Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Birds, bees and boys






When your son (or boys in your classroom) are within reach of puberty, who initiates The Talk? Who teaches them about the birds and bees? Does their sex education include a chat about porn? It should.

In his book Man, Interrupted, author Philip Zimbardo speculates that if a 15-year-old boy watches a couple of hours of porn a week (while you think he's doing his homework upstairs online), he will have had 1,400 pornographic sexual experiences before doing the actual deed at, say, age 17. Not healthy for him or that first-time partner.

"Porn is giving teenage boys a skewed version of relationships, body image and female desire," reporter Erin Anderssen wrote recently in The Globe and Mail, Friday, April 15, 2016, Section L, "Boy Problems.")

Anderssen quotes Dr. Frank Sommers, a Toronto psychiatrist who specializes in sex therapy: "In porn, you don't see the ups and downs of a relationship, there is no depiction of tenderness, sooner or later the men turn into sexual acrobats, and this is the picture young men grow up with." 

"Parents, especially dads, are advised to talk more to their sons about sex, including how pornography is a multi-billion-dollar business," Anderssen wrote. "Parents need to be as explicit talking about sex as the porn they hope their boys aren't watching."

More insight on the topic:
Boys, Sex and Media by Crystal Smith
Talk Sex Today by Saleema Noon


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Help me help refugees

   
 I have a new hobby in between writing young-adult books and doing school presentations: helping refugees adapt to life in their new country.
       I'm on a steering committee* that is fundraising to provide English as a Second Language classes to newly arrived Syrian refugees. That's because the government has paid their way to come to Canada, and provides food, housing and trauma counseling, plus a very short period of ESL training. But only 1% come with any ability to speak English, and according to their caseworker, they need a full year of ESL classes in order to look for work or more easily integrate into their new community.
     Want to help them out with me? Contributions of over $25 are tax deductible if you are Canadian, and 100% of all funds will go to ESL classes for recently landed refugees in Victoria, B.C., Canada. (There are around 200 recently landed refugees there waiting for classes. The classrooms and teachers are ready as soon as funds come in. It costs $20,000 to fund a year of classes for 20 refugees.)
     Please send whatever you can!
     Make cheques payable to St. Mary Magdalene Church with "refugees" noted in the lower left line.
     Mail to St. Mary Magdalene Church, 360 Georgina Point Rd., Mayne Island B.C., Canada V0N 2J1.  

Oh, and if you care about refugees, or like to read survival stories (this is the penultimate survival story, both sobering and riveting), here's a life-changing book I just read:

They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by

Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsian Deng and Judy A. Bernstein

http://www.amazon.com/They-Poured-Fire-Us-Sky/dp/1610395980/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461713991&sr=1-1&keywords=fire+on+us+from+the+sky

*The Mayne Island Refugee Support Group is supporting Victoria's Immigrant Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS)  



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My new book cover: Bungee Jump


Announcing (drum roll...) my UPCOMING release, which is for ages 10-14: Bungee Jump with Orca Currents. It will be out September 2016, but you can pre-order it as of now, and see the cover (above).

Thirteen-year-old Chris and his family are setting up a bungee jump in his backyard. It's a real large-scale bungee jump off a bridge that connects his backyard to a small island owned by his family. Not only is it going to be the coolest attraction around, but it also provides Chris with an opportunity to watch a real engineer in action. Chris would be excited about it if things didn't keep going wrong. The rumors of hauntings on the island, once the site of a hospital for children with leprosy, are getting out of control. And there are mysterious mishaps on the bridge. Chris worries that all of these problems will keep customers away. And if the bungee jump isn't a success, his family will lose everything.

ISBN: 9781459812161

The publisher is Orca Currents: http://us.orcabook.com/Orca-Currents-C1471.aspx

Pre-order from Chapters: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/bungee-jump/9781459812161-item.html?ikwid=bungee+jump&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

Pre-order from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Bungee-Jump-Orca-Currents-Withers/dp/1459812166/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459541200&sr=1-5&keywords=Bungee+Jump


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Prevent rejection: Four fiction-writing lessons (IV of IV)

 How to revise in fiction for too much telling, not enough showing: "before" and "after" examples




My intro as published earlier... I try to post each Wednesday.

