Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Books, My Babies (by Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re talking about persistence. Dare I admit I have a picture book manuscript featuring a spider that’s been revised over 100 times over the past five years?

(Spoiler: I dare. I do.)

You see, although spiders usually scare me, this tiny eight-legged lovely has woven her way into my heart. And although it’s been quite some time since I’ve revisited the story, the idea of abandoning this sweet arachnid - and her tale - scares me even more.

As an author, I often refer to my books as my “babies.” And why not? I love them from the time they’re but a gleam in my eye, to the moment those first words appear on the paper, through the years of development and growth. And oh! When they graduate and slip into those magnificent covers? I am one proud mama. Of course, I work hard to “raise” my stories in a manner to help them gain acceptance into the world. With baited breath I wait, praying they’ll make friends, and not be left isolated and lonely on some dusty shelf. That they’ll challenge others to think, to explore, to learn. To connect. That they’ll be respected, even if others’ viewpoints differ. That they’ll inspire, and perhaps even change the world for the better.

And like most kids, a story needs attention. LOTS of it. Sometimes, it’s fun and fulfilling and your story wants to hang out with you. But other times, it can get moody and snarky and withdrawn. It may argue with you. Or it may ignore you completely. It may stomp upstairs to its room, slam the door in your face and not talk to you for the rest of the night, week, month.

It will need a time out. And you know what? So will you.

Try doing something completely different. Read. Take a nap. A bath. A walk. Sometimes your story will decide to join you. 

If this doesn’t work, try paying attention to one of your other “kids”. You may just feel a little tugging on your shirt. A request for a drink of water. A game. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, a full meal, without the TV on, where your story begins to open up, and share again, with you.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I need to attend to one of my "kids". I feel a certain spider tickling my arm…

Monday, June 11, 2018

Permission to NOT Keep Going by Maryanne Fantalis

Sometimes, we writers are even harder on ourselves than any reviewer or critic might be.

This month, while we are talking about perseverance, you're going to hear a lot of really good tips for how to keep writing when it seems impossible to do so. When someone you love dies. When you are seriously ill, or caring for someone who is. When you are struggling to put food on the table. Or when you're working so hard at the day job, you simply don't have the energy to think when you get home at night.

Or all of the above.

As great as it is to keep going, sometimes, you need to be kind to yourself.

For me, and maybe for you, when things get really bad, I take a break. I let myself off the hook. I don't write, and I don't beat myself up about it.

It's a dangerous downward spiral, too easy to tumble into: You tell yourself you should be writing and maybe you try, but you can't -- you're too burnt out, too tired, too overwrought, and the words just won't come -- or maybe you get a few down but they're terrible and you know it, and you just feel worse than when you started so the next day you don't even try; then the guilt of not writing piles on top of the stress or grief that's already crushing you and you start to believe you're a terrible person, a failure, a loser...

This is a recipe for depression, not healthy dealing with pain, loss, or stress.

If you find yourself trying but not successfully producing anything, if the writing is more stress in your life and no joy, just stop. Give yourself permission not to write for a while. And this is the key: give yourself permission. Make it a blessing to yourself. A relief. Take a week off and see how you feel. If you feel an uplift of spirit -- oh, thank goodness I don't have to stare at this screen and feel like a failure -- then you've done the right thing. If you feel sad, if you miss it -- you know, maybe I could just write a few lines... -- well, then you know what to do.

When your leg is broken, you stay off it for a while. You rest it. You heal.

When your life is broken, you need some time to heal. If writing helps you heal, that's so great. If not writing helps you heal, that's great too. No two people are the same. Do what works for you.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Birthing My Speed Bumps by Kimberly Sabatini

This month at YAOTL we're blogging about perseverance: and how we navigate the speed bumps that can interfere with our writing life. Across the years, there has been all kinds of speed bumps that have slowed down my drive to write, but none have had the staying power of my kids.

And the sweet irony of that is...I'm responsible for birthing my speed bumps. <3

For all of you writers who are planning to birth your own speed bumps in the future, let me share the facts, the bad news and then the light at the end of the tunnel.

The facts: My kids were almost 2, 4 and 6 when I began pursuing writing. And as much as I loved them, part of the reason I began to write was to "get away from them." I'm not saying this to be mean. But my husband and I divvied up our lives in the way that worked best for us. His burden to bear was missing out on lots of the fun that went on inside our house. And it was pretty darn fun some days. My burden was to be the one-woman-show that could rarely disengage from this one little corner of the world. But I found my work around. Writing gave me a small bit of mental space and a purpose that was my own.

The bad news: Writing with kids is freaking hard. My boys are currently 13, 15 and 17 and it took a million and a half years to get there. Or maybe it was a blink of an eye. One can never tell. And in case you're wondering--it's still hard. Just a different kind of hard. You now have to pick them up at 1am from the train or a party instead of to burp them. And when they're little the work load seems endless. Now, two of them are responsible for their own laundry. If you see them--that's why they are wrinkled LOL! But back in the day, I had endless amounts of dirty clothes, bedding and towels. No matter how much I did, everyone got undressed at the end of the night, and there was automatically the equivalent of another load. And every time I went grocery shopping--all three of them crammed into one of those race car, shopping carts. When we got home from the epic ordeal, they immediately began eating the food--making it so I'd eventually have to go back and do it all over AGAIN! And that was the tip of the speed bump. The days were long and there wasn't a lot of room left over for writing.

The light: If the days were long, the years were short. And speed bumps might slow you down, but they can't stop you if you are determined. Despite sometimes having lots of bumps in my road, I learned it was important to reinvent myself as a writer every day. What worked on Monday might not work on Tuesday. And that was okay. I grew to be flexible. I discovered how to bend.

