Friday, February 23, 2018

An Ode to Books By Christine Gunderson

When I think about this month’s theme of Loved and Lost, I think about the 800 plus books in my house.

Instead of having a dining room or a formal living room like normal, practical people, my husband and I have a room devoted to our books.

His books are almost exclusively non-fiction and mine almost exclusively fiction. Between the two of us, we have everything from Jane Austen to Stephen Pinker. A person of any taste or interest could be stranded in our house for a month with no electricity and never be bored.

Some of the books are beloved old friends I received as gifts when I was a kid, like Little Women and The Black Stallion. Others are more recent acquisitions. Before we had children, my husband and I would spend rainy weekends roaming used books stores, looking for new friends to read and add to our shelves.

Our library has two comfortable wingback chairs and reading lamps. On a cold, grey day, with a fire, a cup of tea and a book, it’s my favorite place in the world. At night, my kids gather in the library and I read Harry Potter aloud.

We open Christmas and birthday presents in the library. It’s a special room, not utilitarian like the kitchen or cluttered with technology and noise like the family room. It’s like stepping into the past. Quiet. Calm. And best of all, the shelves are filled with some of the finest friends I’ve ever had.

I love it. But someday, I know it will be lost.

My husband has already stopped contributing to our shelves. He switched to e-books a long time ago. But I still remain devoted to print books. My idea of a dystopian future is a world where libraries and Barnes and Noble close their doors and there are no more print books to be found.

Wendy Williams recently wrote a great book called The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion. Think for a moment about the horse’s utility and ubiquity throughout most of human history. Now ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a real, live horse?

Loved and lost. Will printed books share the same fate as the horse?

Will my kids really want to move 800 books into their homes when my husband and I are gone? Will used bookstores still exist if they want to offload our beloved volumes to someone else?

Or maybe I don’t need to worry. Just like people we’ve loved, good books stay with us long after they’re physically gone. They linger inside our mind and eventually become part of our memories and thoughts. Maybe if you truly love something, it’s never really lost at all.


Christine Gunderson is a young adult author living outside of Washington D.C. You can visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @gunderchristine.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Lesson in Losing by Patty Blount

All this month, we're blogging about love and loss. I'm working on a new novel right now but it's not a young adult novel. Called NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY, this is a contemporary romance about a widowed father falling in love again when it's the last thing he wants.

This book has been both a tremendous joy and a profound pain in the rear end to write. There are so many wonderful moments but always this sense of guilt and grief underscoring them. As I sat here, trying to figure out what to blog about, a significant issue with this book began to clear up -- how will Gabriel, the widowed father, go from not caring to caring so much, he's afraid of it?

This is uncharted territory for this YA author. My teen characters are blank canvases -- they're dealing with first times for pretty much any issue you want to pick. The amazing confidence from falling in love for the first time... the debilitation from breaking up for the first time... and yes, the earth-shattering loss the first time we experience the death of someone we love. These events aren't just gut-punches to teen characters, they rip their hearts out by the roots.

And that's when I thought -- what if Gabriel were a YA character? How would I write him? The more I thought about this thirty-seven-year-old father of four as he might have been at sixteen or seventeen,  the easier my task became.

He married his high-school sweetheart as soon as they finished college, had four children, and lost her when the last child was an infant. He spent the next two years going through the motions, caring for his kids, but dying inside until he meets Amelia. He wasn't ready for her. He never expected to fall for anybody again. By the time he figures out that hanging around Amelia is a big risk, it's already too late. His heart's awake and it's freakin' scared. He knows what love feels like and the bigger the love, the bigger the grief if it ends. How will he survive it a second time if he loses Amelia, too?

This is the point I was stuck at for weeks until I sat down to write this post. And then I remembered that Gabriel's NOT a teenager. He's almost forty years old and with age comes maturity. He's not going to run from love. He's going to grab it with both hands and hold it close because even though losing it a second time could shred him, he knows the rewards far outweigh that risk. I can't write a teen this self-aware.

