Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Jury is Out

Jury duty is a little like dating. You want a date to go well, but if it doesn’t, you want it to go terribly wrong so at least you have a good story to tell your friends. The “meh” dates are zero net gain. No love connection, no horror stories. You can only hope that the food is decent.

I had to report for jury duty last week. I’ve been summoned probably fifteen times in my life, had to show up five or six of them, and served twice. I am all for the “judged by a panel of ones’ peers” philosophy, however it doesn’t seem fair that some of those peers are called every February like clockwork. But I digress. 

INO PARKING took an Uber to the courthouse, and it seemed deliciously ominous when the driver dropped me off beside a street sign that stated: “No Parking: Homicide Only.” I had been summoned to criminal court. Would I be placed on an assault case? Armed robbery? Now it seemed that murder was a real option.

At 9 am, I filed into the jury assembly room and pulled out my laptop, prepared to document every gripping moment, every compelling character. But most of my fellow perspective jurors looked tired or bored. Resigned. They played games on their phones or typed away on their laptops. One or two of them pulled out real paperback books or magazines. A young woman in a hoodie closed her eyes and rested her head on the arm of her chair. A thin man with graying hair and a Where’s Waldo striped shirt walked the perimeter of the room, his hands wedged into the pockets of his bright red trousers.

We were all waiting for something to happen.

I didn’t want to serve. Sitting in that assembly room was disrupting my life. I had deadlines at work. I had plans in the evenings that I would have to cancel so that I could meet my deadlines at work.

I also kind of wanted to serve. How many movies and TV shows have I watched about crime and the justice system? I’ve been binging on The Killing for the last several weeks, trying to unravel who really killed Rosie Larsen. I have willingly handed over my free time on countless occasions for make believe crimes, and now here was the real life experience right before me.

We waited around for a while, watched the standard issue PSA video about what it means to serve on a jury, and then waited some more. At 10:30, the clerk announced that we were all free to go, that we had fulfilled our service for the year. I figured the defendant had weighed out his or her chances and took a plea deal.

I headed back to work, feeling disappointed. As storytellers, writers are always looking for the good parts, the key elements, and to trim out the fat. But much of life is fat. And my jury duty experience wasn’t really worth writing about.

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Even The Meanest Human Beings in the World Need Books

My middle school years were fraught with uncomfortable hormone changes and psychological torment from other girls. During the first week of sixth grade, a girl I’d never met before called me a slut. “What are you looking at, Slut?” she sneered.

I didn’t actually know what a slut was, but understood that it must be something very bad. When I got home from school, I looked the word up in the dictionary and was even more confused. I’d never kissed a boy. I’d never even held hands with one. Why was this girl calling me a slut?

rude-tweenFor weeks, I avoided the girl and yet she always seemed to find me. “What, are you scared of me, Slut?” she taunted. 

Eventually, she grew tired of me and presumably found someone new to torture. But this was just the first of many utterly perplexing and completely devastating incidents of girl-on-girl emotional violence. So I would have never predicted that, 30 years later, I’d write a book for ‘Tween girls, who are very possibly the meanest human beings in the world.

But even the meanest human beings in the world need books.

While I’m certain I tried my hand at the Mean Card more than once during this terrible age, mostly I read books and listened to music and wrote bad poetry about how mean everyone was. I’d outgrown Judy Blume but wasn’t yet ready for J.D. Salinger. At the time, what I enjoyed most of all was a good mystery with coming-of-age characters and enough of an “adult” theme to keep it interesting. And this is what I endeavor to achieve in my ‘Tween book.

My ‘Tween book started off as a National Novel Writing Month exercise two years ago, and has been collecting dust ever since.  Last week, I decided to pull it out and get down to work. I mean, I should do something productive while I wait for my beta readers’ feedback on my grown-up novel, right?

And to kick it off right, I’ve included below a short excerpt for all the ‘Tween novel lovers out there. Or perhaps just for those of you who are kind enough to indulge me.

 


 

The smoke was so thick that Molly pulled her shirt up over her nose and mouth. She looked over at Lauren to see that she had done the same. They squinted at one another, their eyes burning from the smoke, but they didn’t stop running, even when they heard the sirens coming up behind them. First the fire truck then the engine sped past them, and they ran even faster into the gray haze. By the time they’d covered the three additional blocks to Molly’s street, the firefighters were already directing thick streams of water at the burning house.

“It’s Mrs. O’Reilly’s house!” Molly called out, at once excited and relieved. Her own home was safe. For now.

“Do you think it’ll catch the other houses on fire too?” Lauren asked through her t-shirt.

Molly’s was four houses over from Mrs. O’Reilly’s, and it seemed unlikely that the flames would travel that far, but Molly still felt a pit of worry in her stomach. What if the firefighters weren’t able to contain the fire? What if it spread and ate up every house on the block? Everything that she had known her whole life would be gone, just like that.

It was the staggering figure of Mrs. O’Reilly herself that snapped Molly out of these thoughts. Mrs. O’Reilly was dressed in the same blue housecoat she’d worn as long as Molly could remember, but she looked madder than Molly had ever seen her before. Her hair was wild, and singed in places. Her face and neck were streaked with soot, and one of her bare feet was bleeding. Molly wondered if she’d barely made it out of the house alive.

Mrs. O’Reilly yelled something toward the house but her words were swallowed up by all of the commotion. Molly inched closer, cupping her ear and listening hard. Then she heard it.

“Burn! Let it burn!” Mrs. O’Reilly shouted, but the firefighters weren’t paying any attention to her. Until she rushed toward the burning building, and then one of the firefighters blocked her path, but she fought against him, still shouting. It took two firefighters to hold her back, and then two police officers took over, forcing her into the back of a patrol car. She fought them the whole way.

Lauren’s eyes were wide despite the smoke. “I think she’s lost her marbles.”

“I don’t think she had many left to begin with,” Molly said. Mrs. O’Reilly had always been odd and unfriendly, and without being told Molly knew it was best to keep clear of her. Of all the houses on their block, Mrs. O’Reilly’s was the only one Molly had never set foot in.

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