New #boymom advice

#TBT to 2013 before I had a blog or a website or any books published. My boys were 8, 6, and 3…and I wrote this for my cousin who just had a baby boy. Rereading it now, it reminds me how precious those baby days were–mess and all. Any #boymom will appreciate…

Sisterly advice for raising…boys – !

Not that I’m an expert, but I’ve been at it nearly eight fun-filled years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two…

Be ready for mini-geyser as soon as ye old diaper is removed. Don’t waste your money on peepee teepee’s. Just keep ye old diaper nearby to cover.

If you have to ask if it’s poop or chocolate, assume it’s the former. It’s not worth the risk.

Pee, however, is sterile. Remember this if – no – when the little guy whizzes in the tub. Or if/when you get splashed by the mini-geyser. Not a biggie.

And later – potty training. There are no rules for this. Don’t waste time reading about strategies, etc. When your little guy decides he wants to use the potty, he will. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to train him. And believe him – however unfathomable it may be – when he tells you he didn’t feel it coming out. Be ready to clean the *entire toilet* not just the bowl. Also be ready to do loads and loads of laundry.

Be ready to do loads and loads of laundry. (In case you missed it the first time).

Speaking of laundry, once he starts ‘helping’ by putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, always check his pants! I have put more than one diaper through the wash. One with poop made it through the dryer cycle. I had poop cooked onto my new white capris. Delightful.

Boys love wheels. Forget the baby toys. All you need are balls and cars. Keep two matchbox cars in your purse at all times (one for each hand). You will be amazed how soon he will ‘need’ them!

Also dum-dum lollipops. Keep stash in purse. Even at 15-months it will save your shopping trip.

If you don’t already, get ready to love Halloween. Your every October will be full of scary-but-not-too-scary activities. Ours continue through Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas. It truly becomes a magical time all over again – for parents too. And Christmas music. Get out the ole Chipmunks. Adam went through a ‘Rudolf’ phase that lasted at least six months. He refused to be called anything else, and we had to sing the whole song to him as he pooped on the potty. (Do you see a theme developing?)

If your boy likes crafts – congratulations! Any craft I organize is over in two minutes. I envy the mom whose daughter who will sit for hours with a coloring book. Boys’ crafts have to be MESSY and involve goo or shaving cream or finger-paints. My boys like to build towers with playdoh tubs to knock over with a super bouncy ball.

About the super bouncy ball – seems like cheap entertainment. And boys love them. But be forewarned: those little spheres have been known to shatter vases and other fancy things.

About fancy things: What fancy things?

Hitting, biting, and other shocking acts of violence are completely normal for a toddler – and frustrating as hell. Time-outs can start as soon as 18 months (our time-out spot has always been the bottom step of the stairs – one minute per age). But keep in mind it is a phase and he will grow out of it – !

Around age five or six, his real appetite will awaken. You will be shocked at how much he will consume while at the same time wonder where it has gone. (Hence the man-sized poop you will find when he forgets to flush. I do hope for your sake all poopy accidents are finished by then.)

Boys love their anatomy. You may already have spied baby reaching for his private, tugging until it changes shape. This doesn’t seem to be something they grow out of, yet take to new levels. Diapers and then underwear with pants & seams tend to limit public crotch-grabbing. But really, there is no cure.

That said, they will wonder where Mom’s dinky has gone. Try to handle this delicately, as it seems to be quite a shock for a little guy. My standard answer, “That’s the difference between boys and girls” didn’t seem to garner comfort but deepen confusion on the matter.

Men love boobs. I’m sure this is no surprise to you. But to discover the origin of the fascination was an eye-opener for me. Even long after nursing, boys will firmly believe your boobs are their own personal pillows or stress balls or –- my boys’ personal favorite –- bongos. You’ll begin to believe it too, and wonder why the heck hubby continues to fondle them.

Book one date night a month – immediately! It’s okay if you talk about nothing but the baby for the first hour, but it is critical to get out of the house without the little guy. Reconnect. It will feel good to miss baby, and to sneak into his room and see him sleeping sweetly in his crib.

