8 Things Teens Today Probably Don’t Know About 1970

We’re only one month away from the release of Leaving Kent State, so to celebrate, I thought I’d offer a list of things that teens today probably won’t know about the year 1970:

8. It’s called Penny Candy because each piece actually cost a penny. What’s penny candy, you ask?  It’s those individually wrapped candies that you can buy separately, one piece at a time: Tootsie Rolls, Root Beer Barrels, Carmels, Sweethearts, and Hershey kisses were common choices in 1970. The Tootsie Roll was the first individually wrapped candy in the U.S. and was first made in 1986. This was quickly followed by Sweethearts from the Necco Company and Hershey Kisses in 1907. Sometimes the candies, if they were really small, came in little packages like Sixlets and Boston Baked Beans. You could buy Penny Candy at drug stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, and even some hardware stores and gas stations (the kind without a convenience store!)

7. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel was the number one Billboard single of the 1970.

6. In 1970, a first class U.S. postage stamp cost 6 cents, a gallon of gas cost 36 cents, and a Barbie Doll would put you back $4.77.

5. If you wanted to make a phone call and you weren’t at home or at someone else’s house (or at a place like school or work), then you had to find a payphone, which was usually placed in it’s own little booth. These were often in buildings or on street corners or in parking lots. You also needed a dime (or someone willing to take your call “collect” who would pay the charges on their phone bill). Most phone booths looked like this.

4. At night, sometime after the Johnny Carson Show or the late movie (which usually started at midnight), the television stations went off. Like completely off. They called this signing off, and some stations would play America the Beautiful, or the Star Spangled Banner at the end of their last show. Sometimes you would get a colored screen with the station’s logo on the screen, but sometimes it just went to snow. Snow is a bunch of gray, scratchy lines that was the television trying to get a signal from stray signals. If you were a teen and it was the weekend, you probably tried to stay up until the station signed off.

3. If you went to the movie theater and you were late, you could stay in your seat until the next showing and catch the beginning of the movie (assuming you hadn’t waited until the last showing of the night, of course). If you really loved the movie, you could sit through the whole thing, but often people would get up and leave once they got the the part where they had come in.

2. The Beatles released their last album together in 1970.

1.  When you drove into a gas station (usually referred to as a filling station or service station because most of them also fixed cars), you would drive over a hose that rang a bell. One of the mechanics would stop working on whatever car he was fixing and would pump your gas, clean your windows, and sometimes check your oil and windshield washer levels, topping them off for you if they were low. If it were the afternoon, then the gas station might have a teenage boy working the pumps in an after school job. Most service stations had dogs that belonged to the owners, usually German Shepherds or other breeds who were good watch dogs. Sometimes the dogs slept at the stations to guard them. My uncle had a shepherd at his station, but he took her home every night with him. Gas stations were closed at night, on holidays, and on Sundays. So you had to plan ahead if you didn’t want to run out of gas!

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Goodreads Giveaway Complete!!

Hi Everyone,

Thanks to those of you who entered my giveaway for two signed ARCs of Leaving Kent State. The giveaway is completed, and the lucky winners are Doreen M. and Kim T.

I’ll be sending those copies out in the next couple of days. For those of you who missed out, watch for another giveaway of the final copies of the book coming soon!

Happy reading!

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The Turn of a Decade

img_3744Leaving Kent State will be hitting the shelves before I know it, so I wanted to share with you some fun things about the late 1960s and early 1970s leading up to the release on November 11th.

In setting the stage for the time period, I relied on iconic images that I associate with my childhood. Coca-Cola, Camel cigarettes, the music of the era, and, of course, Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. Did you know there is a Charles Schulz museum celebrating all things Peanuts? Well, there is, and you can check it out here.

