Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mekayla & The Mars Generation

I was born in the 80's, so even though going to Mars seemed like such a futuristic, but not unrealistic feat, it's still amazing to see the progress being made in our space endeavors. It was actually a depressing thought to think that what had been accomplished so far might have been it. Being an astronaut or astronomer was one of my very early career goals, and it's still something I have interest in today. It seemed like there was a lack of interest back when I was growing up about science and space and the solar system among my friends (and really anyone in general that I knew). I remember the series "This is America Charlie Brown" (which they need to do a serious re-boot of), and one of the installments was the Peanuts gang living aboard the space station, which had yet to even make it's way into orbit. That episode was cute and to the point about the workings of the space station, the work that they hoped the station would accomplish (one of which was making it possible to visit Mars), and the dangers a crew can face when being in space.

It's why when I set out on my writing endeavor, I made my main girl Mekayla an aspiring astronaut and space explorer. Mekayla has no patience. She wants to run NASA. She wants to go into space at all of 9 years old. She doesn't want to be just the Mars generation. She wants to be the Space Generation. And I wanted her to have a mind, spirit, and imagination that ran wild and wasn't afraid to take risks. Of course, sometimes Mekayla does have a mind of her own and I have to slow her down a bit. But this is what Mekayla envisions her future looking like:



Her goal is to go beyond Mars, to Jupiter and see if life can be habitable on it's many moons. And she definitely believe there can be life on Saturn's moon, Titan, which she learned may have an environment somewhat similar to ours. Saturn is by far her favorite planets, mainly due to it being so unique because of its rings. She wants to venture beyond our solar system and see what else is out there. She says it makes her sad when she thinks about leaving Earth, because she knows not everyone can come with her. She knows that day when she heads off into the space shuttle bound for Mars and beyond, she may not come back. But Mekayla is a scientist. She would love to figure out ways to communicate and travel from billions of miles away in less time. She doesn't believe in the word 'no' or 'impossible' when it comes to science. She has a working model of the Cassini-Huygens space craft that has been orbiting Saturn for a decade sitting her room (this obviously isn't her model, but it's a print out that she keeps hanging above it to keep inspiring her).


It won her 1st place in the state science fair. To her it's amazing to think of these spacecrafts out in space and actually being on these planets, or close to them. And she never passes up a chance to stare up at the starry sky (or as she tells me, her future home), even if it's just laying down in the grass. She loves anything science related on TV and has even gotten up early on weekends to watch space related documentaries. Mekayla was crushed when the space shuttle Discovery was retired, as she thought that might spell an end to her ambitions of being an astronaut. But she's begun to get inspired with the talk of the Mars generation and seeing kids just like her who want to sign up to take flight. She was excited for the Rosetta spacecraft that touched down on a comet for the first time ever just recently. And she'll definitely be watching for the Orion to take off on December 4th. Mekayla's been told there are lots of science related careers she could go into if being an astronaut didn't work out. And she loves nature, figuring stuff out, and experimenting (sometimes with mixed results). But she believes these new accomplishments are a sign that it's all meant to be for her. For Thanksgiving this year, she gave thanks for many things, one of them that she has an opportunity to pursue these paths and make history. She has her role models, both past and present that have inspired her to take that big leap. Some of them are astronauts, others are aspiring space junkies just like her. She hopes she will do the same and inspire the next generation. If she can't make it to Saturn or the many moons of that planet and Jupiter, she believes that'll be reserved for future astronauts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Meet Mekayla & Company (Part 1: Getting to know Mekayla)

So as I continue to work on what I hope will be a series, I figure it's as good a time as any to start introducing my characters to the world. There's a movement going on in children's literature, the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign, and my girl Mekayla gives it her 100% support. She agrees with me and all of those that think children's books are lacking in kids just like her (but it doesn't stop her from burying her head in books, so that's a good thing). She hopes that her stories will be part of the movement. She always loves attention, except when she's getting in trouble. So on that note, let's start with the little nine year old responsible for all this chaos going on in my head. She's not a very easy girl to keep up with. Mekayla's imagination runs away with her often, so it's easy for those around her to have that same problem. She refers to it as the Mekayla Affect.

So here's some things to know about Mekayla, told by Mekayla herself. She's a talker, but it's a good thing, because she gives me lots to work with:

Hiya! I'm Mekayla Alegre. Nine years old. So I was told by my author friend to introduce myself to everyone, since she's been doing a lot of talking about me already. I'm good at that. The talking part I mean. I get in trouble sometimes for talking while other people talk. But I can't help it. Sometimes I think they are done talking. And other times they don't stop. So if I don't talk when they do, no one will get a chance. They must have never learned about taking turns. But my mom says it's still rude to interrupt people. But you didn't come here to hear my talk about what my mom yells at me for.

Talking about myself is hard. I mean does anyone like doing that? So my author friend said to just do this like I'm writing a story about my life or something. I didn't think I'd be doing that at nine years old. More like when I'm a lot older and a space explorer, so I'll have something fun to talk about. But here goes, my life and welcome to it.

So this is where I live:



Dresden is really, really small town in NY state. There's not a lot of people here. My dad says there's less than 400. But I think it's even smaller. It's really hard to find on the map. All that we have here is lots of farms, and vineyards where they grow grapes to make wine, and the lake. My school is so small that we have all the grades, kindergarten-12th, in the same building.

My dad grew up here. He had 12 kids in his family (and only 1 bathroom in the house!). So I have lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins that live around here. My dad works at a factory just up the road from our house.

