Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Facing my Fears

I’ll never forget the moment I decided to write a book. It was October 2007 and I was driving to visit my family in Utah. A seven hour drive all alone, and somewhere along the I-15 north I made the decision that I was going to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing a novel.

Skip ahead five years, one degree, and two kids later I still hadn’t written a word. That is a lie, I’d actually written several pages, but I’d never completed what I’d set out to do. I don’t know what it was about New Year’s Eve 2012 but for some reason I decided 2013 was going to be my year, and by the end of January I was well on my way to writing the novel that had been living in my head for years.
I’m not going to say it was easy, because it wasn’t, but it was a lot easier than never doing it…if that makes any sense. For five years I’d dreamed, schemed, researched, and planned but suddenly I was allowing myself to trust me and move forward. Two things were holding me back. No not my children, my own ego.

1)      What if I suck? (Still a very real possibility. So often I read books and marvel at the genius and talent of the author I am reading and feel envious of them.)
2)      What if nothing comes of it? I spend all this time pouring my heart and soul onto a page and nothing happens? I can’t publish, or I do and I get horrible reviews?

So at long last I put pen to paper (or actually I just started typing) and eventually I had sixty thousand words (the average length of a young adult novel). Then came the extremely long (and continuous) process of editing, revising, getting feedback, querying agents, etc.
Guess what. It paid off! I actually have a several figures contract with HarperCollins Publishing and my husband is getting ready to retire. I kid, I kid. I have no clue if I will ever see the financial fruits of my labors (odds are, I won’t see a penny for all my hard work and diligence). But here is my big payoff:

1)      I accomplished a lifelong dream…I mean, I wrote a freaking novel for crying out loud. I’ve always wondered if I could do it—especially the last six years, and I DID IT.
2)      I sharpened my writing and grammar skills, which in turn has sharpened my communication skills in general.
3)      I gained confidence in my ability. I used to keep my dream a secret for fear of being mocked or ridiculed. I didn’t even tell my HUSBAND I was writing a novel until I was half way through, and I didn’t tell most people until I was finished with the first draft.
4)      I’ve been continuously educated and enriched as I’ve researched different methods and techniques of writing, editing, querying etc.
5)      I realized it’s something I actually enjoy, and I will continue to do it…even if I never get published. I actually have several more stories gestating in my brain, characters who have appeared who want their story told.

Although I’ve had positive feedback from agents, unfortunately I’ve been told the market is not trending in the direction of my book. I’m going to query for another few months, but I’m actually leaning toward self-publishing in February 2014. I feel a need for it to be published in some way, for closure.

Now, in a move that terrifies me to the depths of my soul, I’m including the synopsis and first few pages of my book. Remember, it’s copyrighted.  

Celia Tyler is an intelligent seventeen year old girl with a penchant for mischief. She always enjoyed the occasional practical joke, but after her mother Jennifer died, she turns pranking into an art form. When one (semi destructive) prank sends the staff and students at Taft high into frenzy, her widowed father sends her nearly a thousand miles away to live with Amy Carter, her estranged aunt. In the Carter home, Celia discovers a stockpile of her mother’s possessions, including a diary from her senior year. Through the pages of the diary, Celia begins to piece together fragments of her mother, finding answers to questions she hadn’t even asked yet. Along the way, she is adopted by a hodgepodge of friends, united by one common goal—to pull off an epic senior prank. It’s the story of a girl who defined herself by her pain, and the journey out of it.

In hindsight, I realize that the thoughtless execution of the Great Frog Rescue (aka the greatest prank ever pulled at William R. Taft High) was my downfall. Had I had more time to plan I would have gotten away with it. In the past my shenanigans have been meticulous, untraceable, and of course, big enough to make waves but small enough to allow me to fly under the radar. This time, I was over confidant and under prepared. 