So...excuse me while I go write Gabriel's happily ever after :)

Have you learned something from a deep loss? Comment here. or find me on Twitter @pattyblount or Instagram @pattyblount3

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Quite a few of us have written posts on old manuscripts this month--drawer manuscripts that we loved but never sold, and that we hang onto, because if it's one thing writers learn early on, it's that you never know what you're going to wind up coming back to later on. Maybe you'll pluck a character or scene or situation from an old drawer manuscript and plug it into a new one. Maybe you'll even be blessed with the kind of inspiration that gives you an angle for revision of a drawer manuscript--instead of taking out a piece, you whip that entire book into shape, and it actually winds up on a bookstore shelf after all.

I really love the idea of coming back to old works--and not just drawer manuscripts or half-done works, either, but completed (even released) pieces. I love the idea of returning to old ideas again once time and perspective is on your side. I'm not sure we see this in the book world quite as often as we do in movies.

Hitchcock did THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH twice. Sure, the second version (with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day) is better. Why wouldn't it be? Hitchcock was nearly 20 years older and wiser by then.

John Hughes's SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (by far the best Hughes movie, in my opinion) is basically a remake of PRETTY IN PINK. Two opposite-sex friends who are outsiders in school - one gets swept away by a member of the rich, popular, gorgeous crowd - but in the end...Well, in PRETTY IN PINK, Ringwald of course winds up with Richie Rich, but in SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, Watts and Keith wind up together, and Hughes gets the friends-to-lovers ending he'd reportedly wanted for PRETTY IN PINK, but had been talked out of. Like I said, I think SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL's a better movie than PRETTY IN PINK--better humor, better characters...I think it benefited from Huges having done something similar before. He clearly learned from the experience.

Right now, I'm rewriting a short story I completed in college. When I read the original version, I see lots of focus on external world building--description of what things look like, what people wear, etc. I see less attention given to what motivates the characters, what they think, how they feel. I'm putting all that into my second-time around story. Fleshing it out. Giving it depth.

Because with time, those pure, lovely ideas of youth can be made into something polished and powerful.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Plight of the Young Bibliophile (Alissa Grosso)

I was lucky enough to have a pretty decent collection of books as a young child. As any book lover knows, there are always certain books that stand out as being favorites. For me this included gems like The Cat on the Dovrefell, a book that proved remarkably bizarre when I went back and read it as an adult and the classic, but horrifying Millions of Cats. Obviously, I had a thing for cats, though it's worth noting there aren't actually any cats in The Cat on the Dovrefell. So maybe it was just a thing for animals, because another one of my early favorites was The Berenstain Bears' Picnic. For Berenstain connoisseurs this was an early entry in the series that was markedly different from their more familiar didactic tales, it pre-dated the entry of Sister Bear and featured bolder artwork. I quite loved this book.

Unfortunately, for me, besides an animal-centric library, I also had a little sister. She was, from an
early age, something of a terror. During one of her early screaming fits I allegedly asked my parents if they could just send her back. My parents were determined to keep her, though they have said if she had been their first they probably wouldn't have had another.

I don't have any actual proof of this, but I'm pretty sure my sister is the reason they started putting child safety locks in cars. Certainly that time she flung the back door of our car open while strapped into her car seat as my mom was cruising up Route 17 in the general vicinity of Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ was a good argument for better safety features in cars.

It was her car antics, of another day, though, that I'm writing of, because, at least for me, if not necessarily my mom, it was a more traumatic experience than the whole flinging open the car door episode. On this particular day we were driving through a busy, suburban area. I was sitting in the front seat (airbags did not yet exist, so this was totally safe) and my sister was in her carseat in the back. As much as I loved books, I could not read them in the car without becoming carsick. My sister did not suffer this malady, but in a cruel twist of fate, she also was not much of a fan of books. Still, she happened to have one to entertain her (and perhaps my mom hoped, to keep her out of trouble) on our drive. The book in question was my own The Bears'  Picnic.

Behind me I heard a noise, and turned to see what was going on. I watched in horror as my sister flung my beloved book out of our moving car's window. I reported the misdeed to my mother who was busy trying to safely navigate the congested road. It was clear to me she did not understand the gravity of the situation.

We had to go back and get that book, I explained. I loved that book. I needed that book. I would not be consoled by the fact that we had other books. I believe tears might have been involved.