My mom isn't from here. She was born in Jamaica:



And when she was really little, like younger than I am now, she moved to Virginia Beach with her mom, dad, sisters, and brother.


So not as many aunts, uncles, and cousins. And I don't get to see them very much. One of my favorite people in the world is my cousin Nikki. She used to live in Virginia Beach, but now she's going to college near where I live! I'm excited to have her so close. My mom has family in Jamaica still, some that I've never even met. Maybe one day I can go to Jamaica and meet them and see where my mom grew up. My mom works as a general manager at a hotel.

I have a small family, too. In fact, I'm like an only child. Except I'm not. My dad was married before and he had my two brothers. They're older than me. So much older that they don't even live home anymore. My brother Jason is in the Army and lives all the way in Germany right now:



My other brother Logan is in the Air Force. He lives all the way in Alaska:


I miss my brothers so much that I could cry thinking about them. But I try to talk to them when I can. My brother Jason sent me an Army bear when I broke my wrist a couple of years ago and I sleep with it every night. I wish I was older so I could go visit them. Jason is supposed to come home soon, though, so I'm really excited about that.

You know what makes me really happy? Animals. Especially my dog Radu.


He's a big Doberman that adopted us. Yes, he adopted us. Showed up one night while me and my dad were looking through my telescope and never left. We couldn't find his owner, so we became his adopted humans.

I also have 2 pet chinchilla's named Saturn (after my favorite planet that I want to visit) and Kingston (where my mom grew up):



I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.


I'm going to be the first person on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. I want to visit Saturn because it's so pretty. I want to visit all the planets and go out of our solar system. My parents say that Saturn is so far away, that if I leave I might never get to come home. I think it'd be worth it, though. My family can come with me, so we won't have to miss each other.


Radu's going to be the first dog in space, and Saturn and Kingston the first chinchillas. I love science. I love finding new things and making new experiments and seeing what will happen. My mom gets kind of mad sometimes but says she doesn't want me to lose interest in trying to figure stuff out. I guess she gets mad because sometimes food explodes or stuff gets stained and it can get messy. But that's the point of science. You have to get creative and messy to see what will work. I want to make life on other planets and moons livable. The earth is going to have so many people on it that one day we'll have to go to Mars and Titan and our moon and even past Pluto. I think there's so many wonderful things waiting for someone to find them. And I want to be a space pioneer and make all sorts of new discoveries. I'm glad my town doesn't have light pollution in it, so I can get a nice view of the starry sky every night.

Want to know something really cool? I discovered a spaceship. And a whole new alien race. Honest. I'd say more, but my author friend says you'll need to wait for the book about my adventure. We're still going over the details. She wants to make sure she gets them all right.

So what else about me. Oh, and even though no one will admit it, I feel like I can be kind of a pain to have over for dinner because I'm a vegetarian. It's not a big deal, but you would think people have never heard of it before. I've seen people freak out over what to feed me or having to make something special. You really don't have to go to so much trouble, though.


I eat a lot of tofu, and my mom uses her special jerk spices just like she uses on the meat. And my dad is nice enough to grill my tofu and bean burgers when he cooks out in the summer. I love dumpling soup with grilled cheese. And my nickname is Noodle, because pasta is my most favorite food ever. I'd eat spaghetti and penne pasta for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between if I could. Halloween is my favorite holiday, summer is my favorite time of year, science is my favorite school subject (obviously), my favorite tradition is Starshine and the lighting contest at Christmas and the haunted houses at Halloween. I'm scared of clowns and spiders. But I love playing outside in the woods.

That's one thing I love about Dresden. It's by the lake. So we can swim all the time. There's really cool hills for sledding in the winter, including one behind my G-Gs house (G-G is short for Gorgeous Gramma). She's my dads mom, and lives 3 houses down from us. My friends and I have a really cool fort in the woods behind her house. There's lots of gross spiders down there, but we've found really cool stuff, too. That's where I found that spaceship. And some of the stuff has to be at least 100 years old! We call our fort Fort Serenity.



And everyone knows everyone, so I can walk around town by myself as long as my friends are with me. My best friend Caden lives next door with his big family, including his soon-to-be-step sister Emia. She's from Montreal. She and Caden don't like each other much. But she seems cool. I'm just getting to know her. And my other best friend Lindsey lives with her two moms down by the lake. Her grandma and grandpa own the only restaurant in town, and the only ice cream stand in town. So we get lots of free ice cream in the summer. My favorite is peanut butter. Like pasta, I could eat peanut butter all the time. My mom makes these amazing peanut butter pancakes that I get for special occasions.

Well, I think I've talked enough for now. Hopefully you enjoyed that sneak peek into my life, and you can get to know more of me and my friends in the future. So with that, I'll be talking to ya!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Space Cases (anyone remember this underrated Nickelodeon gem?)

If you've never heard of the mid-90's Nickelodeon show Space Cases, get in line. It's likely going to be a lot longer and less lonely than those of us who watched and remember it as fondly as the likes of Rugrats, Clarissa, and Are You Afraid of the Dark. It's what introduced me to fan fiction, fandom, and re-ignited my passion for writing. Plus, it had a really catchy theme song that will stay in your head for days.


