Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bats, Bullies, Brujeria, and a Blog on Superheroes

Wow…even though it’s been over a month since I’ve posted anything here, I assure you, I have been busy writing.

I just finished a weeklong blog tour, which means I‘ve been writing guest blogs for other young adult literature websites as a way of promoting my book. Each blog is different. Some hosts ask for specific topics, while others are open to just about anything related to YA Lit, writing in general, or your book.

What’s really cool is that I think I was actually (okay, virtually) in Australia on Monday, England on Wednesday, and somewhere in Middle America just yesterday afternoon. Quite the superman, aren’t I? (yuk, yuk)

And…while touring the world, I still managed to grade nearly a hundred AP student essays analyzing the author’s use of a character foil. Some didn’t do that well, so I tried to better illustrate the idea by having them draw pictures of Ron and Hermione next to Harry and then I asked them to, well...that’s probably the subject of a separate blog, isn’t it?
Anyway, now that things have settled down, I’ve gone back to writing the sequel to The Revenge Artist (just starting chapter eight) and it suddenly occurred to me that I’m actually writing a superhero story. Not that Evelyn isn’t eventually heroic in The Revenge Artist; but still, the story is mainly about her discovering her powers and saving herself—a necessary step in a superheroes’ development, nonetheless. I guess if it were a superhero movie it would be more like a Batman Begins, or an Evelyn Begins, if you will. Except his thing is bats and hers is bullies, but you get what I mean.

So, in the sequel, although high school isn’t any easier, Evelyn is in a very different place than she was just a month earlier. Here, I’ll show you what I mean:

“It was just a dream, a stupid dream.”
“Yeah, if it was my dream,” said Karen. “But with you, it’s never that simple.”
Evelyn wasn’t sure how to take that. She hadn’t told anyone else about the drawings in her black book, why she made them, or what they were for...not Karen and Denise, not even Sammy. Mr. Schwartz was the only one. “What?” she huffed. “You mean that whole, I’m a witch thing?”
Neither responded.
“You know, that’s not very nice…you two are supposed to be my friends.”
“C’mon, Evelyn,” said Karen. “Some people take that Brujeria shit seriously.”
“Yes, but—”
“Really, Evelyn.” Denise leaned forward a little, lowering her voice. “I think people are actually nicer to me.”
“Because of me?”
“Well, I don’t know…maybe. I mean, people actually walk around me now in the halls…you know, not just over me.”

This new self-awareness allows Evelyn to notice things she never would have, it lets her see beyond herself, and it takes her places she would never have gone before. But isn’t that part of the superhero’s journey? First save yourself, then…save the cheerleader, save the world? You know, with great power comes great responsibility? Or, said in a very deep, gravely voice, “I…am…Evelyn.”

Come to think of it, maybe this one suits Evelyn best: Don’t make me angry…you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

I’m thinking of calling the sequel, Evelyn Hernandez and the Psycho Loner Kid, but, of course, nothing is final yet.

To make up for being away so long, I’ve added a bonus essay on…wait for it…Superheroes!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Who is Evelyn Hernandez?

Evelyn Hernandez is a little bit of my daughter, Erin, and a little bit of every one of the young ladies that have been - or currently are - my high school students. She is talented and intelligent and she has people in her life that love and care about her. She wants to fit in and feel normal, but at the same time she doesn’t want to be like everyone else. She wants to follow her own style and follow her own heart. Sometimes this gets her into trouble, shakes her self-confidence, and causes her to doubt herself. But mostly, Evelyn Hernandez is just…herself, still finding her voice, still discovering her powers, and still learning how to use them.

An early version of Evelyn first appeared in something I wrote for my students a few years ago. I had them working on fictional short stories that were based on an actual conflict they had, or were having, with a significant person in their lives, and I wanted to show them how easy it was to discover the stories all around them if they only looked. Many of the students were having difficulty finding a conflict to write about; something I had assumed would give them the least trouble.

Sure they’d all recently been in some sort of disagreement, argument, shouting match, or even an actual physical fight, but they failed to see any of their own conflicts as story worthy.

