The F Words: The Writing

For well over a year now I’ve been blogging about various aspects of The F Words, but one thing I haven’t talked about is the actual steps of writing the novel. Writers and readers are often interested in how writing takes place. So, for those who might want to know, I will try to recount the steps of writing The F Words.

Maybe twenty years ago (it was around the turn of the century) I decided I wanted to write a YA novel and that it should be about the political struggles for social justice.  The title and the opening scene came to me: the image of a teen tagging his high school wall with the f word. The title came at the same time: The F Words. (I knew there would be more than one f word in the book, because in thinking about political struggle I thought of fight, foe, fair, flexibility, freedom.) I filed this decision away in the future-books part of my brain and went about writing other things.

In the year 2016 I attended a huge demonstration for immigrant rights, and it was there that part of the plot of the YA novel came to me. You can read about that in my blog The F Words: Political Protests.

Somewhere around then I began developing the characters for The F Words. This took months. I gave them names, I gave them personalities, I gave them conflict. So far, none of this was on paper, it was all in my head.

In late 2016 I created a notebook for The F Words, giving each character a name, a description, and conflict or conflicts. For me, this is a very important step in the writing of a book. I always use a paper notebook (not computer) and I write down my thoughts — often so fast that I scribble furiously and sometimes can’t read my own writing a month later.

From notebook to first written words was, in this case, a short step: maybe two or three months. Before I started to write, I was sure of maybe one-third of what would occur — the rest I would discover as I wrote. My digital files tell me that I started and finished the first draft in 2017. Ditto for the second draft: I started it in autumn of 2017 and finished before the year ended.

The first draft took maybe seven months. Part of its plot involved the high school newspaper and freedom of speech for teens. But, as it turned out, this part of the  plot went nowhere. As I wrote, I found the story moving more strongly toward the attacks on public education and the jailing or imprisonment of protesters. And the mass deportations of immigrants.  In the second draft I dropped the school newspaper thread.

I started the third draft on January 3, 2018. I’m not sure what the difference between the second and third draft was. I think that in the third I jettisoned even more subplots, tightening the poetry and tightening the plot. Definitely developing the characters more. By April of 2018 I was writing the fourth draft, and by the end of that year I finished the fifth draft.

I then spent most of 2019 trying to find an agent who would represent the book. I failed to find such a person, and so late in 2019 I began to market the book myself.

In April of 2020 City of Light Publishing offered me a contract, and in September of 2021 The F Words was published.

In the case of The F Words, from original inkling of an idea to signing of a publishing contract was twenty years. But the data that really matters is the period from when I started the notebook in  2016 to when the manuscript sold, early 2020. That was four years of writing, totaling five drafts. 

For me, five drafts are a bit more than I usually write. Three or four is more normal for me. I’ve never, ever sold a second draft. Wouldn’t dream of submitting a second draft! I am thrilled if I think a third draft is good enough to submit.

The first draft is the most difficult to write because the writer is creating something out of nothing: creating characters, plot, scene, dialogue. The second draft is very difficult, though not as hard as the first (maybe only because it doesn’t take quite as long to rewrite as it does to write . . . in most cases). In the second draft entire chapters have to be deep-sixed. Characters have to disappear, new ones have to be created. Conflicts have to be clarified, motives developed. On and on it goes: the second draft is where a writer reshapes the entire book into something much, much better than the first draft.

The third draft usually isn’t difficult, at least in my experience. It consists of refining the second draft, dealing with foreshadowing, improving the language, making the book more literary.

And if, in the third draft, the writer failed to weave every thread tightly into the correct pattern for that particular book, then she has to do it in the fourth draft. Or, in my case, the fifth.

This was my process with The F Words, which is fiction. I’ve had similar, but not identical, patterns with my other books.

A couple of examples.  The first draft of She’s on First took me three years to complete, as compared to the seven months of The F Words. The first draft of Women at Play (nonfiction) took 92 days. That was due to my publishing contract: I was given 92 days to write the book, period. Very, very intense: I wrote eleven hours a day. With The F Words, I wrote every day, but usually just one hour. 