'Space Cases' was a sci-fi show with a premise that resembled the 1960's 'Lost In Space' (coincidentally, Bill Mumy, one of the co-creators of 'Space Cases', starred on 'Lost In Space' as Will Robinson). The other creator of the show was Peter David. The show ran for just two seasons, totaling 26 episodes, so all can be forgiven if you've never heard of it, much less seen it. The show was set thousands of years into the future, focusing on a group of 5 underachieving space cadets and their two teachers, who accidentally find themselves on the other side of the universe when they board a mysterious spaceship. The show focuses on the many adventures they face on their journey back home. The cast was from a variety of planets and galaxies in our own system, since man probably figured out how to create life on uninhabitable surfaces by then. All but one of them had some sort of super power that seemed to be something that just distinguished them from the crowd, and occasionally helped them out against the enemy. The show starred Walter Jones as Harlan Band, a cocky Earther who thought he knew it all and was the self appointed leader of the group (he didn't have any special powers, being from Earth I guess, so they made him the leader). Walter was best known at the time as the original black ranger from the mega-popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.


Jewel Staite played Catalina, a sassy Saturnian that was a rival to Harlan. She had rainbow striped hair, a sonic scream that broke mirrors and could level buildings, and an imaginary invisible friend named Suzee that only she could see. And she was an engineering genius. You may remember Jewel from another short lived sci-fi cult hit, 'Firefly', where she also played an engineering genius.


Rounding out the cast of characters was Bova from Uranus (played by Rahi Azizi), the pessimist of the group who always thought the crew was doomed and had an antenna on his forehead that could shoot electricity. He also said being from Uranus made him "the butt of every joke" (that seemed like such a forbidden thing to say once upon a time).




Rosie Ianni from Mercury (played by Paige Christina), who was super cheerful and positive about everything, and could shoot heat from her head and hands:


And Radu from the Andromeda galaxy (played by Kristian Ayre). Radu had super strength, spiral ears shaped like cinnabons that gave him super hearing, and long hair that rivaled any 80's heavy metal band. Radu made many a fan girl at the time swoon.


Our band of heroes attended a boarding school, appropriately named Starcademy, that orbits Pluto. The goal of this school is to train them to become Stardogs, so it basically seems like some sort of military style academy since the Stardogs protect the sol system. While the other students at the school are out on some sort of exciting field training on spaceships, our crew is stuck back at the Starcademy.  They are flunking and placed in the remedial class, and it appears they are going to be kicked out for poor grades. After getting a lecture from their teachers, Ms. Davenport (Cary Lawrence), and Commander Goddard (Paul Boretski), the students spot a bird like ship outside their classroom window. Conveniently they've been left alone by their teachers, so they decide to board the ship and see if they can make contact with what appears to be an unknown alien race (hard to believe that thousands of years into the future there are still parts of the universe left unexplored). The Commander and Ms. Davenport notice the students are MIA, and chase after them aboard the ship. The crew discovers the ship is completely deserted except for a malfunctioning but quirky android named Thelma (Anik Marten), who has been left in charge of ship operations. Given the fact that she is malfunctioning she isn't a lot of help, takes things literally, and repeats herself a lot. But Thelma proved to be comedy gold. She informs them the ship they are on is called the Christa, named after Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who was killed in the Challenger explosion.
Back to the series set up, before the crew is able to get back to the school, the ship winds up being caught in what is referred to as the white circle, which pulls anything in its path into its center and spits it out somewhere in the universe. Our crew winds up going through the circle, and end up facing a 7 year journey back home (7 years, 4 months, and 22 days to be exact). So you know this show's cancellation was premature, and I'm saddened to think of all the great story lines that we missed out on as a result.


Season 1 of the show provided the core set up and featured a lot of ongoing back story and the relationships between our characters. There's more focus on the adults and education aspect, with Ms. Davenport being a frantic and uptight professional who likes to have rules and regulations, while Commander Goddard is a little less conventional in his approach to teaching.  We learn that he was a Captain for a Stardog fleet, but wound up getting into some trouble and was demoted.  As part of his punishment, he was also forced to teach the remedial class of students, who refers to as "the space cases" (hence where the title comes from).  Of course, when the ship was pulled through the white circle, Goddard had the classic "I was 3 weeks shy of being done and going back out in space with a crew", the equivalent of the "he was 1 day away from retirement".  We learn that not too many years back, our solar system (known on the show as the United Populated Planets, or UPP), had been involved in a war against Radu's people, the Andromedans.
One of the more interesting relationship dynamics explored is between Harlan and Radu; Harlan's father was killed by an Andromedan in the war, and as a result he harbors resentment and prejudice towards his crew mate. Radu was a child when the war happened, so he obviously had nothing to do with anything involving the war or the death of Harlan's father. Just a few episodes in, however, we learn Radu is just as guilty of harboring prejudice and mistrust of another species-in the episode 'Spung at Heart', the crew encounters a young Spung princess named Elmira, who boards the ship for help. The Spung are a reptilian alien race that, save for Elmira, are evil and bent on universal domination at any cost. They also were responsible for the Andromedan's role in the war against the UPP. The Andromedans were captured and enslaved due to their super strength and hearing, which the Spung planned to exploit to win the war and take over the UPP. Though Elmira was also a child when the war happened, it doesn't stop Radu from showing her the same prejudice that Harlan shows him. The Spung are still considered the enemy to pretty much anyone that isn't one of their own. Since Elmira is only a recurring guest star, her and Radu come to an understanding at the end of that episode and realize they are both more alike than different, including being outsiders among their own people. Elmira is also an oracle who pretty much tells Radu they are destined to be together despite their species history with each other, and he winds up in love. The great George Takei did a cameo in this episode as well, introduced as Warlord Shank, leader of the Spung Empire. He appeared in a handful of episodes during the series run, constantly trying to destroy the crew and their ship.