I also learned to be more forgiving--which is a lovely gift to give oneself. I've always been harder on myself than anyone else. But you can't do this without cutting yourself some slack from time to time. And that's just the parenting part. You then have to be kind to the writer in you, too. But don't think that let's you off the hook when it comes to craft. I learned to know when I was doing my best and when I was fooling myself. And that skill continues to serve me well.

And I figured out there are some things more important than doing laundry. More than once I just bought more socks and underwear, And I was happier for having done it. When I managed to write a novel (TOUCHING THE SURFACE), land an agent (Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary) and sell my novel to a publisher with and amazing editor (Simon Pulse-Simon & Schuster/Anica Rissi) I never said I wished I'd spent more time cooking or cleaning. Instead, I still look back with pride at the gift I gave my kids by carving out a little space for myself between their lives. They got to see me have a dream, work hard for it and then watch it come true.

And lastly, those speed bumps can offer quite a bit of insight and inspiration for your writing. Writing for kids is means you should be exposed to kids. Check. It's unsurprising that most of my writing is filled with bits and pieces of these boys. I can't imagine where I'd be without them. And honestly--I wouldn't want to.

Every speed bump in your life has the ability to divert you from your passion if you let it. But if you shift your story just a little bit, look at things just a little bit differently, you might find you've been exactly where you belong all along.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Perseverance for the Long Game by Joy Preble

When I do school visits or present at conferences, I talk frequently about perseverance. Never give up. Expect rejection and failure and keep on anyway. Understand that the universe will put all sorts of obstacles in your way that will make it easy to stop writing or to doubt yourself. That, as many of us will write about this month, there will be family trauma and crisis and jobs lost and health compromised and loved ones lost and relationships shattered and dozens of other things that make life--much less the creative life--feel like an impossible slog. Sometimes we will indeed be able to save ourselves with the work--lose ourselves in the process of story writing. I did that when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer back in 2010. I finished my second book because it felt like the one thing I could control. And then, in the way of things, surgery went well, I was cancer free, the book was done and boom, my editor left abruptly and this book that had saved me in many regards, floundered because the person who had championed it was gone and a different struggle of perseverance ensued. I've written about that a great deal so if you want the full story, you can find it in my personal author blog.

But sometimes we don't keep going quite so fiercely. Sometimes we wallow and wander and let ourselves get distracted and lose our way. There are many reasons for it and I say that sometimes, that's okay. Let's call it playing the long game. This may not seem at all like perseverance, but I say it is. You give up on a project or shelve it for now, or take a great deal longer than you ever expected. You find other things to fill the well and even -- yes--imagine a life where you just calmly go to the day job and don't write for a living at all. You come home and maybe you go out or you invite friends in or you and the significant other go play trivia at your friend's bar or cook a meal together or watch a movie or possibly just sit outside and do not much at all but have a conversation. Or maybe you are simply trying to get through each day.

I'm surfacing from just such a 'break'. A manuscript I believed in strongly wasn't working the way it needed to or the way my editor wanted. My husband's job situation had changed drastically. I'd been writing full time from home for five years and I needed structure again. And okay, I also needed a steady income, which my writing had only occasionally provided. The possibility that I might never rise above the mid list was making me cranky and sad even as a new book was coming into the world and as I was forging out a steady set of gigs doing school visits, conference presentations, workshop teaching and keynotes. My head was still in the game.  I still felt that writing was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me professionally.

But I was... tired. Not quite burned out, but close. And a little broke. Distracted by the endless crazy of world events. (Seriously, who isn't?) Struggling to find the real book I wanted to write. And scared that perseverance wasn't enough.

So when it was somehow miraculously offered to me (I do believe in miracles. I do believe that we need to always be on the lookout for things that are looking for us),  I took a part time job as the Children's Specialist/Buyer at a wonderful indie bookstore.  And here's the thing. It wasn't easy. I was learning a zillion new tasks, a side of the publishing industry that I had only some understanding of. I had to break out my math skills. Let's just say they were rusty. I had never worked in retail, hadn't operated a cash register since my summer at McDonald's freshman year in college. I was suddenly face with a 40-60 minute commute each way. And I was having to adjust and balance writing time in ways I hadn't done in a long time. I'm still struggling with that, but I'm getting better at it.

I was learning a whole new set of facts about the publishing industry, not the least of which was that so very much of what happens with a book is absolutely out of our control. I was remembering all the things I adored about books and writing. I was getting to work with reps as a buyer and peeking behind the scenes at what they were pushing each season and why. I discovered that I loved bookselling and working with authors.  I had gained awesome colleagues that I can't wait to see every day.

And slowly, I found my story again. I realized I had to drag myself up to write at 5 AM and discovered this wasn't that bad.

So yeah, it didn't look like perseverance at first.
But turns out it was.
Still in the game.
And happy to be here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

With a Little Help from My Friends (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is perseverance: how each of us deals with the very human speed bumps of life and, impliedly, how we keep writing through them.

Talk about speed bumps:  I’m writing this right before I head to the hospital for a partial knee replacement.

(Tragically, even though every medical professional who’s seen my knee report has burst into laughter, the triggering event for the partial knee replacement occurred 18 months ago, when I tripped over the inflatable penguins in my front yard.)

(The penguins are now dead to me.)

My whole life is one long series of speed bumps, although I usually pretend otherwise.  Most I handle quietly.  Thanks to social media, quite a few I don’t, in some cases because my speed bumps often tend to make people laugh.  (Damn those penguins.)