The bad news is that my latest manuscript has been gathering rejections. The good news is that the rejections have come with consistent feedback. That’s rare and highly useful, and therefore something to appreciate as I, by necessity, must now transition from writing to revision mode.

According to those who dared to reject me (hey, it does feel like a stomach punch the first week!), I have three weaknesses in this not-yet-up-to-snuff young-adult novel:

1.     My protagonist is a little on the “morose” side, and I need to jolly him up, give him a more upbeat and distinctive “voice.” In other words, lighten up!
2.     Some of my teen dialogue and expressions are “outdated.” (Now there’s a tricky accusation, given how fast expressions change, and how slang can be regional, even cultural.) In other words, stay current with teen talk.
3.     My first-person narrator sometimes uses over-sophisticated words, or doesn’t talk like a normal teen. This is a sin I committed not during dialogue (I know better) but during description/narration paragraphs, when it feels okay to slip into my own way of speaking. Yet having opted for a first-person teen point of view (POV), all narration (not just dialogue) has to be in his voice, which means his vocabulary level and type of expressions. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about, and needed to be told, so I hope it helps others reading this. In other words, keep POV consistent in dialogue and narration.
4.     In places, there is too much telling, not enough showing. What?! After 17 published books, I can still have that one leveled at me? Evidently so!

Now that I’m nearly completed my revisions, I’ve decided to spend a blog each on these four lessons. Today's is No. 4. For each, I share “before” and “after” passages, so you can see the differences I’ve made during weeks of back-breaking revisions. Call it Fiction Writing 201, but it’s useful perspective if it helps save you from the “ouch” of rejections.

Before and after examples:



BEFORE: I hesitate. “Yes.”
AFTER: I purse my lips to seal all emo inside. “Yes.”

BEFORE: “Uh-huh,” I say politely.
AFTER: “Uh-huh,” I say, forcing my eyes to meet hers. “I’m fine,” I add, fingernails pressing into my palms.


BEFORE: As the pot comes to a boil…
AFTER: As the pot bubbles fiercely…

BEFORE: Her eyes look a bit wild.
AFTER: Her pupils look ready to pop out.

BEFORE: The stream through which we’re slogging in the ever-steadier rainfall is getting treacherously deep.
AFTER: The stream section through which we’re slogging in the ever-steadier rainfall has risen to thigh-chilling deep.

BEFORE: She’s ignoring his perplexed, panicked look.
AFTER: She’s ignoring his dropped jaw.

BEFORE: The walls narrow and the water turns deeper and swifter.
AFTER: The walls narrow and the water turns deeper and swifter. I breathe in the earthy smell of moss and enjoy its almost electric green glow on surrounding boulders.

BEFORE: It takes me a moment to recover from the shock of that.
AFTER: My heart stops. “Huh?”


BEFORE: “Ever done Swallow Canyon?”
That question again. “The Upper Canyon a thousand times.” Well, a hundred, anyway. Nothing wrong with being proud of that, right?
“And the Lower Canyon?”
I should’ve seen it coming, but stiffen anyway.
AFTER: “Ever done Swallow Canyon?”
That question again. “The Upper Canyon a thousand times.” Well, a hundred, anyway. I lift my chin as I say it.
 “And the Lower Canyon?”
My chin sinks.

BEFORE: They’re nervous novices at the sport if ever I’ve met any, judging from the questions they pepper Brigit and Alex.
AFTER: Definitely nervous novices, I decide, overhearing the questions with which they pepper poor Brigit and Alex:
“How long is this canyon hike?
“If we get scared, can we turn back?”
“You’ll show us how to put on all this gear, right?”
“Why do we have to wear helmets?”
 “Just checking, but you said we’d be back before dark?”

BEFORE: We gather ourselves around Brigit for the safety talk. She gives us each whistles to tie to our helmets, and lifts her own to demonstrate that three clear blasts means an emergency, and one long one means it’s all clear. She checks that each of us has a sheathed knife for cutting rope in an emergency.
AFTER: Brigit calls, “Over here, everyone! Gather around. Safety talk time!”
I lope over.
“First, I’m giving you each a whistle,” she says.
“Got my own,” I let her know.
“Me too,” Dominik says.
Our guide bristles and ignores us. “Tie it to your helmet. It allows us to communicate. If you hear three strong blasts in a row” – she puts lips to whistle and all but shreds our eardrums — “that means there’s an emergency. So stop and wait for instructions. One long blast” – my hands clamp on my ears just in time — “that’s the all-clear signal. Got it?”
“Got it,” Harry says.
She dips her hands into a bag. “I have several sheathed knives here, one for each of you. I’ll help you attach them onto your—”
“Have my own,” Dominik speaks up.
“Me too,” I say as politely as I can.
“—belts, so in the unlikely event of an emergency, you can cut tangled ropes that need cutting.”

