All posts by Alan Tucker

Rites of Passage

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Sam’s throat clenched as he plucked the slimy creature from the plastic cup held before him. Dangling in the air from his fingers, the worm twisted and curled, searching for the moist soil it had so recently inhabited.

“You gotta do it,” Billy said with a smile of encouragement.

“Yeah,” Tanner added. “We all did. Now it’s your turn.”

Sam nodded, looking at his five friends and swallowed the lump that had formed at the back of his mouth. “I know. Just gimme a sec.” He grimaced, then lifted the squirming little beast higher and parted his lips.

“Go! Go! Go!” the other boys chanted.

A piece of dirt landed on Sam’s tongue, making him flinch. Steeling himself, he opened his mouth wider and closed his eyes. Here goes nothing, he thought and released the wiggling worm from his fingers…

— — —

Scenes like this one happen almost every day during the summer in America and probably elsewhere in the world. Growing up is a long series of rites of passage.

Hold on, you say. A rite of passage is something grandiose. Like tribal or ceremonial.

Often they are, yes. We are in the season of graduations, which is what got me thinking about this subject in the first place. My younger daughter graduated high school this past weekend. (Whew! We made it!) But rites of passage aren’t always accompanied by pomp and circumstance.

A rite of passage is considered to have three phases: separation, transition, and reincorporation. From Wikipedia:

“The first phase (of separation) comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group … from an earlier fixed point in the social structure.”[4] There is often a detachment or “cutting away” from the former self in this phase, which is signified in symbolic actions and rituals. For example, the cutting of the hair for a person who has just joined the army. He or she is “cutting away” the former self: the civilian.

The transition (liminal) phase is the period between states, during which one has left one place or state but has not yet entered or joined the next. “The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous.”[5]

In the third phase (reaggregation or reincorporation) the passage is consummated [by] the ritual subject.”[6] Having completed the rite and assumed their “new” identity, one re-enters society with one’s new status.

As a writer, it’s important to understand these phases — especially when writing for young people — as they can guide you in the structure of your story. In the scene above, we can imagine Sam and his group of friends have been together for some time and want to form a stronger, more meaningful relationship with one another. Maybe they create their own “club” — no girls allowed, of course! — and decide on the initiation process of swallowing a worm as a symbol of brotherhood and commitment. The boys aren’t thinking in these terms, but they are the framework from which the actions are derived. The boys separate themselves from their peers by forming this club, and Sam, even though the boys are all his friends, is separated from them because he hasn’t yet performed the rite.

The scene itself describes phase two, which is the process of the transition. Sam works his way from being outside the club, to becoming a member. After he successfully completes the task, he can then rejoin his friends and the bond between all of them is stronger as a result.

What are some other aspects of growing up that could be considered “rites of passage”? Things like getting your driver’s license, to me, certainly qualify, but even events such as losing your first tooth, or riding a bicycle, or going to your first dance in middle school all have characteristics which identify them as rites of passage. Can you think of more examples?

Middle grade literature inevitably describes elements of growth with its characters. In writing these stories, think back to times in your life when you went through a rite of passage. Remember your uncertainty and apprehension during phases one and two, and then recall your sense of satisfaction and belonging encompassed within phase three. If you can incorporate these feelings in your narrative, I think you’ll go a long way toward crafting meaningful and identifiable characters for your readers.

— — —

… Sam swallowed as quickly as he could. He felt the worm slide all the way down, sending shivers through his body. Sam clamped his mouth shut as his stomach announced the new arrival with a gurgle. No way did he want to have the thing make the return trip!

“Woohoo!” the boys cheered. Billy leaned in and slapped Sam playfully on the back. “Nice!” his friend said.

“Hey,” Tanner said with a sly smile. “My sister’s having a sleepover tonight. Let’s go catch some frogs and give them a good scare!”

In a circle, the boys grinned and eyed each other. “Yeah,” Billy said. “Let’s do it.”

Tanner turned and ran for the pond on the other side of the park where they played. “Last one there’s a rotten egg!” he shouted over his shoulder.

Sam and the others sprinted after him. Man! Sam thought with the wind whipping his hair. This is going to be an awesome summer!

— — —

TuckerPenny1010smAlan Tucker, author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of DisorderA Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as the older teen science fiction series, Tales of Uncertainty (Knot in Time, and the newly released Abandon Hope), is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

He has never swallowed a worm or used a frog to scare anyone.


Find Your Joy

I wake to a knock at my door.

“Hello? Who is it?” I ask, donning my slippers.

“It’s December.”

Shocked, I stop my hand just before reaching the door handle. “No. That’s not possible. You’re much too early.”

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s right here in black and white,” December says. “Well, mostly white.”

— — —

That’s pretty much how the last few weeks has gone for me. Between starting a new job, finishing my latest book, and my youngest daughter going through her senior year of high school, I haven’t had time to turn around, much less pay much attention to the calendar. Where did the year go?