To be clear, my intentions were (mostly) pure, although watching hysteria spread among my fellow classmates and teachers was a gratifying experience indeed.  My purpose was to A) rescue 500 ill-fated amphibians while B) sending a message to the science teachers that object lessons should never require loss of life, no matter how small, insignificant, and if I am being honest, repulsive the subject may be. While I’m being honest I also did it to C) enliven the otherwise mind-numbing existence that is my life.               
In my defense (and perhaps demise) I did try to warn Mr. Klein that the use of previously living subjects would not be tolerated by students growing up in the golden age of virtual reality, where a graphic simulation of frog dissection would have sufficed.

“Thank you for your opinion Miss Tyler,” he replied in a voice indicating that he was not at all appreciative of my opinion. “It’s always a pleasure to hear from one of our elite students.” His voice dripped with sarcasm and I felt my blood boil. Teachers always felt it necessary to bring up my intelligence, usually by citing my SAT score (perfect scores in Comprehensive Reading and Writing, and not too shabby in Math).

It was as if my intelligence was directly related to my potential which made my extracurricular activities especially disappointing. Had I been an idiot, my irresponsible behavior would have been easily dismissed. Expected even. Possibly embraced as a creative outlet.  “She just doesn’t know any better,” they’d say.
“Elite…if you ever decide to apply yourself and turn in some work now and then that is,” Mr. Klien finished, not bothering to mumble his intended insult under his breath. While teachers enjoyed reminding me of my intelligence, they also enjoyed reminding me of my GPA (1.6) trying to guilt me to action. As if it wasn’t my choice to slide through life uninterrupted by homework deadlines. He turned back to the class. 

“It is understandable that students may feel uncomfortable dissecting a frog over concern for animals being killed, or simply because they lack the motivation to complete any class work that may require significant effort,” he paused, looking my way. “I believe that using frogs' bodies for educational purposes is worthwhile. In addition, the evidence is strong that bullfrogs are an invasive species in much of North America.”

“So are perverted old teachers, but I don’t see you donating your body to science,” I replied making my own implications. The low hum of fluorescent lights overhead punctuated the silence and the class waited in awkward anticipation while Mr. Klein seethed. Not bothering to wait for a reply, I let myself out. 
Sure I got a semi-abusive earful about my behavior from the school counselor Mr. Tyler, who prefers I call him “Dad,” (yes, my school counselor happens to be my father, which could not be less convenient) but my snide remark was worth watching a man on the edge of an aneurism try to steel himself in front of 30 teenagers with camera phones at the ready—even if it did mean three days without the internet (Mr. Tyler’s go-to punishment).

I was wrong about one thing. Mr. Klein wasn’t forking over money from the minuscule lab budget for rotting carcasses. In fact, due to the miniscule lab budget, Taft High couldn’t afford already deceased animals. They got a 35 percent discount for buying live frogs to be slaughtered via chloroform at the hands of the students, pre object lesson. A fact I unwittingly discovered while signing for the delivery after school waiting for my dad to complete his nine millionth transcript request.

I had come to learn many behind the scenes secrets of Taft since the only car I had access to happened to 
be communal, Dad having the privilege of primary use, and I had no desire to spend twenty minutes sharing a school bus with my inane peers among whom I had no friends, so what was the point of going home anyway. Besides, the internet connection was much faster at school (pathetically).

I actually don’t mind staying after school waiting for my dad. It affords me great opportunity to openly rebel him by being a nuisance. On this particular day, the prank was literally delivered to me. It really would have gone against my nature not to take advantage of the situation.

There was no time for scrupulous planning. No time to “weigh the consequences” or “smooth out the details” as they say. Rather, I went with my gut. Obviously, the deep “brrroop, brrroop, brrroop” of five hundred live bullfrogs was not conducive to a stealthy operation. I told the delivery men to leave the frogs in the commons, where they would be transported later. A wiser man would have looked into the face of a 17 year old and recognized menace, but then again, a wiser man’s life ambition wouldn’t have been delivery boy.

Once the frogs were in place, I created a sign on William R. Taft letterhead, instructing students and staff to leave the frogs alone until they could be transported, threatening something about suspension and consequences.  Finally, I used the widely hated Principal Crawley’s signature stamp sealing the frogs’ fate (and my own).

