Saturday, February 15, 2020

Poem: Little Sister

I recently had my students writing poems inspired from old photos of themselves and their families, and I decided to complete the assignment myself.


Send pictures, he said, for the memorial.
So, I found this one of you standing in a field of
burnt grass, skinny arms lifting the wooden bat,
your hair, strawberry blond, parting in feathery
waves from your face, the freckles dusting your
nose, the sun’s glow warming your apple cheeks,
your lip-gloss smile.

I don’t remember when you arrived, if I was jealous,
or if you cried much. I do remember reaching beneath
the couch to rescue your Barbie from Rex’s mouth. And
when the others left to school we would pretend it was
Christmas eve and I’d stuff a pillowcase with toys and
ho ho into the room to show you what I’d brought. Then
we’d tuck one of your baby dolls beneath your blouse
and pretend you were pregnant. You’d push. I’d pull.
And plunk, the baby was out.

In middle school you said I let my friends make fun of
you. I don’t remember that, and why would I want to?
I must have left you behind, but high school was hard
those first two years, and lonely. We argued a lot.
You would kick me with those brown boots that
zipped to the knee and lock me out of the house.
I had to run around back and jump the wall.
Still, you refused to let me in.

Finally, you were a freshman, so tough, so cool with
your Ozzy Osbourne t-shirts and match-burn pencil liner
blackening your eyes, already suspended for slamming
a girl’s face into a desk in the back of your algebra class.
I walked you to softball practice after school that day.
We got there early and had to climb the chain-link fence.
Little miss know-it-all, but I really needed to talk.
Don’t be stupid, you said. Just tell her, you said.
So I took your advice.

Sometimes when the house is quiet and dark with nothing
left to distract me, all at once I remember you are gone,
and then it hits me, a great and sudden weight like
bricks tumbling down on my chest. I fall asleep
sad, not wanting to push them off.

Monday, December 30, 2019

One From the Vault: Queens of the Jungle

In anticipation of the release of Book #3: EVELYN ILLUSTRATED on January 17, 2020, I'm re-posting a Book #1 blog.

Re-Appropriating Symbols of Masculinity in YA Literature

Symbolically, animals play an important role in THE REVENGE ARTIST, and one especially reoccurring animal symbol in the book is that of the lion. 

The symbol of the lion is introduced early on in the story when Evelyn’s art teacher, Ms. Shipley, gives the class a presentation on prehistoric cave paintings. Evelyn is captivated by the images, especially those of the lions leaping across the ceiling of the cave. Even more so, Evelyn is empowered by the idea that the cave painters were not painting pictures of past hunts, but using their artistic abilities to influence the success of future ones. “The hunters hunted, but these cave artists had another job,” Ms. Shipley explains. “They could see the future and they could make it happen.” 

Symbols are such powerful storytelling devices because they utilize a common language of imagery, emotion, and understanding that can often communicate volumes with only a single word or phrase. Just as effectively, symbols can convey negative biases and reinforce gender stereotypes without a reader always consciously aware of the messages being sent. 

Traditionally, lions are symbols of power and authority because of their dominance in the animal kingdom; however, because it is the male lion’s role to protect the pride while the females hunt, the lion is often viewed as a symbol of masculinity. As a result, such lion-like qualities as strength and courage are reinforced as exclusively male attributes. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Evelyn is attracted to the symbol of the lion. She is drawn to these lion-like qualities in others and she aspires to them herself. This becomes evident in her art, in her female role models, and in her choice of friends. 

It is not surprising then, that when the students are asked to paint self-portraits using the theme of masks, Evelyn chooses the image of a little girl wearing a plastic lion’s head, “standing alone in a field of grass, barefoot and wearing a sun dress. Her arms are raised in the air and her little fists are curled like cat paws.” The image celebrates her femininity, while at the same time revealing her inner strength and courage. She is delicate and powerful, gentle and ferocious. As conflicts between Evelyn and her bullies escalate, she struggles with these two sides of herself. And as Evelyn attempts to find her balance, the painting will go on to include the disemboweled corpse of a boy wearing a zebra mask, and eventually an angry mob of villagers with torches and pitchforks. 