And Jack and Larry was different from anything else. I wrote four first drafts. That’s right. I wrote four different books. First I wrote a picture book, but I decided that wasn’t the way to go. So that first draft ended right there. Then I wrote the first draft of a middle grades book about Jack Graney. I decided that wasn’t the way to go, either. That first draft ended, too. Next came a first draft of a long magazine article. That draft went the way of the others, also. Finally came the first draft of the free verse book: this was the keeper, and from it I wrote the subsequent drafts and published the book.

Writing a book such as Jack and Larry consisted of finding the right format. Writing a mostly straight narrative novel such as The F Words was, for me, a matter of putting the story down in words on the first draft, and then improving that draft until I had a tightly woven story. I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that this is the path the writing of most novels takes.

______________________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Symbols

Although I love literature and am avidly interested in many different parts of a story and the way a story works (as you can probably tell from reading my blogs about The F Words), I have, I confess, never been much interested in symbols in literature. In fact [embarrassing], I can sometimes read a novel and entirely miss the fact that some objects work as symbols.

A symbol is a concrete object whose repeated use in a story comes to represent an abstraction. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, the Mississippi River symbolizes freedom. (I actually got that symbol the first time I read the book.) The briefcase in The Invisible Man symbolizes the lies and manipulations that political institutions have used to deny Black Americans equality. When I first read The Invisible Man, I strongly sensed that the briefcase symbolized something . . . but I was so engrossed by the story that while I realized the briefcase did stand for something, I didn’t think about what it might be.

When I was reading Moby Dick, one of my favorite novels, I was fully aware that the great while whale symbolized something. And I did ponder what that might be. Evil? Innocence? A life force? The indifference of the Universe? I decided that I didn’t know. Later, I was gratified to learn that most critics agree that the symbolism of Moby Dick is meant to be enigmatic, representing nature, evil, the ocean, the universe . . . who knows.

I can’t say that I didn’t care . . . but, for me, the use of symbols in literature is not something I yearn for or gravitate toward. I enjoy spotting symbols when I read, but I’m not sure that not spotting them makes the reading any less enjoyable for me.

As a writer, I seldom employ symbols because, as I said, I don’t gravitate toward them. But sometimes as I’m writing I realize that I’m using an object repeatedly. Then I ask myself: What does this mean? Is this object important to the story? Does it represent something?

When I ask myself these questions, my subconscious jumps in with an answer, which usually goes something like this: This object plays a role in the story. If it didn’t, it would go away, no longer be part of your writing consciousness. So figure out what role it plays and use that information to write a better story.

The subconscious can be very hard for writers to deal with. Especially since all the subconscious has to do is make statements and hints and nudges — it’s the writer who has to do the actual work.

You can see that when it comes to symbolism, I have a running battle with my subconscious, trying to ignore any of its nudges regarding symbols.

But every now and then I can’t ignore these nudges. When I’m writing I may sense that something is a symbol, but I don’t necessarily know what it symbolizes. It may be the same with other writers: I don’t know. In She’s on First, I think that the baseball itself was a symbol. In Sound Proof the drum is probably a symbol, and maybe the pitchfork, too. And in The F Words the megaphone is definitely a symbol. I noticed this as I was writing the second draft. The megaphone appeared in many places. 

More, whispered my subconscious. More places! 

Much as I hate to admit it, my subconscious was right. I needed to use the megaphone in even more places than I had, just to lock down the fact that it was a symbol. And so I did. But when I say “more places,” I don’t mean twenty more places. That would be overkill. I’m talking about maybe five or six more places,  each of them visual and memorable because the scene is an  important one — as when Stacey Renner goes to the Immigrant Rights rally with Cole and his friends. As when Cole fights back against Principal Delaney.

Symbols are, remember, physical objects which stand for abstractions. River = freedom. I’m not going to tell you what I think the megaphone symbolizes, because what it symbolizes might be different to different readers. But if you’re into symbols, think about the megaphone. Feel free to post your answer!

