Sunday, September 26, 2010

From A Totally Team Edward Fan

Ahhhh… the Stephenie Meyer phenomenon.  Just how many writing phoenixes must have arisen from the ashes of the tortured Bella, Edward, and Jacob saga with a little light bulb and an “Aha!” moment of “maybe I can do this too?” The beauty of the Twilight books was not limited to the “cha-ching” sound jingling in the well-lined pockets of agents, publishers, and merchandisers who jumped on the sparkly vampire bandwagon.  Instead, Meyers’ stories provided great fodder for a massive exodus of closet writers and sworn-off readers who concealed their copies of teeny-bopper romance novels behind the New York Times on their train rides into work or on the park benches while their children played, (although my cover-up of choice was actually The Wall Street Journal).
What was astounding to me as I breezed through the series was that a nearing middle-aged mom of three was able to single-handedly incite a mass following of adoring fans through her writing.  This had to be a clear sign that there was hope for us all.
And in that same vein of hope, I forced fingers to keyboard and began to type, type, type—but a love saga was as far away as possible from what I happened to spill out onto the pages.  Part social commentary, part self-help book, and completely not children’s book, even I was surprised by where my fingers took me when I first restarted that writing journey. 
I guess there’s a lesson in there somewhere.  Something corny along the lines of follow your dreams and find the rainbow or the silver lining or maybe the chicken that crossed the road.  Moving beyond mixed-up metaphors, though, I think there’s a more important message, which may not be so lame-o.  I set out wanting to write another children’s fiction book—preferably MG—so that I wouldn’t have to get caught up in a decidedly uncomfortable PG-13 scene.  Yet, somehow I found myself writing an adult book about divorce cases among Muslim couples instead.  Way to veer off course, right? 
The funny thing was that after all was said and done and the book was published, I realized that the course I’d originally charted was probably not the best one to begin with.  So, in the spirit of rolling with the punches, I’ve resigned myself to accepting the fact that the next Harry Potter or Twilight Saga may not be what comes gently gliding off my printer.  But, whatever does happen to make its way off my keyboard and onto the semi-permanence of clean white paper, will in itself be a small victory.  Because every time I write, I know that I am putting a small piece of myself out into the world and just waiting to see what the world might have to say in return.  So, even if there isn’t quite a resounding “cha-ching,” a Hollywood contract, or a mass following, there is that satisfaction that a nearing middle-aged mom of three put something out there that may eventually gain an adoring fan—even if that fan is just herself.
-Suzy Ismail

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thank you Stephenie Meyer

I was a holdout.  A naysayer.  A denier.  I was too much of a snob to get involved in a cultural phenomenon (Star Wars was enough for me, thank you).  But sitting at a family barbeque, I was a clueless idiot.  My teen niece was hanging with the much more ‘in the know’ aunts, passionately discussing Edward, Bella, and Jacob.  And I had nothing to add.  I knew nothing of this.  Even my insanely intelligent sister -in-law from West Virginia was hooked.  I felt <gasp> left out.
So I did it.  I jumped into the ocean of Stephenie Meyer.  Well, I must confess I dipped my pedicured big toe in the water first by watching Twilight on DVD.  And it was okay.  Quite honestly, the best parts for me were the longing stares—across the cafeteria, across the parking lot, in the hallway, etc.  And so, with trepidation swirling in my belly, I went to Target and picked up the first book. 
And I read like a reformed cocaine addict who’d just fallen off the wagon (I purposely did not use heroin as an example because of one of my most despised lines in literary fiction—you know the one, all you Twi-hards.  Sorry Steph).  The only thing I’d read in five years was Sandra Boynton board books (Barnyard Dance is my favorite, just in case you were wondering).  And so, I devoured Twilight in less than a day and found myself again at Target (how did I ever live without Target?) with New Moon firmly gripped in my hands, spittle dribbling from my chin.  I needed another fix.  One hit was most assuredly not enough. 
Prior to even finishing New Moon, I found myself once again standing in line, my head fuzzy from the literary high.  Eclipse and Breaking Dawn were happily scooting down the check out conveyer belt and I wielded my credit card like a sword.  The woman running the register rolled her eyes at me.  She apparently had seen many in my demented, strung out state.  I was one of “them” now. 
Fast forward.  I finished all four books, though I confess Eclipse and the last fourth of Breaking Dawn was absolutely painful (so sorry Steph).  Much can be said of the journey.  I could talk for hours now about Edward, Bella, and hunky, ‘loved him better with long hair’ Jacob.  Can’t tell which team I was on, can you? 
But the journey for me was an inward one.  I was once again the same chick (albeit it a much fatter chick) from high school and college who stayed up ‘til three a.m. because I just couldn’t put down Terry Brooks or Tad Williams.
And so I stand before you now, a book-loving phoenix, arisen from the ashes of children’s rhyming books*, a born again bibliophile. 
For that, Stephenie Meyer, I sincerely thank you.   

