Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reviving Revision and Swiping from David Lubar

I think revision is the single most important part of writing, while most kids think it it the single most unnecessary part. ~David Lubar, Author of the Weenies series, Hidden Talents & so much more!
     Go visit David Lubar's website. The man knows what he's talking about and he's mega-talented.
     So, Wednesday is TeachersWrite! Q & A with an author day, and along with lots of other extremely talented authors like Kate Messner herself, David Lubar has been kindly taking time to answer every question a writer, teacher, or teacher/writer would want to ask them.  He offers terrific, helpful, and insightful advice from a professional writer's standpoint.
     I admit, I was already a fan after the Weenie books (who couldn't love a book about Ninja Weenies?), but Hidden Talents really cemented my love of his writing.  It was recommended by another teacher friend who suggested that my book reminded her of it.  She reads Hidden Talents to her special education students every year, and uses it to start discussions about their talents and strengths.  But, I digress.
     What really put the last nail in the coffin of my respect for David Lubar is the statement above.  In fact, you can see where he wrote it first on this post I was reading.  One of the things that I really want to focus on this year is the idea of "Revision is to Writing, as Oxygen is to Breathing".
      A few of the things that I've noticed about my sixth graders as they begin writing in my class:

  • They see writing as a "one and done" exercise.  "See?! I finished writing it, so it must be done!"
  • They see revision as an evil practice that teachers make them do to be cruel. "What do you mean it's not perfect?  I have to do it all over AGAIN?" 
  • They see revision as an obstacle to be gotten through, rather than a natural progression toward the the finished product.
  • They don't understand that a second or third (or eleventh or twelfth!) version of something isn't just a neatly copied rewrite of EXACTLY THE SAME THING they wrote before, minus a few spelling errors
  • They don't know how to look for what must be improved - not in others' writing and especially not in their own
  • They expect all suggestions and changes to come from the teacher, and are reluctant to become first responders to their own work
  • Revision DOES NOT equal editing.

     I've been reading Kate Messner's "Real Revision" and trying to grasp how I want to make revision as natural and as normal as breathing to my student-writers.  Lubar, in his post today, admits he is not a teacher, but suggested something that I think is a good first step.  Have students write something the first day of school, put it away and revise it much, much later in the year so they can witness the improvements they are capable of making themselves.
      Maybe it's because I'm stuck in the Revision Cave (See! I'm guilty of it myself! Bad Jessica!) myself these last few weeks (and probably for the next two weeks).  Why "stuck"?  Because that's sometimes what it feels like.  You want to move on, you've inhabited these same characters, these same events over and over and over again. The best inspiration I have for new projects almost always comes while I'm working on revisions for a different project.  So, I need to understand that about my students and help them find the vitality that revision can create in their work.  I know I'm finding it in mine.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Anita Preston Grunt Garza

Today's TeachersWrite Quickwrite challenge is from Julie True Kingsley.  She asks us to generate a character's story by starting with a physical picture of the person you have in mind, then choosing a song that defines the internal character and one that defines the external character.  Then, generate some backstory for the person based on what you've learned from the picture and music.

I chose to use my main character, Marlon Grunt's mom, Anita.  I already know some things about her, but I haven't got a clear picture of her in my head, and for all the trouble she causes Marlon in my story, she's doesn't have the depth and complexity of character that she should have yet.  So, this exercise is timely.

Name:  Anita Preston (Grunt) (Garza)

By Sir Mildred Pierce (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Age: 40

Favorite Song:  Chantilly Lace by The Big Bopper.  Her daddy, a big, booming man with a ready laugh used to sing this song to her when they were in the car.  She remembers sitting next to him in their Ford Pinto Station wagon, his hand hanging out the window with a lit cigarette, and his sunglasses hiding his eyes, and she'd feel safe and cherished.  He'd sing the whole song, word-for-word, and when he'd sing "and a ponyTAIL hangin' down", he'd tweak her pony tail to make her giggle.

Internal Song: Long, Cool Woman in A Black Dress by The Hollies.  This is how she sees herself.  Anita has lived most her life believing that her most valuable assets are her feminine wiles and physical appearance.  It's a song she associates with feeling her most powerful, putting on her make-up, slipping into her high heels, sitting at the bar, flirting with a man, lighting a cigarette.  She knows she looks good to the truckers and punters she finds at the bar, and after a few drinks, she feels like the woman in the song and the men will all fall at her feet if she commands it.  When she's nervous or anxious, this is the song that helps her regain control

External Song:  She's Not There by The Zombies. The world sees Anita for who she is, not who she wants them to see (much like all of us), but only after she snows them for a while.  Well no one told me about her - the way she lies.  She's fairly good looking, damaged more by the smoking and the drinking and the late nights than anything else.  The middle class community that sees her mostly in relation to Marlon (Charlie's parents, Marlon's teachers, etc.) consider her a white trash dilettante.  She can't hold down a job for more than a few months at a time.  She's been married twice - widowed once, divorced once, but has stopped short of having live-in boyfriends because she worries about Marlon and Phoebe getting along with these men from her other life.  She is constantly going out to seek the attention of drinking buddies and beaus alike.  She loves Marlon, but he stopped treating her like a princess many years ago, so she doesn't know how to talk to him.  She doesn't feel a connection with him, and whenever he's around she feels small, stupid, and like she never lived up to her potential in his eyes.  So, she avoids him.  Well, it's too late to say I'm sorry.  How would I know? Why should I care? Please don't bother trying to find her. She's not there.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