________________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words and She’s on First

For the last year, as I’ve been marketing The F Words, I’ve often thought about She’s on First. I suppose that the immediate reason I think of the two books together is that they are, for me, both firsts. She’s on First is the first novel I published (1987.) And The F Words (2021) is my first YA novel.

As I work on marketing The F Words, I often think about what it was like marketing She’s on First. The world has changed so much! Back in 1987 I printed special She’s on First stationery and printed (on my computer) letters and mailed them out. The time involved! The postage costs! Today, with The F Words, almost all marketing I do is done electronically: emails, web  pages, blogs, newsletters, videos, Zoom conferences, virtual visits.

However, I think that these physical similarities and differences aren’t the main reason I keep thinking of the two books at the same time. The main reason, I think, is that they are both coming-of-age novels. What that means is that they are about the struggle (usually subconscious) to achieve maturity: a state of full development. Coming-of-age novels have been around for a long time and still constitute a significant category of those searched for on Amazon and other sites. In other words, they are a popular category of novels and, unlike with some categories, they can take place in any environment, age, or in any setting. 

In thinking so much about She’s on First and The F Words, I finally came around to asking myself in what ways they are similar, and in what ways they are different.

Similarities

(1) The first similarity I see is that both protagonists face huge prejudices about how they should behave. Everywhere she turns, Linda Sunshine encounters prejudicial words, actions, and roadblocks because she is a woman who plays baseball. The color barrier was broken in Major League Baseball in 1948. The sex barrier has not been broken (for players). Similarly, Cole Renner faces huge prejudices because he is a teen, because he is working class, and because his best friend is Latino. Because he’s a teen Cole is expected to do what authority figures tell him to do, from obeying the principal of his school to obeying the Chicago curfew laws. Because he’s working class Cole is expected to be satisfied with a menial McJob. And because his best friend is Latino, Cole is suspect in the eyes of the Old Guard: those who enforce and uphold WASP norms.

(2) The second similarity I see is that neither Linda nor Cole doubt their own worth. They come from families which have instilled in them a deep sense of pride in who they are and what they can do. And what their rights are. Neither suffers angst of any kind. 

(3) The third similarity is that, in the face of intense opposition, each protagonist comes to a decision about what kind of person she/he is going to be. This is not true of all novels. In many novels, such as mysteries or thrillers, the protagonist already is the kind of person she/he decided to be. But in novels about the struggles against injustice, the main character usually makes that decision in the novel: not before, and not after.

Differences

One of the big differences that I feel when I think about both novels is the age difference.  Cole is 15 years old. Linda is 20 when the book begins (not counting the backstory) and 23 when it ends. A five year age difference is not that great. Usually. But in the case of a 15-year-old versus a 20-year-old, it’s a huge difference. A 20-year-old has graduated from high school (or not) and been out in the working world or the college world for at least two years. She has probably had at least one job, possibly several; has had one or more bosses; perhaps has had love affairs; might not live at home. The list could go on, but the point is that the 15-year-old is trapped in the environment of compulsory education, probably lives at home with one or both parents, might or might not have had a job yet, and so on. There is probably way more difference between a 15-year-old and a 20-year old than between a 20-year-old and a 25-year-old. So the age difference between the two protagonists is big.

A second difference is that She’s on First takes place over a three-year span. The F Words takes place over a little less than five months. Although I like to think that the pace of both novels is fast and that the scenes propel the stories forward, the fact is that a story that takes place over five months is going to have a bit more intensity to it than one that takes place over three years. Things have to move faster in the 5-month story than they do in the 3-year story.

A third difference is the arena of the playing field, so to speak. Cole’s story takes place mostly within the confines of August Mersy High School, which he is required to attend. The public cannot see what is going on behind closed doors. The public, in fact, acts as if what goes on in high schools is just “the way things are.” Linda’s story, on the other hand, takes place on the playing fields of minor and major league ball, which the public is not only very interested in, but whose action it avidly follows, both in person and via the media. There is public discussion and debate on what happens on the playing fields (be it Jackie Robinson entering the Majors, or Colin Kaepernick taking a  knee).  Emotions run high. Sky high. Linda is always aware of the public: the fans and the media. Cole doesn’t think about the media at all — until he decides to march in front of August Mersy High School.

