Come Play With Us, Franny

Hey everyone! I know it’s been a minute, but I found myself inspired again – just kidding my friend Paul of “thepluckyreader” kept updating and, I know that dude personally, and he has had a cuckoo bananas schedule and he still updated; basically, I’m not about to be outdone. God knows I have fewer obligations than he does. Paul, you’re my hero man, good on you. All of this to say, I just want to give you a small update on my life. My writing life that is, I wrote a short story about a ghost in like two weeks and now this six-thousand-word albatross is essentially taking over my whole life. My life when I’m not working, that is. I have sent it out a bunch of times, so hopefully, something comes of that, who’s to say?

When I was writing this, I had a thought, this short story entitled The Widow, was my first attempt at a horror story. “Wait, seriously?” you might be asking. “aren’t you the girl who cites Stephen King in a normal conversation?! How are you just now, writing a horror story?” Well frankly, I did not think I could. Why would I? Joe Hill exists! Stephen King exists!

As long the King family is around and writing we, as horror nerds are set. Yeah, that looks just as stupid on the page as it sounded out loud. Just in case anyone forgets – women have been writing horror for decades. Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Flannery O’Connor’s story A Good Man Is Hard to Find – I still get chills!

Oh yeah, I know, it only took me about -let’s see it’s Friday, right? Let’s call it, twelve years until I realized just how undeniably stupid that logic is in the grand scheme. Ever hear someone try to rationalize a reason as to why they cannot do a thing, but you see right through them? Their argument is so transparent and flimsy that you just squint your eyes and say “…dude.” For most of my life, I was that idiot. Not that I have some kind of gift because I do not unless you count a firm belief in the notion that practice makes perfect.

But honestly, it just did not occur to me to try to do it. I need to tread lightly here because if I’m not careful, I am going to sound like the most self-aggrandizing jerk you have ever met. Let’s not be That Girl, shall we? I got to thinking, more like arguing with myself if we are being totally honest.

“But I write YA.” I would think.

“You still can,” I would tell myself.

“I write about good things…” popped in my head. “I don’t know if I can deter from that -,”

“Your favorite book is literally about a demon clown who gets defeated by the power of friendship.”

“Oh. Fair.”

Basically, my whole point is when I wrote my own scary story – it just felt right. For a first attempt, I think I did pretty good, and I want to keep doing this, I do not see why I cannot keep writing Young Adult and horror -you know who else did that? Dr. Seuss. Just kidding it was Stephen King. It predates Carrie, and he sent it out under the name Richard Bachman. It’s called The Long Walk and I know I say this about most of his work but- Holy God what imagery.

Young Adult is rapidly becoming darker, and more paranormal, Truly, Devious is a murder mystery. Lauren Myracle has this one novel I read it in high school, but I still remember it, it’s called Bliss it uses the Manson murders as a backdrop to the novel’s events to give you a taste of what we are dealing with. The fact of the matter is, when it comes to writing I don’t like labels. Even if I want to make horror my job I do not have to stay there-the selling point is that there are no rules for this kind of work. Frankly, it does not matter. I want to scare you, and I want a seat at the table.

 

Pass the salt,

Fran

 

 

 

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Page One

In my last semester of college, I took a Forensic Psychology class, because you know, for fun. I had an assignment in which I had to read the Hoffman report, what that is, is a 600 plus page document regarding the “relaxation”, of the ethical standards for the psychologists involved in torture interrogations. It’s a big deal in the world of the American Psychological Association. Not so much a big deal in the world of Fran LoIacono Needs to Pass. Luckily, training in jiu-jitsu means you hang out with a surprising amount of cops, so I asked one of them. I figured, he’s a detective, he might know.

“Dude, you gotta help me, I have to read the Hoffman report and I have no idea what I’m doing!” I said on the phone, my professor had a different style than I was used to, and while I liked the hands-off approach, taking the class as a simple true crime nerd and not a CJ or Psych major, did not do me enough favors, to say the least. Although I did manage to mention a few details on the Jeffrey Dahmer case he had missed while he was giving a lecture. To my chagrin, Detective Not Helping, scoffed. Mind you, I have the Bible in its entirety before, and yet one really long Law Enforcement manual has me quaking. I’m a weird person, what can I say?

“That’s like six hundred pages long,” DNH responded incredulously, I am assuming that perhaps it simply was not his division, or since it came out in 2015 there’s a chance he just did not have to read it, although he may have found the Spark Notes, which at this point I would have gladly accepted.

“I know!” I panicked. “So, where do I start?”

“I would start with Page One,” he quipped.

“I hate you, bye.” was my answer back.

I am ninety-nine percent positive he was just being an ass and was not trying to tell me anything profound. It was not coming from a cop, but as my friend who wanted me to do the work and succeed, and partially as a dad himself who probably tells his kids the same thing, do your own homework. It got to the point, where I was so preoccupied with trying to find a shortcut, that enough time had passed when I could have just read the thing.

