Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I've Got A Voice (Jodi Moore)

This month, we're writing about gratitude, and admittedly, I found this post hard to write.
It’s not because I have nothing to be thankful for. Rather, it’s because I have so much.

I have a loving family, who support me in every way. I have more than a mere roof over my head. I have a nice house. In a nice neighborhood. With nice neighbors. I have plenty of food. The water running from my faucets is clear. Drinkable. I have a warm coat and mittens, now that the weather has turned colder.

I am healthy.

And thanks to the support of my family, I’m living my dream of being an author. Because again, they support me in every way.

Which is why I’m finding this post so difficult to compose.

(See how I've been going around in circles?)

Please forgive me if this sounds overly dramatic, but I think I’m suffering from survivor’s guilt. No, I don’t live near the fires in California, where my house is the only one still standing in a neighborhood of nothing but ash and memory. Our sons didn’t leave an area the moment before a gunman arrived or have to live in fear of getting stopped for a traffic incident. I can see them, talk to them, hug them, whenever I wish. And though some of our loved ones have had challenges with addiction, we are fighting, and caring and enduring. 

We are living.

We are lucky. I want to say blessed, but that would indicate a higher power would choose us over someone else. And I don’t believe that. I can’t. I won’t.

Rather, circumstances - fate, if you will - have set us in a position where, yes, we are entitled. And as I look out into the world, as I read the news and watch TV, I am saddened, often horrified, even gutted, to see those who are not so lucky.

I haven’t a surplus of funds. But I am thankful that I have a heart to care. Ears to listen. Strong arms to lift, hold and hug.

Perhaps most importantly, I have a voice.

And I will continue to use it for those who cannot. For those who are not so lucky.

How will you use yours?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Lesson To Be Grateful For - Maryanne Fantalis

Sometimes, what feels like a bad experience at the time can turn out to be a really good life lesson.

I disliked my ninth grade English teacher immensely. I don't think any of us liked her. She was a gruff, harsh person with a difficult personality and she wasn't a particularly good teacher, as I recall (of course, what does a ninth grader know about what makes a good teacher? but I think I'm right on this one)

She gave us a simple assignment: write a book report on a book of our choice by answering questions she gave us on a sheet of paper (fondly remembered by Gen Xers like me as a ditto sheet). No essay, no intro and conclusion, no transitions. Easy peasy.

Except this is me. I'm a writer, even then, and a voracious reader. The book I chose to write about was Watership Down by Richard Adams, a tome of more than 400 pages. I had read the book more than  four times by then. And what's this about short answers? A handful of lines, to answer questions about this amazing, complex, magnificent book? Ha! I've already written an entire TV series in my spare time, lady. You have no idea!

I did the report. But I was going to show her. I was not going to be limited by a miserable handful of lines when there was a whole book to write about. Surely, she must see that. Short answers were for little minds and small books. So I wrote in between the lines, and up the sides of the page, and on the back of the page. Because I HAD TO!

You see where this is going, right?

I got a 77.

The fact that I still remember that number should give you an idea of how infrequently I saw such grades. 

I was horrified. How dare she? I had written a great report about a great book. In fact, I had done more than she asked for! If there were any flaws, it was because of the stupid format of the stupid assignment!

I was not then a confrontational person -- I still am not, though I have a lot more confidence now -- but this grade could not stand. I went up to her desk after class and asked her about it.

As I remember it, she roared and snapped and breathed fire, dragon-lady that she was, but what I walked away with was this message: Following the instructions was part of the assignment, and you didn't follow the instructions.

I think she let me redo it. I don't know, I don't remember, and I have no idea what my new grade was, if there was one.

But the fact that I still remember this one assignment from *mumble* years ago when I was fourteen tells you how important that lesson was.

Follow the damn rules. Get it right. When an agent says "one page synopsis" or "attach ten pages" or "submit no more than 1000 words," I know I'd damn well better comply.

I am grateful to the dragon-lady for teaching me, quite vividly, that the rules do matter.

And also that I can have more of an ego when it comes to my writing than I like to think.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Grateful... to turn back the clock

No, I don't mean daylight savings, I mean turning back the clock to last month! Because I was traveling and didn't get to post my blog for October. So I'm going to do it now.

Last month we were asked to answer the question: fact or fiction? When writing our books, how much is based upon reality vs. how much is a figment of our imagination? Here's my take.

Readers often ask, "How much of your books is real, and how much is made up?" In the sequel to The Book of Luke, The Next Chapter of Luke, much is made up, but there is also lots of real life on the pages.
This is the inspiration for the marina that Emily works at for the summer. The inside of this marina office is exactly where I pictured Emily working - the same wood paneled walls, the simple desk and freezer of bait. Even the refrigerator with bottled water and drinks. It's located on the South Shore of MA.