The fourth difference, I think, is the biggest: the point of view. The F Words is told from the first-person point of view. We see what happens only through Cole’s eyes. Nobody else’s. We see only what he sees, hear only what he hears. We know what he feels, we know what he thinks, because we are inside his mind. To me, first person POV seems so right for a novel about a 15-year-old boy. 

She’s on First is told from the third person point of view. Moreover, that third person POV is not limited to Linda Sunshine. The story is told from four major POVs: Linda, the baseball player; Timothy Curry, the scout who signed her; Al Mowerinski, the owner who hired her: Neal Vanderlin, the reporter who writes about baseball. This POV gives the reader a much wider look at what’s happening and how it affects others in baseball and outside of baseball. This POV allows for more reflection about the meaning of things. 

Despite their differences, I hope that the two novels are similarly strong.

_______________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Dialogue

Most readers love dialogue, probably because it reveals something happening in “real time.” That is, the action is on the page, rather than being relayed by a narrator as having happened. Dialogue isn’t “having happened,” it’s happening. Right now, as the reader sees the words. Also, I suspect that some readers (I’m one of them) like dialogue because it helps a novel move faster. Unless, that is, the dialogue is dense, with single paragraphs taking up half a page of text or more. Most readers don’t find that kind of long-winded dialogue interesting.

I enjoy writing dialogue, but not for either of the reasons mentioned above. I enjoy writing it because it helps reveal character and helps reveal plot.

Some writers I know hate writing dialogue. It terrifies them. They would much rather write narration, where the action and conflict aren’t as immediate. I’ve always felt bad for such writers, because they’re missing such a great opportunity to make their stories come alive.

Writing dialogue comes natural to me, whether I’m writing a children’s book such as Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke, or an adult novel such as She’s on First. I’m able to immerse myself in the story and in the character (including the character’s age and background) and write dialogue that fits.

But when it came to writing The F Words, my first YA novel, I had a moment’s pause, and that was because most of the dialogue would be spoken by teen characters. The natural cadence of current teen speak was easy to reproduce, because there’s nothing abnormal about it. It’s not as if Yoda were speaking in inverted sentences. But just to be sure, I made a point of listening to teens speak wherever I encountered them.

It wasn’t the cadence or pattern of current teen speak that worried me. It was what to do with slang expressions. Such expressions are always a problem because they often have a very short life span. So, for example, a book published in 2012 might, if it contained a lot of slang, sound dated by 2021.

I read a fair number of YA novels every year, and I notice that the adjective dope is used in most of them. As in That’s dope to refer to something that’s awesome. Although this is obviously a common slang term, one that may be a permanent part of our language for the next few decades, I shied away from using it — mainly because I read it so much in YA fiction that I’m just tired of it. So: dope wasn’t dope for me.

I like many current slang terms (lit, for example), but was hesitant to use them, for fear that in a few years they would date The F Words. And so, I followed the advice given in most writing workshops: keep the slang to a minimum, and, in this case, try to convey teen characters in other ways.

So that’s what I did in The F Words. I used a minimum number of slang terms, I had the teens speak as naturally as possible. I used short sentences (because teens assume they all have the same data base of knowledge and feelings and don’t need to elaborate on much).

And, I think this works. Especially because I used brevity to help demonstrate what kind of people the teens are: sure of what’s right and wrong, full of wit. Most of the conversations are quite brief, in the sense that each character speaks few words. That seems very teen-like to me.

Here’s an example:

“This is good,” says Felipe. “Gracias.”
“We can start taking photos now,”Treva suggests.
Felipe smiles at this and looks around for kids to pose with. 
“Wait,” I say. “We need the word Familia on each photo.” 
“I can do that,” says Treva. “I’ll add Familia in text over each JPEG.”
I shake my head. “I’m thinking of something with more… participation. Something warmer. Something that the other students can be doing.” 
“Warm like me,” says Felipe, grinning.
“I can borrow a flame-thrower,”Treva says.
I really like her sense of humor.
Assuming she’s kidding.