Speaking of reconnecting, take advantage of nap time. (wink wink)

Boys love Dad. Soak up all the mommy-time you can in the first two years, before they start asking for Dad, needing Dad, preferring Dad. And although it is bittersweet, it will be precious to see that guys-only relationship bud and blossom as an observer. Take lots of pictures. Or – better yet – take advantage of the ‘down time’ and get your nails done.

They always want Mommy again.

 

What’s your Cabbage Night story?

Not only is Halloween just days away, so is CABBAGE NIGHT!

What is Cabbage Night?

The night before Halloween, the traditional night of pranks. The night of the inciting, tragic event in BOY ON HOLD. Outside of upstate New York, it may go by a different name…or it may not exist at all.

In my hometown, Cabbage Night was more popular than Halloween. One neighborhood in particular got extra special “attention.” All innocent fun, no damage done…but we sure made a lot of noise.

Boy on Hold by JD Spero

A little context from the book

Chapter 2, Marcella Trout to her son, Tyler: “The night before Halloween…I know that’s when you teenagers do all those pranks. I hope you weren’t egging people’s cars or toilet papering trees. What do you call it–the night before Halloween?”

“Cabbage Night.”

At this line, during my reading at the official launch party at Northshire Bookshop in Saratoga for BOY ON HOLD, the crowd erupted in applause.

launch party for BOY ON HOLD

BOY ON HOLD launch party at Northshire Bookshop

But what happens on Cabbage Night changes Tyler’s family forever.

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy… 

What’s your Cabbage Night story?

I want to hear from you! It doesn’t have to be long, just a few lines or even a phrase. Like, “Knock, knock, ginger” (Unfamiliar? Google it.)

Dig into that memory bank. I’m sure we all have some repressed (or not so repressed) memories of Cabbage Night from our teen years. Not that Marcella’s description had anything to do with my experience. *mischievous smile*

My littlest loved Forte

His older brothers were at least 10 before they read it, but Chaz finished Forte on the eve of his 9th birthday…and then gave ME the best gift: a glowing review!

Middle grade fantasy FORTE series

My littlest reading Forte on vacation

As part of his review, he drew a picture of Sami using her piano magic to defeat Aquamarine.

Middle grade fantasy Forte series

Sami using her piano magic in Forte

His review:

What I liked about FORTE! 

Everything but the kissing parts!

Then I urged him to write just a bit more…

FORTE is about a girl who loves piano. She tries out for volleyball which she has never done before but when Coach Payne touches her she becomes amazing! She soon finds out that Coach transferred Aquamarine which is a drink that helps you in sports! But she learns she will die if she doesn’t stop drinking! 

By Chaz Spero

2019/July/23

Middle grade fantasy series Forte

Original draft 🙂

Next on his reading list: CONCERTO!

“I can’t wait to read it!”

COVER REVEAL!

I’m beyond thrilled to share the amazing cover design for my upcoming book, Boy on Hold, which releases August 13, 2019 by Immortal Works Press!

Boy on Hold by JD Spero

Here’s the teaser…

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy. Hen Trout, who had hoped to catch a pet hedgehog that night, instead sees his beloved Miss Sally become a victim.

Single mom Marcella Trout is blindsided when Tyler, her seventeen-year-old, is arrested for the very crime Hen witnessed. Now Tyler’s eerie mood swings seem dark and frightening and rooted in a family history Marcella has desperately tried to bury. As the criminal investigation churns on, the tenuous fabric of the Trout family begins to unravel…and even Hen begins to question the truth.

 

Fart Class

In his seventh grade art class, our oldest son was assigned to draw a self portrait based on a computer-printed, enlarged, grid-lined photograph of himself. After weeks of sketching, shadowing, erasing, and sketching again, the due date is finally here. (Actually, it’s passed but who’s counting.) He’s got half of it done. But symmetry is tricky. And the other half has been erased so many times, the paper is nearly translucent. It’s been a struggle, to say the least. Tonight, there were tears.