There's also the relationship between Harlan and Catalina. Harlan constantly teased Catalina, from everything to her rainbow striped hair to the fact that she talks to an imaginary invisible friend. Likewise Catalina always rags on Harlan about being overconfident and a control freak. There was really some good banter between those two. There's also a small hint of a romantic attraction lying underneath.


Small references are made in a couple of episodes, but that only really comes to light in the season finale of season 1, 'On the Road to Find Out'. Which, as it turned out, was Catalina's last episode as a regular (Jewel Staite left the series for another opporunity, on NICK's rival Disney). In a more dramatic episode for a kids show, Catalina is seemingly killed when a ship she and the crew were exploring explodes. The crew mourns her loss, and that's where Harlan confesses he really liked her and wished he had the chance to tell her. However, in what some fans of the show referred to as network meddling, Catalina was not killed off (I guess it was considered too dramatic for a younger audience), but instead of replaced by her imaginary invisible friend, Suzee. Who it turns out was very much real.


Though the ship Catalina was on did blow up, Suzee said she pulled Catalina into her dimension and saved her. By accident, Suzee switched places and ended up on board the Christa. To say she was a controversial casting choice to fans was an understatement. Rumor had it that the creators wanted to add Elmira as a series regular. But allegedly, the execs at NICK thought she was too scary for children to be a series regular. They might have come up with some great story lines with her and the developing romantic relationship with Radu, but I guess inter-species relationships were still taboo back in the 90's. So the character of Suzee was apparently thrown together at the last minute, which led people to consider her as a Mary-Sue type. Too perfect, had gills and could breath in any atmosphere, super smart (Catalina credited her in the season 1 episode 'Desperately Seeking Suzee' with her engineering smarts. Apparently Suzee gave Catalina the answers and help with everything), was a big flirt, and it seemed as though Harlan and Radu forgot about their season 1 love interests to pursue Suzee. Elmira only made one more appearance in season 2, showing up in a dream to Radu to warn him about an impending attack by her people, the Spung. And Jewel Staite reprised her role of Catalina in a quick cameo role, communicating with Suzee from her dimension, after the crew found a device that let them call home. But no mention of Catalina after that. Why people disliked Suzee, you'd have to ask them. I didn't mind her. Of course I preferred Catalina and Elmira over her character. Suzee also had the ability to read people's minds and control their movements, though it was for very brief intervals.

Season 1 and 2. Season 1 focused more on the character development, back story, and relationships, as well as focused more on the education aspect of the crew. While Commander Goddard and Ms. Davenport played more parental roles in season 1 and had a greater presence, Ms. Davenport become more of a comedic supporting character in season 2, while the Commander was MIA for several episodes. In season 2, there was less focus on the school atmosphere, and more focus on the younger characters and the adventures they found themselves in. It seemed that the story took on more of a role where the younger crew took charge and figured things out for themselves, were more of the heroes, while the adults were just in the background. The first part of season 2 was also spent on a planet that the crew crash landed on while trying to escape from the Sprung.  We learned more about Goddard's back story and what exactly caused him to be demoted from captain to commander, as he encounters a space pirate he almost started an unauthorized war with.  After that episode, 'Long Distance Calls', Goddard took his first absence from the series, and it was explained the he was exploring the planet, looking for things to help them get back into space.  When the crew fled the planet in the episode 'Homeward Bound', Goddard was injured and put in a healing chamber, which explained his second absence from the show.  There was a lot more on the romance side of things between Radu, Suzee, and Harlan involved in their own little love triangle.  This of course came about after Radu and Harlan made peace with each other and become friendly.

One of the complaints about season 1, and where people think it went wrong, is that the episodes were shown out of order. You can tell which ones were supposed to come first, if for any other reason than references to the character's abilities and back story showing up in a later episodes, when the audience already discovered this early on from a different episode that wasn't supposed to air until later and not be revealing about the cast. We were already supposed to know certain things about them. A good example is the 3rd episode "A Day in the Life" which explains the character's super power-like abilities, such as Catalina's sonic screams and the revelation about Harlan's anomosity towards Radu because of his father's death. This episode followed 'Who Goes Where', which showed the distrust Harlan had for Radu without explaining it, the UPP/Andromeda/Spung war that Goddard brought up, Catalina's sonic scream that sent the not-hard-of-hearing Radu fleeing the room, and Rosie's ability to knock a nasty virus right out of you by her heat blasts. 'Who Goes Where' was meant to air much later in the season, but after the season premiere, NICK execs decided they needed something more exciting and adventurous than the standard getting-to-know-you episode. Despite producer meddling with the episode order, 'Space Cases' was picked up for season 2, sans Jewel Staite's Catalina. The final nail in the coffin came when the show's time slot was changed throughout season 2, without any type of promotion or warning, making it hard for fans to find (I ended up seeing a few episodes as re-runs that I had missed earlier). The show was left without any sort of resolution, and despite fans and producers best efforts to get NICK to reconsider or at least do something to wrap the story up, we just have to assume that the crew of the Christa is still lost in space somewhere, maybe forever. Fans and those in charge felt that the NICK execs simply didn't give the show a fair chance, likely didn't like it and just wanted to be done with it. It didn't get the same type of promotion many of its other shows received, except for the standard commercials. There were no guest spots by the cast on any NICK related shows or even the Kid's Choice Awards, which always featured NICK stars in some capacity. You would think having Walter Jones would be enough of a draw to get them to do that, and Jewel Staite had guest starred on two episodes of the SNICK hit 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' at that point, among other credits to her name. Recently I ran across an article that said there was a re-make of 'Lost in Space' in the works, and with remakes being the big rage right now, my adult self would be excited beyond belief for this show to be given another chance. Then I hope it never happens, because I can't imagine anyone capturing the essence of the characters as well as the original cast did. And no one would ever replace Kristian Ayre as the adorable and loveable Radu. 'Space Cases' went a little deeper than the average kids show at the time, when you consider this show was about war, death, prejudice, romance, and growing up. If anything it could be described as a coming of age. Though some mocked it for the cheesy writing, acting, and effects, overtime I think it would have become as big a NICK classic that earned it's right to re-air as part of the 90's Are All That on Teen NICK. It just needed a chance and a little help. At the very least, I would have loved to have had one more season. Aside from Walter Jones, Rebecca Herbst (who went to General Hospital right after this series ended, so you wonder what would have happened there had the show continued), it seems most of the cast left acting and has pursued other endeavors. If a re-make ever did occur, I wonder if the originals would reunite for one last time. Though many fan sites and fan fiction have gone defunct over the years, there's still enough out there to give you a good feel for the passion the fans of this show had at the time.