The other day I got a text message from a friend of mine, asking “Where does one begin to write a memoir?”, I retorted with “page one”. That was when I got the idea for this post, I want to talk about the concept of Page One this week. For some reason, those who do not have a creative mindset think that authors simply clap their hands and poof instant best seller. It really is work, I know people who cannot even sit still for a movie or they see a book and just quit on the spot.  For someone to sit down, at a typewriter or in the case of the really early works, hand written, could you imagine handwriting, Les Miserables?! No, absolutely not, I quit internally at the very thought. That takes focus, that takes discipline and work like any other job. No, you cannot just “write when inspiration strikes,” you just power through because you are on a deadline, so you look through your novel if you are blocked to find out what went wrong and you fix it. It is all part of the process, you cannot just write when inspiration strikes or no one would have any money. The starving artist thing is only cool if you are in a musical by Jonathan Larson.

Did my thinking stop there? Well if it did this would be one boring blog post. Of course, it did not, instead of after that conversation with my friend, I found a list of some of the longest novels and series’ known to nerd kind. Remembrance of Things Past (this one actually hold the record for the longest novel according to the Guinness website), War and Peace, A Song of Ice and Fire, Silmarillion, Les Miserables, IT, The Stand, freaking Ulysses. All of these are amazing works, they are also insanely ridiculous  “how do you even do that?” level of long. Someone asked Stephen King how he writes and he said “one word at a time”. Once again I am positive he is being an ass and did not mean to sound as profound as he did, but that’s what happens with writers, no one wants to pay us but they look to us to find the poetry in a traffic jam. Go figure.

It’s the truth, for anything really not just writing, you want to write a novel, even if it does end up a big on the long side, or if you want to write a blog post, a really risky text, there is only one way to do it, one word at a time.  No matter what the task, no matter how daunting it may seem, if you ever find yourself asking “how am I supposed to do this?!”. There will only ever be one way to conquer any challenge, start with page one.

 

Planners vs. Pantsers: Two Kinds of People

Many writers would divide themselves into one of two categories; the planners and the pantsers. The planners, that’s your Tolkien, your Gaiman, your Martin. Authors who are inclined to fantasy, essentially need to be planners, fantasy and speculative fiction require a lot of world building. Which involves gearing up the coffee and moving into the library for several weeks. It took me five years before I realized, I really like research. This is one of the best parts of the process for me. I like learning something new, I like uncovering knowledge that I did not have before. I have a permanent student mentality and the research process is a lot more fun when there is not a grade hanging over your head.

I am a planner, or a “plotter” depending on who you ask. I like to think of a piece I am writing, as a trip, I am going to take, I want to know how I am going to get there, and where I am going to end up, but I do not need to plan every turn and stop point.  The likes of us, are authors like JK Rowling, Sylvia Plath, Arthur Miller, Joseph Heller, so I like to think that I am in good company. I take extensive notes on whatever topic I do not know about, proceed to throw myself down a Google rabbit hole, and do my very best. If I took the adage “write what you know” literally, I would not have a leg to stand on. It would be so repetitive, a sullen girl writing in her journal with her headphones playing Alice Cooper on her bed while a cup of coffee or tea slowly grows cold beside her on the end table. You have read that, I have read that, I have written that, and sometimes, depending on how you do it, it can be a great story. Most stories need to branch out, and I like to write what I like to read, as do we all I am sure.

Meg Cabot read romance novels as a kid so she wrote a romance in every book plot. Maureen Johnson read every word Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote, enter Truly, Devious (which you have totally picked up, right? Sequel comes out in January). Me? I like to write about family, I like to write about friendship, and I like to write characters that prove their naysayers wrong. So I like to read those stories, everyone thought Bill Denbrough was just going nuts after the death of his brother, so he and his friends kill Pennywise. Whenever I am writing a new piece of fiction, I like to pick something I do not know anything about, this leaves me with a lot of questions, a lot of really cool field trips, and an eclectic home library.

“Pantser”, as in “fly by the seat of your pants” get it? It is a term that is one syllable shorter than “winging it”. These are the people who sit down and stare at their screen and as Pierce Brown says “wait for the lightning to strike,”. These are the likes of Margaret Atwood, who grabs an idea and runs with it, which I respect and I do that too to a degree. Where Margaret gets an idea and jumps into the pool, I get the idea and consult the thermometer, when the last time the pool was cleaned, and if anyone is in my splash zone.

You will never guess, who is easily the most famous pantser of all time, contain your shock, it’s Stephen King. Notorious pantser gets up, brushes his teeth sits at his desk and thinks ‘fuck it’ and types away. I have no idea how he got there, and nor does he for that matter, he just rips off the band-aid and likes to jest that planners, “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.” all due respect King, everyone has their method. What a grouch. I like to plan, I am a planner in most aspects of life, you should see me pack for a trip, if I ever get stuck in a Taken type of situation, I am set I have food, I have clothes, I probably have every pair of underwear I own, take your time Liam Neeson I have several novels and trail mix to keep me company. I once brought four suitcases to spend a weekend three hours from home for a wedding, do not doubt my skills. Like this blog post, I spent all week knowing who pertained to what process and what the appeal was for them because frankly, I do not get it. In the most “me” thing I could think of, I researched spontaneity. Therefore, I am here with my data; it’s just fun for them. Like driving is fun for some people, and I do not understand those people either.