I wanted to show them that the struggles in their own lives were just as relatable and just as valid as those in the lives of the fictional characters they enjoyed reading about…that it wasn’t the nature of the conflict that made a story interesting and believable, but the quality of the storytelling. So I made up a conversation between two people texting each other during class and presented it in a PowerPoint. Two students volunteered to read the parts out loud. It went something like this:

Hey. Why won’t you
return my text?

          I’m in class.

I’ve been texting you
all morning.

           I’m in class.

You didn’t call me back 
last night.

          My mom was mad 
I got back so late.

Did she take your phone?


Why didn’t you call me 
back then?



Stop ignoring me!

          I’m in class!

I’ll be waiting for you

          She’ll see.

Her class is in 200’s.

          Someone will tell.

Sure, the texts were all in complete sentences and free of spelling errors and emoticons, but the students found them convincing and were instantly intrigued. Who were these people and what were they hiding?

If you look inside your own phones, I told them, I’m sure you will find plenty to work with. It’s not so much the texting, but the story surrounding it that is important, I said. Then I showed them the story I had begun to write around this conversation:

Evelyn’s purse began to vibrate in her lap again. Her phone had been going off all morning. She knew who it was. Mr. Schwartz was standing only two desks away, but he had his back to her, explaining something to Luis. He would be a while.
“Hey.  Why won’t you return my text?”
It was Mark. Evelyn looked up from her purse. Schwartz was still explaining.
She switched the pencil to her left hand and began thumbing the keys on the phone in her purse with her right, “I’m in class.”
“I’ve been texting you all morning.”
“I’m in class.”
“You didn’t call me back last night.”
Schwartz was now leaning heavily on Luis’s desk with one hand and gesturing in the air with the other, his hand fluttering as he spoke like a one-winged bird. “My mom was mad I got back so late.”
“Did she take your phone?”
“Why didn’t you call me back then?”
Her thumb twitched once, but remained hovering above the keys. Wasn’t it obvious? Did she have to spell it out for him?

The phone vibrated again, but she was no longer holding it. Her hand had drifted up toward her face and her fingertips pressed lightly to her lips, remembering.

And then what happens, they asked. Well, nothing, I explained, it’s just an example. Yes, but where’s the rest, they wanted to know. I don’t know the rest, I said, I only wrote that part to give you ideas…to help you finish writing your own. We’ll finish writing ours, someone declared, if you finish writing yours. And so I finished it.

When it was done, I found that Evelyn’s character was much more complex and interesting than I ever thought she would be. She turned out to have such complicated feelings, and she could be impulsive, aggressive, even mean; but she was also conflicted: feeling powerful, yet ashamed for finding joy in causing someone else pain. I called the story, “Fight or Flight,” and as the title suggests, it was about choices: Do you run away to keep from getting hurt, or stand and fight for what is right for you…even if you must hurt others in the process? I later submitted it to a few literary magazines and one of them published it.

Another version of Evelyn appeared about a year later in a very short screenplay that I wrote, once again, as a model for my students. The class was an English elective I’d created called An Introduction to Horror Film. In it we examined the origins and evolution of the genre and wrote analytical essays on films like Nosferatu, Frankenstein, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, and Night of the Living Dead. As a final activity, the class wrote original short screenplays, and we managed to film five of them, enough for a Horror Short Film Festival during lunch. Even though we never planned it, all of the films shared a common theme: bullying.

Most of the students completed their films at home, but I wanted a story that would involve the whole class and that would take place entirely in my classroom. So I wrote a screenplay about a bullied teen who gets revenge on her tormentors when she discovers she can make things happen by drawing them. Even though it was only three minutes long, it took three days to film, which explains why in the final edit some students’ clothing, and even hair styles will suddenly change from one cut to the next, and then change back again. We had fun making it though, and since it was a horror film there was definitely lots of blood.

I won’t say anymore about the plot of the film because a very similar scene appears in chapter nine of my novel, The Revenge Artist, and I don’t want to give too much away.