And this is the whale tail sculpture that Emily and Luke are sitting in front of when Josie takes their picture. It's in Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard, right where Emily, Josie and Lucy get off the ferry from Falmouth.

The pepper farm that Emily visits with Nolan? Also real. It's based on Nobska Farm in Woods Hole. Like Emily, though, I have zero tolerance for spicy things, so I've never actually tasted any of their crazy pepper products.

Image result for nobska farm
What isn't real? The Scoop Shack where Josie and Lucy work. The Edgewater Marina where Emily works (although it was also inspired by a real place in Falmouth). Josie's house in Falmouth is also a figment of my imagination.

Now that I think about it, most of the time I'm actually thinking of real places and things when I write. I do a lot of research to make sure details are accurate and plausible (which means I spent a lot of time reading ferry schedules to make sure the length of time the ferry from Woods Hole or Falmouth took was correct, etc.).

So lots of places are real and exist. The characters? Are they based on real people? I'll leave that answer to the reader's imagination.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Gratitude Is An Attitude: By Kimberly Sabatini

Gratitude is an attitude.
A perspective.
It's our glass half-full.
An opportunity to take the worst of times and turn them upside down to find...
an answer we never would have seen if we'd stayed upright.
Gratitude is a choice. 

In my world of YA, there is so much to be thankful for. Here is just the tip of my mountain of gratitude...

My fabulous agent Michelle Wolfson.
My former editor turned amazing author, Anica Rissi.
The heart of my tribe--the SCBWI.
My local friends and writers--The Hudson Valley Shop Talk.
My local Indie Books Stores...Split Rock Books, Oblong Books, and Meritt Books.
And last but never least, my supportive family, friends, peers, and readers who always show up. 

I often see myself through your eyes and I am grateful for what is reflected back at me. You have my gratitude.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Whole Lotta Gratitude by Joy Preble

One of the first things I say in almost  every workshop I conduct for aspiring writers and those new to this crazy business is to say THANK YOU. Often I quote Mark Twain, who once observed that the world owes us nothing.

I tell that last part to students, too, when I visit schools and classrooms. It tends to be the scariest, most annoying thing I say, mostly because we want so strongly to believe otherwise. I love a good meritocracy as much as the next girl, but the truth is, it doesn't always work out that way.

You write the novel of your heart and it doesn't get front listed. You give your all to a job and then company politics change and out you go. You are the most qualified candidate but the other guy gets more votes. Someone else lies and cheats and panders and beats you to the finish line. And on like that.

That's how it goes. But to quote my late Uncle Harry who was given to abrupt turns of phrase, "So what?" Uncle Harry had come to America after WW2 with absolutely nothing. He'd grown up privileged, lost it all and much of his family to the Nazis. He built back a comfortable life here, and despite his gruffness (that's a nice way of saying it) he was generous with family and friends. He knew that anything could be taken from anyone at any moment and it made him this fascinating mixture of angry and kind. As I type this, I think he is part of why in my writing I am so interested in what happens to people when the rug gets pulled out from under them, when they lose everything, or at least the important stuff.

And so. I'm grateful for so many things. For family that makes me laugh and love. For my tribe of creatives who keep me pushing to the next story. How lucky am I to have done a different job (teaching) and now have this other life of writing and books on shelves that at some points in time I only dreamed of. If you are reading this and you came to your dream job early in life,  bravo! If like me, you wandered for a while, bravo to you, too! I am beyond grateful for my even newer job as a bookseller and programming director at a lovely indie bookstore. Thankful for colleagues there who are all thoughtful and funny and clever and hardworking and generous and goofy. Thankful for the smarty-pants doctors who got rid of my thyroid cancer eight years ago and who nipped it in the bud last year when it tried to sneak back.

I'm grateful to have seven (7!!) books on shelves and to finally have figured out how to write this current one that I've been struggling with. Thankful to editors and agents and all those people behind the scenes. And to every critique partner who tells me when I'm writing crappy stuff. Everyone needs people who tell them when they're doing it wrong. Yeah, really.

Keep at it, my friends.
Til next time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

You Like Me! You Really Like Me! (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is about moments of triumph we’re grateful for.  This has been a really tough year for me, emphasis on knee surgery that (so far) hasn’t worked, so we’ll see how this goes!

Authors have voices in their head.  For some, it’s 24/7.  Out of necessity, mine are mostly limited to when I’m writing, but there are always exceptions.  The bad news: the exceptions tend to be negative voices, telling me what a dumb schmuck I am.