Whether you are a planner like me or a pantser like King the idea behind wanting to write is trying to find a process that works for you. If you want to stick to a routine go for it, if you do not have a routine, that is fine too, if you just spent an hour on Wikipedia wondering what happened when Queen Elizabeth I had her period for the first time and what the protocol was for that – first of all, nice idea, and second of all, go for it.  Maybe you need to write three thousand words by dinner time, I envy you, maybe you feel accomplished if you got two hundred words in today, that’s still two hundred more than you had this morning – good on you. Writing is a job in which the process is as fluid and individualized as the product itself. Find your groove you will get there.

 

Happy writing,

Fran

Why We Write

Most of my free time is spent glaring at a blinking cursor, willing my sleep-deprived brain to come out with something somewhat intelligent. Does not have to be thought-provoking, or particularly evocative I just want a sentence that sounds like I am kind of, sort of, good at this. When I get like this, I like to think of a list of reasons why I, or anyone else for that matter, does it. Most of my family thinks I am insane for wanting to even attempt it,  let alone actively trying to do this professionally. My go-to response is “I like it, I think it’s really great to make whole worlds out of what was once a stack of paper,” or if I am particularly cranky that day “because I can’t sing or dance and I’m not getting America’s Next Top frickin’ Model anytime soon,”  and that is the truth, most times it’s not that easy or that simple. Many professors, and educators, they will tell you how you write, but no one will tell you why.

Sometimes we write to cope, many authors write to cope with a bad situation or a bad time in their life, or even to write out something traumatic because when you write it gives you control over the situation so it can end how you want it to end. A bad break up can be a tragic story that ends in death, or at least it might if I was the one writing it. The real heavy hitters were famous for that. Stephen King wrote to come to terms with his addiction, see Misery, and even The Shining as he writes “I did not know I was writing about myself until I finished the book,”. Sometimes, a pen and paper are all the weapons it takes to face your demons, even when your demon looks suspiciously like Kathy Bates.

Tolkien wrote to cope with PTSD after his time in World War I. Sometimes it helps to put the situation away, in your head it just builds up. Ask any therapist, they will tell you that letting something stew in your head does no one any favors. This way we get to, just put it somewhere if nothing else.  This way we can write it down, close up the book, and stuff it in a drawer. Or maybe sell it and it becomes a fantasy franchise that defines an entire subculture, it’s up to you.

We write because we want to return the favor when you read Meg Cabot, Maureen Johnson, and John Green throughout high school, and well into your adulthood, you want a seat at the table. You remember reading Harry Potter for the first time and having it stay in your head, every family crisis that comes along to recite it to yourself, and even five minutes ago on the phone to a friend; “what’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does,” and if you are like me, you want to do that for someone else. You want a kid to reach for your book when they’re sad, or maybe she wants to feel like they have a friend in their bag. I brought the first Harry Potter book with me every single first day of school from the third grade, onwards. I just wanted to have a friend with me, when we do not write for ourselves we write for that kid.

Finally, we write to teach, my sister is studying to be a teacher, and she always says that “those who teach do it for the outcome, not the income,” which is painfully true (a different topic for a different week,) and that got me thinking. Novels teach you without being preachy or obvious about it, at least the good ones do. John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska tells you that the effect you make, and the decisions you make, affect your friends and those around you. Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson is how to cope with the death of a parent as a teenager, it teaches you that in times of crisis like that it’s important to lean on your family, chosen or blood. There are so many kids going through that and I hope that book helped them.

 

Write what you know,

Fran

 

Beware the OTP

Greetings and Salutations! (first hint!)

As previously stated in the last post, I have an affinity for Young Adult, it’s what I like to write and because of this, it should be said that there is a certain responsibility to writers of Young Adult fiction. Since that genre pertains mostly to teenagers, I have always considered people who make anything for teenagers that they should at the very least – even on the most subtle levels – take a responsibility to your audience.

This week, I am going to talk about the works of fiction which hold this responsibility very seriously, the ones who drop the ball completely, and the ones that are just greatly misinterpreted. Quite literally, the good, the bad, and the damaged (that’s your second hint!). The obligation in question when writing YA is to teach, please think about what you want to convey when you write. Of course, you are writing for yourself, but keep in mind the message that your work puts out there. Especially when people in a very vulnerable, impressionable, age range. In this case, adolescents, it stands to reason after all at the end of the day you are writing for kids.

Admittedly, I have not always thought that; when I started writing I thought of that and thought to myself “It’s not my job to tell your kids to be good people,” luckily, I grew up and that mindset did not last long. It is still not my job to teach other people’s children to be good people, however, it was not JK Rowling’s job to teach me that I should not try to hide my intelligence and my love of learning. I didn’t think that Hermoine Granger was strange for never hiding her smarts, and I remember wanting to study harder so I could be as bright as her, and nor would I tell anyone else that they were strange for liking to read and expand their interests. Yet she did that, she did that for me and for so many other girls. But mostly, she did that for her younger self, there’s an old adage “write what you know” Jo Rowling knows how to take you away to a different world while teaching you real-world situations.