So how exactly did 'Space Cases' get me back into writing?  Writing had always been a hobby for me, and one day I was reminiscing and remembering a catchy theme song from 90's NICK.  I thought it was from 'Space Cases', and when I looked it up, I not only re-discovered my passion for writing (as this show gave me an idea), but also re-ignited my love for this show.  Full episodes of both seasons are on Youtube.

Oh, and as for that theme song:




Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why I Loved Being A 90s Kid

I ran across this article that was posted last weekend (http://gizmodo.com/this-is-the-first-weekend-in-america-with-no-saturday-m-1642441646) which mentioned that Saturday morning cartoons, as knew them, are dead. Kaput. Done, finished. The first time since they began. But with Nickelodeon and Disney, and whatever other channels fall in between, what's the point of the 4 hour cartoon block? Especially when there's DVR and cartoons-on-demand, and again, everything else that falls in between. There's no having to decide which cartoon you're going to watch, because you can just record and watch later. Or pull it up on the fancy cable box on demand. Back then it was picking between ABC, CBS, NBC, and the new network in town, FOX.

The cartoon bumpers shown during commercial breaks were often as good as the actual cartoons. Back in the 90's, Nickelodeon was still finding its feet, and Disney was considered a premium channel that you had to pay for. We didn't get Disney as a kid (until it became a free access channel that all cable providers starting airing), so I can't even tell you what (if) any shows where on there. I don't even remember any network showing Disney related movies that weren't partners with the Disney company (which sucked, since many of my favorite movies throughout the 90's fell under the Disney flag). Of course, certain busy bodies got in the way and said that Saturday morning cartoons were some sort of un-educational evil that were designed by the food and toy industry to make kids stay in front of the TV 24/7, eat fatty foods, not learn anything but bad thoughts, and break their parents wallet at Christmas. So began the decline of Saturday morning, and with Nickelodeon and Disney gaining popularity and showing cartoons round the clock (not to mention the offspring networks like Cartoon Network, Boomerang, the Hub, and the channels geared towards the pre-school crown), I guess it was inevitable. Any kid I've seen on Saturday mornings always have it tuned to either Nick or Disney, and it's been that way for years.

When I originally set out to write my series Mekayla & Company, I was going to have it set in the not-too-distant past of the 90's. Many other decades get a lot of love for their time periods, not to mention those set in futuristic centuries we haven't even lived to see yet. Even the 80's are beginning to emerge as a popular setting. But I guess the 90's isn't that too far in the past that we miss it just yet. But being a 90's kid, there's a lot of things I miss: being the last decade without iphones, ipads, itunes (basically anything with "I" in its title), Netflix, DVR, Youtube, and Facebook. Heck, if you were lucky enough to have internet at all it was likely dial up. My first experience with wifi came to us via WebTv, which wasn't a computer but something that resembled a cable box hooking into your TV. And it was dial up, so a lot of arguments ensued when phone calls came in that lasted for what seemed like hours. You had to set a time for your parents to pick you up; there was no texting "I'll be ready in 10 minutes so don't be late!" You had to have change, find a payphone (not entirely hard to do in that decade, since they were as common as the cell phone stores are now), and often wait in line to use it. Or if you were in school, beg the school nurse to use the phone in their office.

Movies seemed to take forever to come out on VHS after they were done playing at the movie theater. Constant rewinding, fast forwarding, and playing of videos tapes often resulted in them having had enough and spitting themselves out of your VCR, now a tangled mess of tape (I ruined more than one copy of 'The Mighty Ducks' that way). Not to mention they seemed super expensive (to my little self) and I often only got my favorite titles for birthdays and holidays. Some good friends of mine were the go to house when movies first were released on VHS, because they always seemed to have the new ones. The video store was the place to be on Friday's (our local place was appropriately titled Pick-A-Flick), and you were often put on a wait list for some of the more popular titles. Blockbuster became king, had its own brief awards show for entertainment, and even seemed like the Wal-Mart of video stores in competing with the little local owned places and putting them out of business. You always had to have batteries for your walkman, and later discman. It became as big a crisis as dial up if your batteries died and you had to either listen to your parents music or talk to the person sitting next to you (so I guess this isn't the first generation that started that). CDs constantly got scratched, and the local electronics stores sold stuff that was supposed to take the scratch right off (it didn't work). Gaming systems didn't come out every year with some new quirk that barely made it different from the current gaming system you had. We were introduced to Mario Kart via Super Nintendo, and Sonic the Hedgehog via Sega. But what did I love most (and miss) about the 90s?

