Pep Talk to My 15-½-year-old Self

Okay, Cindy, pay attention because this is some of the most important stuff you’ll ever hear. And the only time you’ll hear it.

First, congratulations. You made it through your freshman year of high school. Now in 10th grade and 15 ½ years old, you’re midway through your teen years. And still alive and well. That’s an accomplishment you’ll appreciate later.

Caught at the halfway point between childhood and womanhood, you’re having a Mid-teen Crisis, although you have no name for it. You’re tying to figure out who you are, while others are tying to tell you who or what you should be.

That’s all right. In fact, it’s pretty normal.

You forget to shave your legs or tweeze the uni-brow because you’d rather be outside examining trees and plants, playing with your dog, or running wild in an open field and flying a kite. And maybe when you finally go inside at dusk, you don’t feel like washing your hair and winding it around giant rollers to make it straight, as fashion of the time dictates. You get teased about your unkempt appearance.

So what? Enjoy being a kid a while longer.

Try not to obsess over your delayed physical development. Don’t even think about it for another year, because you’re wasting your time. Of course, you’re in awe of girls your age and younger who wear a bra cup size with letters that otherwise represent mediocre to poor grades in school. It hurts sometimes when boys pay attention only to those girls, especially that one boy you like in particular.

Don’t worry. Your time will come.

When it does, don’t let a boy you date convince you to drop any activities, hobbies, or friends you enjoy. He criticizes those things you love because he’s jealous. He knows they make you look interesting and attractive, and he can’t stand it.

DrawingTeenCouple

A drawing I did in high school of a happy couple I hoped someday to be a part of.

On to the practical aspects of life.

It’s great that you learned to sew. That skill will serve you well in your impoverished college years when you mend torn pants to wear another semester and create a blouse from a dollar’s worth of fabric.

Now learn to cook. Don’t wait so long.

And read more. A lot more. Classic novels and current events magazines.

The times in which you live are a turning point in American history. Watch the news, and listen to adults talk about it. You’ll use the knowledge gained to interpret the cultural and political events in your adulthood.

Even though it’s hard to talk to your father, do it. Think of topics you both might enjoy. You won’t have many more years of conversations with him.

Consider more career options than you do now. Research them and ask questions of professionals in those fields. Seek advice about what to study in college to prepare for more than one option.

Bottom line? Don’t limit your possibilities in any way. In forty years, the people and things you enjoy in life may surprise you.

profile_pic  Cynthia

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The Great American Teen

girl.flag.horse  In honor of Independence Day (one of my favorite holidays), I’d like to celebrate the American teen! Just in case you thought American teenagers might become a generation of lazy, rude, uncultured couch potatoes…

According to the website stageoflife.com, when teenage high school and college students were surveyed in 2013,

60.4% of them planned to spend more time outdoors than indoors during the summer.

38% of teens surveyed planned to READ nine or more books during the summer. (I’ll do the math: that’s an average of three books per month!)

During the school year, 77.7% of teens said they read at least one book per month for personal pleasure or that isn’t required.

When asked the question “From which do you draw the most inspiration or have your biggest ‘Moments of Awesomeness’, teens ranked the following from highest to lowest:

Reading and Writing #1

Music #2

Nature #3

Exercise & Sports #4

Religion #5

Food #6

91% of teens said that civility, manners and etiquette are either “very important” or “important” in their lives.

And for teenagers surveyed regarding their feelings of patriotism:

90% loved their country, although 64.5% had been ashamed of their country at some point.

88.7% felt that serving in the military is a patriotic act.

62.8% recited the entire Pledge of Allegiance when it was being recited.

64.5% could sing the entire National Anthem.

And–83.5% considered themselves patriots.

Here’s wishing all teens and those who care about them (that’s practically everyone!) a happy and safe July 4th.

Cynthia

cynthia-toney

Bullied? You Are Not Alone

BIRD.FACE.FC.tinyVanessa writes: today I’m talking to author Cynthia T. Toney. Her new book, Bird Face, is an entertaining—yet enlightening—novel about a teen girl dealing with issues such as suicide, eating disorders, and bullying in the public school system.

 

As I read Cynthia’s book, it resonated with me because of my own experiences—which are still quite vivid despite the passing of years. In high school, two girls consistently harassed me in the halls, the cafeteria, the gym, wherever our paths crossed. They were tall and loud and insulting, abullying leaves scarsnd the constant stress ruined my high school years. At home, my father had a debilitating, chronic illness and my mother was his full-time caregiver, so I was reluctant to tell my parents I was in trouble. Like many victims, I felt isolated and just wanted to survive until it was over.

Fellow readers, if you or someone you know is being victimized by a bully, you’ll find immediate help and resources at the bottom of this blog post.

Cynthia, thanks for coming to the blog today and talking to us about Bird Face and the subject of bullying.

Vanessa: My first question is about your main character, Wendy, and how she faces difficult challenges and discovers something about herself along the way. Did you draw from personal experience?