________________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Italics

Italics are a form of typography in which the letters usually slant to the right. In serif fonts such as Palatino, for example, there are slight changes in some of the letters. Notice that the italic lower-case a is different in the italic version.

In sans serif fonts such as Helvetica or Arial, the italic letters lean to the right, but there are no changes in the form of individual letters.

Because they are a form of typography, it stands to reason that italics were first created by typographers. In this case by the Italian (hence the name italics) typographers Aldus Manutius and Ludovico Arrighi during the 1400s and early 1500s.

The original purpose of the italics  was to reproduce the look of handwriting, and to print “little” books: those that could be held in the palm of one’s hand, or carried in a pocket. Both the thinner font and the fact that it approximated handwriting made these little books feel quite intimate. Personal. Up-close. One would not print a book of political thoughts or scientific treatises in italics — those works still demanded the easier-to-read, less-intimate block fonts of the time: Garamond and Goudy Old Style. (Today the purpose of italics is different: they are no longer meant to be little or intimate.)

By now you may be wondering what all of this has to do with The F Words. Simply put, the connection is this: there are a lot of italics in The F Words. And that’s because the use of italics has evolved over the centuries.

In English, italics are used primarily for titles (books and movies) and for emphasis.  But they have other uses, two of which are especially important to The F Words.

Foreign Words — In English, foreign words are italicized, to indicate that they are not English words. Comprenez vous? Verstehst du? Because Felipe Ramirez and his family speak Spanish, The F Words is full of italicized Spanish words and phrases.

Words Referred to As Words — When, in writing, a word is being referred to as a word (and not to its meaning), it is italicized. Such italics help make the meaning of the sentence clear. Without the italics, meaning would seem garbled. 

The this that she uttered wasn’t the this that I knew she meant.

Whenever I see the word myrrh in print, I’m struck by the fact that it ends in rrh.

Whenever Cole Renner is thinking about f words as words, they must be italicized, so that the reader knows Cole is thinking about the word.

The existence of all these italics (along with Cole’s poems)  gives The F Words an interesting, textured look. More open. Different. Not all block letter serif straight narrative.  If you flip through the book’s pages, you can see immediately that there are interesting things going on.

And for me, the author (and also for my editor and for the book’s designer) the existence of all the italicized words meant we had to proofread Very. Carefully. And we had to proofread Many. Times. Just to make sure we caught every instance of necessary italics. Felipe says Si a lot. Did any of his Si’s escape us? And Cole thinks about words a lot. Did any of those words escape us?

I hope not. And I hope that you want to read The F Words — whose title, of course, is italicized.

————————————————

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: The Hate U Give

I love Angie Thomas’s YA novel, The Hate U Give. I read it when it was published and felt as if I  had been living in a stuffy room and now, at last, somebody opened the windows and let the light and the fresh air in — somebody was talking about the truths of racism, oppression, police  brutality, and resistance.

The success of The Hate U Give emboldened me to continue with my own YA novel, The F Words, whose first draft I had just finished. I strongly wanted to write about the truths of working class existence for high school students, just as Thomas wrote about the truths of Black oppression. My novel follows a parallel course, with white and Latino protagonists instead of Black. The parallel course isn’t surprising: any novel about high school students is going to be set partly inside the school and follow the path of the school day. And any novel about political protest is going to have scenes of demonstrations and rallies that take place on the streets.

One of the most powerful aspects of The Hate U Give is this: you feel on every page that Thomas has lived this. That she knows exactly what she’s depicting. That she is shouting out the truth about the lives of these particular characters.

That is exactly what I intended to do with The F Words: depict the reality of working class kids in public schools today — a “today” in which the ruling class is actively, maliciously, and mercilessly destroying public education. In Chicago alone, Mayor Rahm Emmanual and the Chicago School Board closed 54 of the city’s public schools in one year. Fifty-four! More closings than in any other city. 

It is not enough for the ruling class that the working class — Black, white, Latino, Native, Asian — already receives an education inferior to that of the middle class (we won’t even talk about the ruling class itself, with its elite schools). No: the ruling class wants to remove all  hope from working class kids. Make them so illiterate, so unschooled, so deprived of the arts and the sciences that they humbly accept the fact that all that awaits them are minimum-wage jobs or enlisting in the military.