In this case, it is to simply help them figure it out. I said in my last post that during a time in which I was trying to figure out who I was, I was happy to have some of my favorite characters to help me figure it out. I knew I was scared sometimes like Holden Caulfield, I knew I loved to pepper my writing with pop culture references like Mia Thermopolis, and I knew I just wanted to be unapologetically myself, cap n’ crunch obsession and all. Like Jessica Darling 

In fiction, such as in life, you want to make sure you surround yourself with good people. I like to equate it to food if you live on a drive-through menu, you’re not going to feel good a lot of the time. Make sure you have good friends, a healthy diet, and you will have a significantly better quality of life. Of course what makes a “good” book is subjective. I personally think The Shining is one of the best novels ever written – but that’s just my opinion, I am not exactly alone in this, but the fact of the matter states that at the end of the day it is just an opinion. You could think The Shining is utter crap, or maybe you just do not like scary stories, fair enough. But there are certain subjective proponents to what I would consider a good book.

First, the writing has to be tight, well done, at the very least do not have sentences like “his eyebrows widened,” or “he chuckled darkly” (seriously, how?!), and my personal favorite piece of dialogue; “Did you get me tipsy on purpose?” “Yes,”(Good god, my skin is crawling just typing it). Every example I just gave was from a significantly adult book. Before I evaluate on this, I will go ahead and express the differences between Adult fiction, and Young Adult Fiction.

Adult Fiction pertains to writers such as Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Dean Koontz, and even the almighty Stephen King. Dealing with themes a bit heavier and above the pay grade of your average high school student. Things like alcoholism, murder, divorce, and finding love after a divorce or the death of a spouse. Young Adult Fiction also lately deals with themes that are a bit dark; a novel I read several times throughout high school titled, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things deal with date rape, body image, and going outside of one’s comfort zones. These are prevalent and important for anyone in the intended age range to read the novel.

The idea of body image is very important for anyone going through adolescence, mostly it is just getting used to your body rearranging itself into what would ultimately be you for the rest of your life. The main character, Virginia, feels like a black sheep in her family and is feeling particularly lonely when her best friend moves away. She comes from a wealthy family and the fact that she’s plus sized is a side note, she deals with the thoughts that all us women who are not a size two. But it becomes stated pretty early in the novel that she has essentially bigger fish to fry when it comes out that her brother, an ivy league student and all-around golden boy, gets expelled for date raping a fellow student. She goes through the entire novel questioning her own judgments, who she can trust, and if there was anyone she could look up to…God alive, I should really read this book again.

Look, this is the twenty-first century, date rape and other variations of sexual assault are all too common. This book asks the questions that no one thinks to ask; the ripple effect that something like this effects more than the two people involved. This novel forces you to think about the family of the assailant, the mother who thinks to herself what she did wrong, the sister, in this case, Virginia, who always looks up to her big brother and now does not know if she can trust anyone because of what he did. I linked the Amazon page to the book so you can order it whenever you like. I recommend.

A lot of times when creators really drop the ball here is with a love story. It’s not necessarily the creator’s fault a lot of the time, such is the case with a certain DC villain couple, many people simply miss the point and see what they want. Even more unfortunate, they tend to be the loudest. You know exactly what I mean, the idiots on Twitter screaming that they are #TeamEdward or Harley and Joker are “Relationship Goals”, here is why that is problematic for teenagers to read things like Twilight, and why you should take a second look at the brooding, very angry boy who got into a fight with two football stars, (third and final hint).

It pains me to say it, but my favorite author, Maureen Johnson, was a big fan of the Twilight books when they were hot off the presses. Here’s why it is okay for her to like those things and not okay for your fifteen-year-old niece/daughter to like them. Maureen Johnson is the dictionary definition of a grown ass woman. When Twilight came out I was in high school, early into high school, yes I am aware I am so old. However, Maureen Johnson was an adult and at a less crucial time in terms of forming her identity.

Since let’s face it, there are just some things that get in your head and stay there. I don’t know about you but if I had a kid I wanted them thinking that a ninety-something-year-old vampire who hangs around high schools is the pinnacle of romance. “It’s not because we look old,” John Green famously says in a vlogbrothers video. “it’s because we are old.” That’s the least of their problems if I’m being completely honest. There’s one scene where he rips her engine out of her car to keep her from seeing her from her future pedophile bestie Jacob? And you mean to tell me this girl has no female friends? Why does everything go on the backburner the second she meets Edward? Why is that every time she’s around him she damn near kills herself or at least breaks a leg? I’m getting off track, I had a point here, I promise.

Twilight would be the example of the bad, badly written, badly executed, bad premise, just all around Bad. Which incidentally is why it fizzled out so quickly, if you want to read it for escapism or a beach read or if you just don’t want to think too hard about the content, be my guest. Heed my warning though, Twilight is the drive-through of fiction. Man cannot thrive on McNovels alone.