I started to write this blog about my progress as a writer this week, but I made the mistake of watching/listening to Mad Men, Season One, and it started me thinking about the word, "progress".  You should know that I started watching Mad Men at the very end of season two, and so my understanding of the show has been limited to after Kennedy was shot.  Since the beginning of the summer, I've gone back to the beginning of the first season to get some background perspective on Matthew Weiner's fascinating characters.  I was struck with the progress that the female characters mark in the business world in the dawn of the 1960's juxtaposed with the lingering...hyper-femininity of the ideal 1950's woman.

Weiner could've so easily minimalized the female characters in this show, and instead, he gives them dynamic, interesting, tortured lives in and outside the office/home.  He illustrates the changing views about the roles women should play in the workplace and forces them into conflict with the old guard.  He does this masterfully, in many ways, through ALL his female characters, but I'm fascinated with Season One, Episode Six: "Babylon".  This episode was actually written by Andre & Maria Jacquemetton.

In it, Don's wife, Betty describes her long day at home waiting for Don so she can share intimacy with him.  Don, in turn, seeks out the counsel of Rachel, the owner of a chic department store, because both her beauty, business acumen, and Jewish-ness make her exotic to him - that, and she refuses to fall into bed with him.  Midge, Don's free-loving, hipster dish on the side, however, never waits for Don at all, she just takes pleasure from him and demands nothing, so long as he demands nothing from her. All the men in the office, and most particularly Roger, lust after the sharp-tongued, quick-witted, and worldly office manager, Joan.  She wears her femininity like a tight, red dress, using it to intimidate and seduce.  Finally, fresh-faced young Peggy is the one to take the biggest step forward in this episode, actually using her observations and ideas to help a client testing new lipstick colors when the other members of the secretarial pool flitted, flirted, and squealed over the free lipstick.  And yes, she and Rachel are considered the outsiders on the storyline.  Peggy offering up her honest opinion and suggesting a different approach to how sell lip color to women made the men in the office take notice, specifically Freddy, who commented, "It was like watching a dog play the piano."  We see the lipstick make a final appearance as Betty introduces their young daughter, Sally, to painted lips during a session of dress-up. 

Masterful writing.

Then, of course, Pixar's "Brave" came out this weekend.  It's attraction for a lot of people is that the heroine is not a helpless princess. In fact, the script makes a point of highlighting how independent and NOT in need of rescue the main character, Merida, is.  (grammatically, that's a terrible sentence, I apologize)  Lots and lots of my friends and acquaintances have been going to see it and taking their daughters, and everything I've heard says that this was the right movie and the right time to mark the kind of progress we want our daughters to make.

I look forward to seeing it next week with my niece.


A quick update on my writing life:

Did I meet my goal this week:  Yes, my goal was to continue to write for TeachersWrite! And I wrote 4 out of the 5 possible days for that.  My big goal was to continue working on my personal works in progress, and I've done pretty well with that, too.  I wrote a scene for "Marlon Grunt", and revised 3.5 chapters for "Secret Order". 

What's my goal next week:  My goal next week is to concentrate my time during TeachersWrite to finding the lesson aspect of the writing prompts to take back to my students next year.  I also would like to get 4-6 chapters of "Secret Order" revised.  I would like to finish my reading/commentary for Caffeine-Fueled Pages (my new online crit group, wotwot!) on Monday.

What was my pit this week:  Feeling like my writing was "selfish" - I've been getting feedback on my own writing, for my own purposes, when I felt like I should be looking for stronger ways to attach this to lesson planning for next year. I'm going to try to fix that this week, and if it doesn't work that well for me after this week, I'll stop feeling guilty for focusing on my writing. Also, I didn't participate in Thursday's quickwrite. I wasn't feeling the prompt.  I think it was just me.  I loved the idea of flipping the characters and the story, but I couldn't make myself do it.  I was too invested in my WIP's characters as they are now.  They offered a choice to use a fairytale, but I was in a revising groove and didn't want to break it.  So, I missed out, but I think I might go back and practice that as a brainstorming technique with my students for narrative ideas.  Also, I am jealous of all people who went to writing/reading things this weekend:  AllWrite 2012 in Indiana, ALA in California, and Words in the Woods in Springfield.