How do I survive the speed bumps?  Sheer guts, adrenaline, an ability to go without sleep (for a while!) . . . and a little help from my friends.
Sure, Ringo sang lead vocals on "With a Little Help from My Friends," but let's face it: Paul was the cute Beatle.

My orthopod and I agreed in mid-March that I needed a partial knee replacement immediately.  I live for sports but haven’t been able to play them (understatement) since January, and since March I haven’t taken a single step without pain.  The problem: my frantic schedule.  My orthopod actually had to flip through my calendar to believe it.  Seven weeks of mostly travel, one band gig, and my daughter’s graduation meant that the earliest possible date for surgery would be June 7, or three months later than either of us wanted.

Sometimes, speed bumps sound cool to others.  While I waited for a knee that works, I made five trips.  DC.  Greece and Norway.  Maryland.  Milwaukee.  NYC.  Typically, I had three days between trips, two of which were spent recovering from the trip I’d just taken or preparing for the next trip.  At first I traveled with my AlphaSmart and travel guitar, but my days were jam-packed, and I was exhausted.  I finally realized that preparing for my gig was more important (as in, crisis), so I focused on guitar in my limited free time.  As a result, I went four weeks without writing a word.

Two weeks ago, after my gig, I started writing again.  Truth?  The break from writing was actually great for me.  I had missed putting down new words and telling a story, and I was thrilled to be back at it.  I also realized that I could take a break if the speed bumps of life simply became too massive to roll over.

But three months of speed bumps also reminded me how much I appreciate my friends.
My bandmates didn’t give me crap (much) for being gone every weekend when we were rehearsing for our gig or for my occasional struggles to learn new music when I was exhausted and in pain.  My other friends didn’t give me crap (much) for my “fabulous” life of travel (ha) when it was obviously killing me.  Actually, most of the travel was fabulous: I just wouldn’t have scheduled it back to back, week after week, if I could’ve helped it.  Also, it was literally killing my knee.  A day after the final trip, to NYC, my knee shrieked its refusal to take another walk—anywhere—and I’ve been in ghastly pain ever since.

So my friends took me out for fruity cocktails.  To listen to live music.  To eat at fun restaurants.  They texted and emailed.  They didn’t ask how my book was coming (because good friends don’t), but they came to my gig.  They’ve offered to visit when I’m in the hospital and afterward when I’m laid up at home.  One keeps volunteering to let me drive her minivan while I’m recovering, and she’ll drive my two-seater convertible sports car.  (Nice try!)  We’ve laughed so much that sometimes I forget how much pain I’m in.

Through it all, they’ve been there for me.

To me, friends are a crucial component to perseverance and even survival.  Yeah, I can do a lot on my own, and I do, but when it’s crunch time, friends show up and help get me through it.  Even when I protest (as I usually do) that I don’t need help.

My friends: quite simply the best.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Soldiering On

by Fae Rowen

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perseverance as "continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition."

I don't usually check definitions, but I knew perseverance meant more than stubborn, even when I was confronted by the word for the first time. By the chair of the Department of Physical Sciences. My first week at college.

After attending his "demonstration lecture" during a College Week visit, I'd enrolled in the only undergraduate class Dr. Gelbaum taught. Instead of beginning with a review of what we should already know or a syllabus or rules, he opened with, "What is the most important characteristic of a math major?"

In the class of over a hundred students, surprisingly few hands went up.

"Intelligence." Helpful, but no.
"Memorization skill." No.
"Organization." No
"A big coffee pot." Chuckle.
"Lack of fear." Closer.

When he'd called on all the raised hands, he looked at us and sighed. "No more hands? No more guesses?

"I asked you this question because you will never make it as a math major at this institution if you don't have perseverance."

A few gasps. One person got up and walked out of the lecture hall.

I wish I could remember the rest of his opening as well as the beginning, but here's what I remember.

Perseverance makes other people think of you as stubborn, because you fail, then you try again. And again. And again. Not exactly the same thing, but you try to solve the problem in another way, with another tool. You work on the same problem for weeks, looking for a thread of logic that will unlock a solution or find a way to finesse a more elegant, shorter way to the answer.

When you're in physics or German class, your mind wanders to the rough edges of a solution. When you're playing a game of pick-up basketball or sitting on your board out in the ocean surfing, an approach you haven't tried surfaces and you stop, look for paper and pencil and sketch out a new idea.

When you fail a homework quiz because you couldn't make headway on just one out of the twenty problems and that was the one problem on the quiz, when you fail a test because there was a new kind of problem on it, one that forced you to analyze and synthesize what you've learned to create a whole new technique and you didn't have time to finish it once you figured out the approach, but you attend quiz sessions, visit your professor during office hours, and burn that proverbial midnight oil until you've figured out something new, something you'd never been able to do before, you are a math major.

Because you have perseverance. When things get hard, when you don't understand what's going wrong, when you don't know how to make it better, you keep working on it. You find research. You talk to others. You read papers. You start and stop. You throw away a lot of attempts. But you keep following your dream, you keep working on your problem, because it's become the most important thing in your world and, eventually, you will solve that problem and present it to others to enjoy, to learn from, to build into the future.

"End of lecture. Read the first chapter in your textbook. Do all the problems that you can't."

Dr. Gelbaum's first lecture coalesced everything I needed to hear and remember about perseverance. And it gave me a very important word for my adulthood. I persevered and got that math degree, then a Masters. I persevered in my career as a mathematician.

And when I decided to write, I persevered when a friend read my first book and offered the name of a writers' group I should join. Every time I receive a chapter back from one of my critique partners, I persevere and edit words that need some finesse, even though they were the best words I could think of at the time. When my editor tells me my character arcs aren't strong enough, I go back and analyze what is missing, then I synthesize a solution.