So praise, when it happens, is pretty sweet.

The absolute best praise comes in reader reviews, especially on Amazon.  Why?  The cold, hard truth is that Amazon uses algorithms in choosing which books to put in front of readers, and they’re greatly affected by the number of reviews a book has.  Honestly, a review is one of the best gifts you can give an author.  One of my faves, written about my YA novel Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras:  “...will keep you turning pages, laughing until the very end.  It starts out with humor and ends with love.”  Huge thanks!

(If you’ve never posted a review on Amazon, it’s easy.  And it can be as short as “Great book!”  Amazon mostly cares about the number of reviews, not what you say.)
But I’m grateful for all good news.  I’m frequently mired in quicksand when writing or revising a booklike, say, right at the momentso kind words are a lifesaver.

A few examples:

- A friend who told me that her daughter considers me her favorite author OF ALL.  Wow.  Day made!
- A teenage girl at a booksigning who drew a picture of me and made me look really good.  (I wish!)  She said it was simply how she saw me.

- Editors who’ve told me I write really, really funny stuff.

- The “big” authors at my very first RWA conference who chatted with and praised me because I was a Golden Heart finalist.  All these years later, I’m still grateful for those moments in the sun.
I’m also a musician, and I recently started writing songs.  At songwriting camp this summer, my songwriting hero Rodney Crowell told me, “Your first song is better than my first song was.”  (LIFE made!)  And an utterly amazing guitarist at camp, Joe Robinson, told me, “You have a real feel for music and can do this.  You’ll go far.”  Yes, I wrote down his words the INSTANT I walked away.  They still encourage me every day.

And on and on.  So many friends and strangers have offered praise when I really needed it.  Or maybe, more accurately, we ALWAYS need it, because the negative voices in our heads need to be shouted down on a daily basis.  And I’m not just talking about writers.  We ALL need kind words.

So, if you possibly can, go out of your way to compliment someone today.  A friend, a stranger.  Trust me: they need it more than you know.  Life is hard; make it easier for the people you meet.

Oh, and since today is November 6 ... GO VOTE!

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 marystrand.com.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Moments of Triumph, with a Side of Gratitude
Make That a Double Side

by Fae Rowen

All of us have overcome a boatload of stuff. That's what life is. Everything goes along like a leafing floating along a gentle stream, then Wham! You're in the rapids, paddling like crazy, spinning around and around in the current, hoping your tiny boat doesn't get swamped or turn over.

There is never a good time to be blind-sided with loss, obstacles, or sudden physical or mental adversity, but it can be worse when you don't realize how hard you've been hit. Remember those old movies about Genghis Khan burying his enemies up to their necks in the sands of the Gobi desert, then releasing his warriors to ride through and lop off heads? Yes, I'm thinking that bad.

When I was younger, bad news or roadblocks were a challenge to be overcome. I'd marshal my talents and resources and climb over and through anything that tried to block my path. Because I believed I could. Until my father was in the hospital and I knew he wasn't going to make it. For the first time in my life I tasted the bitterness of ultimate defeat. I didn't know it then, but I'd lost hope.

In the years since that realization, there have been other times I could point to that gave me that same feeling. But there have been more times that I couldn't identify that were stealthy in their defeat, and I ended up in what I call "The Pit." It's difficult to recognize how I've ended up in The Pit, because there's not an "inciting incident" like we find at the beginning of a book.

I know when I'm in The Pit because my friends call. "Are you all right?" "You didn't return my calls." "I'm worried about you." "Did you eat today?" At first I claim busy-ness or forgetfulness. When their concern persists, I begin looking at what's going on. Usually I don't know anything other than I have to admit that I'm not happy—which is far from my usual modus operandi.

Learning how to recognize I'm in The Pit, then pulling myself out, hasn't ever been easy. I still sometimes need those trusted friends to recognize what I can't. But here's the truth: there is always a way out of the pit of despair. The way is rarely easy (or we wouldn't have gotten stuck in the first place!) but if we look, and if we're willing to work at a little progress every day, we'll finally emerge into the sunlight.

I'm grateful to my friends for sticking with me, for caring about me, for helping me. And I'm grateful that I've become stronger and kinder through this process of change. I'm grateful that I've learned how to feel, how to care, how to believe again. I'm grateful to feel loved and seen.

And I'm grateful to be able to share what I've learned through my characters. As writers, I believe we all come to the understanding that our characters carry a part of us within them. Some characters carry more of our baggage than we intended. Those are often the ones readers connect most with, because they are real. In their struggles, in their fears, in their triumphs.