What was my victory:  Geoff Herbach, author of Stupid Fast, responded to my writing. I'm such a fangirl! It's not enough that I have Kate Messner and Gae Polisner and all my colleague teacher-writers commenting, I get all giddified and giggly when I get a pat on the back from an author that I've said, "I wish I'd written that," about. Also, kicked a hard chapter of SOEO in the butt this week, jump-started my revision-mobile, and blogged like a madwoman.  Go me.  Here is a picture of my revision-mobile:

Photographed by Simon GP Geoghegan, April 2007

Choose Kind.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Lack of Honey, A Lapse in Civility

Half a million dollars.

That's how much the public believes ten minutes (probably months, really) of bullying is worth. 

You've all heard the story of Mrs. Klein by now.  You know, the 68 year-old, grandmotherly woman who endured the laughter, jeering, and generally disgusting behavior of some middle school kids who were looking to see how far they could push her before she bounced them all like basketballs.  You've read about the public's outrage at the students, the parents, the school, and even at Klein herself for allowing this to happen.

What is shocking to me is that it was at all shocking to any of you.  In a way, it makes me glad that you are still able to be shocked by the ever more ridiculous behavior bullies feel entitled to vomit on unsuspecting or worse, expectant, victims. Why are we even shocked that this is happening? It happens all the time. 

What is the purpose of it?  What does he, the kid, gain from it?  Notoriety among his friends?  A fleeting youtube infamy? (BTW, those kids are going to have to change their names...there's no way they can stay in their communities and try to live this down, they're already receiving death threats. Yeah, THAT'S going to solve the problem.)  A brief feeling of superiority? A sense of entitlement -  like HE is the star of his own movie, and we are all the objects of his derisive comic genius?

What they created is now...entertainment.  We, as a nation, were...entertained by this story. (Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little.)  It gave us a stoic hero, a group of dastardly villains, and a cause celebre that we could point at and claim, "I WOULD NEVERNEVERNEVER DO THAT/ALLOW THAT/SUPPORT THAT!! Harumph, harumph, harumph. Why, I'll share that awful video with all of my friends to warn them that this kind of shocking thing is going on!  I'll send ten bucks to that poor woman to send her on a nice vacation. See, I'm doing MY part!"

What environment have we given a child that he believes that this destruction of another human, regardless of her stoicism, age, gender, or general grandmotherliness, is entertainment?  I see ten thousand fingers pointing at ten thousand causes, but what have I, WE, YOU done to solve the problem?

Our politicians curse at each other, interrupt each others' public discourse, and generally play the media like Eddie VanHalen plays the guitar.  And the media? Oh, she weeps...with joy, with outrage, with disgust, with SHOCK.  How dare...harumph, harumph, harumph.  To quote Don Henley's most excellent song, Dirty Laundry, 
I make my living off the Evening News Just give me something-something I can use People love it when you lose, They love dirty laundry 

We could point at government, at war, at schools, at home environment and parents, at movies, at video games, at a absence of real human contact coupled with the faux contact technology gives us, the increasingly dangerous antics and one-upsmanship our online communication methods encourage. We keep pointing at all these causes, but you know the cause.

It's us. Me. You. WE DID THIS.

Every time you laughed at someone's goofy pain, every time I stood by and let someone get picked on, every time we passed the video along to our friends, we caused ourselves to stop BEING shocked and began ACTING shocked. WE MADE A MESS and now we're all pointing at it and yelling, "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MESS?!? WHOSE MESS IS THIS???  IT'S SHOCKING! Harumph, harumph, harumph."

Do we really have to agree on a cause before we agree on a solution?  I don't think so.

See, it's all about choices.

What's the real function of behavior?  ANY behavior?  It's a means to an end.  We learn first by seeing, then by doing what we believe will get us the desired result - whether that's calling someone fat, having someone make you a sandwich, or saving a kitten from a burning building.  We act in ways we believe will achieve the ends we WANT. We're all animals, just ask the mice (they're in control of this whole experiment anyway - just ask Douglas Adams).  We all just want to get our cheese on.


Now, we could debate all day about which ends we all SHOULD want, but let's not fight that war.  It's long and pointless and ends with people dying. Instead, let's concentrate on the choice of HOW to get what we want.

We could choose civility instead.

There was one bit of that ten-minute long parade of vomitously poor choice-making  that made me raise an eyebrow and hope for a moment that the stoic Mrs. Klein would make a worthy comeback. Admittedly, she kept her grace and held her tongue more than I might have been able to, but what really caught my ear was when she chose her words carefully and reminded the students with more dignity than I could've mustered, "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything."

Graceful ammunition, that, but too little, too late. FOLKSY HOMILY ALERT: When my Grandma Thompson caught me mouthing off or being a bully or feeling a little too entitled as a child, she always told me, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."

I was kind of a snot, (but only in my head), and I used to think (loudly), "Why would you want to catch flies anyway? Ewww." Yeah, I missed the boat on that one as a kid.  But once I figured out that you could achieve the same ends without hurt feelings, fisticuffs, or all out war, I had the world on a string.  A smile and a kind word could make the stubbornest doors open. Dimples help, but that's not the point. Whatever your flies are, you just need to figure out the right kind and amount of honey to spread.  And them flies stay caught, brothers and sisters.  They stay caught good and long.