The weekends. Not just because it meant the end of the school week and you'd have 48+ hours to hang out and with your friends, but it meant what we considered the best TV time, nostalgia at its finest:

TGIF on ABC (featuring, among other shows, Family Matters, Dinosaurs, Perfect Strangers, Sister Sister, Step by Step, Full House, and Boy Meets World):

Saturday was the 4 hour cartoon block in the morning (some of my personal favorites were Garfield and Friends, Muppet Babies, Beetlejuice, Bump in the Night, Fudge, Beethoven (based on the movie), The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show):
Followed by SNICK from 8-10 on Nickelodeon Saturday nights (which introduced us to the world of Tommy Pickles in Rugrats, Hey Dude!, Salute Your Shorts, The Secret World of Alex Mack, Clarissa Explains It All, The Journey of Allen Strange, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, All That, Kenan & Kel, the lesser known but my favorite Space Cases, and of course, Are You Afraid of the Dark-and I'm not ashamed to admit that show can still creep me out):
And finally, capping the weekend off, the lesser talked about Ghostwriter on Sunday nights on PBS (not everyone remembers Ghostwriter, but it was truly one of a kind). A detective show for kids that, in reality, was officially one of the first TV show mini series out there. It aired in 4 half hour installments that made up the episode, with each episode ending on a cliffhanger until the last one that solved the case).
What else did I love about the 90's? Goosebumps, Fear Street, The Baby-Sitters Club/BSC Little Sister series (which started in the late 80s so we shared some of the popularity of that one), The Mighty Ducks trilogy (I hear a sequel/reboot may be in the works), The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, Home Improvement, BOP, Tiger Beat, Teen Beat (I think that was one, it was easy to get confused), YM, TEEN (and all those quizzes), Seventeen, when MTV was still showing music videos but beginning to shy into TV shows and gave us one of our first reality shows in 'The Real World', when Married with Children and The Simpsons were considered scandalous and offensive and had calls to boycott the shows, In Living Color, the soaps that still dominated daytime TV, the arrival of Jerry Springer and trash talk television (I can remember it seeming like such a shock when it came out his show was scripted...now I look back and wonder why that was ever a question), Maury Povich before he became all about cheating lovers and paternity tests, No Doubt, the boy bands (I remember thinking that The Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync were one in the same when they both came out), the Spice Girls, the Saturday Night Movie of the Week on ABC, Sunday Night at the Movies on NBC, Magical World of Disney on ABC, Nickjr before it was its own channel, the weekly mini series on CBS that often brought true crime and non fiction to the small screen, the holiday (and non-holiday) specials of Garfield, Charlie Brown, and Bugs Bunny, Danielle Steel and V.C. Andrews, NBC Must See Thursday (when no one could even compete against their comedy block), before everything went viral, we still had Polaroid cameras (and needed film more than we needed batteries for the regular cameras, and had to wait days or weeks for the film to be used up and developed before you even saw if the pictures came out), the Happy Meal toys at McDonald's, rollerskating parties at the elementary school, and long before childhood obesity was something that was bombarded throughout the media. We could take cupcakes to school, have our Fruit Roll-Ups for snack, and could fast food without feeling the guilt of what exactly was going into our bodies. Getting take out was a treat for my family, which was another reason to look forward to Friday. We were the first generation introduced to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Plus, the 90's introduced me to my obsession with 'I Love Lucy' and Lucille Ball.


From my own childhood growing up in sleepy old Dresden, I remember Arrowhead Beach where we took swimming lessons, had rec, and spent all day at the beach until it closed, then had our parents take us back down after dinner. Where we went sledding at the neighbors house, and behind my gramma's house (her sledding hill was sort of off limits since it was kind of dangerous, but when you're 8 that makes it all the more exciting), swimming at the creek (which was something else we weren't supposed to do, but again, but something off limits to kids is going to make them want to do it more and try to get away with it), water balloon fights, the corner where we hung around a concrete block that had the bars on it, the playground and tennis courts that were finally built when I was around 9, playing on friends trampolines and hammocks, the fire whistle blowing at both noon and 6 pm, so you knew when it was time to go home for lunch and dinner, pizza night at the firehouse, the upper street vs lower street, the duck lake and the mouth where everyone went fishing, playing hide and go seek after dark, Dead Man's Cave, riding our bikes around town (I still can't fix a chain to save my life when it comes off), rollerblading (The Mighty Ducks made it look so cool), playing kickball and softball in backyards and at the softball diamond, making up games, and mainly just having freedom in a small town where everyone knows everyone. Your parents always knew you'd be safe, and they knew who you'd be with. We always stayed out after dark, sometimes just walking around town, other times sitting in someone's front yard until you were finally given that last warning to come in for the night. So TV was a part of 90's nostalgia, but being outside and moving was a lot more of it.

Many of my memories are being incorporated into my series about Mekayla. When people ask what kind of book it is, besides telling them the genre, I can't really sum it up any better than saying it's the misadventures of a small town girl and her friends. A small town girl wanting to be an astronaut and who isn't afraid to take chances because she knows she'll be living among the stars someday. She figures if she can survive being 9 and going for everything, then she'll do fine as a space captain. One thing I've learned about writing is that ask yourself if the time frame you're writing in really makes a difference to the story or not. If it doesn't add anything other than you just wanting it set there for nostalgia/knowing it best, then it's probably better to set it in the present. We'll see how long it takes me to get Mekayla's stories out there. And of course, not setting her story in the 90s gives me the opportunity to do so for another one down the road.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dusting Off

Are You There Blog? It's Me...yeah, that line is overdone.