But the working class is not accepting this. Throughout Chicago and other cities, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, and students themselves organize to protest the closing of these vital neighborhood schools. Not only do these groups protest the closing of such schools: they demand, along with the Chicago Teachers Union, that the schools be revitalized. Torn down if necessary, and built anew. With a librarian in each school, a nurse in each school, adequate classrooms, smaller class size.

It was in the middle of this reality of school protests that I wrote The F Words. As the book begins, sophomore Cole Renner is angry because his father has been sentenced to 120 days in Cook County Jail for supposedly “inciting to violence” — but all he did was organize the neighborhood protests against the closing of the neighborhood Euclid Grade School. Because he’s caught in the act of tagging the school walls with the f word, Cole is actually “saved.” He’s saved by his English teacher, who requires him to write two  poems a week, each about a word that starts with the letter F.

This assignment, plus his participation in the demonstrations led by his father, plus his desire to help his best friend Felipe Ramirez win the class election gets Cole to thinking and analyzing. He grows. Like Starr Carter of The Hate U Give, Cole Renner is on his way to becoming a leader of the  working class struggle for justice.

____________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing can be delicious, as in anticipating a birthday present. Or it can be terrifying, as in anticipating a hurricane. In literature foreshadowing works to indicate or warn the reader that something may happen. It’s never as exact as the date of a birthday, nor as specific as “Hurricane winds exceed 160 mph.”  

And — unlike a birthday or a hurricane — the happening that readers anticipate may not happen at all. Not everything is foreshadowing. However, when something is foreshadowing, the reader is usually very, very satisfied: anticipation has been realized.

Probably my favorite foreshadowing in one of my own books is the pitchfork in Sound Proof. I like that so much that I’ve considered carrying a pitchfork with me wherever I go.

That, however, would be cumbersome, and maybe even weird, so I’ve resorted to fewer specific-object foreshadowings in my recent work. And, next to the pitchfork in Sound Proof, my favorite foreshadowings are in The F Words.

Without telling you exactly what the words foreshadow (wouldn’t want to ruin your reading pleasure), I’ll list some of my favorites from The F Words.

page 1 — But as it turns out he has fast reflexes or maybe just knows which direction to move in . . .   That’s Cole Renner, the 15-year-old narrator, reacting to the fact that he can’t escape from Mr. Nachman, his English teacher.

page 39 — And that’s when I notice something in my sideways vision.
Tall and straight, like a pillar.   That’s Cole noticing Treva Soldat for the first time.

page 55 — “You don’t want to be a cabbage. A coleto is a jacket.”   That’s six-year-old Felipe telling six-year-old Cole what cole and coleto mean in Spanish.

page 123 — You need both kinds of muscles, so you’re ready for any situation.”  That’s Cole’s Coach, talking to the cross-country team.

page 170 — “. . . in jail you’re punished no matter which end of the fight you’re on.”  That’s Della Kazarian, Hank Renner’s defense attorney.

page 192 — “Holidays can be tough. Very tough.” That’s Mr. Nachman.

page 214 — “She organized it. He was merely the chauffeur.”  That’s Emerald, describing how members of Cole’s English class ended up at his track meet.

These are just a few of my favorites, but they’re far from being the only examples of foreshadowing in The F Words. Other foreshadowing includes Jared Anderson threatening Cole; ICE’s appearance throughout the novel; Felipe’s mother being worried about his attending the pro-immigrant demonstration.

And more. In fact, there are probably foreshadowings that I don’t even recognize as such, mainly because I wasn’t conscious of writing them as such. 

The fact is, I’m almost never aware of consciously writing a foreshadowing in the first draft, and often in the second draft as well. It’s only when I get into the third draft, where I’m starting to tie things together and make connections of all kinds, that I begin to recognize some of the foreshadowing. This is fun for me as a writer, and I hope it’s fun for you as a reader.