What I really would've liked to have seen was, at the first tentative can-I-really-get-away-with-this insult, Mrs. Klein spreading the honey of kindness on thick. Really thick. Like with a shovel.  I would have liked to see her coat those kids with kindness so thick that they the next snide remark was choked back for fear of a diabetic coma. I know some masters of the honey-shovel, and trust me, they can make it happen.  You don't work as a teacher for long before you figure out who has the skillz to tell someone to go to hell and make them look forward to the trip.  Take heed, brothers and sisters. Take heed when you see a master at work.

I could argue that we all need to be kinder, more sympathetic, altruistic, action-oriented people.  Yes, I could.  Baby steps.

How about, for now, we just make the choice to stop letting people's ignorant vinegar be our entertainment.  Let the world see us making that choice.  Mahatma Ghandi said it pretty well.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

BE THE CHANGE. Make good choices.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Secret Order, Chapter 15 Egg-pocalypse Now

This is what I wrote on Tuesday.  It's an added chapter to connect a previously existing hole in my overall storyline, and to introduce the reach of The Order and Gordo's Organization (I'm SO thinking he's going to have to have his own book soon.)  I'm still revising, but this is it's raw form.

Chapter Fifteen
In Which Our Hero Witnesses The Egg-pocalypse

            Batman, Ninja-Girl, The Godfather, and the Grim Reaper are going door-to-door demanding candy.  Sounds like the start of a really epic joke, doesn’t it?
            Nope. No joke, just regular old trick-or-treating.  There are actually six of us total, and I know who Batman and the gypsy fortune-teller are, but I don’t know the lumberjack kid or Grim Reaper.  Lumberjack Kid seems younger than Gordo’s crowd, and Gordo introduces him just as “Davy”, and states that he, like the others, is one of his “captains.”  I have no idea what he’s talking about, but whatever.  Let’s get our candy on.
Grim Reaper kid is apparently Davy’s older brother, but hasn’t spoken a word or removed his mask for even a moment, so I have no idea how old he is or if I even know the kid.  He may not know me either with my ninja mask on, especially since Gordo introduced me as his “older friend, Ninja-Girl”.
            Whoever he was, he seemed perfectly content to walk up and down the night-darkened streets of Bloomington, Illinois on Halloween night with a bunch of other kids and not say a word, despite my best efforts to have a conversation with the kid.
            We’d been up and down our street, Whitetail Drive, and were now making our way onto Fawn Court.  We were making out like bandits with the candy.  My grocery bag was almost a quarter full already.  The four younger kids are deep in quiet conversation about something, when from across the street, a mini Spiderman scurries up to Gordo and his pals.
            Rico Gridley (Batman), holds the kid from getting too close, but Gordo puts his hand on Rico’s arm to let him know it’s alright for the kid to come closer.
            “Sir!” the breathless kid gasps in a piping voice. “Sir, they’re egging!”
            Sir? Gordo nods sagely.
            “We expected this. Who are they?  Where?” asks my brother, who is apparently “Sir” to some little kid now.
            “Teenagers, Sir. Over on Bedford Street.  Down by the playground.  They’re getting cars, houses, kids, too! Anyone under four feet is in danger, Sir! It’s an awful mess! A real massa-massa- mascara, Sir!”
            “Anybody hurt, Spidey?” questions Rico.
            “Not that I can tell, but there’s a whole lot of eggs and cryin’ going on, so I can’t be sure. Looks like they’re headed this way.”  Wee Spidey, message delivered, catches his breath and waits for instructions.
            What is going on here? Why has this kid come to Gordo? Why is he calling him “sir”? And what does he expect us to do about high-schoolers who are egging?
            “Okay, here’s what we’ll do.” Gordo lays out the plan for us.
            “Spidey, grab the fourth-grade group that should be on Weber Court. You know where that is?”  Spidey nods.
            “Good. Tell them to take their emergency stash of eggs and see if they can draw the eggers into the teacher’s parking lot at the elementary school.  We’ll have some people waiting there with cameras to catch the action. Tell them to make sure they wear full masks, okay?”
            Spidey salutes sharply and is off like a shot, darting in and out of bushes and through backyards towards Weber Court.  Meanwhile, Gabby Anderson has taken out a cell phone and is speaking quietly into it.  She covers the mouthpiece with her hand and reports to Gordo.
            “I just heard from the fifth-grade girls that there are eight high-schoolers and a few middle-schoolers involved with the eggs.  They’re split between three cars. That’s too many for just Spidey’s group. What do you want me to tell her?”
            Gordo shoots a look at mini lumberjack Davy and Davy’s older brother, Grim.
            “Do you think this is something the Order would want to get involved in?” He is addressing the Grim Reaper directly now, who is standing right next to me.  The Grim Reaper nods, and my brother’s face takes on a satisfied glow.
            “Terrific! We’ll give these bullies a night they’ll never forget! Tell them to get on their bikes and meet us at the elementary school parking lot, give us a few minutes to set up the sting,  and then bring the cops.  Make it a dogfight, and get them corralled for us, okay?”  Gordo’s eyes shine with excitement; he’s in his element.
Grim holds his right hand out, cupped in that “O” gesture that has begun appearing in my life the last few days, and runs off with Davy in tow. 
Wait! What?  Was “O” for the Order? What Order?  I don’t even have a chance to ask because Gordo is already issuing instructions to the others in his best captain of the ship imitation.