But my poor blog was on hiatus much longer than I planned. Just like with my writing, everything always came together well enough until I tried to put words to computer. And then it all went blank and I felt like I was in a rut.

I attended another writer's conference back in June that I found a combo of being encouraging, discouraging, fun, exciting, nerve wracking, and probably more of an eye opener than any other conference I've attended. I think the reality that I'm really going to pursue this (I've come this far, I can't turn back now), and that the rejection is out there, how long will it take, will I be good enough, if I get published will my book sell so few copies it gets turned to paper pulp, what if my stories on Mekayla and her friends are good enough for an agent but not a publisher, ...yeah, I had a lot of those questions posed at this conference and again, some of the answers were discouraging. Something else that a few of the authors on the panel said was that blogging had gone the way of the dinosaurs, but right now it's what I know best so I'll stick with it. Who knows, maybe I'll get good at it to get a cult following. But back to the conference/publishing world, it's the reality, and I'd rather hear the bad instead of everything being sugar coated. My little manuscript that's still very much a work in progress had a critique done by an agent (one I considered querying) and I wasn't happy to find I wasn't as far along with my story as I thought. Of course, she only critiqued the first 10 pages, but I did receive the feedback I was hoping for to at least put me in the right direction. It wasn't all good, but that's what I needed, and now I know what's working and what needs work. Hard to hear, especially since I was struggling with an opening and finally found one I liked, but she shot it down.

On the plus side, much like the editor who critiqued this same story for me at a previous conference, she loved my main character and liked the spotlight I put on my characters being diverse. With the recent call for books needing diverse characters from all backgrounds, I'm feeling encouraged that maybe this is all a sign, and that I just need to get my head in there and focus. Right now my life is going through positive changes, so maybe that's another sign that this will all work out. My writing had to take a backseat to the summer, mainly due to the busy time of the industry I'm in. But I figured I'd take the advice I've seen out there on numerous other blogs, interviews with those in the industry, and sites devoted to first time writers like me and put what I was working on on the shelf for awhile and forget about it. I think it did do me some good to not be over thinking the story of Mekayla and her UFO find, so I really wasn't sure where else to go with that story. I didn't take a complete break from writing, however. Another manuscript I'm working on, told from the perspective of Mekayla's friend Lindsey on the upcoming wedding of her two moms, is almost finished, and I'm brainstorming other adventures for Mekayla and her friends to take. In addition, I've thought up some very early ideas for other stories, aimed more at the YA market, that don't involve Mekayla & Co. But for now, I'm sticking with what I've been devoting the last two years to, so back to editing and re-writing the UFO story (working title is The Great UFO Hunt, but I've been told to come up with something more exciting). I didn't intend on keeping that the name anyway, but it gives me one more thing to think about.

Until next time...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Holiday Happenings (Part 2)


Mekayla, Lindsey, Emia, and Caden hope everyone had a Merry Christmas (or Joyeux Noel as Emia's mom would say), Happy Hanukkah, and had as a great a party on New Year's Eve as Mekayla's family did. Their holiday parties are the stuff of legends in their sleepy little town. Mekayla can't wait to see what the next 12 months and 365 days have in store for her and her friends, and hopes to have lots of exciting adventures to tell you about.



This will be a holiday season Mekayla will likely never forget. It all started going well enough. She loves being able to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, and like pretty much every other kid out there, she wanted the must-have toy of the season. You know, the one the adults get into fist fights and maced each other over. She didn't seem to understand why her parents were so worried about her getting it. She knew if she didn't get it for Hanukkah, Santa wouldn't let her down at Christmas. Then she got a really big-and happy-surprise when her mom's side of the family came up from Virginia to surprise the whole family.

But then Mekayla got an unexpected-and not very merry-surprise of her own:


Her loony Aunt Claire and her bratty cousin Morgan showed up from California for the holidays. Morgan is one year older than Mekayla, but she might as well be a 25 year old, because that's what she acts like. Morgan is an actress/singer/beauty queen and Aunt Claire is the ultimate stage mom living in her own universe. Morgan puts down everything about Mekayla's life-her friends, her pets, her house, her career path, and then she complains about her small town and the weather. Worst, Morgan has the "must have toy" that Mekayla wants so badly. And she brags about all the money her family has, meeting Mekayla's favorite stars, and living in Hollywood.

Mekayla calls her "Full Moon Morgan" because everything always goes wrong when Morgan comes to town. In the three weeks that she's there, Mekayla winds up with a broken arm, her beloved Doberman runs away, her daddy's Christmas display for the the big contest doesn't go as planned, Mekayla accidentally breaks Caden's nose, and a minor family feud turns into the ultimate food fight. But like Charlie Brown looking for the real meaning of Christmas, Mekayla winds up getting some more surprises by the time the 25th of December rolls around-and she learns a few things about her cousin that make her realize she may not be so bad after all.

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And a few words from the aspiring author hoping to bring you Mekayla & Company in the near future. I've had so much fun in the two years that I've resurrected the idea for this story and re-worked it to add some of my favorite people, and my own adventures as a kid growing up in a small town. I'm going into the next phase, where I'll hopefully begin submitting to agents and see where I can go from there. With every rejection letter that I potentially get, I will realize that I'm one step closer to moving on to the next step, and that is the agent convincing an editor at a publishing house that my book can sell. But as I've learned, even if an editor loves it, there's still a whole network they have to go through to convince their publishing house they could have the next hit on their hands. Whether my book sells one copy or a million, I will consider it worth it. I'm having fun and my characters have become like my own children to me.