This Thanksgiving in particular, after a year that I wouldn't have believed could be more difficult than the one before, I am grateful to my friends and health workers, to my writing friends and production team, and to my readers for keeping the faith with me. For forgiving my mis-steps. For helping me find hope again.

Thank you.
I love you all.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Thank You Very Much!

Welcome to November at YA Outside the Lines! 

This month we're all about gratitude and the things we are thankful for. As a mom, wife, author, pet-wrangler, and human being (though some would beg to differ), I have an awful lot to be grateful for. So much in fact, it's hard to edit the list down to a pithy few items. But I've taken a stab at it and here is what I've come up with....

The Top Ten Things I'm Grateful For:

10. Tea. Hot tea. As a certified tea-guzzler (black tea, primarily), I am always grateful for tea leaves and boiling water. I start each day with cup of tea, and by “cup” I mean a full pot. Additionally, I’m thankful for decaf tea so I’m not bouncing off the ceiling by 10 a.m. and a bathroom within sprinting distance. 

This opinion may not win me any friends among the coffee crowd, but seriously, you can have your French roasts and lattes and skinny half-caf thingamajigs, I’ll take my tea.  

9. Words like thingamajig. Where would we all be if we couldn’t use words like whatchamacallit and whosamading when we totally forget what something or someone is called? We need more nonsense words in this world, not less.

8.  Grammar nerds. Specifically, those who keep their counsel and don’t feel the need to point out my grammar faux pas, like my use of “less” above when the word should be “fewer.” Thank you!
7.  The TV shows The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek. How could I not be thankful for these shows, both of which make me so happy! Smart, fun and funny, great writing, surprising plot lines, and awesome characters who are far from stagnant. Plus, on The Good Place, there’s an all-knowing, powerful, sassy being named Janet.

6.  Other writers. Writers need other writers, as the saying goes, and I’m beyond grateful for my writer friends who help me, challenge me, and make me a better writer every day.

5.  My family. Haha, figured I better give them a shout-out here, unless I want to get stuck with the cold, end-piece of the tofurkey at Thanksgiving.

My family, for whom I'm most grateful
(even Aunt Linda, despite her fondness for giant hats)
4.  Writers who write young adult fiction. I’m thankful for all the stories you give us, crossing a wide spectrum of experiences--writers who confront head-on the tough and sometimes brutal experiences of teens and young adults, writers who explore the emotional and often turbulent teen and young adult psyche, and writers who write light-hearted just-for-fun teen adventures.

3.  Readers. ’Nuff said.

2.  Planet Earth. Some might say this should be #1 on my list, seeing as how we don’t really appreciate our Mother Earth and haven’t for a long, long time. 

We never call, never write, and never, ever clean up our mess and she’s getting mighty fed up about it. 

It’s going to take a lot to get back in her good graces, but one way to start is to maybe thank her for letting us crash with her rent free all this time.

1.  People. Kind people, respectful people, thankful people. People who need people. People who listen to others and people who reject the plethora of “isms” that plague our society. People who vote and people who help. Good people who’ll surely go to The Good Place. 

Happy Thanksgiving to my YAOTL family—thank you and much gratitude for showing up every month!

- Janet Raye Stevens 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I am the Very Model of a Modern Teen Protagonist (Brian Katcher)

When enjoying any sort of fiction, it's easy to place yourself in the story, imagining yourself as a secondary character (or even the hero), enjoying the adventure as a participant. I remember watching Temple of Doom as a child and projecting myself onto Short Round, wishing that, in spite of my youth, I could accompany Indy on his quests.

Once I became an author, it became tempting to base every character on myself. So I did. Totally. Every male protagonist is facet of myself as a young man. This is why all my male leads are awkward, wise-cracking nerds. And yet, you can't use yourself as a character in every book (I'm talking to you, Clive Cussler). Each character must be unique. I have to drift away from reality and make him someone I'm not.

Looking back over my published books, I see my own personality ooze through. Sometimes I hide it, often I don't.

Leon Sanders, Playing With Matches: Leon is essentially myself at seventeen. Smart, funny (but not as funny as he thinks he is), and terrified of girls. He focuses on the superficial flaws of his dates, not because they bother him, but he worries too much about what other people will think. And he drives a Buick.

Logan Witherspoon, Almost Perfect: Unlike real life me, Logan is an athlete. But like me, he obsessed over his exes, sometimes in an unhealthy, self-defeating manner. Like Leon and my younger self, he places too much weight on the opinions of others.