Finally, the movie I really wanted to talk about in the first place, the great, the bad, and the chaos that killed the dinosaurs, darling. If you have not picked it up by now, I want to talk about the Heathers. The romantic couple in the film Heathers is the protagonist Veronica Sawyer, and trench coat wearing, Baudelaire quoting, blank-shooting, unbelievably damaged J.D. I love villains, and I love tragic undeniably fucked up characters-enter Jason Dean. Here’s why I like it, and why people really drop the ball on how they are portrayed. J.D. poisons Heather Chandler because she annoyed him, that’s it. Things escalate from there, and he puts it on Veronica each and every time, tricking her into shooting Kurt and Ram.

Each and every time, he says it’s because they were mean to her. Kurt and Ram spread a gross rumor about her, and JD decided they need to die. Heather Chandler (the red Heather for those of you wondering) got pissed off at Veronica at a party and vowed to make her a social outcast, so naturally, he puts Drano in her coffee. Who writes the suicide note that will get JD off and make sure he does not go to jail? You guessed it, Veronica. All of these are done, with the defense that JD maintains he was defending Veronica’s honor. Gentleman, just punch a dude in the face, you look like a tough guy your girl will probably roll her eyes at you but no one gets killed.

So why do I like this movie? Frankly, it’s amazing, the plots’ great, it’s a testament of the times, I’m a sucker for black comedy. By the time she had graduated high school, I had my sister yelling “fuck me, gently, with a chainsaw,” on a weekly basis. The point is, is that JD, who gets his name from Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger, is essentially traumatized by his mom’s suicide and his dad’s lack of grief for it. This makes him unpredictable at best. But Veronica is drawn to his wit, his hatred for conformity which Veronica finds refreshing since she conforms to the Heathers clique, for social survival. Veronica expresses her frustration to him by saying she’s using her impressive IQ to “try to decide which gloss to wear, or how to hit three keggers before curfew”. It’s not until the murders of Kurt and Ram does she try to break up with him, and he begins plotting the “suicide” of Veronica…and everyone else.

JD establishes early on that he is not a “middle ground” type of dude. There is only one way to do anything and that is 0-100. I made the mistake of doing some research on Tumblr to see if hopefully anyone did not, in fact, misread the relationship. Yeah. Nope. They did that..people do that. Talking about the intense love that JD and Veronica have for each other, and how listening to the musical’s number “Our Love is God” and thinking that it’s the most romantic thing ever. No one talks about the mental hell that Veronica goes through in both the musical and the film. You are not allowed to forget that JD is toxic at any point in either representation.

Conclusively, I leave you with this; sometimes it’s okay to take the story as a story. There are certain pieces of media that you should definitely take with a grain of salt, and there are some that you can dive right into. If someone tries to tell you that fictional characters do not matter; tell that to the little girl who wears a pair of jeans and a pink hoodie because it makes her feel like Hermione Granger.

Swish and Flick,

Fran

 

 

“Who Am I?”

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a recent graduate, typing in her dad’s recliner, at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Friday – must be in want of a book deal. Or at least a decent job in her field with benefits, preferably medical. If you got that reference, you and I are going to get along great. As my family says, ecco mi, or translated here I am. My name is Fran, I’m a libra, and I’m currently writing a book. I already have one manuscript when I was out of ideas for a novel. It’s a collection of essays about things that I was curious about. Why do we watch horror movies? Why is representation so important? Things like that.

Hopefully, you have already read a few of my essays before this. I thought I could build a persona online like Maureen Johnson. This big public thing and not have to worry about discussing the ups and down of my life. Maureen Johnson is my hero, she’s fantastic, she is the Young Adult world’s answer to Auntie Mame. I met her once, it was the greatest day of my life, if I had to cast a patronus I would think back to that day. I recently read her book Truly, Devious – if you haven’t yet do the thing and read it you will devour it. Here’s the thing, I love Maureen Johnson and as much as I would love to have her success and sit at the Algonquin Roundtable drinking Old Fashioneds and arguing about Hemingway. Johnson’s persona, works for her, and no disrespect to her it’s pretty thinly veiled.

Maureen Johnson recently got married, that’s all I know. I know she had a few friends, her family came in from Philladelphia, her dress was lavendar,  and she is very happy. However, her twitter bio is “please buy my books so we can afford to buy this haunted clown motel” lists one of her preferred pronouns as “the presence in the air vents” and post inexplicable stuff like “never apoligize, never explain,” while also writing that she is pushing a piano closer to an open window. I am positive none of these things are true or serious. But God they are funny, I take her feed as more of a testament to her wit and frankly no one NEEDs another depressing Twitter feed. She reminds me in this public live feed type of culture that I can pick and choose what I want to share with the world.

