Pot smoking teens and other family dramas

Hey readers,

PJ Sharon here on a lovely autumn day in the Berkshires. I’ve actually seen a few patches of yellowed leaves on the trees and the star-filled nights here are getting cool.Crane This crane will likely be taking flight to warmer climes soon enough.

It’s also the time of year for the spreading of colds and such.*sniffle…sniffle*

I guess I can’t complain. It’s the first time I’ve been sick in a few years and it gives me some needed downtime to rest and reflect…and write.

As I swim through the murky middle of my current work in progress, PIECES OF LOVE, I’m reminded of my own teen dramas and those of my many siblings. You see, I grew up in a pretty crazy, dysfunctional family. Lots of alcohol, a dash of mental illness, secrets, lies, some seriously scary and frequent catastrophes, and lots of drama! Yes, we all loved each other in our own way, but each person in that house of seven children and three adults, was flawed. As we all are. It’s what makes us human. It’s also what makes us interesting to paint into the canvas of a story.

There’s a reason that I write YA dramas that touch on  taboo topics that encompass everything from grief and loss of a loved one, to teen pregnancy, bulimia, the effects of war, and even sexual abuse. I draw as much as possible from personal experience and from all that I have seen to be true in the human condition.

So when I began PIECES OF LOVE, I wanted to make sure to give Ali’s plight its due. Not that I’ve ever lost someone to an alcohol overdose or been arrested for marijuana possession, but I’ve certainly seen my share of these kinds of family dramas to draw real emotion and conflict from them. Understanding the motivation behind why people do what they do is a key element in making your fiction believable. As is sharing accurate and interesting detail to utilize your setting to enhance your character’s journey. Since I’ve been on a Mediterranean cruise, I have lots of insights into how Ali sees the world anew with each port she visits. It’s been fun and interesting to revisit the places I went and relive it all through her eyes, watching her transformation from self-centered, immature teen trying desperately to avoid dealing with the painful realities of life, to a young woman who learns to appreciate the people in her life who love her.

Here’s the blurb for PIECES OF LOVE:

Sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to smoke pot and play guitar. What’s the point in planning for the future? Her world is shattered by her sister’s accidental alcohol overdose at college, and she is arrested for marijuana possession a second time. Her mother’s breakdown is the final straw that forces Ali to spend the summer with her Grandmother in Malibu.

But problems aren’t so easily dismissed. After Ali steps over the line one too many times, she’s certain her life is over and that she’s destined for juvenile detention. Her ‘Malibu Barbie’ grandmother, Maddie, takes desperate measures…a Mediterranean cruise…for seniors. If overwhelmed and motion sick Ali needs further torment, Maddie has decided that her granddaughter’s childish name could use an upgrade and renames her Lexi. Can a new name and a French haircut fix everything that’s wrong with Ali’s life? Maybe when Ethan Kaswell says the name.

Eighteen year-old Ethan, the poster child for being a good son, who is stranded on the cruise when his famous heart surgeon father is kept away by an important consultation, finds Lexi irresistible. Although he’s smart enough to see that there is no future in falling for a “vacation crush,” Lexi’s edgy dark side and soulfully sad eyes draw him like an anchor to the bottom of the sea. As she spirals out of control, will she bring him down too, or was he already drowning? Maybe by saving her, he can save himself. 

Greece2011 224 (2013_02_16 18_14_38 UTC)Visiting such ports as Portofino, Italy; Palermo, Sicily; and Rome. From the Greek Islands to Tunisia, North Africa; and Barcelona, Spain to Dubrovnik, Croatia; you’ll see the sights and walk on sacred ground with Ali as she learns about herself, her family, and what it means to love someone–even when you have to let them go.

Infusing our own experiences, we can create flawed but redeemable characters who are on a journey of self-discovery. The more vividly we can paint that portrait, the more we bring the story to life with their color, depth, and the rich texture of emotional reactionary drama that makes us connect to them in an intimate way. When the character’s fatal flaw forces them to face the consequences of their actions and choices, and we see them grow, it’s satisfying and uplifting. Readers heart’s are touched. It’s what all writers strive for and is so challenging to do, and do well.

One thing I’m sure of is that we can’t shy away from addressing tough issues when writing for teens, but we have to be willing to step fully into their shoes to get it right. Knowing that “pot” is now mostly referred to as “weed” and other such specifics, are important for authenticity, and can only be known if you hang around teenagers and ask questions. It’s been my experience that they are most willing to share their opinions and ideas when I tell them why I’m asking. They seem to appreciate that I’m willing to have an open dialogue and that I’m not interested in judging them. I don’t think any of my teen library group kids are “potheads,” or “stoners” as they call them, but they are fully engaged in the youth culture in a way that I am not.

I’m hoping for the book to be ready for release in the first part of 2014. A cover reveal and the ability to pre-order the book through Smashwords should be coming up at the end of November. I’m also working on recording a theme song for the book–possibly two, written by yours truly!

So if you’re a writer, write what you know, ‘they’ say. I agree. Either draw from your own experiences, or find a way to walk in someone else’s moccasins for a mile or two. Your characters will be so much richer for it! Just be real, and let your characters take the story where it needs to go. You might even experience some healing as you create/or re-create a painful real-life event that still holds you back from being the best you can be–just like your characters.