BEFORE: Everyone searches their backpacks for their harness, a friction device and carabiners, and Brigit gives us a thorough talk and demonstration. She explains that there are two ropes for the group, one that’s twice the length of the longest rappel required, and one for emergency backup. She carries one and Dominik the other. That way, not only does neither person have too heavy a pack, but if one pack escapes down the creek, the group still has a rappel rope. We also each have shorter rescue ropes enclosed in throw-bags, which can be used for rappelling in an emergency. Finally, she emphasizes the need to not trust old anchors that we come across, since floods that have washed down between their setup and now can make them unreliable.
AFTER: Everyone searches their backpacks for their harness, a friction device and carabiners, and Brigit launches into a new talk and demonstration.
“We have two ropes on this hike. One is twice the length of the longest rappel we’ll be doing, and the other is our emergency backup. I’ll be carrying one. Dominik, I’m assigning you to carry the other.”
“Whatever you say,” he says cheerfully.
 “That way,” she explains, “neither he nor I have to carry too heavy a pack. Also, if one pack escapes down the creek, we still have a rappel rope.”
“Good thinking,” I say.
“Each of us is also carrying shorter rescue ropes enclosed in throw-bags, also good in an emergency,” Brigit adds.
“What if other canyoneers have left a rope all set up?” Harry asks.
“Excellent question. Be very careful about trusting old anchors, because floods that have washed down since they were set up can make them unreliable.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Prevent rejection: Four fiction-writing lessons (III of IV)

Keep fiction characters' point of view consistent in dialogue and narration: "before" and "after" examples





 My intro as published earlier... I try to post each Wednesday.

The bad news is that my latest manuscript has been gathering rejections. The good news is that the rejections have come with consistent feedback. That’s rare and highly useful, and therefore something to appreciate as I, by necessity, must now transition from writing to revision mode.

According to those who dared to reject me (hey, it does feel like a stomach punch the first week!), I have three weaknesses in this not-yet-up-to-snuff young-adult novel:


1.     My protagonist is a little on the “morose” side, and I need to jolly him up, give him a more upbeat and distinctive “voice.” In other words, lighten up!
2.     Some of my teen dialogue and expressions are “outdated.” (Now there’s a tricky accusation, given how fast expressions change, and how slang can be regional, even cultural.) In other words, stay current with teen talk.
3.     My first-person narrator sometimes uses over-sophisticated words, or doesn’t talk like a normal teen. This is a sin I committed not during dialogue (I know better) but during description/narration paragraphs, when it feels okay to slip into my own way of speaking. Yet having opted for a first-person teen point of view (POV), all narration (not just dialogue) has to be in his voice, which means his vocabulary level and type of expressions. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about, and needed to be told, so I hope it helps others reading this. In other words, keep POV consistent in dialogue and narration.
4.     In places, there is too much telling, not enough showing. What?! After 17 published books, I can still have that one leveled at me? Evidently so!

Now that I’m nearly completed my revisions, I’ve decided to spend a blog each on these four lessons. Today's is No. 3. For each, I share “before” and “after” passages, so you can see the differences I’ve made during weeks of back-breaking revisions. Call it Fiction Writing 201, but it’s useful perspective if it helps save you from the “ouch” of rejections.