To be successful, writers need every characteristic mentioned by Dr. Bernard Gelbaum. We have to persevere in the face of all the changes in the publishing industry. We have to persevere just to finish a book that has a chance of being bought by readers who are hungry for our stories. We have to persevere and market our work so readers can find us. All while life swirls around us.

But if we can juggle all that's necessary, if we push through every rejection, every less-than-five-star review, every time we don't think we can make a deadline, that perseverance muscle gets stronger. And we're better for it. We soldier on.

We know that we can do anything. Be anything. And we are. Writers.

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Just Keep Writing

The theme this month here at YA Outside the Lines is perseverance, something I know a lot about. I don’t know anything about most other stuff—car maintenance, math, the difference between an adverb and an adjective, or computers (when I push a button and my computer turns on, I consider that a miracle).

But perseverance? I know the subject well. And I’m willing to bet you know it well, too.

No one gets through this life without facing challenges, whether they’re annoying minor problems, like dealing with a flat tire on a rainy night, or stressful but often exciting life changes, like a new job or going off to college, or the toughest, most gut-punching challenge of them all, loss.

We’ve all been there, and everyone’s experience has been as unique as the way in which we’ve dealt with our challenges, and how we’ve persevered.

I’ve been at this writing thing a long, long time. The ups and downs have been many, both personal and professional. I’ve lost family members and pets, moved four times (including one jaunt halfway across the country), seen my kids graduate high school and college and move onto their adult lives, been through countless illnesses, let my hair go gray, and had some publishing success, but many, many more rejections.

I could write a lengthy thesis about how I persevered through all these challenges, but I’ll cut to the chase with the best coping strategy that’s worked for me (and paraphrasing Dory from Finding Nemo): just keep writing.

Writing is what’s kept me going, what’s helped me to escape my troubles or work through whatever is going on in my life. For example, 2009 was a dark year of tough, gut-punching challenges for my family, with the loss of four close family members, including our niece and my mother. Seemed like we were in perpetual mourning. I took to my keyboard as an escape. Up to that point, I’d been working on light mysteries, but what came out of me then was a different story and much darker.

A Moment After Dark, set during WWII, is about a young woman with a strange power, the ability to tell a person’s future with a touch. She sees the attack at Pearl Harbor and, in trying to raise the alarm, she comes to the attention of a Nazi spy and a government agent who’s head of a secret group of people with abilities. Both men see what my heroine considers a dubious gift as a weapon to help them fight the coming war. There’s lots of intrigue and romance and a big fight at the end.

The core of the story has the heroine, whose mother has recently died, not only learning to accept her ability and how she can use it for good, but also coming to terms with her loss. Kind of what I was doing as I wrote the story. Coming to terms. Not “putting it in the past” as some people advise, but accepting it. Not moving on, moving forward. Not giving up—persevering.

So, that’s my advice… Write. Work through the worries, the angst, the grief. Write a short story to take your mind off what’s troubling you or write a novel and pour it all onto the page. When you’re overwhelmed, and the undertow is so fierce it’s dragging you under, and there’s a wicked riptide whipping you out to sea, just keep swimming—and just keep writing too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

What's Missing From This World? You! (Brian Katcher)

Image result for back to the future vanish

Now I pretty much only write contemporary YA, so it's not like I have a lot of world building to do. Sure, I can create cities and schools and people, but at the end of the day, they all take place in our world. Denver is still the capital of Colorado, hydrogen is still the lightest element, and Donald Trump is still the 45th president....sigh...

But there is one radical difference in all my books. One thing that changes from my universe to the book's universe. In my novels, I don't exist. Brian Katcher doesn't live there.

I first thought about this idea after reading a short story by Robert Bloch (author of Psycho) called 'The Plot is the Thing.' A woman is sucked into a reality where all movie creatures, such as Frankenstein's monster and Dracula are real. And when she goes to the library, there are no books by Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker. When the creations are real, the creators are not.

It's kind of eerie if you think about it. In my world, where my characters live and love and have adventures, I do not exist. This goes for any author. True, like Clive Cussler, I'm guilty of tossing in the occasional author avatar. And Kurt Vonnegut explored the idea of the author trapped in his own creation in Breakfast of Champions. But no matter what worlds I build, Brian Katcher, father, school librarian, and part-time writer, does not exist in my books. Every author of fiction ultimately writes themselves out of existence. To write is to negate oneself. 

So every time you sit down to start a new book, just remember that you are, in effect, destroying yourself. And that's what makes the creative process so delightful!

Oh, and go out and reach Robert Bloch's stuff. Very underrated horror writer.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Build a Better World by Dean Gloster

            I’ve thought a lot about world-building lately, unrelated to fiction. The truth is, all of us—not just writers—world-build all the time: We decide who to choose as a life partner (or not); what friends, activities, and information sources will surround us.
            In the United States we’re also still allowed to vote and to speak out. So we even have an impact on our future world. When I say “we” I especially mean young people and those of us who write for them.
Help heal the broken world. Please.
            I always wanted to be a writer, but I took a decades-long detour as a lawyer first, which let me save some money. So now I get to do what I always wanted, write novels. I love books. I love stories. I love the craft of fiction. I admire writers and I love hanging out with them.
            What I don’t like is authoritarian regimes that lie, demonize immigrants, shoot unarmed people, and lose over 1475 children—some of whom were sent to human traffickers—after ripping those children away from their parents at the border in violation of international law.
           As writers, we create empathy simply by telling engaging stories. But in circumstances like ours today, I think we should do more to build a better world.