__________________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Canva Posters

Sometime in July 2021, before The F Words was published, a maxim occurred to me: a picture is worth a thousand words. I thought about that. I was writing thousands of words: these blogs. And I was speaking thousands of words, too: podcasts.

But I wasn’t using many pictures. Other than the book cover, that is. I was getting maximum mileage out of the book cover, sharing it everywhere, creating bookmarks that feature the cover. 

So I decided to make some posters about The F Words and share them on social media. To do this, I started a free account on Canva, a graphic design site that offers both free use and upgraded paid use. My intent was to create posters with a live link: a URL that viewers could click on and buy the book.

Unfortunately, it took me many experiments to learn that JPEG files cannot contain live links. PDF files can  contain live links. But Facebook does not permit the posting of PDF files. This inability of graphic files to contain live links should have registered with me before I even started. But sometimes I need to go through a process to really learn about it.

So. No live links.

Nevertheless, I went ahead and made posters anyway and shared one on social media very third or fourth day. 

One of the Canva decisions I had to make regarded my “color palette.” Based on the book cover of The F Words, Canva suggested five colors. But these were browns and neutrals such as ash and white. I wanted something more lively, so I ignored Canva’s choice and chose colors that pick up on the subtler aspects of the cover; the teal, the yellow-orange, and the black. By default, teal, orange, and black became my “brand” colors.

My intention was to make at least twelve posters, maybe as many as twenty, and to concentrate on the themes of fighting injustice; the writing of poetry; Cole’s worries about his father being in Cook County Jail; Felipe’s running for class president; Cole’s interest in Treva; and Cole’s running cross-country. I figured that the wide variety of topics stood a chance of appealing to more teens. Those who weren’t interested in cross-country might be interested in poetry. And vice versa.

Generally, the two things that help sell books the most are reviews and personal recommendations. But I think that these posters must have helped sell a few books, because each time one was posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I saw sales go up on Amazon.

Among all the things I’ve done to help get the word out about The F Words, I don’t know whether posters rank in the top half of successful efforts, or the bottom half. But I do know that I enjoyed making them — and I hope you enjoy looking at them.

———————————

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Friendship

A friend is a close companion:  a person we confide in, are intimate with, play with, work with, and associate with on a regular basis. Life without friendship would be very  lonely. Friends help us look at things in a different way. They’re there when we need somebody by our side. They give, they share, they understand.

One of the subtexts running through The F Words is the power of friendship. We see the friendship between Cole and Felipe in the second chapter, when Felipe insists on helping Cole remove the fifteen f words from the school wall. And when Cole, recognizing that Felipe has held back on running for class  president, vehemently urges him to stop scrubbing off the f words and go put his  name on the candidate list. In addition, Cole and Felipe are united not only in their ten-year  history of shared  experiences, but also in their struggle for social justice.

The new student, Treva, also fights for social justice. And, like Cole, she fights to help Felipe win the class election. Whereas Cole and Felipe are practically life-long friends, Treva is a new friend. But the bonds that tie her to Cole and Felipe are strong.

Cole Renner, the main character, has many friends. Not as many as Felipe, who everyone agrees is incredibly well liked and “sociable.” Cole is friends with Emerald, whom he admires for her intelligence. With Ethan, a fellow cross-country runner. And he has a friendly rivalry with Ricardo, star of the cross-country team. 

The F Words focuses on Cole and his friends, but it’s also populated with adults — as any teen’s life is. There’s the principal (not a friend!), there’s Mr. Nachman, Cole’s English teacher. There are Hank and Stacey Renner, Cole’s parents. There are Veronica and Carlos Ramirez, Felipe’s parents. There’s Cole’s running coach. And there’s Nikki Zurlo, secretary to the principal.

Some of these adults are friends with each other. And, some of them are friends to the teens. Which brings me to the question, What’s the difference between being a friend with somebody and being a friend to somebody?