As the 1960s ushered in a new period for American identity, fraught with the Vietnam War, women’s rights, and political and racial unrest, companies like Coca-Cola scrambled to find new ways to relate to their younger demographics. Coke needed a way to reflect what was hip (as they used to say) and still keep its wholesome, all-American image. In 1969, Coke came up with the slogan “The Real Thing.” To cement its appeal with young people, Coke turned to rock music and, in 1971, released its iconic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” jingle. The ad, filmed on a hilltop in Italy, featured twenty-somethings from all over the world singing about bringing a weary world harmony and peace, while it reminded viewers that Coke was “the real thing” that could glue us all together.

Rachel’s father is a lot like my dad was. A World War II vet who smoked Camel cigarettes nonstop, my dad didn’t want me to go away to college, either. He won that battle. To see if Rachel wins with her dad, well, you’ll just have to read the book.

Happy Thursday, Everyone!

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Writing What You Know, Stitching Together a Thousand Tiny Truths

IMG_3563If you write creative nonfiction, you’re surrounded by questions about the truth. How much truth is too much? What is the author’s truth versus that of his or her subjects (characters)? Is it okay to invent part of the narrative and still call it nonfiction? What about the things you don’t remember or the things you can’t be sure of firsthand? Can we presume what a real person’s feelings were at a particular time, or is it okay to surmise based on the events surrounding them?

One of my creative nonfiction friends from school said recently that she gets paralyzed in her writing when she has to try to expose her own truth. She’s so afraid of the judgments she might get, especially from family and friends, that she hasn’t written lately.

I suggested (only partly in jest) that she call her writing fiction. It’s not like there’s a mandate that prevents someone who got her MFA with a concentration in creative nonfiction from writing fiction, too. I told her that fiction isn’t really that different in the end because it’s a thousand tiny truths stitched together.

The more I thought about this, the more true it became to me (and we are talking about truth, after all). When I look at my fiction writing, it’s filled with things I’ve experienced or seen or been told. It’s centered on emotions I’ve felt or tried to sympathize with. It’s inventions created with the excess bits and pieces that are laying around my emotional junk drawer.

My mother recently read one of my ARCs for my new book, Leaving Kent State, and she said afterward, laughing a little, “I saw all the Fedels and my family scattered through there.” It made me laugh. “Write what you know,” I said. She nodded. “Write what you know.”

I’m not trying to diminish the seriousness of calling something nonfiction that isn’t (yes, I’m referencing that whole James Frey debacle). Writing creative nonfiction requires authenticity and truth. But what I am suggesting is that in every work of fiction, there is more truth stitched throughout than we care to admit. It doesn’t matter what the context is, whether it’s fantasy or historical fiction or sci-fi. It doesn’t matter whether it’s romance or a thriller. Sometimes it’s just the truth of our desires or the truth of how we wish the world could be. But it is still truth, whether it’s our own or someone else’s. The emotions and goals of the characters must ring true for a reader to become engaged in the story.

Sometimes, I know exactly how my friend feels. I often don’t write something into a story or don’t tackle the story I’d really like to because I’m afraid of the truth there. I’m afraid that someone might discover that truth and might be hurt by it or worse, exposed by it. And there are so many stories to tell, I don’t know how much it matters if I let some slip away. Maybe it’s me who can’t really face the truth of those stories and I need to write what scares me, as they say.

Whatever I write, though, I know that at it’s gooey, chocolatey center or it’s hard, diamond core, it is in fact the truth. Because, in the end, it’s the truth of your story that readers are craving. And in the end, only the truth will set you free.

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The Broken Window

This is a new poem. It’s fresh, so it’s not polished. But that’s where I am right now, so there’s that.

The Broken Window


When your world spins
penny sided, copper streaked
like blood from the runway slit
on his wrist when he landed
on the other side
of the window
when he cried and told you
the truth of his heart
threw it at you like a bible
the corner piercing into your motherhood
a sacrifice til the blood ran
copper streaked and dizzy with his
stitches in the ER at 1:00 a.m. his
pretty nurse making him
hold still, a moment,

one moment
and you watched as he
centrifuged down circling
circling around and down
and then he

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Five Young Adult Books for the Mom in Your Life


It’s almost Mother’s Day, so here is my list of YA novels you may want to consider if you are looking for a great book for your mom. Nothing is hotter than YA right now, and for good reason-bookstore shelves are stacked with lots of wonderful YA reads. YA is honest, accessible, and just plain dreamy:

5. Being Henry David, by Cal Armistead. When a teen boy wakes up at Penn Station with no memory, he follows the only clue he has-a copy of Walden. Mom’s will be drawn right in to this lost boy thriller.

4. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I never promised they would all be modern classics. In this coming of age story, Jane tackles adversity, a Gothic mansion, and a lot of mystery.

3. I capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. Yes, that Dodie Smith. The one who wrote 101 Dalmatians. In this charming tale, a young English girl, sequestered with her has been author father and an assortment of family oddballs in a dilapidated castle, discovers that life can bring you surprises in the most unlikely of places.

2. Zel, by Donna Jo Napoli. This retelling of the classic fairy tale brings us the story of Rapunzel through the eyes of the three key characters, Rapunzel, the Prince, and the Witch. Every true mom’s heart will soften when she reads the witch’s side of the story. This is a book that reminds the reader what it is like to be young.

1. Reckless, by Cornelia Funke. If your mom likes fairy tales and magic and a little romance, this is the story for her. Let her escape for a while to another time and place where fantasy reigns supreme. Funke’s imagination and beautiful language never fail to captivate.

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Foolish Thoughts


As we say goodbye to April, some thoughts on foolishness keep demanding my attention in their uncomfortable fashion. You can’t be an artist without feeling foolish sometimes. We put our best work out there only to find out that we hadn’t looked at it with enough of a critical eye. We misspell agents or editors names in our attempts to get something out even though we are submitting bleary eyed as a deadline looms. We find typos immediately after we have pressed the send button.

We also write about characters who live through raw emotions: love, hate, fear, grief, rejection, failure. If our characters don’t ever fail, then they aren’t very interesting. If a character is never a fool, then there is nothing for them to learn, no journey for them to go on. They have to want things, to try, to fail, and sometimes to be foolish in all these things as they follow their quest.

We fall in love with our characters because we share their shame as they make fools of themselves. We seek their redemption as if we are seeking our own. In a way, we are. Every one of us has played the fool, we all know how much it hurts and how hard it is to take that first step after we pick ourselves up, how hard it is to walk with a head held high when we’ve trusted the wrong person, or jumped a chasm we couldn’t possibly land, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or stood helplessly when we should have fought like a badger.

But it’s just that foolishness that makes our readers fall in love with our characters, too. They don’t want characters who sit quietly and look pretty. They want characters they can relate to. Characters who make mistakes. Characters who play the fool. Because they’ve been there, too. We write so that we don’t feel alone. But we read for the very same reason.

So the next time you are foolish, be glad. There is a reader waiting somewhere out there for a character who is just as foolish as they are, and, because you’ve been foolish, too, you can give them that character in all his or her splendor.

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The Face of Institutional Racism


The other day, my high school freshman son had a lacrosse game for school. My white son goes to an independent college preparatory school that prides itself on its diversity. As a result, his team is made up of kids from various racial, socioeconomic, and cultural groups. There are about 65 students per class. It’s not a school known for its athletic titles, but it has a few. They played a large (about 425 students per class) suburban school that is predominantly white. Despite the fact that our opponents had more than twice the number of players on their team, I didn’t see a single kid who didn’t appear to be white. They beat us by a score of, I think, 16 to three. I really wasn’t keeping track of that, I was just watching to make sure my kid didn’t get hit in the head and no one notice it.

After the game when my son got in the car, the first thing he told me about the game was that some of the opposing players had taunted his black teammates with racial slurs. One boy, in particular, they targeted with insults because he is very tall and muscular for a junior. I had heard some of the other team’s parents complaining that this boy played too roughly and that the referees needed to “do something” about him. I didn’t notice him playing all that aggressively, but he has a tremendous reach because of his size and he wasn’t letting anyone intimidate him into not using that size. It’s lacrosse, after all, a fairly rough sport. But when my son told me what had gone on during the game, I understood why the boy was so determined not to let anyone intimidate him.