            This is my father, Dean Francis Gloster. When he was seventeen, during WWII, three of his high school buddies wanted to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, and they tried to persuade my dad to join them. At the time, Marines were getting killed by the thousands in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific, and so my dad agreed—but only if they all joined the Navy instead. The four of them drove from Alturas, California, to the nearest Navy enlistment center. Only my dad passed the physical, so he was the only one who enlisted.
            Joining up changed my dad’s life. He was the first member of his family to go to college, which he went through on the G.I. bill, and he completed his military service, so unlike some others, he wasn’t drafted to fight in the Korean War five years later.
            His service also, eventually, helped kill him.
            My father died in 2006, drowning in air that his lungs couldn’t extract oxygen from anymore, because of COPD complicated by asbestosis. His pulmonologist asked if he’d ever worked around asbestos or been in the ship-building industry. I said he’d been in the Navy.
            “Oh,” his pulmonologist said. “That’s probably where he got it.”
            So my dad joined the Navy to fight the Nazis and their allies, and it eventually killed him.
            You can probably guess how I feel about Nazi sympathizers today.
Some “fine people on both sides” as identified by U.S. President Trump
            Unless you’re J.K. Rowling (and the rest of us aren’t) writers are not celebrities. But we do have visibility in a way that accountants and actuaries don’t. (It would be a strange world where insurance brokers were paid to do school visits.) Writers are told to “build our platform,” a presence on social media. Once we have a platform, though, shouldn’t we use it for something?
Platforms should be used for more than ritual sacrifices of adverbs
            As a writer, I have over 100,000 more Twitter followers than I did as a lawyer. And more visibility and more opportunity to teach and to do school visits to talk to young people. So I speak out on issues important to young people and urge them to register and to vote. Young people are less racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic than the generation I grew up in, or any generation before them. I hope they will save us and build a better world.

            I wish I could tell you, fellow writers, that if you do the right thing and spend your energy speaking out to build a better world, it will improve your individual life, rather than just the collective good. Unfortunately, the truth is that few good deeds go unpunished. That’s why we have ethics and morality—the right thing is different than the expedient thing. But social media mavens urge us to be our authentic selves online, and part of what I’m about is opposing deadly racism, toxic masculinity, and resurgent authoritarianism. So I bring that to my online life and in-person communications. But it’s unpaid work, it’s somewhat thankless, and I don’t want to become that screechy guy on the Internet. I don’t always get the balance right.
            Today is Memorial Day, when in the United States we honor those who died for our country to preserve our freedom to choose our own government leaders rather than the one selected by a foreign despot. We remember those who sacrificed so that we can enjoy our Constitutional rights to freedom of the press, equal protection of the laws, separation of powers, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment—all of which are under attack now by the regime in power in our country.
            It’s a small thing, losing a few Twitter followers over speaking up. So many in our country have lost so much more so that we still have the opportunity to do that.
            Wishing you a thoughtful and somber Memorial Day. Speak out and vote.
Dean Gloster received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2017. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Word by word, a world (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

One element of world-building I like to emphasize is the need to establish a setting word by word. It isn’t just about creating a time and place for the characters to inhabit; it’s about creating an atmosphere with every word.

For example, if you want to describe something red in your scene using a simile, you might say:
red as a garnet
red as spilled blood
red as rotten tomatoes splitting in the sun
red as ripe strawberries
red as a clown’s nose

Each of these sets a different tone. The garnet suggests jewels and elegance; the blood threat and danger; the clown’s nose humor or absurdity. The ripe strawberries are luscious, but the rotting tomatoes suggest decay and unpleasantness. A narrator describing his new love interest would probably not compare the shade of her lipstick to rotting tomatoes or a clown’s nose ... and if he does, the author is signaling wildly to the reader that something is off about this relationship. Maybe the new love interest is really sinister, or the narrator is, or maybe this is a comic novel that will upend our expectations about romance.

We don’t just build stage sets; we show how our characters respond to their surroundings. Is the elegant restaurant in your story intimidating to the characters, or is it their happy place, or is it a facade for the chaotic back kitchen where your characters spend most of their time? Readers will discover those answers in whether you show fraying threads on the drapes or a spot on the silverware. In the bathroom, hunched over that pregnancy test, what is your character hoping to discover, and how does that eagerness or dread affect the way she inhabits that space? Is the basketball court the place where your character rushes to play and hang out with her friends, or is it a grim endurance test in a weekly gym class? Characters who approach the same place with different attitudes will notice very different details and will use very different words to describe them, and the author’s word choices have the same responsibility.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Good World-Building is the Best Gift (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

The most important thing I know about world-building is that you have to do it.

There's no skipping it, even if you're writing contemporary fiction, or heck, even if you're writing contemporary nonfiction.

I often see world-building treated like it's reserved for fantasy or science fiction, but whenever you write a novel, or a memoir, or whatever, you're inviting readers to enter the world you've created, which is definitely a different world from the one your reader lives in (unless your book is a memoir and they actually lived it with you). Even different high schools in the same town have different cultures.

But world-building isn't a chore. Done right, it can be really fun to design the details of your characters' lives and interesting to try out things that are part of their world.

What do your characters eat? Eat that.
What books have they read? Read them.
What games do they play? Play them.
What music do they listen to? Listen to it.
How do they get in touch with other people? Try that. (If you can. I'm sure George R.R. Martin doesn't send people ravens and J.K. Rowling doesn't send letters by owl.)