Because she loved me as much as I loved books, my mom found a place to turn around. I stared out the window to spot my book on the side of the busy road so that I could point it out to her. My mom risked life and limb to retrieve The Bears' Picnic and mend my temporarily broken heart. So this literary tale of loss and love has a happy ending.

Alissa Grosso still loves books and has written a few of her own, specifically the YA novels Popular, Ferocity Summer and Shallow Pond. Find out more about her and her books at

Friday, February 16, 2018

lost love by Jody Casella

I remember standing with my hand on my heart, pledging allegiance to the flag, words I didn't understand when I was in first grade-- indivisible, liberty, justice-- but which thrilled me,

when I stood soldier straight, my small chair pushed under my desk, all of my classmates facing the flag in the corner of the room, all of us reciting the words together, solemnly, seriously, proudly.

We always sang a song after the pledge. "My Country Tis of Thee" or "America, the Beautiful." I didn't understand all of those words either, but I loved the sound of them. The pilgrim's pride and the fruited plains. Of thee I sing and crowning thy good with brotherhood.

I loved the early morning ritual, the squeak of desks, the shuffle of sleeves as we raised our hands to our hearts. I loved my country, believing the lessons my teachers taught me about justice for all, the brave troops fighting for our freedom, the stars and stripes that must always be saluted, the cloth never to touch the ground.

It was a childish love-- I know that now. One that delighted in drawing Columbus's three ships sailing the ocean blue and clapping my hands while singing "This land was made for you and me."

In first grade I didn't know the darker, more complicated reality.

This morning I avoided the news for a while, something I tend to do lately. When something bad happens in our country I don't want to know everything about it. Almost twenty years ago I watched terrified teenagers running out of Columbine High School with their hands over their heads and I was horrified. Five years ago I watched six-year-olds holding hands and crying as they were led by their teachers out of Newton Elementary and I was sick to my stomach.

Another week. Another shooting in America.

We are better than this. Aren't we?

I force myself to watch, again, the running, terrified children. The cowardly politicians offering worthless thoughts and prayers, or worse, lecturing us that it is too early to discuss guns, while they turn around and take more money from the NRA.

The texts the students sent as they barricaded themselves inside their classrooms. The pile of backpacks in the parking lot. A waiting mother's anguished face, a mark of ashes on her forehead.

I forgot it was Ash Wednesday. Kids packed their backpacks that morning not knowing that at the end of the day they'd be dropping them as they ran for their lives.

In the news stories they don't show the flags in the classrooms, but we know they are there. Hanging in the corners. Flags the kids faced when they said their pledge in the morning, hands over beating hearts.

Some of those kids never left the building when the bell rang at the end of the school day.

Our country is sick and I don't love it anymore.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Loved and lost...