Keep characters' POV consistent in dialogue and narration

 As an individual and an adult, I tend to speak a certain way. My characters (hopefully) have their own distinct voices. When I’m writing dialogue, I’m “into” their voice. When I’m writing description and narrative, I’m more likely to lapse into my own way of saying things.
And that’s a big mistake if I’m writing in a first-person point of view, especially if my first-person narrator is a teen. Everything in description and narrative, in that case, has to be filtered through his brain. Even if I have the “perfect” adjective for something, it’s a no-go if it’s not something in his vernacular – not something he would think or say. And if he’s upbeat or dark or angry, he’s seeing the world around him in those terms.
When writing or revising to accommodate this, the most important phrase to keep in mind is “KISS”: keep it simple, stupid. It’s so easy to use an “adult” word like “donning gloves” rather than dumbing it down to “putting on gloves.”  
Not that dumbing it down is always the objective. Jollying it up and importing more “teen talk” are also good techniques. (See my two previous blogs on these topics.)
            When revising a manuscript for any reason, the following is an excellent source:
Of course, it also helps to view real-life before-and-after examples, and these are mine from a just-finished revision:

BEFORE: I re-don my gloves.
AFTER: I put my gloves back on.
*
BEFORE: Why did she not want Dominik to accompany us?
AFTER: Why didn’t she want Dominik to come with us?
*
BEFORE: annoy her
AFTER: piss her off
*
BEFORE: upon getting
AFTER: when she got
*
BEFORE: Chills have beset my body.
AFTER: Chills have taken over my body.
*
BEFORE: River hydraulics pick it up.
AFTER: The current picks it up.
*
BEFORE: the narrative
AFTER: the story
*
BEFORE: she queries
AFTER: she asks
*
BEFORE: the clarity
AFTER: how clear it is
*
BEFORE: I don’t recall her claim
AFTER: I don’t remember her claim
*
BEFORE: I inadvertently gave her the opportunity.
AFTER: I accidentally gave her the chance.
*
[Re hiding in a giant mud patch in a cave behind a waterfall]
BEFORE: Being submerged in a mud puddle is not conducive to hearing or seeing anyone stick her head through the shower to do a quick search of the cave.
AFTER: Being submerged in a mud puddle doesn’t allow a dude to hear or see a dudette stick her head through the shower to do a quick visual of the place.
*
BEFORE: illuminating
AFTER: lighting
*
BEFORE: a myriad
AFTER: hundreds
*
BEFORE: moment
AFTER: minute
*
BEFORE: encounter
AFTER: bump into
*
BEFORE: relinquished
AFTER: let go of
*
BEFORE: concerned for
AFTER: worried about
*
BEFORE: I’m tempted to escort him out, but realize he’s telling the truth, and what harm is there in him hearing, anyway?
AFTER: My flash of annoyance fades to amusement. The kid’s honest, gotta give him that. Who cares what he hears, anyway?
*
BEFORE: “I’m sorry for your loss, Chuck. And your mother’s,” says Major Dirks, the heavyset, moustachioed man who conducts me into his cramped office at Search and Rescue. His face is weathered and kindly, and his armed-forces uniform full of insignia that make him look important.
AFTER: “I’m sorry for your loss, Chuck. And your mother’s,” says Major Dirks, the heavyset man with a curlicue moustache who gestures me into his cramped office at Search and Rescue. His face is weathered and kindly, and his armed-forces uniform full of badges that make him look important.
*
BEFORE: It takes all my will power to suppress a chuckle.
AFTER: It takes all my will power to smother a chuckle.
*
BEFORE: When I enter the barn at daybreak, something seems wrong. It’s the way the hens are cackling and moving about the hen house, the way there are no mouse peeps in the upper left loft, maybe even how the barn smells. I make my way cautiously to the hens and count. They’re all here, even if they seem upset. I dig into the straw to collect their eggs. One, two, three. Two hens haven’t laid. Has a racoon or mink been circling around outside, making them nervous? Well, it didn’t get in or they wouldn’t all be here. Anyway, I’ve got things to do, places to go.
AFTER: When I shuffle into the barn at daybreak, my tracker instincts jerk to attention. Something’s wrong: the way the hens are cackling and dashing about the hen house, and the silence in the loft where there are usually mouse peeps.
 I stride over to the hens and count. All five are alive and well, even if a little unhinged. Digging into the straw, I collect their eggs. One, two, three.
“Two hens haven’t laid,” I mumble. Something’s up for sure. Has a racoon or mink been circling around outside, making them nervous? Well, it didn’t get in or they wouldn’t all be here. Anyway, it’s a mystery that’ll have to wait.
*
BEFORE: As if I can divulge about how there’s no money anymore for school club fees.
AFTER: No way can I tell him about the lack of moulah for club fees.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Prevent rejection: Four fiction-writing lessons (II of IV)

 Stay current with teen talk: "before" and "after" examples

 
My intro as published earlier... I try to post each Wednesday.