I appreciate good world-building so much, especially in these rough times, when sometimes I just want to step out of this world and into another one for a while. What a gift you're giving your reader—to take them out of their world and immerse them in the one you've created, for a little while.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Creating a World from Scratch…Or Not (Brenda Hiatt)

As you probably know, some degree of world-building is necessary for any piece of fiction, since no one wants to read about people operating in a vacuum. For contemporary settings, details like streets, shops, clothes, food, transportation and local flavor can either be looked up (for a real town or city) or made up (for fictitious ones) based on real, similar locales. 
Historical romance novels presented me with a slightly bigger challenge—especially since the internet was still in its infancy when I started. I had to do a ton of research (yes, out of actual books) before I could create authentic settings for my characters. I had to know what my heroes and heroines would wear, eat, say, do…you get the idea. With those books I used real places and events from the past as my jumping-off point for my fictional story worlds, keeping in mind that Regency readers really know their stuff and would spot any errors in a heartbeat.
When I switched to YA science fiction romance a few years ago, I faced a whole different challenge. Though the first book, Starstruck, takes place in our familiar world, I knew future books in the series would not. Because of that, I wanted to make my heroine’s ordinary world feel as real as possible, to provide maximum contrast to the more fantastical world(s) she would experience later on. I visited numerous small towns in north-central Indiana, borrowing features from several of them to create my heroine’s (fictitious) hometown of Jewel, Indiana, with its own streets, shops, churches, public spaces, etc. To keep myself consistent, I sketched out this (very) rough map of Jewel:

Partly because it had a great website, I used one particular high school as a sort of template for Jewel High, where much of the action in the first two books take place. That school’s athletic schedule, academic offerings, calendar and other publicly available info was incredibly useful whenever I needed those sorts of details (which was often).

In book two, Starcrossed, I expanded on the few details my heroine had already learned about the secret underground colony on Mars that would become increasingly important to her. Little by little, I created a whole new “world” with its own history, system of government, traditions, and more. I even made up a language, based loosely on ancient Gaelic. Long before my heroine actually visited that world in book three, I sketched out my own map of Nuath for reference. I’m no artist (as you can see) but this map helped give me a feel for population density, villages vs cities, and how topography and culture intersected.

Though I built my futuristic Martian colony basically from scratch, I used a lot of familiar reference points to help ground the reader (and myself) when introducing its more fantastical features. That allowed my heroine to compare things like a monarchy, mag-lev trains, holo-displays and food recombinators with our own government, modes of travel, entertainment, and kitchen gadgets while navigating an unfamiliar environment. As is almost always the case, there's a LOT more to my fictional world than will ever show up in the pages of a book, but that's part of what keeps things real. All that extra stuff also gives me material from which I can create bonus goodies for my diehard fans (much of which is available at my website).
World building can obviously be a lot of work, but all those little details are what makes a story world come alive—for the author, the characters, their story and, ultimately, the reader. For both my historical and science fiction romances, my main world-building goal is to create worlds my readers will want to return to, book after book.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Building Sets for Stories by Patty Blount

When I write, I think in terms of "scenes." When I shift the location or the point-of-view character, that's when I begin a new scene.

Scenes help me organize my stories, help me visualize them. I begin by orientating my readers. I write contemporary novels, so there's no magic happening, which requires authors to invent the physics of their worlds. So in a way, I've got it much easier than my paranormal and fantasy author colleagues. But in another way, I've got it harder because my worlds have to feel real.

That's an important concept -- feel real, not be real. And when the most popular piece of writing advice you get is "write what you know," that's tough to do unless you've been to a specific place. Let's be real (Ha!), first-hand research isn't always possible and when you're juggling a day job and family on top of writing, it's that much harder.

When I'm going for realism, I turn to Pinterest. I have boards for nearly all of my novels. There's a scene in SOME BOYS that takes place in one of the secondary characters' basement playrooms. I found a pin that depicted the basement I envisioned and "wrote to it." By this, I mean I kept that image on my screen while I conceived the scene. That helps me remember the details -- is the TV mounted on the wall or perched on a cabinet? Is the sectional sofa a left-hand or right-hand turn?

Seeing a space I'm going to use as a setting also helps me determine how my characters move within that space. Can my six-foot-tall hero cross that room in two paces or will it take him five?

Another technique I use is to try and find blog posts or Yelp reviews about the real places I find on Pinterest. This helps me add 'flavor.' But -- and this is a cautionary warning -- if I use a real place, I never show it in a negative way.

For example, three of my novels were based on my actual school district, but because they dealt with topics like bullying, school violence, sexual assault and victim-blaming, I fictionalized them because I didn't want the district believing I was casting dispersions. And because my local fire department never returned my calls when I was researching NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, I ended up basing my fictional Juniors program on that of three different fire departments.

In a still-unpublished story called THE SKY WAS SCARLET, the hero has just inherited his dad's '69 Pontiac GTO. It's a convertible. I couldn't find out online if the convertible ever had shoulder belts in that year. Shoulder belts were just coming out back then but in a convertible? I couldn't tell. I turned to Pinterest and found some car interior shots to use. Another thing that helped me is finding out how to raise and lower the top -- where was the switch located? Pinterest helped me answer these questions.

While not precisely world-building in the commonly understood sense, 'set design' for fiction is nevertheless an essential ingredient in the writing process. I hope this tip helps you design yours.

Monday, May 21, 2018


There’s a whole world inside each of our characters. I think that world is what often brings us to fiction in the first place. I think written work lets us, as readers, inside a character’s head in a way no other method of storytelling every really does. In movies or theater, we see a character navigating through a problem, but we often don’t hear directly from those characters. We get dialogue, sure, but we’re not inside their heads, and we’re not hearing their thoughts.