Since this is Valentine's Day, I thought I'd tell you a story about a boy, a girl, and lost love. This story begins in fall of the girl’s freshman year of college, about two weeks into school. The girl and her roommate are walking back to their dorm after a night hanging out at parties on the fraternity quad.
As they walk across the cut, the girl spies three guys sitting on the upper branches of an enormous oak. It’s obvious the boys are all drunk as abbey monks and probably in danger of falling to their death at any moment. As the girls pass under the tree one of the boys yells down, “Hey, do either of you lovely ladies wanna be an honorary member of our new fraternity, I Phelta Thi?” The other boys laugh and repeat the slurred invitation.
The girl can’t help but crack a smile, as her and her roommate keep on walking. She thought the first boy was kinda cute. An ass, obviously, but cute.
A few days later, her roommate says she’s getting ready to go on a date. “With whom?” the girl asks. Her roommate smirks. “Chris, one of the guy’s from the tree. Look, we’re a few weeks into school…why don’t you find someone to date?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the girl says, “I just broke up with my high school boyfriend over the summer and I’m not really looking for a relationship right now. I just wanna make friends.”
Not one heartbeat later, the I Phelta Thi guy walks into their dorm room. He has to duck under the doorway. The girl’s first thought, God, he’s tall and handsome.
The roommate takes forever to get ready, put on makeup, sit on the phone talking with several other guys. The boy gets annoyed and restless, so he begins to talk to the girl. Over an hour later he finally asks her, “What are you doing tonight?”
“Absolutely nothing,” she replies. So, the boy takes her out that night.
            And the next night.
            And the next.
Nearly 365 dates later, the boy and the girl move into an apartment together. They live like that for two mostly happy years. Now, it’s the boy’s senior year. He’ll be graduating on time, but the girl changed majors and double majored. His job will take him to Houston. One more year of school will keep her in Pittsburgh.
Worse, the girl begins to notice something that wasn’t there before – a coldness, a distance, his eyes wandering toward other girls. They fight. He’s not ready for commitment. He tells her he’s not ready for the little house with the white picket fence.
What’s he talking about though? She never asked for all of that.
For months, their relationship is tense, strained. They fight some more. The girl is unhappy. The boy is too.
Twice, she almost moves out, but he stops and her bags at the door.
The third time, she does move out.
She moves in with a girlfriend, who patiently listens to her cry for nights on end. The girl was so sure he was the one. How could it have all gone so wrong? How can it be over?
But it is over. The love is lost.
Three weeks pass. The girl doesn’t even run into him. She spies him once from the upper floor of a building, ironically, standing not far from the tree where she first saw him. He’s talking with a mutual friend, which reminds her she left some notebooks in the friend’s room at the fraternity.
The next night she goes to retrieve the notebooks. The friend is hanging out in the lounge with others and says, “Go ahead, the door’s unlocked.” Against her better judgment the girl asks, “How’s Chris doing?
Uncomfortable looks are exchanged. “We’re going out to the bars tonight…it was his idea.”
The girl’s heart hardens. Fine. Obviously, he’s just fine.
Crushed, she says nothing, but makes her way up the stairs and grabs the notebooks. But as she turns back around, the boy walks into the room. Ducking under the damn doorway.
He looks surprised to see her, he only came up here to deposit his coat. They exchange some dry small talk. She walks passed him to leave. Her hand is on the doorknob. He touches her arm, asks her not to go.
She turns around, confused. “Why should I stay?”
His next words come out in a rush. "Because I’m sorry, because I miss you, because I love you."
Nearly 365 dates later, they’re engaged.
And six years to the day she first saw him perched in a tree, the girl marries the boy. Now, after 25 mostly happy years, two kids, and a dog, the girl and the boy…are still married. Life isn’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. To be honest, the boy and the girl lose the love at times, still falling in and out of it, but in the end they always find it again.
Was it meant to be? Will it last forever? 
Who knows?
But that’s love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Marlo Berliner is the award-winning author of THE GHOST CHRONICLES, her debut book which was released in November 2015 to critical acclaim. The book won the 2016 NJRW Golden Leaf Award for Best First Book, was named FINALIST in the National Indie Excellence Awards for Young Adult Fiction, received the Literary Classics Seal of Approval, was awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion, and was named one of the “best indie YA books we have seen in the past year, from both self-publishers and small presses” by IPPY Magazine. Marlo is represented by Eric Ruben of the Ruben Agency and she writes young adult, women’s fiction, and short stories. Her second book, THE GHOST CHRONICLES 2, was released in October 2017. 

When she's not writing or editing, Marlo loves reading, relaxing at the beach, watching movies, and rooting for the Penn State Nittany Lions. After having spent some wonderful time in Pittsburgh and Houston, she’s now back in her home state of New Jersey where she resides with her husband, two sons, and a rambunctious puppy named Max. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Loved...and Lost by Jodi Moore

Aw, the subject of having loved and lost. Romantic. Angsty. Life-changing.

Wait…you thought I was talking about relationships with people? Nah. I was talking about our sweet relationships with books.

When I read a book that I love, I tend to be a raving fan. Recommending it isn’t usually enough. If I love it, I want to share it with the world. Sometimes even in hard copy.

At the risk of sounding obvious, I suppose I could blame this tendency on the book Raving Fans, A Revolutionary Approach by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. 

