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A Reading Injury

There are acceptable and even awe-inspiring types of injuries. These are the injuries sustained
while sliding into home plate, landing the perfect vault, or defending the honor of a damsel in
distress. These are injuries of glory and achievement, ones where people pat your back and
then say “Well, at least you got hurt doing something epic.”

These are not the type of injuries my family is known for.

We get injured in the stupidest ways. There’s no honor in our injuries; there’s usually not even
a good reason for them. But this is not to say we are embarrassed by them. Oh no, we take
great pride and pleasure in the ridiculous circumstances of our wounds!

Ask my mom about her cheese-toast injuries and she will explain the burn marks up and down
her arms with a special twinkle in her eye.

Ask Kiana about the time she broke her arm during Sharing Time at church. I mean, how does
one even do that? But she did and there’s a story there.

Ask Sierra about her “Tip,” a nickname we lovingly gave to her scalp injury and consequential

We also named my childhood dog’s dangling armpit tumor “The Kermit,” but since a tumor is
not really an injury, we will save the story and its accompanying photos (NSFW) for another

My own favorite stupid injury happened to me while reading Pride and Prejudice. It was a
READING INJURY! How apt! How gleefully perfect! I know nary a soul who has achieved
something so ridiculous and so completely “on brand” but I did it! Me!

This is what went down:

I was in my early twenties, taking the semester off of college to teach English to kids in
Guatemala. Between classes, I’d sneak in a few chapters of Jane Austin’s best book. As the
school day came to close, I had just arrived at the chapter where Elizabeth Bennett toured
Pemberley and realized that Mr. Darcy is not the brute she’d imagined him to be, but an
honorable steward of his sprawling old-money estate.

Now, to someone who has not read the book, this hardly seems like edge-of-your-seat material.
But for someone who has read the book, YOU UNDERSTAND. This was possibly the most
romantic scene in all of literature.

It was the third time I’d read Pride and Prejudice, so it was not like I didn’t know what was
going to happen, but I was feeling all the feels. I could not bear to put the book down, even for
the 20 minutes it would take to walk from the school to the bus stop.

Now Guatemala is not known for its well-maintained streetways and I probably should have
been watching for cars, human traffickers, or other notable obstacles, but Elizabeth Bennet was
falling in love! So I sashayed down the road with “dreamy far-off look and a nose stuck in some
book” …. and then promptly stepped into a pothole and broke my ankle.

If breaking my ankle while reading Pride and Prejudice is not a love-letter to books, then I don’t know what is.

What is your most epically awesome or epically stupid injury? Do tell!

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On Writing a “Clean” Book

The bottom-side of my classroom desk was shingled in wads of old, chewed-up gum. The topside of the desk had cartoon illustrations of reproductive organs doing all of the things that reproductive organs tend to do. I’d put money on idea that the blossoming artist was a freshmen boy.

Do high school kids still do this? Or were these desk-e-crations (had to) isolated to Littleton, Colorado circa 1996?

Gen Z has far more compelling and far-reaching mediums for self-expression than sharpies and desks. Because of this, our kids are bombarded with more taboo words, images, and ideas than I ever had. Our kids also have more complicated choices. As parents all we can do is guide them through the muck the best we can.

When writing “Called Upon,” I decided to write it clean—meaning without profanities, illicit drug use, or sex-scenes. My reasoning for this was simple. Our kids deserve a little break from the heavy, oversexualized messages they receive every day on their phones and in the hallways at school.

But writing a clean book that is interesting and realistic is difficult to do because:

a) Sex is a relevant and interesting subject. Sex sells.

b) Teenagers swear. Sometimes they do drugs and mess around. Writing teens as if these are not their everyday issues can come across as inauthentic and doesn’t give teens enough credit for what deal with.

c) Sometimes I find that clean literature can get pretty cheesy, side-stepping important storylines because it is uncomfortable or unsavory.

d) I am sorry, but “Darn it” just doesn’t pack the punch of a solid “Damn it.” I, myself, enjoy an occasional, mild swear every here and again and I had to sit on my fingers to prevent myself from letting my characters do the same.

I find that the most successful clean books are the ones that I didn’t realize were clean until after I read it. This usually means that exclamations like “Oh my heck” and “Goodness gracious” are used sparingly. Plus, the romance has to be written so well that I didn’t notice that the love-birds didn’t consummate their relationship. Whether or not I did this successfully with “Called Upon” is up for discussion.

However, while avoiding explicit descriptions and vulgar word-choices, “Called Upon” does not skirt difficult issues. On the contrary, one of my main characters in an unwed teenage mother. If you find such a storyline problematic, “Called Upon” might not be for you.

Another trigger warning, “Called Upon” has a fair amount of violence and blood.

I do not glorify the hard issues—teen pregnancy, gun-violence, cyber-bullying—but I shine a light on them, hopefully causing the reader to think about problematic behaviors and their consequences, instead of pretending these issues do not exist.

What clean books have you read that did a good job with this balancing act?