Sherman Andrews, Everyone Dies in the End: I had (have) a tendency to be a know it all. And I've spent more than my fair share of time searching for occult and supernatural phenomena. We both went to the University of Missouri. Unlike Sherman, I'm a complete lazy slob. Which is probably why Sherman got into the Missouri Scholars' Academy and I didn't.

Zak Duquette, The Improbable Theory of Ana and ZakI'm a con nerd, like Zak. And like Zak, I would make a better long term impression than a first impression.

Deacon Locke, Deacon Locke Went to PromLike my young self, Deacon wants to ask out a girl, but he's more terrified that she'll say yes than that she might say no. Unlike me, Deacon can dance.

I'm not sure what the point of any of this is. I guess we all kind of bare our guts when we write. Speaking of which, happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


When a young person dies, whether in an accident or from an illness, an entire community grieves. Maybe the town plants a tree in his honor, or the school establishes a scholarship in her name, small and grand gestures designed to allow the memory of the deceased to live on. But what happens to a community when gun violence claims enough young lives to fill a classroom in a matter of seconds? This should be the premise for a dystopian novel, but sadly it’s a story rooted in reality and the idea behind my contemporary young adult novel, That Night.

It’s no big secret that America has a gun problem. More than 30,000 men, women, and children are killed with guns each year in the United States.[1] According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 342 people are shot every day in America.[2] But it’s the mass shootings, the ones with the greatest loss of life, that get the most media attention. And do they ever get attention. Logos and haunting melodies plaster the airwaves almost immediately, as if they’ve been “in the can,” designed and pre-recorded, waiting for the next massacre. Once the story runs its course after a few days, the news crews pick up their gear and move on. But how is that the end of the story? For the survivors of that shooting, it’s only the beginning. They may have walked away from a mass shooting, physically unscathed, but they’ll no doubt face a lifetime of trauma from the event. That Night explores how the repercussions of gun violence extend well beyond the reach of a bullet.

Thanks to social media and the twenty-four hour news channels, teens thousands of miles away from a shooting get to experience the trauma of gun violence almost first hand. Mass shootings and the fear of a mass shooting have taken a psychological toll on teens. It’s the unpredictable nature of the crime that’s most terrifying. People are targeted not for something they did, but for where they happen to be at that moment, at school, a concert, a movie theater. Their shattered sense of safety is why nearly sixty percent of all high school students fear someone will come to their school or community with a gun some day.[3] 

Because the constant threat of terror is already so damaging to the mental health of today’s teens, That Night does not focus on the violence of a mass shooting, but on the loss and grief in the aftermath as well as the hope and healing. The story begins a year after a mass shooting claimed eighteen lives in a movie theater. Lucas struggles with the guilt of knowing his older brother, the football star with a promising future, died by selflessly throwing himself on top of Lucas to save him. Jess feels isolated, having lost not just her brother that night, but also her best friend who is now across the country in a special school that specializes in trauma. Their families and friends, the entire community, are all affected by the tragedy; everywhere they turn, they see it in someone’s eyes. Reminders of that night, memories of the victims and the violence.

In writing this story, I wanted to steer clear of sensationalizing the violence. It’s already too prevalent in our every day and I did not want to give a weapon or a murderer any more attention that they already receive. The challenge was walking the fine line between representing the trauma the survivors endured as accurately as possible without actually painting a picture of the graphic violence. In the first draft, however, I did include scenes of what happened that night at the Balcony. But those pages were for my eyes only, so I could write from both Jess and Lucas’s perspectives knowing the trauma and burden they carried with them every day. And once the first draft was complete, I deleted those scenes. Not because I don’t have faith in teenagers’ ability to read difficult subject matters. Quite the opposite. I believe that teens need honest books that reflect not just what’s happening in the real world, but what’s also happening in their world. But when it came to writing about gun violence, I chose to omit the gritty details. There’s already too much terror surrounding this topic; I didn’t want to be complicit in fueling that fear.

So instead of focusing on the violence, I addressed the repercussions. The embalmed bedrooms, untouched since the tragedy. The retainer in the medicine cabinet a year later. The fiancée who wears the whisper of a diamond on her finger, a promise of a future together that was cut short. A daughter who has to fend for herself when her mother is too depressed to get out of bed. A son who can’t shake the feeling that the universe made a mistake and took the wrong brother.

But That Night is also about the redemptive power of love. At first, Lucas has misgivings about working with Jess at their part-time job together. With her presence come the constant reminders of that night. But over time, they learn to trust each other and become friends. They discover that their shared experiences actually help each other heal. Who else could possibly understand the range of emotions Lucas experiences every day, except for someone who is going through it herself? And on their road to recovery, they find love.