I used to write for the hospitality industry, and this book spoke to me. Ken and Sheldon propose that it’s not enough to have satisfied customers, you need to create “raving fans”. And isn’t that what we all want, no matter what our industry, chosen career or dream?  We want to inspire our people (whether customers, clients, guests, fans or readers) to have such an amazing experience, they can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen.

(Excuse me for paraphrasing here…I seemed to have “loved and lost” this book many times over.)

Of course, I may have taken this a step further. When I love a book, I’ll not only rave about it, I’ll often press it into the hands of the person I’m talking to. “You must read this,” I’ll say, my eyes shining, dancing or tearing up.

And off it will go.

Sometimes it will come back. Other times, it will appear to have wandered off and gotten “lost” (admittedly, I usually forget to whom I’ve lent books as soon as they’re out of my hands.) When the latter occurs, I usually go out and buy it again.

And then I’ll rave about it to someone…and before long…well, you know.

One such book that I purchased countless times is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I loved and lost it so many times I started giving it as a gift (along with a box of tissues.)


 Seriously, it’s that emotional. It’s that perfect. I mean, it’s life-changing…it’s a love story about this dog, and his person, and the dog is old, but his person isn’t ready to let him go, and...


*grabs a handful of Puffs Plus*


I have a copy I can lend you…it’s here somewhere…ARGH! I must have lost it.

But what is it they say? If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, buy it again. The author will thank you.

What favorites have you loved and lost?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

To All the MSs I've Loved Before... (Maryanne Fantalis)

This month's theme is "Loved and Lost," and it took me a while to figure out what to write about. Like Mary, I am reluctant to write about my own experiences of lost love, but I'm not going to write about movie stars as she did.

No. I'm going to tell you about my beloved novel, "The Lost Duchess," that sits on a shelf and will never be published. Poor baby.

I wrote my first novel while I was in law school -- believe it or not -- as a way to relax from the stress. I sent it out to a couple of publishers and agents, got some feedback, but it was a historical of mammoth scope, and though I do adore it, it's like a childhood friend that I look back on with fondness but not a lot of regret.

It wasn't until I was truly miserable, employed full time as an attorney doing family law, that the dream of publishing became more urgent. I began work on a YA fantasy novel that drew on ideas I'd been playing with for years, building up my world, my magic, and my characters. Still, as a full time attorney, finding the time to write was hard. It wasn't until 1998, and a high-risk pregnancy that included three months of bed rest, that I really threw myself into it. As my husband said, "You'll never have this much time to yourself ever again."

I finished the novel and (naively, in hindsight) sent queries off to publishers and agents literally days before my daughter was born.

A lowly young editor at HarperCollins pulled my letter and sample pages out of the slush pile and said she liked what she saw; could I send the first three chapters?

And we were off.

Over the next several years -- YEARS -- we worked together editing my MS. She got promotions. I got editorial letters. Characters were eliminated. I moved one scene so many times I can't even tell you where it is in the novel anymore. I know it's there. I know it happens at some point. Just... no idea when. The first chapter, the first scene, the first paragraph, the first line, were all rewritten again and again.

She carried my printed manuscript with her over the Brooklyn Bridge when she had to flee Manhattan on foot on September 11, 2001. She told me that she had thought many times about chucking it in the trash -- it was so heavy! she said -- but when she thought of how much she loved it, and how hard we had worked, she just couldn't do it.

After about four years of working together, she told me we were ready to go to the Acquisitions Committee.

Deep breath.

The Acquisitions Committee is the meeting of the editorial board and the publisher, and they decide which books they're going to publish. If you get your book into that meeting, you are a hair's breadth away from publication. A whisper... A heartbeat...

They said no.

I was devastated. She was devastated.

She gave me the name of an agent whom she thought might be interested. Don't give up, she said.

Let me just say that nearly getting published by HarperCollins will get agents to look at your work, but it doesn't improve your chances of getting represented.

After hearing "no thanks" for a while, doubt crept in.

I'll spare you the anguish of the years that followed: the self-doubt, the wallowing, the wondering if I should give up on the story, the renewed determination, the renewed and redoubled doubt, the flailing around with false starts on other projects.

I rewrote the whole book.