That just about did me in.

This story helped him.

In college, my good friend decided to take an art class…for fun! Her major demanded a class load full of difficult, rigorous classes and she wanted to mix it up with something light outside of her major. Silly friend…this was college…no such fun classes allowed! She spent more hours on this fun class than any other, going in for extra help, toiling over every art project, shedding buckets of tears… She tried everything. Still, her art skills didn’t seem to gel (or whatever) and she ended up with a B. Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except that she had a perfect 4.0 in all those other demanding, difficult, rigorous classes in her major. So her hard-earned GPA was brought down because of this fun class.

She called it “F-Art Class.”

Our oldest has the typical traits of a first-born. He’s extremely driven and a bit of a perfectionist. This class, though, will teach him a good lesson.

Not everything can be perfect. Not every assignment will get an A. Sometimes it’s okay to hand in something that isn’t stellar. It’s not worth the tears. Not when there are *so many* other great things happening.

Especially if it’s for Fart Class.

 

*UPDATE: Here’s the final version, which was included in the school’s annual art show. (Drawing on left based on B&W photo on right.) Not bad, IMO.

Author’s Choice

Recently, I was invited into a classroom to speak about Author’s Choice. They’d been studying the different elements in a novel that require clear decisions by the author, such as setting, character names, structure, voice, etc. Though I’ve taught these things in my own classroom, analyzing classic novels and other texts in the curriculum, this was the first time I thought about my choices as an author. And it gave me pause. It made me think about all the choices I make as I write, consciously or subconsciously, to build a story that people will want to read. See, that last part is key. Your ultimate goal as a novelist, really, is for people to want to read your stuff. That said, the choices an author makes are informed by that goal.

Allegory about climate change

Reading from Concerto on the topic of climate change

Here were some talking points for my classroom visit:

Don’t kill Sophie. (naming characters)

Authors get asked a lot how they choose the names of their characters. I’ve been known to respond, “Whatever’s easy to type!” Truth told, I go with my gut. Some names come easily and some have fits and starts before being finalized. But here’s the Sophie story: A friend of mine wrote a book in which a secondary character (named Sophie) was killed off toward the end. It had to be done for the story, which is usually fine. However, since she wrote the book, she was haunted by her choice. She met several people with the same name—lovely people. New friends, new colleagues, children, pets, and the list goes on… It’s worth noting, though, that she was haunted not because she killed off a character, but because she named her Sophie.

Bitch voice. (voice/POV)

The third book in the Forte series is told by a minor character’s POV, and tells her story. As the first two books, this is also written in first person (which feels more YA to me than third person). But I was so concerned that the voice be different, I opted for an edgy tone I thought might be cool. Turns out, a hundred pages in, the edgy voice I was hoping for sounded downright bitchy. I thought, “No one is going to want to read anything this bitch has to say!” So, I threw out the 100 pages (and the next 100) until something clicked. What clicked? The backstory. I wrote a backstory for the character that no one will ever see but made me feel sympathy for her, which in turn will make readers feel sympathy for her. Here’s hoping!

I have a Nevus spilus. (genre)

As I embarked on writing a book that included magic, it needed to be relevant to me. Many authors don’t have this problem and can build make-believe worlds with nothing but their imaginations. I don’t have that kind of confidence. I feel like people wouldn’t buy it. For that reason, a lot of my magic stems from Greek mythology, which I taught for years and feel well-versed in. Also, my main character’s magic is triggered by her birthmark on her hand, a constellation of freckles in a condensed circular pattern. When I was little, people sometimes thought the Nevus spilus on my hand was dirt. Now that I’m older, some people think it’s a severe case of “age spots.” Ho-hum. I’d rather think it’s magical.

Dead whales. (author’s message/theme)

Have you seen the viral video of that washed up dead whale *full* of plastic? It had ingested so many plastic bags that were floating in the ocean, its stomach was literally full of them. And how ’bout them polar bears? With their habitat melting away, the problem seems insurmountable.