In fiction, we can write a happy ending to even the most tragic stories. In real life, we have to work harder. Let’s help make #neveragain the next happily ever after.

[1] Amnesty International. www.amnestyusa.org/issues/gun-violence
[2] In murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics
[3] Stephen Wu, et al., “2013 Hamilton College Youth Poll: Attitudes Towards Gun Control and School
Violence,” Knowledge Networks and Hamilton College, December 2013, https://www.hamilton.

Keep up with Amy Giles here:

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Be that Hero, Don’t Wait for One (Really) by Dean Gloster

I write fiction. “I thrive on rejection” is an example.

This month on YAOTL we’re blogging on the blurred line between reality and invention.  

I borrow heavily from the real world in writing my novels. The emotional energy and themes come from what I struggle with in life. And I take the basic facts too. I plucked medical details for my first novel, about a girl who donates her bone marrow to her younger brother, from my wife’s world. (She used to be a pediatric ICU nurse and now works at the George Mark House, a children’s hospice.) And whole scenes were taken from my real life. (One, almost verbatim, except for the Green Day songs.)

Unfortunately, as I sat down this week to write about this, I was again derailed by the news, this time about three separate acts of domestic terrorism in the U.S.: A white supremacist in Louisville failed to break into a black church and then shot two black strangers at a Kroger supermarket. A Trump supporter was arrested for attempting to assassinate 11 prominent Democrats with 13 pipe bombs. And an anti-Semite murdered eleven people at a bris celebration in a Pittsburg synagogue.

So instead of talking about how we use reality in our fiction, I’d like to talk about how fiction changes our reality.

The first point is modest: As we writers know, words matter.

Whether we tell lies matters. How we talk about other human beings matters. And if we promote hatred and fear, pushing dehumanizing narratives of fear of the other (Soros-funded caravan of [insert shorthand here for scary brown people]!) to a country with easy access to weapons, it matters. Fatally, it turns out.

But there’s an even broader point about how stories change us.

I survived my sometimes disaster of an adolescence by floating on a raft of books. I read thousands of stories, about people who took action to change their world and changed themselves in the process.

The protagonists in those stories solved incredibly difficult problems and learned things about themselves and their world.

They didn’t wait for a hero to appear to save everyone. They became that hero.

Here’s the bad news: No hero is going to save us if we don’t do it ourselves.

Susan Collins isn’t going to save us.

Unless mere hand-wringing is required, Jeff Flake isn’t either.

And Robert Mueller won’t save us. Even if Mueller isn’t fired first, and his report isn’t immediately hidden from the public (like the FBI’s supplemental investigation of Brett Kavanaugh), that report won’t do anything by itself—any more than the New York Times’ lengthy exposé showing that Donald Trump and his family had committed half a billion dollars of tax fraud to avoid taxes on his father’s estate.

What will save us?

You. And your work over a long time ahead.

But only if you choose to be a protagonist.

Protagonists persevere. Protagonists change what they do, because they have to.

And protagonists put in the work. They slog through the story’s discouraging middle, despite setback after setback as stakes grow and the situation grows dire.
Protagonists don’t quit.

Be a protagonist.

Historically in the U.S., most old people vote, but most young people don’t. In fact, most Americans don’t vote. That has to change. We have to change it: By voting, by registering young people to vote, by making individual donations to campaigns, and by working to get out the vote. Every YA literary festival for teens should include a voter registration table. Every school visit to high school seniors should come with information on how to register to vote, tailored to that state. We have years--maybe decades--of work ahead of us, to assure fair, representative elections free of vote suppression and national leadership of compassion and empathy instead of hate- and fear-mongering. It will be good, healing work. But a lot of work.

Changing the world is in our hands.

It is a gift, of sorts, to live in pivotal, dangerous times, because it gives us the real answer to the question who we are and who we choose to become.
You don’t have to ask yourself anymore what you would have done if you’d lived in a place like Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s.
Because you’re doing it.

So do good and don’t give up.  

And while you’re at it, when you have a chance, tell the stories of hope and empathy, not just of despair.  

According to his social media post just hours before yesterday’s murders, the shooter targeted Pittsburg’s The Tree of Life synagogue because of its participation in the HIAS National Refugee Shabbat program helping refugees who have fled from persecution and violence. (You can read more about that program at https://www.hias.org/national-refugee-shabbat )

In the first day since the shooting, two Muslim-American organizations, Celebrate Mercy and MPower Change, have raised over $55,000 through crowdfunding for the Jewish victims of the shooting, to cover medical and funeral expenses.
That’s the world I want to live in, where Jews work to help Muslim refugees, and Muslims raise money for Jewish victims of anti-Semitic hate crimes.