Gabby puts her hand kindly on Rico’s shoulder and tells him quietly, “Rico, sounds like your sister Madison is with one of the groups.”
Rico frowns grimly and turns back to Gordo.
“I need to be a part of the bait team, Gordo.”
“We’ve got enough sixth grade boys to cover it, Rico, you don’t have to-“
“I need to, man.  She needs a wake-up call.”  Gordo considers for just a moment, then claps Rico on the shoulder and nods once. 
Bait team? It sounds like they’re going off to war!
“Gabby, you tell the girls to run straight to the parking lot on the North side, just around the corner from where Spidey’s group will be coming in.  Tell them to have the camera-phones ready and wait in the shadows until they see The Order bug out.  Tell them that I said, “No heroes!” Just get the photos and hide or run.  We’ll have Rico take a group of sixth graders and bait the trap. Everybody report in when you’re out safe.  Got it?” 
Everyone nods their heads and darts in all directions to get to work as I stand there like a doofus, my mouth agape in shock. 
My little brother, the boy who not that long ago would climb into my bed during thunderstorms, just master-minded a precision, practically military ambush on a bunch of high-schoolers with nothing more than a cell-phone and a bunch of little kids!  What? How? Does Mom know about this? Who is this Order? Is he a part of it?
Now, as he chomps down on a Snickers, he peers curiously at my candy bag and inquires, “Do you have any Whoppers?  I know you hate them, and I can get at least three Jolly Ranchers for each package in trade.”
“GORDO! What was THAT?!?”
“That, my dear sister, is called organization.”
“No, that’s called a freakin’ SWAT Team action!!!”
“A SWAT Team, huh?  I’ll have to tell my people you said that.”
“What is the Order?”
“I can’t tell you about that.” 
“Why the heck not?  I just watched you put together an ambush worthy of an army general, and you can’t even tell me what the Order is?”
“Look, Joey.  I’m sorry, but it’s not my secret to tell. I made a promise that I wouldn’t peep a word of what I know.”
“But I’m your sister!!”
“Yes, but how are they gonna trust me and work with my organization if I can’t even keep a secret?” He holds out his hands in appeal, pleading with me to understand.
“Okay, then, explain to me about YOUR organization.  I thought you were just running casino games at school?  What’s all this cloak and dagger, Mission Impossible stuff?” I cross my arms across my chest and tap my foot in frustration.  He is SO going to get it if Mom ever finds about any of this.
“I’ll do you one better.  Want to see my people in action?  Maybe you’ll get to see the Order there, too.”  He waggles his eyebrows and grins at me.
Sigh.  Well, if I hope to get anything out General Gord-father here, short of a crowbar, I’d better go take a look.  Plus, I can’t miss this opportunity to maybe figure out who or what the heck The Order is.  I uncross my arms and wave the way for him to lead on.  Immediately, he takes off at a jog towards the elementary school. 
We’re about a block away when a silver clunker of a car squeals up alongside us, and Gordo and I have to duck when an older kid with a skeleton mask on leans out the passenger side window and wings two eggs at us in quick succession.  His aim is bad, but as I come out of my crouch and began running towards the school, I spot two wide-eyed faces I recognize, staring back at me through the rear window of the speeding clunker. 
Both Madison and Kristen have an “ohmigod!” look on their faces.  Kristen winces when she sees my face, but Madison ducks her head like a true culprit would when caught. 
“C’mon, Joey! We’ve got them and the fireworks are about to start! Hurry up!”  Gordo takes off again, following the silver car as it coughs towards the yelling and egg-bombing coming from the school parking lot.  But it isn’t just a one-sided fight anymore.  Nope, it looks more like a covered wagon train being attacked by a tribe of really angry Native Americans.
Gordo and I arrive at the edge of the parking lot just in time to watch as the silver car joins the pandemonium.  There are two other cars, one a convertible black sedan and the other a skeezy-looking, rusted-out old blue minivan.  They’re looping the parking lot slowly, windows and, in the van’s case, doors open to fling massive amounts of chicken embryos at the three kids on bicycles whizzing in between the cars with what look like…yes, somehow they have obtained…egg guns.
This must be The Order!