The bad news is that my latest manuscript has been gathering rejections. The good news is that the rejections have come with consistent feedback. That’s rare and highly useful, and therefore something to appreciate as I, by necessity, must now transition from writing to revision mode.

According to those who dared to reject me (hey, it does feel like a stomach punch the first week!), I have three weaknesses in this not-yet-up-to-snuff young-adult novel:

1.     My protagonist is a little on the “morose” side, and I need to jolly him up, give him a more upbeat and distinctive “voice.” In other words, lighten up!
2.     Some of my teen dialogue and expressions are “outdated.” (Now there’s a tricky accusation, given how fast expressions change, and how slang can be regional, even cultural.) In other words, stay current with teen talk.
3.     My first-person narrator sometimes uses over-sophisticated words, or doesn’t talk like a normal teen. This is a sin I committed not during dialogue (I know better) but during description/narration paragraphs, when it feels okay to slip into my own way of speaking. Yet having opted for a first-person teen point of view (POV), all narration (not just dialogue) has to be in his voice, which means his vocabulary level and type of expressions. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about, and needed to be told, so I hope it helps others reading this. In other words, keep POV consistent in dialogue and narration.
4.     In places, there is too much telling, not enough showing. What?! After 17 published books, I can still have that one leveled at me? Evidently so!

Now that I’m nearly completed my revisions, I’ve decided to spend a blog each on these four lessons. Today's is No. 2. For each, I share “before” and “after” passages, so you can see the differences I’ve made during weeks of back-breaking revisions. Call it Fiction Writing 201, but it’s useful perspective if it helps save you from the “ouch” of rejections.


Staying current with teen talk

Staying current with teen talk doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hang out with your teen kids’ friends (like they’d let you, anyway), volunteer with a youth group, or start using lots of four-letter words in your manuscript. Though all of these are possibilities.
            It does mean adding more humor (see last week’s blog on “lightening up”), hanging out on teen websites, watching teen movies or TV programs, eavesdropping on teens when riding buses or sitting in a cafĂ©, and perhaps having a teen editor.
My blog on having a teen editor is here:
Also, read young-adult books. See the Printz award winners: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklistsawards/bookawards/printzaward/previouswinners/winners
I did lots of mouth-zipped eavesdropping on my son and his friends when they were teens, while driving them to activities. In fact, I was very generous about driving them to their activities, and kept a notebook on hand! (Once, as they exited the car to do a mountain-bike run down a mountain, they said, “Let’s make like eggs and scramble.” I promptly wrote it down in the notebook I keep in the car, and I think I used it in a novel soon afterwards.)
Note that many young-adult writers also make up their own teen expressions. As in, one of my favorite authors had a clique of characters use the word “vegetable” as a code word for “gay.” And another introduced the term “surftard” (bullies on the surfing beach). Such authors then proceed to use these newly introduced terms so much that their readers absolutely “get" them.  (And maybe these new terms even became bonafide her slang words in the wider world.)
When I’m stuck for a word, I sometimes use one of the following sources:
            Let me know if you’ve found better ones. There are many possibilities when you google “teen slang.”
           The Children’s Writers Word Book actually tells you what grade level understands the word you’re looking up, and suggests alternatives for younger readers. But it’s more like a thesaurus than a source of teen slang.
            Unfortunately, none of the above sources are silver bullets. In the end, I think it’s best to build your own glossary by carrying around a notebook and jotting down expressions you hear, see, read or think of. When copying down something from another author, I note the author, so that instead of copying it, I merely use it for inspiration and brainstorming.
In my most recent manuscript revision, here are some changes I made.