Not like we do in fiction, anyway. In fiction, we do get to hear characters’ thoughts. I think it’s why we so often feel so close to fictional characters, why flipping the last page feels like losing a friend.

I often think the best worldbuilding, then, is the worldbuilding that gives us the setting and surroundings through the eyes of a character. Each time it rains or a character meets someone new or goes to a new location, we get closer to that character if we can see all of the settings and weather and people through their eyes. That way, the outer world that surrounds the main character isn’t backdrop, it helps the reader understand who they are—their wants, fears, motivation. If we as readers know how a book’s main character views the others in his / her life, how they view social structures, how they view their own place in the world, we understand why they’re acting a certain way. In fact, we might even begin to empathize to such an extent that we root for them when they’re acting bizarrely or selfishly—because we so thoroughly understand where they’re coming from.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pretty In Pennsylvania [Laurie Boyle Crompton]

So far, all of my published novels have taken place in small towns: the first two in Pennsylvania, and the more recent two in upstate New York. Since I grew up in a quintessential small town; Butler, PA it could be (easily) argued that my story setting choices are inspired by pure laziness. And since my next book PRETTY IN PUNXSUTAWNEY boasts of it's small Pennsylvania town location RIGHT IN THE TITLE, and because Punxsutawney, PA is a mere stones-throw from Butler, PA one could (easily) argue that laziness is an ongoing trend in this author's life. And overall one would not be wrong. However, when it comes to world building, even with realistic fiction, actual geographical location is only one factor. Besides small towns, my books have also taken place inside minivans (aka: Blaze's Subatomic Sweatmobile of Doom) on reality show television sets (with Prom Queens battling it out for a grand prize tiara), on mountain tops (where Dyna chased her lust for Adrenaline), and everywhere from hidden cabins to carnivals to the world of street art with Rory, (as she wielded cans of spray paint like weapons) Each of those worlds required plenty of research, including everything from learning comic book jargon to watching hours upon hours of reality television, to studying graffiti artist techniques and all culminating in a family rock-climbing expedition which instigated a fresh fear of heights in my poor sweet daughter (my son LOVED it of course). And now PRETTY IN PUNXSUTAWNEY brings me back to my small Pennsylvania town roots as Andie gets caught in a Groundhog Day loop, reliving her first day at Punxsutawney High over and over. And as we all know, HIGH SCHOOL is a never-ending world all its own. Hope you'll join her there in January 2019! And just to entice you, here's the ah-mazing cover with an iconic locker shot and that small Pennsylvania town right there in the title:

Friday, May 18, 2018

Did your toy cars have personalities? (Alissa Grosso)

In some ways my childhood was the sort that every kid dreams about, well, in one very specific way. My father worked for a toy company. Through about first grade or so, save for a brief time period when he worked for Goody (forever known in our family as the Christmas of the barrettes) my father worked for Lesney Products which manufactured Matchbox Cars, Ginny Dolls and a few other smaller lines that never really took off.

What this meant is that I had a lot of Matchbox Cars growing up as well as pretty much every Matchbox Car accessory that there ever was: the car wash, the parking garage, the Sounds of Service auto repair facility, a variety of racetracks and something called Play Track.

Play Track consisted a bunch of different pieces that could be connected and arranged in a variety of ways, and thanks to my dad's job, I had enough pieces to make some pretty elaborate setups.

One thing that I struggle with nowadays, is how gendered toys have become. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s I do not remember the gender division that exists in the toy aisles of stores today. Maybe part of it was that there wasn't much in the way of girl colors and boy colors back then. Pretty much everything was primary colors in those days, but there didn't seem to be much of a stigma about girls playing with cars, and I definitely knew plenty of boys who had Cabbage Patch Kids. I'm not even going to get into My Little Ponies which first appeared around this time and whose cross-gender appeal is so legendary that their male fandom even has their own nickname because this is a post about one little girl who spent hours playing with her toy cars.

Okay, but what does this have to do with worldbuiling you ask? In a very literal sense I would regularly build worlds for my toy cars by setting up the massive amount of Play Track pieces we had to form townscapes that would likely horrify most traffic engineers.

Then I would people these towns with cars. Even as a young child I understood that cars were inanimate machines driven by human beings, but other than me, the master creator, no humans ever figured into my car play because in this world the cars were the people.

I found some Matchbox cars while roaming through a Toys R Us store recently.

My cars all had personalities. Some were mean. Some were nice. Some were old and cranky. Some were young show-offs. I know I said before that toys in this era did not seem gendered in general, but on a more specific level all my cars had genders. Because, of course they did. This was decades before the Cars movies, and yes I do feel a slight pang of regret when I realize I should have written that movie and become fabulously wealthy.

But what that movie franchise proves to me, is that I couldn't possibly be the only one whose toy cars had personalities. I suspect there were quite a few of us out there, and I suspect that more than one of us went on to become a writer or to enter some other creative profession. Because sitting down and writing a book is a lot like getting out that big Play Track box.

When you sit down to write a new book, you are creating your world. It might not be as easy as snapping together plastic pieces, but it can be just as fun to plot out a story and create the realistic or fantastic universe it takes place in. Then the playing really begins when you add the characters whether they are human, beast or vehicle--seeing how they interact with this world you've created for them and with the other characters around them can provide for endless fun.

It's been a while since I've played with cars though I still have my Matchbox Cars collection somewhere in my attic. These days I've moved on to creating worlds out of words, and I am happy to report that it's just as fun. So, my advice to you is to take joy in playing with your words and creating the worlds of your books. It really is a lot of fun.