They are all wearing the same grim reaper costume that Davy’s older brother had been wearing, circling and dodging like a band of angry hawks.  I see a massive grim-reaper who must be a high-schooler whiz between the increasingly egg-covered cars, pump his neon green plastic shotgun, take two eggs out of the basket on the front of his bike and load his gun.  With deadly accuracy, he sends the two quickly fragmenting egg-grenades into the back window of the silver car, splattering Madison and Kristen who scream like they are being murdered. 
Not even a second later, someone roughly the size, shape, and sneaker identity of Davy’s older brother sends another two eggs ripping through the opposite window, and now both girls are sputtering, yellow, and slimy. 
I see Kristen scream at the driver of the car to stop, and he yells back at her to shut up.  The grim reapers scatter on their bicycles, taking all the evidence of their passing with them…except the eggy mess.  They zip off through the playground and disappear into the darkness of the neighborhood beyond.
Before any of the cars can start to head out on the chase, I see four kids who must be part of my brother’s group dart to the center of the circling cars, including Rico Gridley.  Three of them have camera phones, and one is carrying a hand-held video camera.  They form a square, back to back, in the center and hold up their cameras at the ready.  What are they doing?  They’re sitting ducks!  The Order had them on the run and now these kids were about to get creamed!
“Look out you guys!” I yell!  Gordo places a hand on my arm and holds me back from going to them.
“Just watch, Joey. They’ve got this. This is all part of the plan.” Gordo says quietly.  The teenagers in the cars beep their horns and begin to circle tightly, laughing now that they sense the coming slaughter. 
“Start shooting!” pipes Rico’s high-pitched voice. 
“Start throwing!” guffaws the pug-faced red-haired teenager driving the minivan.
It’s awful.  The four kids in the middle point their cameras, close their eyes and lean back against each other as they are pegged from every direction with dozens of eggs.  I gasp at the horror.  Egg after egg.  Volley after volley.  You can barely see their features and costumes under the slimy mess.  
            “Maddie! No!” I hear Rico yell, just as his older sister pegs him in the face with a three-egged pitch that would have made any major-leaguer proud.  The Evil Glamour Queen took out her own brother.  Fratricide. That’s cold.  Even she puts her hand over her mouth, shocked at the results of her own throw.
Outside the tight circle of cars, from the shadows surrounding the well-lit parking lot, creep small bands of little girls holding cell phones out in front of themselves. They don’t get too close, but there are at least twenty of them, and they begin to take massive amounts of pictures of the teenagers shooting fish in a barrel.
All of a sudden, a much smaller grim reaper on a pink, sparkly mountain bike about twice her (?) size zips into the drive behind us and yells in a sweet, piping voice.
“GO! GO! GO!”
She wasn’t with the original three Grim Bikers, and as soon as they hear her all the bunches of girls melt back into the shadows or take off running, leaving just the teenagers, the victims of Egg-pocalypse, and me and Gordo.  She follows the path of the rest of the Grim Bikers, escaping through the playground. Gordo grabs my arm and tugs me behind some shadowy bushes next to the corner of the school building. 
In just a moment, it’s clear why.  A mere five seconds after the last Grim Biker from the Order took off, the cops arrive and catch three vehicles full of teenagers, plus two very sorry middle-school girls red-handed egging little kids.  It was beautiful. 
We don’t stay to see what happens next, but what happens to those kids isn’t as important to me as figuring out the mystery of Gordo’s Organization and The Order.
All the way home, I begged him to tell me who, what, and why?
“Can’t tell you,” he’d apologize. “It’s better if you don’t know.”
And that’s all he would say. 
I pleaded. He shrugged.
I threatened.  He smiled and shook his head.
I told him I’d tell Mom and Dad about his gambling operation at school, and he just rolled his eyes and reminded me that he had me over a barrel with the homework note thing.  We have a deal, and my silence is part of the price I now owe him.
I gave him the silent treatment. He just hugged me and herded us in the direction of home.  So, The phone calls came in from the other groups that the deed was done.  Four arrested, and all eight others had their picture taken for blackmail purposes later. 
I have to face it. My little brother really is the head of some sort of kid-based organized crime syndicate. 
When did the world go so crazy?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Secret Order, Chapter Nine - Feedback Appreciated