The difference, I would say, is that the energy of the friendship travels equally (more or less) when you’re friends with somebody. The energy between Cole and Felipe is a good example of this. But when you’re a friend to somebody, the energy of the friendship travels more strongly in one direction. Not in both directions. When an adult is a friend to a student, the energy travels mainly from the adult, who is more knowledgeable, to the student. Of course, this could work the other way, as when a teen is friend to an older person who might be housebound or incapacitated in some way.  In The F Words both Mr.  Nachman and Nikki Zurlo are friends to Cole. And Stacey Renner, Cole’s mother, is a friend to Treva.

I think that the richness of the friendships in The F Words, as well as the different directions the friendships travel in, makes for a very rewarding read. That’s assuming you enjoy reading about friendships! I do.

Tennessee Williams once said, “Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” This  is so true for Cole’s life — it is partly what he is making it, and partly what his friends are making it. That is a very rich and exciting life.

————————————————————

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: The Rondelet

The rondelet is a French form of poetry. It contains a refrain, a strict rhyme scheme and a distinct meter pattern. Before I get into that distinct meter pattern, I want to explain that the rondelet derives from the rondel, which is  a poetic form that originated in France during the 1300s. 

The rondel, which originated in French lyrical poetry of the 14th century, made its way from France into other languages, such as English and Romanian. Its structure is a complex pattern of quatrains followed by quintets, a series of refrains, and, usually, eight syllables per line.

The rondelet derived from the rondel, but it is a much shorter verse form. Forget the quatrains followed by the quintets. The rondelet is seven lines long. That’s it. Seven lines. 

But: those seven lines require a lot of thought because they follow a very strict pattern. Lines 1, 3, and 7 are refrains. Each of these identical lines is four syllables long. Lines 2, 4, 5, and 6 are not refrains. Each of these lines is eight syllables long. 

That’s the easy part.

Now comes the rhyme scheme: AbAabbA

For those of you unversed (ha!) in poetic notation, what this denotes is as follows: (1) the capital A’s indicate the refrain which, obviously, rhymes with itself. (2) the lower-case b’s indicate that these lines rhyme with each other. (3) The lower-case a indicates that this line rhymes with the capital-A lines. But, unlike them, it is not a refrain. It is a new line. And it’s eight syllables long, not four.

Got that?

Something you can infer from what I’ve just said is that there are only two rhyming sounds in a rondelet. The A and the b. That’s it.

Not only that, but the rondelet has never been a popular form in English poetry. As far as I know, I never encountered one during all my years of college, nor during my years of reading poetry afterwards. In fact, I’m not sure how I encountered the poem at all. But I did, and something about it stuck with me.

It stuck with me so much that when, in Chapter 25, Mr. Nachman encourages Cole to visit web sites to learn about poetic forms, the rondelet was one of the forms that occurred to me, along with the sonnet, the ballad, the villanelle, the limerick, and the triolet. It occurred to me, but I made no decision about it or any of the other forms.

The decision was for Cole Renner, the main character of The F Words, to make. And I have to say, I was surprised when I found Cole (and myself) writing a rondelet. It showed me that Cole isn’t afraid of a challenge. In poetry, he is not afraid of rhyme, he is not afraid of meter, he is not afraid of syllable counts. He doesn’t consciously think about being afraid of any of these, but many a beginning poet would be. 

In The F Words, Cole ends up writing not one, but two rondelets. Sort of.  So I have to assume the form appeals to him. Remember: this is not a popular form in English poetry.

The first is one he writes to Treva. Obviously she is very important to him, and his poem choice shows this: he doesn’t pick anything easy. He picks a challenge.

Flying

I’ll be flying
When I pass the place where you stand
I’ll be flying
Even though my strength is dying
Aid this runner across the land
Add shouting voice and waving hand
I’ll be flying

It’s interesting to me now, in hindsight, that although Cole is writing to Treva, what he’s saying can be applied not only to running, not only to love, but also to political struggle. I have to admit that I was totally unaware of that as Cole and I were writing the poem.

The second rondelet that Cole writes appears at the end of the book. I won’t repeat it here, because that would be a spoiler. And it isn’t really and truly a rondelet. It’s a rondelet that Cole has changed to suit his needs — just like he believes society must be changed to meet the needs of the people. 

But I hope you think the modified rondelet is a fitting end to The F Words.

_____________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.