BEFORE: I was so smitten I would have done anything for her.
AFTER: I was so sprung on her I would have done anything for her.
 *
BEFORE: Is it me being oversensitive or is pink-haired Elspeth just a bit of a nutcase?
AFTER: Elsbeth, I decide, is crazier than bat shit. One pink hair short of wigged out. Get me outta here.
*
BEFORE: Way to go. Except you’re going to be in a heap of trouble.
AFTER: Way to go. Except you’re going to be in a shitload of trouble.
*
BEFORE: I want to see what other cockeyed things she’s going to say.
AFTER: I want to see what other crazy shit she’s going to serve up.
*
BEFORE: He knows it pains me…
He knows it rips me up…
*
BEFORE: The incessant croaking of frogs finally forces me to raise one eyelid.
AFTER: The nonstop croaking of freakin’ frogs finally forces me to raise one eyelid.
*
BEFORE: I confirm it’s Dad’s.
AFTER: I confirm by 150-percent that it’s Dad’s boot: his and no one else’s.
*
BEFORE: I’d rather mimic a tightrope performance than walk in rising, waist-deep current.
AFTER: I’d rather make like a tightrope walker than half-swim in rising, waist-deep current.
*
BEFORE: Not far into the woods, I sense something is wrong.
AFTER: Not far into the woods, my superior spidey senses tell me again that something’s not right.
*
BEFORE: Huh?
AFTER: Seriously?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Prevent rejection: Four fiction-writing lessons (I of IV)

How to lighten up your writing & characters: "before" and "after" examples.


As posted last week, my intro....
The bad news is that my latest manuscript has been gathering rejections. The good news is that the rejections have come with consistent feedback. That’s rare and highly useful, and therefore something to appreciate as I, by necessity, must now transition from writing to revision mode.

According to those who dared to reject me (hey, it does feel like a stomach punch the first week!), I have three weaknesses in this not-yet-up-to-snuff young-adult novel:

1.     My protagonist is a little on the “morose” side, and I need to jolly him up, give him a more upbeat and distinctive “voice.” In other words, lighten up!
2.     Some of my teen dialogue and expressions are “outdated.” (Now there’s a tricky accusation, given how fast expressions change, and how slang can be regional, even cultural.) In other words, stay current with teen talk.
3.     My first-person narrator sometimes uses over-sophisticated words, or doesn’t talk like a normal teen. This is a sin I committed not during dialogue (I know better) but during description/narration paragraphs, when it feels okay to slip into my own way of speaking. Yet having opted for a first-person teen point of view (POV), all narration (not just dialogue) has to be in his voice, which means his vocabulary level and type of expressions. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about, and needed to be told, so I hope it helps others reading this. In other words, keep POV consistent in dialogue and narration.
4.     In places, there is too much showing, not enough telling. What?! After 17 published books, I can still have that one leveled at me? Evidently so!

Now that I’m nearly completed my revisions, I’ve decided to spend a blog each on these four lessons, starting next week with “lighten up.” (I try to post every Wednesday.) I’m going to share “before” and “after” passages, so you can see the differences I’ve made during weeks of back-breaking revisions. Call it Fiction Writing 201, but it’s useful perspective if it helps save you from the “ouch” of rejections.

Lightening up

Lightening up means inserting humor where possible, and building/maintaining your character’s particular “voice.” Not sure what that is? Check out Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.:
If you’re writing for young adults like I am, then lightening up certainly overlaps with using more “teen talk” and maintaining the point of view, both of which I’ll speak to in this blog series the next few weeks.
But clearly the best way to demonstrate how to “lighten up” an overly downtrodden/sad/morose character or plotline, is to see examples. Here goes, from my novel-in-progress!

Some before-and-after passages to give you a sense of how I “lightened up”:

BEFORE: Bare feet are soundless. Combined with stealth, they can buy a sliver of freedom each day. So I rise in the dark each morning just as my bedroom window catches dawn’s first hint of light.
AFTER: Bare feet are soundless. Combined with stealth, they can buy a sliver of freedom. A daily sliver of freedom is all I need, but I need it like oxygen. Seriously. So, being the Sultan of Stealth, I sneak out of my bedroom before dawn and pad ninja-like down the hallway.
  *