Climate change. Global warming. Beyond these buzz words in the political arena, when I think about the kind of environmental problems we are passing on to the next generation, my mama-tiger claws come out. But then, despair hits. What can I, a writer, possibly do?

Write a book that’s an allegory for battling climate change. The result? Concerto, book 2 of the Forte series.

English teachers want to torture us. (structure/word choice/literary devices)

This pretty much sums it all up, doesn’t it? When I taught high school English, one of my students interrupted our lesson on literary devices to say, “I don’t think authors mean to write that way, with all the metaphors and similes and stuff. I think it’s just the English teachers who find stuff in books so they can make us learn it.” Hmmm. I have to say, I didn’t like what she said. It rumpled my feathers, for sure. But now that I’m a published author, I know for a fact that word choice and  use of literary devices are absolutely intentional. Why? We need to find a creative way to say something without being cliché or simply listing what’s happening. Making the readers feel what the characters feel. Putting the reader inside the story. That’s what will make people want to read your book. And be touched by it. And recommend it to all their friends.

And that, at the end of the day, is what we writers really want. Isn’t it?

         

Spread love through books!

This year, my November was chock-full of book events. It was a reminder of how important it is for writers to step away from their computers and their writing to connect with the community on a personal level. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

First, there was the BOCES Artist & Presenter Vendor Fair on November 1. Educators and administrators came through to meet artists of all shapes and sizes. I met some colorful characters, including the guys from AudioBody who had recently performed at my son’s school. Looking to book a gig for your school? Check out the arts & enrichment BOCES vendor listing.

Next, the annual Chronicle Book Fair in my hometown. It’s one of my favorite events in the community. I enjoy meeting other authors and connecting with readers. “This is your fan base!” one of my biggest supporters told me that day. The best part? My extra special visitors!

On the 7th, I attended the Lake George Jr/Sr High Volleyball banquet, an event that was bittersweet. Despite an undefeated record, the varsity team was disqualified from playoffs because they played one more game than was allowed in their regular season. The community was up in arms about this unjust and irrevocable decision that came from the NY state school athletic association. This hit home for me as an alum. As a gesture of support, I presented each player and coach an inscribed copy of Forte — which features a young girl who magically becomes a volleyball superstar in her small upstate town. Rather than a typical teenager response, these girls were genuinely grateful and appreciative. Their strength and spirit in the face of huge disappointment is truly an inspiration.

  

The last week of November, I had the honor of meeting with a local Girl Scout troop as part of a special visitor series on professional writers. We talked about story creation and fictional story telling. “A story isn’t a list of things that happen. A story has a shape.” They totally got it, and told me about their “story mountains” they are working on in ELA. One girl in the group was especially excited to meet me after winning my book basket at a school fundraiser (Brayden’s Family Fun Night).

  

November is typically the national month for writing, a la NaNoWriMo, the annual national writing challenge to complete a 50K-word novel in the month of November. How about NaNoPROMO?

You may have read my post about why I don’t do NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t mean I don’t write or edit or revise or work on my latest book(s) most every day. I do. But, for me, this month was about the other side of being an author — getting out there and spreading love through books.

But these events aren’t just about book promotion. They are my creative fuel. Giving my readers faces and voices and smiles . . . inspires me to keep writing.

Thank you to everyone who helped make it all happen.

Rock the Vote

In 1993, I studied abroad in Russia.

In 1993, it had just become Russia. I had known the country all my life as the USSR. A real fear of The Cold War being the end of the world shaped my childhood — and still lingered even though the wall had come down. The Gorbachev era had just ended. The country was being redefined. They were embracing capitalism and democracy. It was the first time in over 50 years that citizens were able to vote.

What a better time to live there as an American, right?

Ha.