I have to say it's a somewhat terrifying idea to actually begin sending my work out there. Writing, submitting, publishing-it's a much bigger world and more of a process than I ever could have imagined. And like a good percentage of people out there, I'm terrified to let anyone take a peek at what I've written so far. I've shared the general idea for my series and my first book, but having people actually read it? Well, I did let a couple, more for an objective opinion. And I have my critique group, plus RACWI (Rochester Area Children's Writers & Illustrators), and I've attended three conferences, plus tried to take advantage of my membership with the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators). But even in some of those cases, I've just gained helpful insight and information that has helped me move forward, not put any of my writing out there to be scrutinized. The last conference I attended in November was a Meet the Editors event, with two editors allowing the opportunity to submit all or part of a manuscript for consideration, or at the very least a professional critique. I had the chance to sit down one on one with an editor at that event, an editor named Alex Arnold who I had met at a previous conference. She gave me some helpful advice on some things I had been struggling on, but I just needed to hear someone else say.

Much like Mekayla & her friends looking at the year full of blank spaces that are going to be filled up by all kinds of things, I look at my own 2014 with that same attitude. The writing resolutions that I want to stick with are research, receiving as much feedback as possible, reading, staying focused (I have bad ADD that gets me easily distracted), beginning the query and submission process, and of course writing, writing, writing. I have my bulletin board of all things that inspire me for Mekayla & Company, and now I've begun an envision board of what I want out of my life. I take signs for what they are, and I have a good feeling that one day, whether it's this year or in 10 years, my name will be out there in the book stores and online.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lindsey's Story & the Subject of Diversity

Lindsey's Story (tentatively titled) is the third manuscript I'm working on in Mekayla & Company. But instead of being from Mekayla's POV, it's told from one of her BFFs, Lindsey. It is probably the only book in the series that will be told from a POV other than Mekayla's. Reason: this book goes into the sensitive and tricky territory of same sex marriage. Lindsey is the product of a same sex household, and the book focuses on the upcoming wedding of her two moms. Being in such a small town, Lindsey is often the target in school for bullying as a result of her home life. To Lindsey and her friends, they just are. It's probably what makes them outcasts.

When I began researching just how to go about writing a series, the one thing I kept running into was this: kids like to read about people like them. Reading and writing is really all about pretend and make believe, so immersing yourself into the situation and adventure and pretending you're one of the gang is what it's all about. Reading can be a gateway into a different life, an alternate personality for kids and even adults. I used to want to be part of the Baby Sitters Club, and be the heroine who defeated whatever evil was put forth in a Goosebumps or Fear Street book. But without having a cast of characters you can relate to, the plot falls apart, no matter how strong, relatable, or exciting.

My characters are nine. The first scene in the book involves a confrontation at school between Lindsey, her friends, and their nemesis's. One of the issues I ran into was dialog. My critique group told me that I needed to do more showing, less telling, as the scene was told more in flashback form. Kids don't always have a filter, which makes it both exciting and scary when writing certain words coming out of their mouths. They know words hurt, but do they really know why? And the target of their wrath knows they're being picked on, but do they really register just how horrible the words are that are being spewed at them? Kids that age often pick up beliefs and words at home. They may not have a good home life so being mean makes them feel better. Then there's the kids who feel that they're above it all, the ones that everyone wants to be friends with just because she has the designer clothes and can vacation in Maui for Christmas every year. That's who Mekayla, Lindsey, Caden, and Emia are up against. Kids who just feel that they're better than, because their parents bank account is bigger, and the kids who are just rough by nature. I know what words can get thrown at someone who has gay or lesbian parents, or a child who is of a multi-racial background. And without actually coming out and writing them, it's probably obvious what drove Lindsey to tears and two of her best friends into the principal's office for trying to stand up for her. The big question I have is how to portray all this, without being offensive, stereotypical, preachy, and still sounding realistic.

When it came to writing my series and crafting my characters, I wanted to have a cast of that was diverse. Looking on the list of the most contested books in the US (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_commonly_challenged_books_in_the_United_States), many of them were challenged simply because the main character(s) or their family dynamic wasn't considered "traditional". Whatever that means anymore. A conference I attended this past weekend involved a meeting with an editor who gave me some feedback on a previous story I had written. I asked her what is the best way to show my diverse world to the reader without actually spelling it out for them. She gave me some helpful advice. Basically, the lives of Mekayla and her friends just is. What I'm hoping to accomplish in writing Lindsey's Story is simply that her family is her family-and it's very special to her, even if it's strange to her peers, or involves awkward questions or hurtful comments. She doesn't see herself as different, nor does she see her friends as different. They just are. I've done my own research reading stories about same sex families and those that veer off course from what's considered traditional. Most of those were picture books, and I believe all are on the banned/most contested list because they promote a different lifestyle. I want the many kids who fit the mold of Mekayla, Lindsey, Caden, and Emia-transplants from another country, having a black mark against you because of your last name, or having a multi racial or same sex household-to see themselves represented, just as they are.

Lindsey learns a lot of things in the lead up to her Mama Shawna and Mama Rainy's wedding. She and her friends try and do good by attempting to reconcile her Mama Rainy with her estranged family, not realizing the reasons for the estrangement. Even though she doesn't know any other family type, she sometimes wishes she could have the normal family that she is often teased about for not having. But Lindsey learns some own secrets that involve her past, and it ends up making her realize some important things. Mainly, everyone is different from each other, there is no traditional mold. And she wouldn't want her life any other way.