This kid is really nice kid. He’s also a super smart kid who is going to have his pick of Ivy League level schools. But despite his qualifications of character and athleticism, he was made a target by some jealous kids because of his race. And then parents from that team singled him out for his play even though it wasn’t anything the refs were willing to even call.

I asked my son if the refs had heard these slurs. He said no, he didn’t think so. It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this. My oldest played hockey with a kid of Pakistani descent who sometimes had racial slurs hurled at him. There are strict league rules about it. In one instance, my son, who was never a fighter, had stepped between his teammate and the kid targeting him. The refs then got involved and, I believe, threw the kid out of the game and suspended him. I trusted the system to take care of it.

I think most of us, in general about everything, trust the system to take care of problems of racial, gender, disability, and other forms of discrimination. But what has come to light in the news in recent years and sparked the Black Lives Matter campaign is the fact that our trust is often misplaced. Too often the system does not address the problem, and, in fact, is part of the problem. I thought about this yesterday and I became increasingly concerned that the boys on that field from my son’s school would see another instance where the adults they trust would trust a system that ultimately might fail to do its job.

I talked to one of my son’s coaches today. They were aware of the issue at the time, this coach had himself heard at least one slur. They had yelled to the refs that it was going on, but the refs said they hadn’t heard it. So, after the game, they lodged formal complaints with the other school’s athletic director and the league. They talked with our boys. I don’t know what the league will do, but I am hoping they will have an investigation and take action. The athletic director of the other school apologized on behalf of his students and has promised to take action. I worry that not much will come of all this, or at least not enough. Because the discrimination against our players was demeaning and wrong. It was demeaning and wrong for our targeted players in particular, and it was demeaning and wrong to every boy on our team. It was offensive to every boy on our team. But it matters that the process is there. It matters that the system is being used by my son’s coaches and that they will do their best to hold the kids who used these racial slurs accountable. It matters that my son and his teammates know that there are adults trying to fulfill a promise of a world in which we judge people by their characters rather than by their race or gender or sexual orientation or any other criteria used to marginalize human beings. It matters that every kid from every race on my son’s team knows that the system is going to be used to protect them and their classmates, teammates, and friends from discrimination, for every type of discrimination suffered, but especially for racial discrimination because it is so prevalent. And, most of all, it matters that we all start paying attention to whether the system is held accountable to work as it’s supposed to do.

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The Art of Letting Go

Letting go

Letting go

I’ve never been a big fan of change. Maybe because I was never very goal oriented, at least not in the sweeping sense of achieving some great feat. I was the slow and steady type, plodding forward on the path of expectations, going to school, always practical and low maintenance for the other people in my life. I suppose if you have a big dream, then change is a reflection of each little step toward that dream and so you would welcome it. But for me, change always meant uncertainty and letting go of the people and places who made up my world, for better or worse.

I don’t know how old I was when I began to associate change with letting go, but I must have been pretty young. Maybe it was my mother’s stories about growing up, and all the people she talked about who were no longer present. I never knew any of my grandparents. The closest I came was having my paternal grandfather know that my mom was pregnant with me before he died. But my mother would tell me stories about the past and I wanted so much to touch it, to touch the people she talked about, to know them and have them know me. My mom always spoke of her mother with so much love, and I heard that from all my aunts and uncles, all my cousins who had known her. My mother always would say as she told me about my grandmother, “Oh, how she would have loved you.” But things change, and I never got to know her.