It's better, actually. Better than the book that went to the Acquisition Committee all those years ago. But at this point, the market is so different -- Harry Potter, Twilight, the Hunger Games, Maggie Stiefvater, Marie Lu, Cassandra Clare, and so many others have left their mark -- that I don't see a place for a book like mine, honestly. It's more Robin McKinley than Sabaa Tahir, and Robin McKinley's not speaking to the modern teen.

So the "Duchess" remains on a shelf, unread.

But where would I be without it? That's the one that could have been, that almost was. My first, and forever, love.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Books We Love to Lose--by Kimberly Sabatini

For the month of February we are writing about what we've loved and lost. 

I'm going to talk about the books we love to lose. 
You know, the ones you can't stop reading because they are sooooooo good, but at the same time, you can't bear to get to the end because then they are DONE! 

Those are the best books.
When you find one, it's like winning the book lottery. Score!

But when you've finish reading an amazing book, one that is going to linger with you for a long time, it's a million times harder to find the next book to read.
Sometimes I just don't want to exit the book world I've been inhabiting. 

But a readers got to read, right?
So, I've developed this little trick that doesn't make transitioning to a new book, after reading a favorite book, quite so hard.

To help me get back to reading, I find a drastically different type of book.
 I tackle something that is almost incomparable to what I've been forced to leave behind.

If I've fallen in love with contemporary YA fiction, I usually will read a non-fiction self-help or craft book.
If I've fallen in love with middle grade humor, I might pick up an adult thriller.

For some reason it works.
A little distance allows me to bring the next book a little closer.

Hope this little loved and lost tip helps to keep you reading. And if you're really lucky, the next book you read will also be one of the books you love to lose.

What's the most recent book you loved so much you've had trouble finding what to read next? 

Mine was...

FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway 

and I followed it up with...

NUDGE: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness
by Richard H Thaler and Cass B. Sunstein

Now tell me some of your best books, loved and lost.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It Wouldn't Be Love Without a Little Loss (Joy Preble)

I write about love a lot, but I wouldn't call myself a romance writer. I love a Happily Ever After, but I have yet to write one. For me it's more  like, 'happy for now until the other shoe drops.' I suppose we could do some lengthy psychological digging into my psyche to see why this is. Or maybe we shouldn't.

In my DREAMING ANASTASIA trilogy, Anne and Ethan deserve their HEA. But I made them suffer a lot before they get it. Really (without being too spoilery), the entire saga is about love: romantic love, love of a cause, love for family, and love for friends, among others. But loss drives the story as well, and on many levels. Ethan has lost his family to murder and his mortality to love for a cause. Anne has lost her brother to cancer. Anastasia (my slightly alternate history take on that doomed Russian princess) loses everything, only to find that she still has agency. Baba Yaga (my version here of the iconic Russian fairy tale witch) has lost her beauty in order to gain power. (I explore this further in my short story "A Very Baba Yaga Halloween", which appears in the fairy tale anthology DRAGONS AND WITCHES, from CBay Books) And that's just some of it. In the series there is always a price to pay for getting what you want, especially if you use magic to achieve it. The trick is to balance out the losses with the gains--which isn't always possible.

Oh how I loved writing that series. I'm proud that it continues to tick along.

My latest novel, IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, is also about lost love. Emma loves Charlie and wants nothing more than to be with him forever. But just as they find themselves accidentally immortal (Hmm. I do seem to find that theme rather fascinating), terrible tragedy strikes and they are parted for like a century. 100 years of searching for you lost love makes a girl jaded-- or in Emma's case, a jaded, world-weary PI, with a talent for solving murders... until of course the potential murder victim might just be her! Like with ANASTASIA, I loved exploring what long-term lost love does to a person. Is there a point where you just give up hope? Luckily, the answer to that is no!

Leo in FINDING PARIS wants love but her secrets stop her from feeling she deserves it. But the novel is also about love of family and the lengths two sisters will go to protect each other, even as both have lost so much.

Likewise, THE SWEET DEAD LIFE series is more about sibling and family love than romantic.

For me, a good YA novel has to be about something more than just the love story, more than just the personal exploration of what it means to love. That's part of why I take things away from my characters, why I make them struggle. I want them to come to love not just understanding who they want to love but also understanding at least some of what else they want in this life.

