I think. She has pretty awesome taste in clothes, though she's a bit on the "cukoo" side. Talk about sensitive!

But is she...

Please, please, please, let me get what I want

Then there's Anita, the very becoming dancer. She transformed our basement into a dance studio in 1 week. Anita is quite serious about her dancing. She goes to classes everyday after school. All her radios and tapes! I mean, her favorite movie is the "Nutcracker"! Anita dresses baggy and exercises every morning, waking up at 5:30!

How many radios does one ballerina need? Also, note how I nixed the "going to bed at 7:30" lunacy. But seriously, what's up with the Nutcracker movie! Is there any way I could be referring to Six Weeks, the Dudley Moore drama in which there's a 12-year-old leukemia-riddled aspiring ballerina? The poor girl finally realizes her dream of dancing in the Nutcracker—only to pass out very dramatically on the subway afterward, and her mom (aka Mary Tyler Moore) totally freaks out because her daughter is DYING ON A CROWDED SUBWAY TRAIN, OH MY GOD. Yeah, I loved that movie.

We knew Doreen's talent was drawing - especially when she won the "Easter Bunny" drawing contest.
She was 4 years old!

Ah yes, the famous Easter Bunny drawing contest. Later, she probably got into art school by drawing a turtle and pirate.

"Sweet pirate! You're in!"

She's got a studio for all her work. Doreen's got radical taste - even better than Melanie's! She's always doing something different with her hair. Doreen's so cool!

Gloria's got natural acting talent. We didn't find out until last year when her class did a play. Gloria was cast as the lead female. We were all wowed! She dresses pretty casual, like me. I'm the closest to Gloria than my other 3 sisters. We understand each other - most of the time!

* * *

"What are you doing?!?!?" shrieks Anita, as I walk into the basement.

"Looking for my old mitt." I say casually.

"It's not here." she says stubbornly. I keep looking. "I'm positively certain." I keep on. "Well, fine, look if you want. But don't make any noise."

There are those impeccable manners Patsy mentioned!

Anita gets back to her routine. She hums with the music as she performs perfect pliés. She prances across the room and does several leaps on the way back. WONDERFUL!

This is just weird.

"What're lookin' at?" asks Anita of me.

(Please remember that Anita suffers from a serious birth defect that may have damaged her brain.)

"I guess it's not here." I say absent-mindedly.

And... yeah. Once more, I drew a blank. So in sixth grade I thought I'd try it ONE MORE TIME.


The Baby Of The Family
(designated as a Friendship book)

Chapter One:
The Baby

Do you have any idea what it's like to be the baby of the family?

I do.

I have four older, accomplished sisters who do everything right. They have it all: good looks, manners, style. Everyone who meets them says they're perfect.

I have to agree.

My name's Patsy Gilford, and I'm nine years old. My "perfect" sisters are Melanie, who is fourteen, Anita, the thirteen-year-old, Doreen, eleven and a half, and Gloria, who just turned ten and a half.

I guess you could call me a tomboy. I LOVE sports, especially baseball. Last year I was the best player on my team at school. No one expected me, the "new girl" to be any good, but I guess I showed them.

We had moved in the middle of the school-year. It was because of dad's business. For some reason, which is unknown to me, they had to relocate here in Friendship, New York.

Oh my God, you guys, FINALLY! We're not in freaking Brockport anymore! (No offense to any Brockportians.)

I have never been quite sure of what dad's business actually does. All I know is that he works in town, away from our home in the country. Dad is always rushing off to business meetings. Sometimes he even holds fancy parties at our house. I try to focus on myself, because it all confuses me.

My dad owned a diner, so I had NO CLUE what business types did. Other than throw fancy parties at their homes in the country. That much was obvious.

Speaking of their home in the country, would you care to see the floor plans?

This time I tried to appease my mother by adding in a staircase opening. And someone sleeping in what appears to be a giant papoose! But I wasn't done yet...

That weird basket-y thing protruding from Gloria's room is a balcony. So she can practice scenes from Romeo and Juliet, no doubt. I'm not sure where Melanie's room is. Maybe she lives in the attic à la Greg Brady.

Then I got bored with the aerial view and whipped up this:

Yes, the 11-year-old has her own art studio. And the Gilford are big fans of the overstuffed couch. Okay, back to the story...

Now I suppose I should tell you about Melanie, the poet. Some of her poems were even printed in a magazine. She wears her long brown hair swept over to the side. I think she has pretty awesome taste in clothes, though my parents beg to differ. They dislike her all-black wardrobe, but I think Melanie just wants to be her own person. Besides, black is her favorite color.

Then comes Anita, the ballet dancer

Blah blah waking up at 5:30 blah blah the Nutcracker blah. I guess I couldn't take another second of the Gilford Girls and their many, many talents. And probably neither can you.

NEXT TIME: More about Friendship's happening country scene in My Life as a Pre-Teen.