As a teenager, letting go seemed to be something ritualistic. We become fully aware of letting go. We let go of high school, though for many of us it’s not much of a loss. Let’s just say that I’m among the many who can say, thankfully, those were NOT the best years of my life. But still things change and we let go. My best friend moved to Arizona and we lost touch for a long time. Our two dogs, a brother and sister born when I was four, grew up with me and outpaced me and became old. They died a few years apart. Two of my uncles died. The last family from my grandmother’s generation passed away. The landscape of my childhood began to shift and change. I became an unwilling student in the art of letting go.

Sometimes we find that letting go is the healthiest choice we can make. That guy who broke your heart? Or that person you thought was your friend? That school you didn’t get into? Like James Bay’s song Let It Go, sometimes we are the ones who need to change:

I used to recognize myself
It’s funny how reflections change
When we’re becoming something else
I think it’s time to walk away

I grew up. I went to college and law school and got married. I turned thirty and let go of unrealistic dreams that were never going to be. I had children, welcoming each as the most wonderful change in my world. But change doesn’t let you freeze-frame or pause. I learned to let go of their hands, their bikes, their passwords. I learned to let go of their choices and their time. But somehow, despite all this practice in life, I haven’t really gotten any better at letting go than I was when I was young. I’m generally an optimist, and I know that as an optimist I should say that letting go frees us up to new experiences, new hands to hold, new possibilities we can’t imagine while we are holding onto other things. But the truth about letting go is that, for most things, it’s hard. It hurts. And sometimes the fastest way to heal is to just let yourself feel the pain. I think maybe that is the lesson here. That the art of letting go is is all about walking across the coals, knowing it’s going to hurt, but moving forward anyway. Because, just like burning your tender feet on hot coals, it’s only when you have finally crossed that you can start to heal.

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Other People’s Expectations and Assorted Cosmic Mistakes

The Path of Expectations

The Path of Expectations

Today I was tutoring a kid who told me that “Meeting expectations is hard. Especially when they aren’t even your expectations.” He grimaced as the words struggled out of his mouth.

I’ve only tutored this kid twice. His mom hired me a few days ago to help him with an English paper on Hunter S. Thompson. But the first time I met with him, it quickly became clear that he really didn’t need my help to write the paper. He was articulate and labeled himself a confident writer when I asked him how he felt about writing. He was at the stage where he was writing supporting notes for the paper, and he knew exactly what he wanted to say. I told his mom at the end of the session that I really hadn’t helped him very much. She said she just needed someone to help him be accountable. Someone to give him the reason to sit down and do the work. While I was happy to help him, I suggested she find a tutor closer to her home and less expensive if that was all he needed, trying to make her life a little easier.

She texted me today and asked me to meet with him again. This time, he and I talked more about the books his paper is about, and that’s when we started talking about expectations. He wants to be a musician, but that’s not what his parents expect of him. I told him I get lots of students at the University where I teach who struggle with the same problem. And he is right. Expectations are hard, especially when they aren’t even your own.

I’ve watched my own son deal with this issue this year, as he entered his senior year full of anxiety and depression. I’ve told my kid for a couple of years now that he didn’t need to go straight to college, that he could take a gap year or two if he needed them. He and I thought those gap years would be spent playing junior hockey, but when he quit hockey last summer, we were both suddenly unmoored. He was getting a lot of pressure from school to complete his college application process. It all became too much and he ended up having to step back and take a break from the whole idea.

The thing about other people’s expectations, though, is that they’re like stars. They can guide you, but they aren’t the only lights in the sky. They don’t have to be in opposition to your own dreams. They don’t have to derail you from following your own passions. Expectations create opportunity, but they aren’t the same as destiny. The world is big enough for these things to coexist. It can take some creativity. Sometimes a lot of creativity. It can take time, and maybe some expectations get delayed or ordered into a different sequence. Maybe those expectations merge and morph into something else completely as you travel along. Some expectations may drift away like falling stars. But once you realize that expectations are nothing more than constellations to help you navigate the milky way that lies before you as your future, other people’s expectations aren’t nearly so stressful. You may even find that you can talk about them without grimacing.Because the only real cosmic mistake you can make is shutting your heart to opportunities without wishing on the stars first.

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