I often have to remind myself that ‘do-overs and make-believe are not only allowed in fiction writing, but encouraged.’

Today’s unlocked secret: Infuse your personal experiences into your writing to create vivid, authentic, and memorable characters. Don’t be afraid to tackle the tough problems, and keep it real.

I’m heading back to bed for more rest. I have to be better for my trip to Nashville and New Orleans later this week, where I’ll be at my step-son’s wedding and doing some research for book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I hate getting on a plane and being THAT person who gets everyone else sick. I’m also thinking my sinuses aren’t going to appreciate the flight…uggh!

To happier thoughts and my original statement in this post, I really do love it here in the hills. Our town has the cleanest air on record in Massachusetts, and has one of the healthiest ecosystems. I routinely see lots of wildlife, including a host of various birds here. Although with hunting season commencing, and flight of the migratory bird populations, that will likely be less now. Blue heronI am so grateful to live where I live and feel blessed to be part of my small community.

As such, I’m participating once again at the Granville Harvest Fair coming up Columbus Day weekend (October 12-14). I’ll be hanging out in front of the library signing books with a few other authors. If you’re in North Central CT or Western MA, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. There’s tons to see and do. I swear, we have one of the BEST harvest fairs in New England!

Do you write what you know, or rely on a mix of research, empathy, and experience? I’d love to hear from you about your process and how you make your characters authentic.

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12 thoughts on “Pot smoking teens and other family dramas”

  1. Paula, what beautiful writing. Thanks for sharing. I can’t believe you live in this gorgeous place, and that you can write your stories looking out upon amazing beauty. Even with the cleanest air in Massachusetts, you are still vulnerable to germs, phooey on germs. Hopefully, you’ll be better before you board that plane. Offer from me to your step-son, a wonderful long life in his marriage. Have fun at the wedding. I look forward to your theme song, words and music? Good for you!

    1. Hi Gail, thank you as always. It’s having to come down out of the hills that caused me to get sick. Lots of germs floating around the populace right now. I had several clients last week who mentioned having some ‘bug’ and assuring me they were not contagious any longer. Hmmm…I beg to differ.

      I’ll pass on your well-wishes to the kids.

      And I wrote the song and the music, but will have others perform it. I’m working on rounding up my musicians:-)

  2. I’m still in transition mode. Some of this is due to a major menopausal hormone crash, some to my house being torn apart and other family drama. You’re a brave author. I commend your tackling tough issues and opening your heart to share the difficulty and the healing. I need to and want to be more honest with my writing. Scares the hell out of me. Fear won’t kill me. Thanks for the shot of brave.

    1. I can’t tell you how cathartic it has been to re-write my history in a sense. Although my characters are not me, they are all pieces of me. I have no problem living in some imaginary teenagers brain while they go through the torment instead of me, LOL.

      As writers, we can be observers, omniscient narrators of our own experiences. We can take the emotions and bring them to life on the page without really reliving the actual events. When I decide to tell a story, it’s because the characters themselves won’t let me NOT tell it. It isn’t usually until I’m into it that I see the parallel’s in my own life. Once I’m committed, though, I have to dig deep and follow through. It’s challenging but oh, so rewarding! Take a leap of faith!

  3. Congratulations on tackling some difficult topics in a manner that will be relevant to your YA audience. It looks like you’re doing a terrific job. My research for my humorous mysteries usually involves learning how quickly an autopsy can be performed on my poor victims.

  4. You always keep it real, PJ and that’s great for your readers. It’s one of the many things about your books that give your characters….well, character and keeps the tension alive. I can always see someone I know or knew in your work. I can’t wait to read this next book. It sounds great. :-)

  5. Thanks so much, Rhonda. I’m having an awesome time writing Ali’s story. Some characters just sneak into our conscious and explode onto the page. The most interesting thing that’s happened has been the writing of songs that have come about in trying to keep her true to the character arc I imagined for her. Such a cool process!

  6. Great post, PJ. I’m currently going through a tough reality check with both my kids, who both smoke pot. I felt at a loss with how to deal with the issue, since my husband and I never even smoked a cigarette. It’s worrisome and there’s the all important question, where have I gone wrong as a parent? There’s no good answer for that.

    I do hope they will both succeed as “adult”. But man oh man, what a difficult time this is!

    1. I feel your pain, Carole! We can do everything right and our kids will still have to learn by making their own mistakes. Our teenagers will break our hearts more than once with the choices they make, but the bottom line is that we can’t stop them from making those choices. It’s part of their journey and they have to live with the consequences.

      The best we can do is tell them how we feel, set boundaries we can live with, offer advice, and be there for them when they need us… and pray! The hard part is letting them go and allowing them to fail. We always see our children’s mistakes as a reflection on our parenting, when in fact it’s not the mistakes they make but how they deal with the consequences that truly reflects how good a job we’ve done.

      I may be starting a crap storm by saying so, but smoking pot is not the worst thing they could be doing, and chances are, it’s not going to determine their future success. It’s a bad habit and one that hopefully they will come to realize isn’t in their best interest, but it’s not likely going to lead to their doom. Hang in there!

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