This October 22, my book finally becomes available, and I can’t wait for more people to get to know Evelyn Hernandez. If she seems familiar, or even reminds you of yourself in some way, don’t be surprised, especially if you were ever one of my students, but in many ways she remains her own person and not even I always know what she will do in a situation until I start writing it.

I’ve decided to write a sequel to The RevengeArtist and I’m already half way finished. I think I know how it will end, but I can’t be sure. Evelyn continues to surprise me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It's a girl!

 The Revenge Artist:Bullying, Young Adult, Teen, High School, Cyber Bullying, Cutting, Art

The cover of The Revenge Artist is finally here! Now I can stop checking my emails every five minutes.

If any of my students are reading this…I would like to point out that that was a perfect example of hyperbole. Every five minutes? Come on now, don’t I have better things to do? I mean, the only reason I always have my phone in my hand during class is because I have that app that lets me remote-control my Keynote presentations…right?

Now, if I had said, “His inbox had never enjoyed such constant attention of late,” that would be personification, giving an electronic mailbox human characteristics. Or, “Fly my little monkeys, fly, and bring me back that email!” he cackled. That would be an allusion to the Wicked Witch of the West’s preoccupation with Dorothy’s ruby slippers (Notice the word “preoccupation” acting as an understatement in that last sentence?). Or better, an allusion to Captain Ahab’s obsession with a single white whale: “That’s what ye’ve shipped for men…to chase that book cover!”

Or, how about this simile: “He waited on the final cover-art for his novel like an expectant nineteen-fifties father, unmercifully barred from the bedside of his co-creation.”

Wait…come to think of it; I may really have been checking my email every five minutes. In that case I was being literal; so, disregard what I said earlier. But really, can you blame me? That’s my baby we’re talking about, man! My baby!


 The Revenge Artist: Bullying, Young Adult, Teen, High School, Cyber Bullying, Cutting, Art

The Revenge Artist is the story of a bullied teen who embarks on a dark and destructive journey of revenge when she discovers she has the power to make bad things happen by drawing them.

The book will be available October 22 from Lycaon Press.

SO PLEASE BE PATIENT (You can follow this blog, stop by my website: booksbyphiliphoy.com or just keep checking your emails).

It’s here…it’s here…my book cover is here… uh-huh…uh-huh…uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh… It’s here…it’s here…my book cover is here…

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Essay: The Guilt Monster Under the Bed