It is, actually, the world we live in, and we shouldn’t forget to tell that part of the story.

Do good. Be well. And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 6.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 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 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’s hobbies are downhill ski racing and Aikido. He’s currently writing a novel about a 16-year-old boy who gets a sketchy summer internship and finds out it’s with Death herself.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Pandora's box (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

The best writing I have done is when I’m honest.

By “honest” I don’t mean telling the literal truth in every detail. Fiction takes an honest truth and dresses it up in an imaginary situation that is clearer, more focused, pared of extraneous distractions, than reality. Fiction erases the parts that could embarrass the innocent or tempt us to flock too quickly to predetermined viewpoints.

My characters are not me (though parts of them are derived from parts of me), and their opinions and tastes and fears and goals are not always mine, and their struggles are not always mine. What is mine is the theme, the heart of each book. I do believe the things my characters discover: that relationships built on secrecy and obsession cost us. That not every mistake can be undone. That forgiveness is possible. That we don’t have to let others define us. That life can be brutally hard and even the good times don’t last forever, but it’s still very much worth living.

Through story, we unpack truth in all its complexities, its challenges and dilemmas. We grow toward the truth along with the characters. Each story is a Pandora’s box of trouble and conflict, and those troubles wear many names and disguises. We look into the bottom of the box to see something true and unchangeable shining there.

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of several YA novels, including The Secret Year and Try Not to Breathe, as well as short stories, essays, and Loner in the Garret: A Writer's Companion.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


BORROWED is a complex story, so this will be challenging, but give us the elevator pitch: a one or two sentence synopsis.

The lives of a girl with a broken heart and a girl with a "borrowed" heart collide, and each girl needs to rely on the other for survival.

It seems to me that novels usually come to authors in pieces, rather than all at once. Tell us a bit about how BORROWED came to you.

It came in pieces for sure! Years' worth of pieces. The first germ of it came when I thought about how creepy it would be to wake up with writing on your body that you didn't remember putting there. That led to thinking about how/why that would happen, which led to thoughts about how we might become disconnected from parts of ourselves. And because humans are complex creatures, I imagined that self-self disconnection as complex and unpredictable. Only after writing many drafts of what would become Borrowed (formerly known as Faded) did I land on the physiological aspect of organ transplant and how that might play into the psychological disconnection I was exploring.  

You're a former high school teacher--how do you think that helped lead you toward the YA genre?

My own high school years were incredibly difficult, and maybe part of us stays in the period where we experienced the most struggle. So I've always felt a connection with teens, even after I left teaching. Also, reading was an important means of coping for me when I was a teen, so although I'm many years removed from that time in my life, it's not a stretch for me to imagine myself back there.  

I was intrigued by dividing the book into "acts"--what made you choose that division?

I can't take credit for that. Rather, credit is due my smart, savvy, thoughtful editor, Jotham Burrello. I don't have a natural sense of structure (too much like math, and all my math teachers could tell you I'm on the verge of hopeless there). But Jotham has a keen eye for structure and timelines and the like, and he suggested splitting the book up according to the pace of the action and the change in setting. I wouldn't have thought of it on my own, but I do love the three-act structure of the book now that it's in place.

How do you feel editing / ghostwriting helped with your own writing? 

I love editing (my husband will tell you I love it a little too much, like when I have to pause movies with subtitles to point out errors in the text), and I think that naturally lent itself to me finding the revision process rich and rewarding. Regarding the ghostwriting, I think that helps by keeping my writing muscle limber. Because much of my ghostwriting work is nonfiction, it doesn't directly inform novel-writing regarding plotting, but it does help on the sentence level.  

What was the biggest surprise in writing your own project?

Oddly enough (or maybe not so oddly), I noticed that there was a level of anxiety in working on something that would be put into the world as "from me," versus the writing I do where my identity is only ever known by the client. There's a certain degree of comfort in stealth, I guess you could say. That ended up surprising me, because I thought I'd be feeling more freedom in working on my own project, but it was the reverse.  

You do include some violent, frightening scenes. Was it hard to write them? What's scary to you?

Those scenes were indeed difficult to write. But Robert Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader," and since I like to feel wrung out by things I read (maybe "emotionally invested" is a better way to say that?), I was determined to write the scenes that I felt the story demanded. For sure the loss of personal freedom is the most frightening thing for me. 

What's your writing strategy? Plotter / pantser? Do you keep a schedule? Do you work in the same place?