Cynthia: I did. Not so much as a young person, but later. It takes some of us a long time to understand that we have within us the strength to do more than we initially think ourselves capable. I remember thinking as a teenager and a young adult, “If only I didn’t have this difficult situation to deal with” or “If only I could get over this hurdle” or “solve this problem” then I could do such-and-such. But often, forcing oneself to move forward and get involved somewhere else you’re needed, or to work at solving a different problem, helps resolve the previous one.

Vanessa: Were you bullied in school or did you know anyone who was, and how did you deal with it?

Cynthia: There was a girl in elementary school who bullied other kids into giving her candy. I had only one encounter with her but didn’t give in. Nothing further happened because of that. In upper elementary, I was called Bird Face a couple of times, and it hurt a little, but the bullying was short-lived and didn’t affect me the way it does Wendy. My daughter experienced instances of bullying when she was in school, but I experienced more verbal bullying as an adult from other adults.

Vanessa: Indeed, adult Iamavictimbullying is now getting attention, too. Scientific studies indicate that the resultant stress—regardless of age—causes depression, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, stomach trouble and a host of other physical ailments. In Bird Face, is the bully, John Monster based on anyone you knew in school?

Cynthia: The idea for John-Monster came to me because of the variety of bully types in the news. A bully doesn’t always fit the stereotype of years past — that of the hulking male who shoves his way through life. It can be anyone, including someone like John who is verbally bullied at home and turns the same toward his classmates. It can also be the pretty and perky girl next door who bullies someone over the Internet.

Vanessa: How did you develop the bullying plotline in such a believable way?

Writing in first person point of view creates challenges. I had to write the character John-Monster to show us why he verbally bullied Wendy the way he did. Neither she nor the reader could be allowed to get inside his head. I didn’t want her or the reader to understand the reasons for his bullying right away, so I wrote clues into the story as it went along. And I had to show he was still lovable, and loved by someone the reader knows.kid yelling other kid crying

Vanessa: Your research and insight are fantastic.   Most victims are bewildered at being the object of a bully’s vitriol. Bird Face delivers believable, multi-dimensioned characters instead of simple black and white, right and wrong. What advice would you give kids (or parents of kids) who are being bullied right now?

Cynthia: Parents and other adults responsible for children in their care should pay attention and listen to kids. To me, one instance of name-calling doesn’t necessarily equal bullying, and a talk with the parties involved may put a stop to it. Repeated offenses that distress the victim to the point that he or she withdraws socially or turns on others shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening at school and what your child is doing on the Internet.

Vanessa: Thanks for talking with us about Bird Face and this important social issue for teens. Fellow readers, I highly recommend Bird Face. I bought it for my fourteen-year-old daughter and she found it entertaining as well as informative. A rare combination in children’s literature.

Cynthia: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

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Ms. Toney holds a BA in art education and began her first novel while working as an advertising designer and marketing copywriter for a number of publishers. She enjoys writing both contemporary and historical fiction for teens. Also once a decorator, her articles on interior decorating appear at homeguides.SFGate.com. She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and studying the history of the South, where she resides with her husband and as many dogs as space will allow.

Connect with her:

Email: birdfacewendy@gmail.com

Personal Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com/

Member Blogger:  https://thescriblerians.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy?ref=hl

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

About Bird Face:

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 10 to 14 (grades 5-8) delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families, and teen suicide

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 how to stop bullyingIf you or someone you know are being bullied, do not remain silent. Bullying is wrong, and you deserve to live in peace, without harassment. Get help and know your options.
  1. Resources for coping with bullies, approaching school authorities, and other strategies: http://www.stopbullying.gov/get-help-now/
  2. Crisis hotlines and informational websites: http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines

Tell us about your own experience with bullying. We’d love to hear from you. Together we are strong!

 

 

 

 

Ideas From the Most Ordinary Sources

classifiedsIt doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional novelist or a middle-school student assigned to write a short story. To find new character, conflict, and plot ideas, pay close attention to ordinary life around you. More precisely, look at what people buy, sell, and eat.

At lunchtime—either at school or work—notice the selections, whether purchased on site or bagged and brought from home.

Chili, corn chips, and baklava? You may imagine a south Texan introvert living with his Greek grandmother, and there’s the start of an interesting situation. (So as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, begin with a compliment if you’re unsure what a particular delicacy is. “That looks/smells good. What’s it called?”)

In a grocery or discount store checkout line, strange combinations of purchases may inspire you.

Bandages and a set of kitchen knives (for a clumsy chef?)

Tomatoes and an opera CD (for a disgruntled patron of the arts?)

Now I’m thinking of a story about a chef who is also a disgruntled patron of the arts and goes on a killing spree at an opera house.

And don’t forget to look in the classified ads for hidden gems.

There’s one from many years ago I’ll always remember.

FOR SALE: Loveseat and a pair of women’s motorcycle boots

Now that’s a writing prompt.

What kind of ordinary thing or situation has sparked an idea for a character or story for you?