I understand some people in the US don’t vote. With the election imminent, this is strikingly clear seeing how many public figures are reaching out, urging people to get out there on Tuesday. Those ads have always left me a little miffed. But this basic, American privilege doesn’t resonate with everyone. I know this firsthand. Let me tell you about my stint in Russia.*

Living in a Russian home with a non-English-speaking host who had never lived out of her country, I fully embraced Russian culture. So much of it was wonderful. So much of it was about music and stories and sitting around a table overflowing with savory, homemade salads and casseroles and soups. There was laughter. Lots of full-out belly laughs. Do you know what they laughed about?

The government.

They laughed about how awful their lives were. How awful *the government* had made their lives. All their lives, they had lived in a communist system that had rationed food and jobs and apartments and, basically, every personal item they could point to except their children. And you know what? They *enjoyed* laughing about it. This was part of the culture. Families of five were crammed in two-bedroom apartments and by a stroke of luck the bread truck visited your neighborhood when your pantry became empty. But there was music and stories and friends and family and laughter. That’s what they knew.

Then. Suddenly, they were asked to vote.

Say whaaaaaat???

Yes. Out of the blue, they were asked to be accountable for their shit lives. They were asked to take some responsibility for the crappy hand they were dealt.

Surprise, surprise. They didn’t see this as an opportunity. They weren’t thinking “Oooo–this is time for change! We can make our lives better!” The idea of having a say was not in their repertoire. And, frankly, they didn’t want it.

They’d rather laugh and deal with the crappy hand.

But we don’t have to do that. We don’t have a crappy hand. We have it all. We live in the best country. We don’t want for anything. We have fresh food in our supermarkets. We have coffee whenever we want to drink it. We can travel without fear and speak freely. We have opportunities in education and careers and a measure of safety and freedom that is *unthinkable* in more than half the world. Our children have that safety and freedom. It’s such a normalcy we take it for granted.

But, think about it…

WHY WOULD WE WANT TO PUT THAT AT RISK?

That’s what would happen if we give up our right to vote. If we assume it doesn’t count or it doesn’t matter or lose faith in the system. This is a time when we need faith. Find it. Find a reason to care enough. Make it a priority to exercise that privilege and please don’t take it for granted.

Please, vote.

* This is my personal memory and does not necessarily reflect the attitude of my Russian host or host-sister, whom I hold in the warmest regard and will for the rest of my days.

In 1990, MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign registered 5 million young voters.

The Sex Talk

My 5th grader came home the other day asking what “sexual assault” was. He’d heard about the Kavanaugh thing on a kid-friendly news station at school. It was sadly reminiscent of when his older brother came home asking a similar question back when he was in fifth grade. But then it was Trump’s “grab her pussy” comment that prompted the question.

What did we do? We sat them down and had the sex talk. It wasn’t the talk we’d imagined having. We had to address their questions, front and center. We had to address the ugliness in the world. We had to talk about why they’re hearing phrases like “sexual assault” and “grab her pussy” in the news. We had to back in to the topic from the most uncomfortable angle.

There’s something heartbreaking about telling your innocent, prepubescent boys that sex could be anything but a beautiful thing between two people who love each other. I know how that sounds. I’m not naive. I know these are things we need to talk about. But we’d barely broached the topic of puberty, no less sex, before we had to apologize for the reality of sexual assault.

And then Trump made that ironic comment: “It’s a scary time for young men.” And Lynzy Lab‘s catchy and clever response keeps replaying in my mind.

And it hit me. Maybe it’s a sign of our times. Maybe the sex talk is supposed to come from that uncomfortable angle.

In my latest book I’m working on in the Forte series, there is sexual assault.

The book is clean — geared for pre-teens. It’s not graphic. There’s no gratuitous violence. The scene doesn’t get to the point where the young girl is raped or beaten or even undressed. But she is clearly violated. There are harsh words. She is pushed and pinned down. The aggressor is someone she knows well — her boyfriend.

A girl doesn’t have to be naked to be assaulted. It doesn’t have to escalate to rape, either. There can be no trace of evidence on her body and it can still be a terrifying, transformative experience. It is still assault.

The scene is sadly realistic, and all too common. And it leads to another harsh truth: the ugly aftermath, with no clear path for girls to make things right.