Chapter Nine
In Which Our Hero Is Embattled
“Miss Tate?” Mr. Little stops by my desk just as I collapse into the chair.  I am immediately speechless at the sight of my math teacher dressed in full greasepaint as a clown.  But not just any clown, the EXACT same clown hair and costume, down to the flipper for shoes and squirty flower tie-clip that I drew just yesterday.  The Adorable One is studying Mr. Little’s costume as well with his Adorable mouth slightly agape.  I’m starting to feel like this is TOO coincidental.
“Do you have anything for me?”  the Clown-culator prompts me.
Wait.  What was I supposed to bring?  The envelope.  The note home. I was supposed to have it signed and back today.  Quick!  I need a good excuse!  Nothing comes immediately to mind except an idea that makes me feel a little uncomfortable to use.  But I panicked in the face of Bozo the Math Teacher, and went with it.
“I’m really sorry, Mr. Little,” I stammer with just the right amount of tremble in my lip, “I gave it to my Mom last night, but she got really upset because of something my Dad told her, and I guess she forgot.” 
There.  That should get him off my back for at least a day so that I can sign the letter myself and get it returned.  I know, I know.  I shouldn’t be using my parents’ separation to cover up my messes.  The Justice League would be appalled. Especially Aqua-Man. Have you noticed what a goody two-flippers he is?
It’s partially true anyway – she really was upset.  After dinner, we watched Shrek, but after her second glass of wine, she was holding her tears in so we wouldn’t see her crying, so she excused herself to go to bed early. 
“Is everything alright at home, Miss Tate?” Mr. Little is immediately sympathetic, and I feel badly that I’m giving him the runaround.  At least I got most of last night’s homework done, so that’s something.  A peace offering, if you will. 
I wonder how much I can tell him without drawing any more attention to myself.  Right now, everyone is turned around talking to each other, getting out their homework, and a few of the really smart kids are already doing the bellwork problems on the board.  It doesn’t look like anyone is noticing.  I decide to feed him a little more of the truth – banking a little sympathy for the future can’t hurt.
“It’ll be alright.  My Dad’s not living with us right now and stuff.  But, anyway, I got most of last night’s homework done.  I didn’t understand number twenty-seven, but the rest is done.  Should I put it in the homework basket, Mr. Little?” 
I change the subject quickly because The Adorable One is sitting just a little too still in front of me to not be paying attention to my conversation.  He already thinks I’m lame and stinky, no reason to give him another reason to pity me.  Besides, it makes me a little sick to my stomach to hear myself say those words out loud.  It’s too close to admitting that they really are getting a divorce.  We don’t say the “D” word in my house – it’s just a “trial separation” right now.
“Well, Joey, if you need to go speak to Ms. Creighton, I’d be happy to send you down to see her.  In the meantime, I’ll take your homework right now.” 
Ms. Creighton is our school counselor.  She’s young, but she dresses like she’s 60, in these strangely colored pastel suits with skirts, clunky shoes, and polyester blouses. She also wears this perfume that you can smell from fifty feet away.  It’s super-sweet and makes me gag when I get too close to her.  And she really likes to get close.  She’s from the “a hug makes everyone feel better” school of counseling.  Her voice is one of those high-pitched, sweet-sounding Barbie doll voices.  You just know that in school, everyone hated her because she always knew the right answer and always made sure everyone knew it.  She reminds me of a clingy, rose-scented, Easter egg.
The very idea of spilling all my issues to Ms. Creighton while sitting on her big rose-covered sofa in her rose-scented office with the pink lampshades and tinkly flute music and embroidered throw pillows makes me shiver.  Whatever happens, it would be best to stay out of range of her hugs. 
“Thanks, Mr. Little, I’ll let you know if it gets that bad,” I reply before he can get the wrong idea and start writing me a pass right now to her office.  Yeah – it’s never going to get that bad, if I can help it.
He gives me a long, considering look, sucking his top lip into his mouth as he studies my innocent as a newborn kitten face.  Finally, he nods and moves along to get class started.   
 I sit back and get out my notebook to do the bellwork.  I do the problems quickly and then begin to doodle in the margins.  It’s Toefingers this time.  He’s smiling, holding a broom, and wearing a Santa Claus cap he’s making the weird “O” gesture and it’s giving off a sparkly glow. 
I should have expected it.
Someone to my right makes a fart sound.  Everyone giggles and Mr. Little swings around from what he’s writing on the board long enough to roll his eyes at us.  Madison’s had goes in the air, waving to get his attention. 
“Yes, Miss Gridley?” he asks, eyebrows raised.
“Something stinks in here, Mr. Little. Can we open a window?”  She smiles snidely and slides a sidelong look in my direction. 
Really?  Is that what it’s going to be like?  Really?
The Adorable Josh hunches over his math notebook like nothing is going on. Kristin closes her eyes and looks a little sick herself.  She shoots an exasperated but sympathetic look at me, and then shifts uncomfortably in her seat. 
“Madison, I don’t know what you’re talking about.  What smell?”  Mr. Little isn’t buying her act either.  Score one for Mr. Little.  Take her down, Clown-culator!
“I know I heard someone pass gas over there, and it really stinks now.  Can I just open the window?  It’s making me feel gross.” 
She points to my side of the room, and the Ashley raises her hand and adds, “I think it was somewhere close to where Joey’s sitting, Mr. Little.  I heard it too.”
Why?  Why does she have it in for me?  What did I ever do to her?