The fact of the matter is, the Auntie Mame vibe that she projects, it’s good for her. But I do better when I am myself.  So if you want a woman who has a running gag about remodeling a museum dedicated to ABBA – seriously she dedicated one of her novels to the band. Look it up, the sequel for Suite Scarlett. All of this to say, that I started reading Young Adult once I started high school, and in a time when I was figuring out who I was I am very glad I chose Maureen Johnson as a mold.

Finding out who I am…so you want to hear just who I came up with? Sure thing, here goes, the Fran LoIacono starter pack. First, a cup of coffee, at least two or three but no more than three a day or my anxiety will spike so much I will be afraid of my own shadow. Second, dogs; I have three dogs, a little white fluffy one that I am supposed to call a pomapoo which I named Mayzie, a dacshund named Zoie whom we rescued, and a boxer named Bobbi that we had taken from a breeder in the Amish country three years ago.

Third, family. I have two younger siblings and a stereotypically big Italian family. One brother, one sister, and I just got back from breakfast with two of my eight cousins. Hey guys!

My first story ever was about a princess who did not have a bedtime, my mother got it laminated. Later she would look at me in awe when I showed her the first finished product I wrote all two hundred odd pages of it, her jaw on the floor. “I have no idea where you get this from,” is her refrain. Neither do I Ma, neither do I.

My grandfather read a lot, whenever he had the time, more so once my dad and his siblings went off into their own world. Three jobs and six children cuts into your reading time it would seem. My dad always remembered him with a book in his hand. Mostly World War II, a lot of history stuff because apparently growing up during a war still makes it interesting to some.

Fourth, is scary things. I like horror movies, Stephen King novels, things like that. Stephen King’s book On Writing has essentially become my Bible, I look through it whenever I feel like I am missing something or I am stuck on an idea. My favorite book is It, I have seen both film adaptations, own the book and listened to it on audio. Not a week goes by when I do not think about the Losers club.

The fifth and final thing, pens, paper or a computer. Every time I read a book like IT or Truly, Devious. I think to myself okay, this is it. There are books that every writer reads and remembers the feeling, the zing in your heart, for me it feels like butterflies in my stomach. It’s the feeling that makes you want to run to your pen or your keyboard with an immense need to return the favor. I think the professionals call it, inspiration. It makes you want to write a book that stays with someone so that even over thirty years after you have written it, closes it in bed and thinks to herself – I want to do that for someone else. 

That’s why I hope to get published one day, not a famous author, no one gets into writing for the fame and if they do they should go for something much more, expedited like singing or modeling.  I just want to get published, make enough that I can live off of it, some of us just want to write and make people feel good, no need for a parade. Not all of us want to be JK Rowling, if you ask me what author I want to be, I think I can finally say that the author that I want to be is Fran LoIacono.

Happy Reading! I’ll see you when I see you.

 

Con Affetto,

Fran

 

 

 

La Donna Americana (The American Woman)

This woman is unmistakable, she has been featured in several photos and films, her jewelry glistens against her olive skin. She can be found in the kitchen, yelling for her children to come in for dinner, as she hangs out the window of their apartment. She cares for her husband and their big family of which she is so proud.  Her handsome boy and her beautiful girls. Her house is clean, her kids are respectful, and her husband brags about how his wife is an amazing cook. If she’s not in the kitchen, she is an elegant movie star, short black hair and olive skin with dark eyes. Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Marisa Tomei, Asia Argento. Whether she is setting the table or the stage, she is always beautiful. She is the Italian woman and she is exactly what I wanted to be growing up.

I am second generation Sicilian who grew up with three things: God, Food, and Family. The three cornerstones of Italian culture, as most people will tell you. When people think of Italy, they brush it off as a western culture, like America. While that is largely true today, it was not always this easy. I grew up in a rich, tight-knit culture, my parents always made sure we knew right where our family had originated. Imagine my shock when I learned that not every child knew not only what country, but what town. Alia, province di Palermo, a Sicilia I practiced under my breath growing up in anticipation of when someone would ask me where I was from. I was taught to only say my mother’s family, as my father’s family is based in Corleone, the town made famous by Mario Puzo’s iconic novel The Godfather.  A great piece of literature but rather hard to live down when your family can be traced back there.

Sicilians do not like most Italian people except other Sicilians, Sicily is a very rural society, so when the Italian north took control over the southern part of Italy, it made life significantly difficult. The north took a more industrial approach, which proved to be counterproductive to a community who made their living on mostly farmland. Soon, there were not a lot of jobs available, hence the wave of Italian immigrants in the 19th century to Ellis Island. With them, they brought their possessions, their children, and a new identity to figure out. For the Ellis Island generation, the best thing you could be was an American. An American meant opportunity. It meant school for your children. A better life overall. The mothers who brought their daughters along were already sure of their role in life. However, their daughters had a clean slate ahead of them: they got to be American girls! Being an American Girl did not come with a recipe book or a series of steps to take to improve their image.