(*No books of any kind were actually harmed in the writing of this post)
-Suzi Ryan

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Life is like a lawn full of dandelions...

Have you ever seen a child pick up a dandelion and blow all the seeds into oblivion?  And as those seeds scatter all over your perfectly manicured front lawn, you get that sinking feeling that a trail of new weeds will be left in their wake dotting the perfect expanse of green that you just spent all morning weeding, fertilizing, and mowing? 
Then, right as you are about to launch into your lecture about the perils of weeds, you look down and see the smile on your kid’s face with eyes scrunched up and lips fervently moving in an indecipherable wish.  And, suddenly, you realize that a few dandelion weeds here and there are totally worth the lit-up eyes, the sense of wonderment, and the spreading wisdom that a few drifting seeds can grow.
Now, picture life like that green lawn and the dotted dandelions like the people we meet that break up the infinite green.  When I first met Suzi, I knew that this was a weed worth hanging onto.  Open, honest, well-caffeinated and a writer to boot… how could I go wrong getting to know this fascinatingly perky person? 
Many millions of email exchanges later, we both realized that our similarities far outweigh our differences and Muslim or Christian, we both still love our coffee, our families, our spirituality, and our writing—not necessarily in that particular order.  With all the controversy swirling around at a time when differences seem to be consistently highlighted, we figured it was high time to spread those dandelion seeds far and wide and show that finding similarities is way more fun than focusing on the differences. 
Between teaching at the university, taking care of my family, promoting my latest book and working on the next, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to dive into the world of blogging.  But, spreading perspective and maybe just a tiny bit of sense both seem like a worthy cause.   Feel free to take a cue from my three kids and snatch a dandelion, close your eyes, make a wish and blow the little white puffs as hard as you can.  You just might be surprised when the seeds grow into something way more beautiful than just another ordinary weed. J   

--Suzy Ismail     

When Suzi Met Suzy

Deep dark confession:  I am a seventeen year old hopeless romantic (trapped in the body of a…um…let’s say over twenty nine year old).  YA (Young Adult) is the only thing I’ve ever had any interest in writing.  Hats off to all you picture book/MG’ers out there.  I can’t write anything that doesn’t contain at least one (preferably more) turn your spine to pudding (preferably chocolate), kiss.
SCBWI has a very active chapter in New Jersey.  So, I signed up for their summer conference, eagerly signed up for a group and author critique.  Anyone ever done a group critique with a bunch of strangers?  I hadn’t.  So as the overly excited ‘pee on the carpet’ puppy, I reached out to our critique group first, anxious to start reading other people’s manuscripts.  The first one to respond was Suzy. 
Suzy was so cool (well, she still is but I tend to write in past tense).  She had a great husband, and a great house, and three great kids, and we were both potty training, and we both loved to email, and write, and cook (Suzy is much more skilled at cooking large pieces of meat for a crowd) and we started emailing these super long emails to each other.  They even changed my sleep cycle.  Suzy loves to write late at night.  So I would go to sleep and wake up at 2 a.m. just to read her email. I had a total hetero girl crush.  We were so much alike it was crazy!
And so Suzy said, “Why don’t you check out my website?”  And I skipped on over, singing a happy little tune to check out what my new friend looked like.  And my mouth fell open (I mean spittle on the keyboards and all).  My dear friend Suzy who was so much like me was very clearly <insert drumroll>…a Muslim.  I swear I heard crickets chirping in the background. 
When I started writing again, desperate to remember who I was before I became a mommy, I prayed.  I prayed for someone, a friend, a confidante, a fellow writer, someone I called talk shop with about writing (my whole life, writing was something I did very privately; my own brother didn’t know I wrote), someone who would understand the drive to create a story and have it read by someone else.  Such was my prayer. Never, ever let it be said God doesn’t have a sense of humor.  Because God did in fact answer my Christian prayer—he sent me a Muslim. 
Suzi Ryan