Hopefully, the lion symbolism in THE REVENGE ARTIST manages to undermine some of those gender stereotypes about what girls can and can’t be and maybe even openly challenge them a bit. It is Evelyn’s fiercely protective friend Karen that is probably the most outwardly lion-like character in the story. When the girls decide to venture out from their usual lunch spot behind the art rooms and brave the main food court, Karen quickly puts one particular sexual harasser in his place by verbally emasculating him with a very explicit insult traditionally—and anatomically—reserved for the boys. In the jungle that is sometimes high school, Karen definitely shows herself to be one of the dominant animals.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Luckily, I Happen to Know an Amazing Illustrator

In between books two and three of the Revenge Artist series, I tried my hand at writing for comics. I completed the script of the first episode of a projected series along with many pages of notes detailing the overall story concept, character background, and other technical information (it is a sci-fi dystopian tale, after all). It’s called The Adventures of Red Literal and the Apocalyptic Twins. Episode #1: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I want to say that writing for comics is easier than writing a novel; however, I won’t because I wouldn’t want to take anything away from, well, writers of novels like myself … but it does take less time. This makes sense, of course, because writing the script is only half the job. Someone still needs to illustrate it (and I want to say that illustrating may actually be more than half the work, but I won’t, because I don’t want to take anything away from, you know, writers of comics).

Luckily, I happen to know an amazing illustrator, my sister, Theresa Ysiano.

After discussing my story concept with her, she immediately agreed to partner with me on the project. Only then, and with earnest (the intent, not the person), did I begin to write (Theresa appreciates a good pun).

The next phase of the project is currently in her very capable hands. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a little behind the scenes work.

Red looks like she could be in her late teens or early twenties, but she behaves like someone much older and wiser.
Imagine a young, Last Crusade Indiana Jones, only he’s a girl. Physically…think, Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens, but with hips.

Here are the first three pages of the script, accompanied by some of Theresa’s sketches:






Close-up of RED wielding sword. Her face is revealed clearly. It is a beautiful face, but it is the determined, manic face of a killer. Her long black hair is pulled back in a ponytail. What kind of enemy RED has just sliced through is not necessarily obvious, though something humanoid. There is blood splashed across her face and sword.

1.     CAPTION:
Her name was Red.
2.     CAPTION:
At least that’s what her friend had called her.
3.     CAPTION:
Michael had watched her kill over thirty of them, maybe more.

In the foreground is the silhouette of RED as seen from behind sitting cross-legged in front of the fire, holding a sword across her lap. Just the edge of her cheek and face are visible. In the background on the other side of the campfire from her are MICHAEL and GABBY wrapped in sleeping bags. MICHAEL is watching RED through half-closed lids. GABBY seems to be asleep.

4.     CAPTION:
Now, it just didn’t seem possible.

Close-up on RED’s face. The long black hair that had been pulled tightly behind her head that morning is now loose, tangled and hanging wildly over her shoulders and about her pale, oval face. There is a faraway, unfocused look in her enormous dark eyes.

5.     CAPTION:
She looked too young, too fragile…

Close-up of MICHAEL and GABBY, better revealing their age and the similarity of their features. MICHAEL is watching RED intently, pretending to sleep. GABBY is more obviously asleep.

6.     CAPTION:
…too beautiful to be capable of such destruction.


Medium shot from MICHAEL’s POV of RED aglow in the firelight sitting cross-legged on top of her sleeping bag and wearing no more than her jeans and t-shirt. With her left hand she is holding the sword across her lap and with her right hand she is sliding a small, square whetstone not much larger than a matchbox along the length of the blade.
7.       SOUND:
CLOSE-UP of her hand lifting the grey stone toward her face.
EXTREME CLOSE-UP of the stone held to her chin as she spits saliva on it with the tip of her tongue.
MULTIPLE IMAGE SHOT of RED sliding stone along the length of the sword.
8.       SOUND:
9.    CAPTION:
As she steadily, rhythmically, slid the stone along the length of the blade, the sound of scraping metal rose and receded like waves on a beach.
CLOSE-UP of whetstone on sword in the extreme foreground with MICHAEL’s face looking on in the background.
10.     SOUND:
Each time the stone left the tip of the blade there was a delicate, distant ringing, like the sound of a faraway bell carried on the wind.
MOVE-IN on MICHAEL’s face, eyes closing.
12.     SOUND:
Like the sound Michael and his sister had heard that morning, the sound that had led them…to her.

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For more Theresa Ysiano: Here is her Website and her Instagram.