In Elizabeth Ewen’s Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars, the struggles of Italian immigrants were many. Not only was there a language barrier that they had to push through, the women were suddenly in a position where they had to work in order to feed others. They could not live off the crops they grew off the land, they had to cram their big families in those infamous low-income apartments. The women who stayed home were subjected to social workers barging through their doors and telling them how to raise their children. Workers telling them how to swaddle their babies, what to feed them, and what were the right medicines. “The tension between immigrant women and the representatives of industrial culture was not over the need to change external conditions of motherhood in an urban slum environment, but over how and what knowledge needed to be incorporated into the rhythm and patterns of daily life” (Ewen 139).

After living in a world in which the Italian women were trained to cook, clean, and care for her husband and in turn raise their daughters to do the same, coming to America meant that she was then thrown into the work-force, particularly those who stayed in New York. To keep their family in the shelter, both parents were required to work. Not always having a trade to go on as their husbands did, many immigrant women ended up being cooks, maids, and laundresses. Domestic tasks were all they knew, and so they chose to market their domestic skills accordingly.

After the first generation got settled, the number of Italian-American women who graduated college skyrocketed among immigrant communities. An education for women proved to be imperative, an education meant a pathway to a better life. Especially for the daughters of immigrants, it was understood that America was a different ball game. These women had more options now, they did not have to resign themselves to being wives and mothers, they had the opportunity for more advancement in their lives. According to “Gender and Precarious Labor in a Historical Perspective: Italian Women and Precarious Work between Fordism and Post-Fordism,” the Italian woman, along with her immigrant counterparts, were subject to ‘sex-divided labor’ (maids, cooks, nannies) and the practice of sexual discrimination being less likely to get hired because the process of maternity leave, this proved to be a huge problem for the incredibly fertile lifestyle of the Roman-Catholic families.

The American Woman spends her money on herself of her own accord. She lives with her. In Ewen’s book, daughters were expected to contribute to the household in any way that they could. The daughters born in America were used to being different from the other girls, having nothing to go on they looked to magazines and film stars like Marilyn Monroe to be the perfect American woman. Marilyn wore lipstick and perfume and had more aspirations than keeping a house and running a big family.

Given the new generations choice to not to have as many children if any at all, was making it so they did not have to do the same laborious work as their mothers did, which after all came of these families wanting to build a better life for themselves and their children.  As for the generation after the Ellis Island days; the first generation of girls to be born in the late sixties in America. Women like my mother who were the children of immigrants, tasked with having to navigate their girlhood and their identity in a foreign land. At least their mothers had their past and their memories to hold on to, the children born with a clean slate. They faced pressure to succeed and to assimilate in both American and Italian cultures.

My mother, Patrizia, known as Patti, joked that it was “more exhausting” being an Italian mother rather than the white bread stereotypical mother in the commercials wearing a sweater set. “I never felt like an outsider per se, but when I was a little girl, you know, I did not speak English for a while, because who was going to teach me? Your grandparents barely knew it. They had enough English to get by but at home, it was their prerogative to speak Italian to all of us.” My mom sits in front of me; her hair is freshly done and she shows me her pink manicure. We are sitting in the kitchen in the house that she bought and made into a home with my father, Gino. It is almost impossible to tell that my mom struggled to speak English as a small child.

I was always proud of my mom for making sure she knew where we came from. “Not only did I make sure I knew where you guys came from – you know exactly where it is too!” she joked. Knowing our roots was always the quintessential way in our family. The school setting proved to be crucial for my mother’s generation. Once the language barrier had been conquered, they realized that they were in a situation that could educate them in American culture in a way that their parents could not. It was where they learned about how to dress, how to act, what to eat and what games to play. They were “exposed to American concepts of democracy and individualism” that their parents may have learned through their jobs but were ill-equipped with the baggage of the ways of the Old World still on their shoulders (Albright and Moore 37).

We knew what the environment in Sicily was like, and what it was like before my great aunt and my grandparents came here in the early sixties. The story of how my grandparents met in Sicily at City Hall planning to go to America but ended up going a bit later than either of them had planned. My mom and her sisters went in the summertime after they graduated from high school to see our family. We found it important to nod to the past, then look to the future. It was always so important to my mom that her kids marry Italian, should we choose to get married. My mom provides our cultural foundation around us, giving us the freedom to be more progressive. This type of environment gave us the freedom to carry the past in our pockets rather than on our backs; so long as it was with us we would do well in America.

“I always thought it was better to marry into our culture because it helps to have someone with a similar background as you. Sometimes it makes things easier to be with someone who knows what all that is like.” Mom’s implication is someone who knows to eat spaghetti with a spoon and a fork and knows to dip their finger in the holy water and give the sign of the cross the second they set foot in a church. The difference between the two of us and the generations before us is that we were taught to treat marriage as a choice. It stopped being a career option in my mom’s generation and it seems like a luxury to mine. By the time my mom was an adult she had the luxury to get married because she wanted to, something our older relatives just did not have at the time. In the span of the previous generation’s life the women who were raised as the first generation got to take matters into their own hands when it comes to men.