Alissa Grosso's word-play has led to the creation of the the novels Unnamed Roads, Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. Find out more about her books and how you can get a free one at

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re talking about world building. Many don’t realize this, but in picture books, illustrators don’t just draw pictures to “go along with” the words. Rather, they tell the other half of the story. Yes, you read that right: 50%!

Of course, while my illustrators have told me that my words have inspired their “vision”, I’d venture to say that they’ve taken my original idea to heights I’d never even imagined and have placed the story and characters in the most magnificent settings!

I suppose that’s why they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But what happens when one is writing a novel and hasn’t the luxury of pictures? Then we must become artists with our word choices. Think about your favorite novels for a moment. Doesn’t the author paint those pictures in your head, where the story rolls out like an award-winning movie?

First of all, when writing a story, one must decide the “setting” (or world.) Most people realize setting is a place, but what they don’t often think about is that it’s also about time. Does your story happen in modern day, historical or futuristic times? What about seasons? Is your scene taking place in the morning or at midnight?

Remember that we want to invite our readers into this world, so we have to ensure they’re on firm footing. If it’s a contemporary work, we are dealing with rules most are familiar with. But if we’re describing something different, whether it be outer space, inner space, or an entire new dimension, it’s important to provide not only the physical entity and time period, but the “rules of the house” as well.

The thing about world building is that it doesn’t have to be real, but it does have to be believable.

Once this is determined, one can start adding color, texture and depth to the palette. It’s all about detail and layering.

Have you heard the saying, “Show, don’t tell”? We can write (tell) that a character is scared, but if we show him/her that our character’s hands are shaking and he’s holding his breath, our readers begin to feel the fear as well. The same idea may be applied to world building.

Ultimately, we must be artists with our words. There’s a quote I love that sums it up perfectly:

For example, instead of telling readers, “It was windy.”

We can say:

“The scent of lilacs ticked his nose as the wind whispered secrets into his ears.”

It’s the difference between plain “blue” water...

and “an ocean of shimmering turquoise and aquamarine.”

Where would you rather swim? What world would you rather immerse yourself in?

Words matter.

Friday, May 11, 2018

World Building in Historical Fiction - Maryanne Fantalis

This month, we're talking about world building, which is just another way of asking, how do we writers make the reader feel immersed in the world of the story?

As a writer of historical fiction, this is a particularly important question.

Not only do you have to introduce your reader to the characters, the stakes, the plot -- in short, all of the things you always have to do as an author -- you have to bring the reader into a world that they may have no familiarity with at all. Zero. None.

Everything from clothing to food to transportation to going to the bathroom is probably different in your historical world.

Here's an example.

This morning, when I got ready to go out, I took a shower. I put on a bra and underwear, socks, jeans, a tee shirt, and sneakers.

You understood every one of those words, right? I didn't have to explain any of that. Our common experience in the modern world gives us a shorthand.

Now let's think about the world of late medieval England in which I set my stories. When my character wakes up in the morning, what would she do to get ready for the day?

You have no idea, do you?

I mean, when she woke up, what was her bed even like? Did you ever think about that?

I have to explain it to you, but in such a way that doesn't bore you to death, that doesn't sound like I'm just showing off how much freaking research I had to do to write this freaking book, and also in a way that doesn't sound strange and stilted from my character's perspective.

Because, honestly, what if I had written this above?

This morning, when I got ready to go out, I stepped into the large tile- and glass-enclosed box in the bathing cubicle attached to my bedchamber and turned the knobs on the wall. A rapid gush of water descended from the round spray nozzle high on the wall, gradually becoming warm to the touch. Relishing the spray dancing on my skin, I lathered myself with a palm-sized bar of a scented fat-and-lye mixture, quickly washing away the sweat and dirt of the previous day and night, as was customary in my culture.

Weird, right? Who describes their daily hygiene like this? I'll bet you've read sci-fi that sounded like that and you skimmed over it. Because -- ewwww.

So when you're talking about an unfamiliar place and time, you have to balance the weird with the necessary.

For example, when Kathryn, the main character in FINDING KATE, went outside of the house, she put on a pair of wooden overshoes called pattens to protect her delicate indoor shoes, made of silk or kidskin. She had to mention that. It's part of her world (as is the fact that her streets are mostly rutted dirt, and only paved in the rich part of town, which is literally half a street).

These beautiful pattens were hand-made by an SCA member named Lady Ursula von Memmingen.
You can see the research and design here:

So, although in a modern context, I could say I put on my sneakers but I didn't have to describe them to you, my main character couldn't quite do that. I had to describe her footwear, but subtly.

I did it by giving out little hints, not all at once.

In an early description, another character gives her a once-over, not kindly, and she feels his creepy gaze crawl "from the modest lace veil over my hair to the wooden pattens covering my silk slippers." She is dressed as an entirely respectable young lady going to church, but the things he's saying about her are very much at odds with the way she looks and acts -- very unfair to poor Kathryn! Anyway, the point is, there are the pattens, slipped on over her indoor silk slippers. So you can tell, very early in the book, that she's rich enough to wear silk, and that when she goes out of the house, she's not letting that silk touch the ground. 

Every time she leaves the house, she makes a point of slipping into those outdoor shoes, so the reader understands that this is habit for her. It's how she lives.

The hardest part of worldbuilding, for me, as a historical author, is not so much finding the answers. The research is the fun part (#procrastinating). It's finding ways to bring readers into the world without making it mind-numbingly boring for them. There's nothing worse than a novel that grinds to a halt so that the author can info-dump all the cool things they learned about the historical period. You know what I'm talking about. Two straight pages of a feast, amiright?

What are your favorite ways to work historical details into your writing? What struggles do you have? How do you keep the facts from weighing down the story?