I try to make it right for my young female character. In a fictional world where magic exists, she is empowered to miraculously reclaim her life. But it’s impossible to erase all the scars, even in a magical world.

It hurts to write about this stuff. I cry when I read scenes of my own creation. Because it’s so hard to write about a young girl battling against sexual assault, I know it’s meaningful. I was so riled up after my writing session recently, I had to write THIS!

My husband and I have a responsibility to raise our three boys well. These three boys will become young men. They will be physically stronger than their female peers. They will have subtle (and not so subtle) advantages over them, too.

Our boys’ understanding of sex has to be more than what’s covered in a science class. Beyond love or reproduction. Forget the birds and the bees. They need to hear from the female perspective. Not only hear it, they need to have the female perspective ingrained so it is top of mind when they become intimate with a girl. It should be the first thing they think about.

As they change and grow into young men, we need to keep talking. The #metoo conversation is far from over in the news and in the world. Who knows what they’ll hear next? And this is a good thing. It’s opening a doorway for communication, which is so important — even if it’s at an uncomfortable angle.

New Book Deal Alert!

Five years ago, I got a story idea that stubbornly clung to my psyche until I unleashed it onto the page. It became a true labor of love, as it was inspired by my then-6 y/o. When my husband read the first draft he said, “This book will change your life.” It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written. Today, I’m signing a publishing contract with Immortal Works that will help get this very story — BOY ON HOLD — out into the world.

Pop the bubbly! Cue the fireworks! Woo-hoo!

Yes, this is a new publisher. Lots of people ask me about the publishing process. How I found this publisher is, in itself, an interesting story.

Back in March, I took part in a Twitter pitch contest called #PitMad. Basically, you pitch your story using hashtags to indicate genre and theme. If an agent “likes” your Tweet, it’s a request to see more. It’s a fun way to query a bunch of agents at once — and practice the art of a the modern-day elevator pitch. (Note to writers: the next #PitMad is September 6, 2018! Get your pitches ready!)

Here was my pitch.

Some pitches got lots of likes. The most I saw on one pitch was 17 likes.

Me? My pitch for Boy on Hold got one like. ONE.

Blugh. My first thought: “Well, that was a waste of time. I’m never doing that pitch contest again.”

That one like was from Immortal Works. Not an agent but a publisher. They requested the first page.

Blugh. My next thought: “Only one page? This was seriously a waste of time.”

So I sent the first page and didn’t give it much thought.

Almost 3 months later — (yes, 3 whole months) — Immortal Works got back to me, complimenting the quality of my writing . . . and asked to read the entire manuscript.

That made me sit up a little straighter. My next thought: “Oh! Okay, let’s see where this goes.”

As I sent them the MS, I also sent it to my Kindle since it had been a year (or two) since I read it through myself. While on vacation with my family, I read it on my iPhone, highlighting all the parts that I thought needed work. I couldn’t help but get excited about the story all over again. When I got home, I got to revising right away with renewed energy.

Then, a surprise. An email from an assistant editor at Immortal Works saying she “loved it.” That she “totally cried” at the ending. She said it reminded her of To Kill a Mockingbird but with schizophrenia instead of racism (Whoa — !!). And she wanted to recommend it for publication.

My thought at this time? Let’s just say, I was jumping-out-of-my-chair psyched. I had to hold back not to tell everyone — even strangers in the grocery line. Instead, I settled for a celebratory happy dance with my husband and kids.

About a month later, they officially requested to publish my book. The contract was in my inbox the very next day. Today, I signed!

Now, I’m beyond stoked. I’m FLOORED. I can’t tell you how gratifying this is. To have a publisher as excited as I am about my story. That’s when you know you’ve found the right match. They LOVE the book. And “totally cried” at the ending. Her last email to me said that she got “chills” thinking about it as she ran errands. Squeeeeeeeeee!

Writer friends who are slogging through the noise to get your work noticed, keep up the good fight! Keep querying! Keep pitching! Remember this: it only takes one like.