The staff ignored the frogs, probably too overworked and underpaid to even notice the amphibians waiting ominously in the epicenter of social interaction.

I knew if I set the scene, I could most likely count on one of the other 1,200 students to be curious enough to open Pandora’s Box, but just to be safe, the next morning as Mr. Tyler and I arrived at the ungodly hour of 6:30am  I replaced the “Do Not Touch” sign with a “Free the Frogs” sign.
I didn’t want to open the latch. I would let someone with little to lose take the fall, leaving me standing guiltless. That someone was Matt Coburn.

Matt Coburn had been the class clown since third grade. He’d been suspended for so many minor infractions over the years that his parents started blocking the school’s phone calls. He was a nice enough guy. A non-entity, really. For him, the frogs would end up being just one more letter in his file.

At precisely 7:36am Matt, never hesitating, unleashed the frogs in the commons. I was there (of course) as a casual observer.

 At first, it wasn’t really all that exciting. The frogs hopped out a few feet and a few kids walked over to inspect the goings on. One of the jocks, whose name I never bothered to learn, walked up with his other nameless jock buddies and picked up a frog, chucking it towards one of the cheerleaders, also not interesting enough to know by name, who of course screamed, and squealed, and jumped up and down like gender clichés will. It set off a chain reaction. For every squealing girl, there was a guy hocking a frog in her direction. This was bad news for the frogs, which seemed to sense impending doom and attempted to evade capture by hopping away, often into the direction of a terrified and or grossed out student. The madness spread thick and easy like peanut butter. I couldn’t look away.

Apparently when a couple hundred people start panicking, frogs panic. They hop, they hide, they kamikaze into industrial grade mixers in the cafeteria (okay, just one of them did that, but it was enough).
It took almost three hours, half the staff, and even a few firefighters to collect (most of) the frogs.  School was cancelled. Lawsuits were threatened. I took silent pride in my accomplishment. 
I realize now that I made two critical errors. 

1) I underestimated the cunning determination of my otherwise dimwitted teachers when dealing with “a case of serious vandalism and animal cruelty”. Please, the only animal cruelty going on was the purchase of five hundred unsuspecting frogs for the purpose of slicing open their chests just so freshmen could see what would have sustained the frogs in life, had they not murdered them. 
2) I forgot a fundamental rule: Never sign for a package with an alias that can be traced to you, which in my case was Kitty Sherbatsky. Those amateur sleuths deduced that I was the only one who had checked out Tolstoy from the school library in over a decade. I’m daring to hope that my English teacher Mrs. Reed wasn’t the one who pointed them in my direction, having introduced me to Anna Karenina. She’s the only person I have any amount of respect for in this school, my dad included.

Unfortunately, even though my previous infractions were not on such a large scale, when you have a reputation of defiance, you will be considered a suspect pretty quickly. That and I had access to the letterhead.

While Matt received detention and service hours (which he accepted indifferently, having enough hours to keep him busy until graduation anyway) I, having “masterminded” the operation was facing expulsion.  First, I was unauthorized to sign for the frogs, and did so with an alias. Second, I used the school letterhead and “forged the identity of Principal Crawley” and of course there was the giant amphibian in the room: 178 frogs were either missing or dead. I was in deep, murky water.


Lindsey said...

AWESOME BEGINNING!!! I love it! I love that Mrs. Reed is her respected English teacher ;) I hope you get it published, i'd love to read the rest!

Melissa said...

Lindsey, Mrs. Reed was TOTALLY our Mrs. Reed in my mind :)

Sheena said...

I love it Melissa! ....and I want to read more! I admire you for many reasons but I am totally impressed by how you always push yourself and go for things full on(I was going to say chase your dreams but that sounds pretty cheesy). Anyway you are awesome, this book is great so far, and I'm glad to call you my friend!!

Brandee Evarts said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!! Now I must have a copy!! Right this minute!! You must drive it over to my house ASAP!!
Seriously, very nicely written beginning. I love her sassy attitude. Can't wait to read more!