So how about you, reader? When it comes to love stories, do you prefer a sure thing? Do you want to wade in to the story knowing you and the characters will be rewarded with a HEA? Or are you willing to risk along with them, knowing that you might not get what you want, but only the ending the story needs?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Loved and Lost ... Fictionally Speaking (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is “loved and lost.” May I just say that there’s no way in H-E-Double-Toothpicks that I would EVER write such a blog based on my actual LIFE?

Okay, fine.  In truth, I’ve written a YA novel that kinda, sorta does it, but you will never know which novel (when it sells) and which loved-and-lost person I might be writing about.  So there.  Ha!  (I will admit only that I ate a lot of chocolate while writing that book.)

Instead:  let’s go with actors.

I honestly can’t remember my actor crushes before Kevin Costner; I think they were mostly musicians and mostly in my teens.  Maybe I was so busy with actual, real-life crushes that I didn’t have time for screen crushes, but I frankly find that hard to believe.

Anyway.  I still vividly remember the moment Kevin Costner walked onscreen as Crash Davis in Bull Durham.  I fell hard.  I proceeded to see that movie 10 times in the theatre, including once when I skipped out of work in the middle of the afternoon to do it.  As a practicing lawyer, let’s just say I never did THAT before or since.

Why Kevin?  Or, more specifically, why Crash Davis?  He was smart, he was a helluva catcher and hitter (and I’m all about sports), and he was romantic in a grown-up, been-around-the-block-a-few-times way.  My favorite moment: when he lay in bed with a black eye painting Susan Sarandon’s toenails.  I swooned.  I also had no idea what Susan saw in Tim Robbins as Nuke LaLoosh.  He was a BABY.  He wasn’t bright.  Most important, he wasn’t her equal.  She eventually figured that out and wound up with Crash, but seriously?  It took her way too long.

Unfortunately, my love for Kevin (which resulted in a cool gift from my husband of a Durham Bulls jacket) didn’t last.  He made too many movies that were, well, bad.  Dances with Wolves: three hours, lost forever.  Silverado was so awful that I lost movie-choosing privileges for at least a year.  The movies weren’t just bad: they made him look stupid, and I never, ever, ever fall for a guy who isn’t smart.  Luckily, I dumped Kevin before Waterworld came out. 

Buh-bye, Kevin.  Helloooo, Harrison Ford!

I don’t remember which Harrison Ford movie first rescued me from my deeply flawed crush on Kevin Costner.  Frankly, it wasn’t any of the Star Wars movies.  I love Star Wars (although I didn’t see A New Hope until 10 years after it came out), but I thought Han Solo was a cocky jerk, and not bright, and that doesn’t work for me.  It might’ve been Witness or Working Girl.  All I know is that Harrison appeared in most of the best movies that came out for many years.  Indiana Jones, Patriot Games, Air Force One.  The list goes on and on.  He was the ultimate hero and a nearly perfect guy in almost every movie:  smart, tough, and honorable.  I swooned.  Repeatedly.

Then he met Calista Flockhart.

My immediate thought, which has never changed:  I gave him the best 10 years of my life, and he does THIS?  Could he not have found someone worthy of him?  Someone like me?  Of course he could!

But noooo, he chose Calista.  Just like that, he was dead to me.  He also started to look Really Really Old.  Poor choices will do that to a person.

By now you’re sensing why I would never blog about my actual loves.  Ha ha!

Luckily, I rebounded.  (I play basketball.  Rebounding is what I do.)  I went to Kate & Leopold with a group of writers, and the greatest guy EVER appeared on the screen:  Hugh Jackman.  Utter perfection in looks, brains, honor, decency, you name it.

Swoon city, baby.

Sixteen years later, Hugh and I are still going strong, which is why I should (try to) be discreet about EXACTLY how fabulous he is.  Sure, I’ve had flirtations with Robert Downey, Jr., Channing Tatum, Chris Hemsworth (even though he’s blond), and - ahem - possibly others in the intervening years, but they are NOTHING to me.  (Um, for the most part.  It’s good to be flexible.)  With Hugh, though, we’re talking Twu Wuv.  Forever and ever. 