A sampling from last year’s Festival of Trees. Photo courtesy of the Festival and KCTR radio.

I am excited, however, for the beginning of December, because that means the annual Writers’ Roundup is here! It’s a book fair held every year in conjunction with an event called the Festival of Trees here in my home town. Different groups get together and decorate Christmas trees, which are then admired and voted on by the public. The trees are then auctioned off for charity. Children’s groups come in to sing and dance on a stage while their proud parents and relatives watch and a wealth of vendors offer craft items and food of all sorts. In the middle of all that chaos, a bunch of introverted local authors gather to show off their creations, old and new.

I love it!

This will be my fourth year and I look forward to the event more each time. Yes, I’ll probably sell a handful of books, which is always a bonus, but the real reason I anticipate it so much is the opportunity to interact with both readers and other authors — some of whom I only see this one time a year. It’s always interesting to hear what projects everyone is working on and where life has taken them since we last spoke.

The absolute best part though, is seeing the eyes of a young reader light up when they see my books there on the table. Stories of dragons and magic and time travel and space await them inside — things I craved myself as a youngster — and to see that thirst for adventure reflected in the faces of others brings joy to my heart.

Writing is a solitary, sometimes thankless, exercise, in and of itself. I do enjoy the craft of it and have a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I finish a story, but the real joy comes in knowing my efforts will allow someone else to escape their troubles, even for a short time, and revel in a bit of fun and adventure.

This time of year, with Thanksgiving just past and Christmas upcoming, lends itself to reflection and reassessment. Take a moment to ask yourself, “What brings me joy?” Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s working with others, maybe it’s something else entirely — whatever it is, find it. Embrace it. Make time to include it in your life. Because no one should ever live a life without a little joy.

Now, I need to go bundle up and deal with more of December’s white on my driveway.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Your Voice Matters

Life has a way of forcing perspective on us out of the blue. Watching events unfold like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, can cause us to feel small and insignificant. When deep-seated fears intrude on our day to day reality, we are pulled back in time to our childhoods when so much in our lives was mysterious and beyond our control.

Children fear some things we, as adults, find silly — like gravity suddenly turning off or monsters under the bed. We fancifully term it the “innocence of youth” and celebrate when it has been shed and our children have “grown up” or “come of age”. Yet, there is power in that innocence we don’t often recognize, possibly because we lament its loss too deeply.

In 2011, I began a series of blog posts I called “Your Voice Matters” in which I highlighted young people who, in spite of (or possibly because of) their youth, have accomplished some remarkable things. One of the most powerful of these extraordinary youngsters was Adora Svitak. At the age of 12, she gave a talk at the 2010 TED conference. (Her talk is just over eight minutes and worth every second of your time.)

In it, she discusses the idea that adults have as much to learn from children as children do from adults. She is referring to the strength of youthful innocence.

“When we don’t let our “others have failed—I’m too young—the problem’s too big” sort of knowledge become a roadblock to dreams, we can change the world. Call it the magical properties of not knowing…the unstoppable power of ideas.” — Adora Svitak

Now, at the ripe old age of 15, Adora is still teaching. You can find her YouTube channel here.

Well, you might be thinking, this is an exceptionally brilliant child. Few people have her advantages of intellect or resources. That may be true, but one does not have to be privileged, or a child prodigy to make a difference. Take Devon and Breydon, two brothers, aged 13 and 16, who saw a need in their community and created “Blessing Bags for the Homeless”. They raised money and bought toiletries and other essentials, bagged them up, and distributed them to homeless people in their city. They are still at it and you can learn more about them on their Facebook page.

Last year, De’Quonton Davis and some other students at John Hopkins Middle School, in St. Petersburg, Florida, noticed a rise in fighting and violence in their neighborhood which correlated with a similar rise in their school. Together, they produced a video in conjunction with PBS’s Student Reporting Labs to call attention to the growing problem.

Or, we can look at 14-year-old Nathaniel Ray. He has Tourette Syndrome and began speaking out about it by educating his classmates and, soon after, others. He joined up with the National Tourette Syndrome Association and their “Youth Ambassador Program” in 2010 and has given talks at dozens of schools since then.

These young people are making a difference because they dared to ask, “Why?” Why don’t adults listen more to kids? Why must there be homelessness? Why is my school becoming more violent? Why am I being picked on because of my disability? Youthful innocence is something to be cherished and nurtured, because only with it do we have the courage to ask these kinds of questions and seek out the answers without settling for “Because” or “That’s just the way it is”.

Age does not matter, but your voice does. If you see or hear something in your home, in your neighborhood, in your town, or in the world you feel is wrong, speak up! Call attention to it. You may be the spark to cause a positive change.

Oh! And lastly, give a smile to someone today. You’ll brighten their day, as well as your own.

TuckerPenny1010smAlan Tucker , author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of Disorder, A Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as a new science fiction novel, Knot in Time, is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

“I wanted to write books that I’d enjoy reading. Books that I hoped my kids would enjoy too!”

Visit his website for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

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