My daughter has a funny story about a couch. I’m sure it wasn’t so funny at the time, but then that’s usually how the best of these stories are. It’s her story, but it was our couch, so I’ll tell it.
She and her husband just drove four days across the country in a rented moving van. Only days before they left, my wife and I decided to offer them our couches. We’d had them for years, but they were in excellent condition, only the fabric was a little out of date.
Of course they would take them. Were we absolutely sure we wanted to give them away? Yes, we said. We’d wanted to update the look of the living room anyway and this would give us our excuse. My son in-law said there was a small chance the larger couch wouldn’t fit in their new apartment, but we agreed that they needed the furniture and it would be worth the try.
Well, after four days of reassuring texts from the road, once they arrived, we didn’t hear from them again for several days, and only after my wife broke down and called first. Finally, it all came out.
Our daughter was avoiding us because even with the additional help of her mother in-law and brother and sister in-law, after hours of hefting, hoisting, twisting, and teetering—even after hacksawing all four legs off—the five of them still couldn’t get the couch up the stairwell to the third story apartment and they had to leave it out on the curb.
“I was ready to saw it in half,” she later told me, “but there was some kind of metal bar going through it and everyone convinced me to just let it go.”
“So how long were you going to go without talking to us,” her mother scolded, “over something so unimportant as a stupid couch?” Then she immediately added, “That was a really nice couch, by the way…you know, we had it for a long time.”
Mother’s have a way of overplaying the guilt card sometimes.
Guilt is funny like that. Maybe because it’s a self inflicted wound. You don’t have to punish me because I already have…that kind of thing; but also, you should feel bad because now I’m hurting…all because of my consideration for your feelings, or whatever…the psychology is beyond me. All I know is, now I’m feeling guilty for pushing the couch on my daughter in the first place…See what I mean?
My wife claims that people in my family were born with an extra guilt gene. She might be right, but people born without a guilt gene are known as psycho killers, so I say better safe than sorry.
I had a similar run-in with guilt as a young child, a life defining moment no doubt: the day I first met the monster guilt…
There were two bathrooms in our house, the one we all shared with mom, which was located in the main hallway and had a bath-shower combo; and the one known as Dad’s bathroom, which was smaller and next to the laundry room. It only had a shower. When you had to go though, amenities didn’t matter; the one closest (and unoccupied) was always the most convenient. One Saturday, my dad decreed that we were no longer allowed to pee in his bathroom. At this time, there were probably five of us. I was the fourth, and with one sister the oldest and the other sister in diapers, that obviously meant us boys.
I remember the moment of the crime clearly. In fact, I can even see it. The very next day, there I was in my church clothes, pants down around my ankles, peeing like a fountain-angel into my dad’s toilet…when it hit me: I’m not supposed to be in here! It didn’t matter that I remembered to put the seat up this time, or that anyone would even notice (or care) that I was in there, or that I wasn’t really done peeing yet. No, I yanked up my pants, ran out of there straight to my bedroom, and crawled under my bed…all the way under, against the wall, and burrowed in among the forgotten toys and monster dust-bunnies.
I’m not sure exactly how long I was under there; but soon enough, my mother began calling for me. Where was I? Was I ready? We were going to be late for church! I wanted to come out, but I couldn’t bear the shame of what I’d done, nor the punishment I was sure to receive.
Then, it seemed everyone was looking for me. I could hear my sister and brothers yelling my name. Various pairs of Sunday shoes ran in and out of the bedroom, and my mother’s voice was becoming more and more shrill and urgent…which only terrified me more.  
   Then my mother’s head suddenly appeared below the bottom edge of the bed, and her hand soon followed. She grabbed me by the arm, dragged me out, and shook me. “Why were you hiding under the bed!” she screamed. “Why didn’t you answer me!”
“Daddy is going to spank me,” I whimpered.
“Why on earth would your father spank you?”
“Because I peed in his bathroom!” I cried.
“Your father IS NOT going to spank you for using his bathroom!” she said, shaking me again. “But I AM for ignoring me!”
And then she did, four good ones.
Looking back, I don’t remember my dad even being involved, despite the fact that it was his supposed wrath I was cowering from. I guess as a very young child, at least in my experience, doing the right thing is motivated more by fear of punishment than any thing else; but then, around the age of four, while fear-of-punishment may still rule the day, the need to please others enters the mix and fear-of-disappointing often takes over as the main motivator. In other words, the thought of deserving a spanking is far worse than the actual pain of the spanking. That’s when your dad says (and you believe him), “Son, this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you,” right before the one-two-three-four on your backside.

Then as you get older, you find that guilt has its hands in everything, the thief that keeps on giving. Some people spend their lives running from it, some people seek it out like crack addicts. Either way, it only gets more prickly and perverse the older you get. And what may previously have been an overwhelming regret for you, can now be used as a powerful emotional leverage on others…such as my poor mother…every time I tell the peeing story…or my daughter…the next time the subject of the couch comes up…or on us, for shamelessly unloading our old furniture on our kids and making them think it was their idea.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Smelling Books

In high school there was this girl I really, really liked, but she had a boyfriend, so…we talked…a lot. I would lend her some science fiction and fantasy books to read and one day when she returned a paperback she was embarrassed and apologized because, as she explained, her perfume leaked in her purse and my book was in there and it soaked into the book.

Every day after that I would come home from school and take the book off my shelf, put it to my face and inhale the smell of her perfume. In time, the perfume began to fade as it merged with the odor of the pages. Eventually, all that was left was the smell of paperback. 

Years later, she admitted that she purposefully drenched it with her perfume just before returning it to me because she knew it would drive me crazy.

It did.