BEFORE: Silently, I glide down the hallway to peer into my mother’s room. The pallid glow of her bedside clock illuminates her fragile form shrouded by twisted sheets. A hand dangles beside the nightstand that is crowded with pill bottles.
I watch for the gentle rise and fall of her chest. I watch for a long time to make sure she’s okay. Then, and only then, do I give myself permission to move away like a shadow.
AFTER: First, I peer into my mother’s room, where the feeble glow of her bedside clock identifies her shape shrouded by twisted sheets. A hand dangles beside the nightstand crowded with pill bottles.
I sigh, then catch myself. I’ve sworn off sad and don’t do “down” anymore. Instead, I remind myself to celebrate the gentle rise and fall of her chest.
Hang in, Mom. And forgive me, but I gotta step out for a breath. 
*
BEFORE: Homework, the dishes and scrubbing the kitchen floor are higher priority – as in, I need to get them done between this sneak outing and school this morning. Each week I’m getting a little more organized, doing more of the housework.
AFTER: Homework, the dishes and scrubbing the kitchen floor are higher priority – as in, I need to check off all these new Head of the Household duties in between this jailbreak and the high school’s morning bell.
Like a fake sumo wrestler who bounces trouble off his cool rubber suit, I’m finding the chunk of chores and attempt at a new attitude easier every week. If Mom were more with it, she’d be proud of me. If Dad hadn’t disappeared – well, then I wouldn’t need the rubber suit or have to face these new, life-enhancing obligations. But yeah, he’d be proud of me too.
If only a raise came with the promotion.
*
BEFORE: “I’m not a kid,” I reply.
AFTER: Who does he think he is, attempting to lecture a near guru of this terrain?
“I’m not a kid,” I declare.
*
BEFORE: Where my uncle found this thirty-year-old space cadet, and why Mom has fallen under Elspeth’s spell, is beyond me. Stop. That’s negative.
AFTER: Where my uncle found this thirty-year-old space cadet and why Mom has fallen under Elspeth’s spell is beyond me. Oops. My negatory detect-o-meter is beeping.
*
BEFORE: “How’s your mom doing?”
“She’s okay,” I say.
AFTER: “How’s your mom doing?”
 “She’s fine,” I reply automatically. If I could charge $25 for every time someone asks me that, I’d be making good coin.
*
BEFORE: “Yeah-yeah-yeah!” I shout as I retrieve my floating pack and tread water in the cold, clear pool.
AFTER: “B-b-balmy!” I shout as the water flash-freezes my privates and seeps between my wetsuit and bare skin in an effort to warm itself.
*
BEFORE: We survey the crack from which our tree emanates. The maze of branches almost resembles a beanstalk, ending at a point about two-thirds the way up the canyon.
AFTER: We eye the crack out of which our tree thrusts. The maze of branches almost resembles a beanstalk, ending at a point about two-thirds the way up the canyon wall.
“We’re going to make like Jack in the Freakin’ Beanstalk,” I suggest.
*
BEFORE: Wait, I’m being grumpy again.
AFTER: Negatory detect-o-meter activating.
*
BEFORE: “Male or female?”
I lean down closer to compare front and back footprints. Since a skunk's hind feet are slightly to the outside of the front feet, and females’ wider pelvises make them walk that way, I say, “Female.”
AFTER: “Male or female?”
I lean down closer to compare front and back footprints. Since the hind feet are slightly to the outside of the front feet, and females’ wider pelvises make them waddle like my 300-pound Great Aunt Hilda, I say, “Female.”
*
[hanging from a vine on cliff’s edge]
BEFORE: I stare up at the welcome sight of Dominik’s face. “Dominik! Can you help me up?”
“Sure,” he says. “I do not know what you are up to, you fool, but give me your hand.” His strong arm helps me the last few feet.
AFTER: I stare up at the welcome sight of Dominik’s face. “Dominik! What’s happening? I’m just hanging out here, but could use a hand.”
“I guess you could, you demented devil.” His bulging bicep hoists me up like a powerful mechanical crane.
*
BEFORE: I imagine her cozying up to him and pouring on the charm just long enough to get what she wanted.
AFTER: I imagine her cozying up to him and pouring on the charm just long enough to get what she wanted. Polish passion clearly fries the brain circuits.
*
BEFORE: “Just wanted to see where he lived,” Dean says.
“I never invited him,” I say.
*
BEFORE: The Saturday customers turn out to be Dominik plus a young married couple.
AFTER: The Saturday customers turn out to be Dominik plus some smoochie newlyweds.
*
BEFORE: I’m not going to do anything more to annoy our guide than I already have.
AFTER: I’m not going to do anything more to annoy our guide – whose mood is a match for a grizzly bear with a toothache – than I already have.
*
BEFORE: “Hungry?”
“Of course.
AFTER: “Hungry?”
“As a wolf pack in winter."