“Joey, are you feeling alright?  Do you need to excuse yourself?”  Mr. Little addresses me with as much dignity as the situation allows.  Jacob Keckner, behind me, scoots his desk back as far as he can without sitting in the next person’s lap, even though, up to this point, he was known as “Carpet Bomber” for the number of times he could fart in one class period. 
Isn’t that always the way?  If you’re a boy, everybody just laughs and thinks you’re being hilarious.  If you’re a girl, you’re instantly as popular as random underwear someone finds on the floor of a public place.
“It wasn’t me, Mr. Little.  I don’t know what Madison’s talking about.”  My voice is as steady as I can make it.  He sighs and shoots Madison a look before turning back to the equation he’s writing on the whiteboard.  While he’s still turned around, I shoot Madison a murderous glare.  She smiles innocently and goes back to writing down her math notes.  I’d flip her the bird, but with my luck, I’d get caught.
I try to concentrate on the board, narrow my focus again, so I don’t take in the whispers of my classmates.  This is grueling, this class period.  Only twenty more minutes until the bell rings and I can finally, finally call an end to this torture. 
But my living nightmare isn’t over, it’s just beginning.  Mr. Little calls for us to get in groups of four to solve the logic puzzle he’s handing out.  I sit in my desk, looking around for absolutely anyone who’ll ask me to be in their group.  No go.  Kristin, Madison, and Ashley are trying to get Josh to join their group, but he joins a group with Dalton, Jacob, and one of his soccer teammates, Mathew. 
By the time he’s confirmed that he’s joining their group, all the other groups have filled up.  The only group left for me to join is Madison’s. 
No way.  I’ll work by myself. 
Mr. Little looks over at me, seeing my dilemma, and I think that he’ll make me join their group.  Surprisingly, he says nothing, just nods his head at me silently in understanding.  A sigh of relief escapes me, and I resolve to do all my missing math homework tonight.   After a few minutes, it’s clear that I’m going to struggle without a little help.  I raise my hand and Mr. Little nods for me to come up to his desk. 
“I’m still not sure how to factor number seven.” I confide quietly.  He coaxes me through the process, and as I grab my paper to go back to my desk, I catch sight of a new photograph on his desk, adding to the trio of mini-Little’s pictures already there.  It was Mr. Little – dressed as a clown.
“Is this a new picture, Mr. Little?”  I inquire, gesturing to the clown pic.
“Good eye, Miss Tate.  That was just given to me as a gift by Mr. Bartkowiak. I’m in this very same costume.  It’s me at last year’s faculty Halloween party.” 
“Uh, yeah.  Great costume.”  I take my paper back to my seat and ponder the coincidence.  Huh.  I wonder if I’d seen the picture before I made that doodle.  I flip to the page in my notebook with the Clown Little doodle on it.  It really is identical to the photo.  It’s giving me the goosebumps.  I must have seen the picture somewhere before.
Close to the end of the class period, Madison crosses by my desk to put her group’s worksheets in the homework basket.  As she passes, she wrinkles her little rabbit nose at me and sniffs delicately.  Then, with a giggle, she gags a little and moves on before Mr. Little can notice what she’s doing.
She continues down the aisle before I can think of a single response.  I’m sure, twenty-four hours from now, I’ll have thought of the perfect comeback for that.  In the moment?  Nada. 
In my head, my pen is now protruding from her expensively sweatered back.  Instead, I spend the rest of class doodling a picture of Madison as a two-headed monster, scaly and slime-covered. It’s petty, I know, but it’s the only revenge I’m empowered to give out right now.  My day will come.  It just has to. 
I look at what I’ve drawn, and remember how The Clown-culator and The Fairy Godmother pictures might not be a coincidence.  With a tiny sigh of resignation, I scribble it out, not wanting to take the risk…or for anyone to spot my silent evil-ness and report back to the monster herself.
The bell rings and I’m dashing out the door with the rest of the class, struggling through the river of the hallways to get to my locker quickly and get out of this place.  As I approach my locker, the people on either side of my locker, quickly slam their lockers and move away.  There is still some whispering and pointing going on, but I’m ready to just chalk it up to experience and get the heck out of Dodge.
Of course, my locker is jammed again.  Of course.  I don’t have the patience or sanity left to wait for Toefingers to come and un-jam it for me now.  He shouldn’t have to – I just cleaned it today.  There shouldn’t be any reason for it to stick.  I try the combination one more time and give an almighty heave on the latch.  Something plastic snaps loudly and the locker door jumps open with a whoosh and slams against the next person’s locker. 
A choking, writhing, hissing cloud of white powder rushes at me from my open locker.  It smells vaguely like baby powder as it coats my hair, face, and clothing, and breathing is impossible in the dry mist of this substance.  The hissing grows a little fainter and bubbles out, and I can hear the raucous, shocked laughter of my fellow students ringing in my ears. 
A deodorant bomb. 
Deodorant Bomb: An ingenious invention using pressurized spray deodorant that the boys basketball and baseball players sometimes use against each other in the locker rooms.  
The now-empty aerosol deodorant can clangs gently on the inside of my locker, dangling from the string that held it hooked in there until my forcing of the latch broke the plastic nozzle off and the binder clip they duct-taped on it depressed the open tube to make it spray. 
How could it have even gotten in there? 
I begin to cough and try to wipe my stinging eyes before I open them.  Then, as the tears begin to spill over my eyelashes, I understand how it got there.  There’s only one person, besides me, who has my locker combination.  That’s when I really break down.  It’s too much; I don’t even care that everyone can see my tears and snot and red face.  I give a choking sob and heave and crumple like a used napkin to my knees in front of my locker. 
My humiliation is complete.