Possibly.  I mean, you never know.

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

Lost Love and my YA "Voice"

by Fae Rowen

I vaguely remember my mother's words when she tried to soothe my first teenage love-gone-wrong.
Puppy love. He didn't deserve you. He lives too far away. 

There were a lot more comments ranging from sympathy to aggravation on her part. For my part, I was just miserable.

How did it happen?

I was accepted to a National Science Foundation math program at State Diego State University. The six-week summer course included fifty math students and fifty chemistry students from around the U.S. It was an exciting way to spend the summer between my junior and senior year in high school.

I was in the math program, taking the equivalent of sixteen lower division units and nine upper division units of math and computer science classes from specially selected professors for the program. The female math and chemistry students were housed on the top floor of a dorm at the far end of campus.

The male students were housed in a dorm on the other end of the huge campus. You had to walk past fraternity row to get to the guys' dorm. Since the female curfew was 7 p.m., the chem guys, who had no curfew, visited our dorm. Every night.

Now, I was supposed to be doing tons of homework every night. But the chemistry guys were all so cute, and I didn't ever get to talk to them unless I hung out downstairs in the rec room, which I was happy to do since there was a pingpong table.

Did I mention I'd been playing pingpong every night since my seventh birthday, when my parents gave me a pingpong table for my birthday? We set it up in the living room, and every night I'd lose to my father, who never believed in letting me win at any game.

But I got better. Unfortunately he did, too. Finally I started winning sometimes. By that summer, I was unstoppable. The word spread and every night, there was a line of guys waiting to try to defeat me. That's how I met John.

John was not only a gifted chemistry student, he was on his school's debate team and football team. And he was cute. After a week, he'd be waiting outside my math classroom to walk hand-in-hand with me to lunch and dinner in the cafeteria. When a food fight broke out the third night we were served "mystery meatballs," he shoved me under the table and fought until security broke up the fight. Nothing happened to the high school students, but we all got a lecture in our individual classes the next day.

On week-ends the program took both groups to local points of interest, including the beach. Even though my studies were suffering, I finally got my first kiss. I don't think it was John's.

We promised to write, and we did. That summer, my family vacation came within a hundred miles of John's hometown. I went on a hunger strike for four days, and my father finally caved and agreed to drop me off at John's house and wait outside for no more than an hour. I was so excited.

John's mother opened the door and told me John was at football practice. He wouldn't be home for two more hours. When she found out my dad was outside, she invited him in, and gave us something from the kitchen. I don't remember what it was; I was in shock. I don't remember what they talked about, either. It probably wasn't anything good for John and me.

After an hour, my dad and I left. He didn't lecture or tease me.

John's letter arrived in two days. Full of apologies. In a month he'd be traveling five hundred miles to a college two hours away from me for a debate tournament. Could I meet him there?

I talked my dad into letting me take the car there. Alone.

I watched John debate. He was good. He won the tournament. And it was football season. He looked great. But we didn't have that much to talk about and I drove home, feeling sad. I knew my long-distance romance wasn't going to last.

We wrote-not so often-into our freshman year in college, but we were just friends by then. He told me about his girlfriends; I told him about my boyfriend.

With the wisdom of age and experience now, I recognize the bittersweet feeling of loss. I understand that first blush of love—innocent and laced with boundless hope and excitement.

And that's what I relive for writing my YA voice. I become that girl on the roof of my three-story dorm throwing water balloons at the guys arriving at the dorm. I become the wishful, dewey-eyed innocent wishing for that first kiss—afraid to make the first move because I had no idea what that move should be and, heck, I was a mathematician-in-training. I needed to be able to prove everything was correct.

Young Adult stories are all about the new emotions, the conflicted yearnings, the fears—if you get what you want AND if you don't get what you want. Yes, it's not easy going back to those times and reliving your own feelings. But that's where your own YA voice is. Reminisce. Dust off your teen voice. Your WIP will thank you.

Have you used your own YA experiences in your writing? A riff on them?

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.
When she’s not hanging out at YA Outside the Lines on the fifth of every month you can visit Fae at  or