The land is going to be different for each generation, the women that grew up with my mom decided among themselves that they will not raise their sons to be helpless. The early seventies were when the cultural shift began, men in Italian families were suddenly expected to do more than find a job or trade. Their fathers and grandfathers were upstanding hardworking men but seem to find domestic tasks such as cooking their own dinner and doing their own laundry. As they fought for autonomy, they fought for equality. The women were changing and as a result, the men had to as well.

Mom tells me the story that she “married the boy next door”. I have been hearing this story my whole life. Corleone and Alia are about an hour apart. Growing up with my grandparents meant that sex and puberty were just not acknowledged. Italian culture is strongly Catholic, with the Vatican holding a significant presence in society. The concept of sex was for marriage and only for marriage if this rule was broken the girl was an automatic social outcast. Pushing heteronormative and abstinence-only ideals only made it so that the girl would fear her own body. Telling her repeatedly, that no good man would want her if she was not a virgin. This just painted her virginity as a dowry or a piece of collateral proving to be regressive. The sexual revolution that began in the late sixties and early seventies helped shape the American woman’s image as someone who had sex with a man before she was married and was praised for it no less.

“Tell me about the first time you got your period, how did Nonna handle that?” I asked.

“She didn’t,” my mother said flatly. “one of my friends from school told me. I thought she was lying imagine my shock, I was about ten, and then I just woke up today and there it was. My mom’s experience was common. Luckily she has two younger sisters whom she helped out once their time came. “The contingencies of biological necessity, interwoven with sexual taboos, appeared to create a shame-generated system of internalized rules and boundaries that governed everyday life inside and outside the home,” (Albright and Moore 23).

“Daddy said it was Eve’s fault for eating the apple,” I finally told her.

“That was the attitude,” my mom admits.

Sex was talked about discreetly in our house, general terms and quick answers to questions. My dad gets squeamish at the table when my sister and I talk openly about our periods and our significant others are never allowed to sleep over. “That’s something I never understood about these Americana families,” mom said to me. The thought of adult children acting like adults was something she could never wrap her head around: “there was no cutoff, you are in our house you abide by our rules, it didn’t matter how old you were.” My father will not even entertain the idea of his daughters moving out before we get married.

We each have our roles, this the type of culture that abides by the gender binary. Our father worries about my brother more so because he one day has to support a family while my sister and I have to raise one. “I always thought it was different. I just think a lot of parents these days, in general, try so hard to be their friend, not their parent. I never did that, nor did my mom, you girls could always talk to me. All my kids like to be around me, but that’s because most of you are grown up now. I was not your friend, I was your mother. It was my job to turn you into someone who could respect herself.”

As of 2000, a census done by Eloisa Betti states that women in America, particularly those of Italian ancestry, seek out their bachelor’s degree or higher at an increase of thirty-eight percent than their non-Italian peers. To be an American woman means to seek one’s own independence, to get the education that was never available to one’s mother. An education means a better job, in a world where a single-paycheck household is no longer an option, a better paying job was a must. After a generation of precarious work, the next generation could stand on her own two feet.

The Italian woman kept her husband happy and her many children fed with homecooked meals made from herbs she grew herself. The American woman relied on quick dinners, her pearls, and her two children with her white picket fence. The Italian-American woman got to pick whichever was good for her. She did not have to get married if she did not feel that was in her plan. If she did she could have as many children as she could afford, and finally, divorce was an option. While there is no shame in this society when a marriage breaks apart. In Italy, it was a different world, one just did not get divorced, harkening back to the religious beliefs that were so glued to the culture. Divorce was an abomination in the Catholic church it would make the wife a social pariah, there were no benefits for a divorced woman in Italy. The American woman could be on her third marriage and the most she would is a few looks.

In love, much like in their new country, there was yet another language barrier they had to break. Women were taught to show love by feeling and delivering acts of kindness to their spouses. The way men expressed their love for their family was to do what they could to ensure they had food on their table. “For some women, another source of marital conflict, is the incorporation of the double standard into the marriage relationship, contributing to the maintenance of a power imbalance in which women are required to take major responsibility for preserving the marriage bond and managing the risk of the husband’s sexual infidelity and emotional abandonment” (Albright and Moore 27).

My privilege in this world is that I am of a generation in which I get to pick and choose pieces from my culture I choose to keep in my life. I do not have to be the American Woman and I do not have to be the Italian woman either. I can make my family proud in ways all on my own. No one can tell me who to be, I can be the loving Italian mother and the fiercely independent American woman. My heritage does not suffer if I do not go by tradition, the Italian woman and the American woman is not a dichotomy, the Italian-American woman can do as she pleases and it took a long time to get her there.

 

 

Works Cited

Albright, Carol Bonomo, and Christine Palimidessi Moore. American Woman, Italian Style. Fordham University Press, 2011. eBook.

Betti, Eloisa. “Gender and Precarious Labor in a Historical Perspective: Italian Women and Precarious Work between Fordism and Post-Fordism.” International Labor and Working-Class History (2016): 64-83. document.

Ewen, Elizabeth. Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars. New York City: Monthly Review Press, 1985. Book.

LoIacono, Patricia Guccione. My Mom Helped Frances LoIacono. 11 October 2017.