Despite the fact that I've tried many times (oh-so-many!) to become a plotter (it seems so much more efficient), I am a stubborn pantser. I try to write early mornings, before I turn to my ghostwriting/editing projects. When I am especially disciplined, I get to work early enough on the deck and witness the local bats come back from their night out. I really love that, which means it's good incentive to get up before dawn. Otherwise, I tend to vary the scene. Austin is a coffee city, so there's always a cool indie coffee shop to try, not to mention the gorgeous new Central Library (a "library of the future").  

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a YA contemporary retelling of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." There's a band tour bus instead of a ship, and a white wolf instead of an albatross. Thinking up band names has been ridiculously fun.


Be sure to snag a copy of BORROWED here. And keep up with all things Lucia DiStefano on Twitter (@LuciaDiStef).

Links to the rest of the BORROWED tour:

October 29: Review at Fab Book Reviews
October 31: Author interview at Katya de Becerra: The Last Day of Normal
November 5: Author interview at BubblersRead
November 7: Guest post at Fab Book Reviews
November 12: Author guest post at BubblersRead
Week of November 12: Giveaway at Fab Book Reviews
Week of November 12: Author interview at Cynsations
November 20: Author interview at The Story Sanctuary
And more to come, including a podcast special at The Writing Barn
Check out Elephant Rock on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @ElephantRockBks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The disguises we wear and the secrets we keep (Brenda Hiatt)

With Halloween just a week away, I’m taking the Disguise angle on this month’s topic—especially because secrets and disguises are an absolute favorite theme for me as both a reader and a writer! A few years back, a conference speaker challenged the writers present to figure out what themes we tend to keep coming back to when we write. She said those themes define our “core stories.” When I did that, it quickly became clear that “secrets revealed” is a biggie for me. I love to reread favorite books, and when I do I always eagerly anticipate all those “big reveal” moments where the truth (whatever it is) finally comes out. And when I’m writing, those are the moments that always get me juiced enough to write everything that leads up to them. Big secrets or small, they all work for me!

Looking back over all the books I’ve written, I realize that every single one has some element of the “secrets” theme. Sometimes it’s self-discovery, sometimes it’s discovering an important truth about another character, often it’s both.  

Shoot, I wrote a whole Regency series around the theme of secret identities with my six Saint of Seven Dials books, a sort of cross between the Robin Hood legend and the “Dread Pirate Roberts” from The Princess Bride, where each “Saint” retires (when he finds true love, of course!) and hands his “mask” off to another, who becomes the next “Saint” who will rob from the rich to help the poor in London’s slums.

It should come as no surprise that I continued with a “secrets” theme when I began writing my young adult Starstruck series. In the first book, heroine Marsha encounters one Big Reveal after another as she gets closer and close to the full truth about herself and the secret world hiding in (almost) plain sight in the little town of Jewel, Indiana. Book 2, Starcrossed, has its own, different series of Big Reveals as both readers and my heroine figure out what’s really going on and more than one character’s “mask” is stripped away, layer by layer. In Starbound, book 3, my main characters have their own big secrets to keep, and much of the tension comes from wondering when those secrets will be revealed (and how disastrous those revelations are likely to be). Starfall includes a whole section where the reader knows way more than the hero does (and is dying for him to figure things out). 

Fractured Jewel, my “bridge” novella to the next two books in the series, hinges on necessary secrets being kept—and the potential consequences of untimely “leaks.” My heroine in The Girl From Mars is a little too eager to believe deceptions that play into her world view and learns to dig beneath her preconceptions about herself and her world. 

And in The Handmaid’s Secret (which just released YESTERDAY!!) not only my heroine but everyone around her has bought into a “truth” that turns out less true than anyone suspected. 

So yeah, I’m all about secrets and disguises and how there’s always more to a story than appears on the surface. Is it any wonder I love Halloween? As a kid (and okay, sometimes as an adult), I loved dressing up as someone totally unlike my “real” self (whoever that is! LOL) and even in those years when I don’t bother with a costume, I love seeing all the inventive disguises our door-to-door trick-or-treaters come up with. (Yeah, I’m one of those people who give out extra candy for really good costumes.) I passed this love along to my daughters, by the way. Here’s my eldest and my grandbaby dressed for Halloween last year! 

With that said, Happy Halloween! Have fun with disguises this year, whether you wear one yourself or just get a kick out of the ones that come to your door. There’s definitely something to be said for hiding reality with make-believe…as long as we never completely lose sight of the truth.

Brenda Hiatt is the NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-four novels (so far), including sweet and spicy historical romance, time travel romance, and teen science fiction. Look for The Handmaid’s Secret, book 6 in her Starstruck series, releasing THIS WEEK!