Monday, November 30, 2020

Welcome the Newbie, PJ Sharon

 Hello fellow readers, writers, and bloggers. Thanks for the warm welcome!


Although I'm no newbie to writing YA, I am the newbie to the group, so I'll give you a quick head's up about what I write and why I write for young adults, and then we can get to this month's topic, "what went right this year?". I think you'll be surprised by my answer.

Many YA authors will tell you that an angst-ridden seventeen-year-old still resides within the recesses of their brain, feeding them heartbreaking stories of first loves, teen dramas, and family tragedies. They might say they are haunted by troubled, awkward, but loveable characters who refuse to be ignored until every last word is on the page. And they will probably also tell you that they write stories they wish they'd had to read as teenagers. Something to bridge the gap between Nancy Drew and Victoria Holt. Stories with sweet romances, maybe some action and adventure, and sympathetic characters who's personal growth arc takes them on a turbulent journey from childhood to adulthood. Mostly, they'll tell you they love reliving those first kisses and swoon-worthy moments of their youth. And maybe even that they relish an imagined do-over on past mistakes in their own lives.

Yes, I am one such author. When I began writing back in 2007, I became obsessed with the characters and stories in my head and spent a solid five years learning the craft. I attended conferences and workshops, joined writer's groups, found critique partners, and honed my skills while writing in various romance genres before I found my elusive "writer's voice"...in YA lit, no less. Though I was in my forties, I had come to the realization that my inner teen had some important stories to tell. 

I was drawn to write books about the real-life issues of older teens and their struggles with family, friends, and the guys they fall for--being that those years were especially difficult for me and that I had my own significant history to look back on for reference. Early advice in terms of learning to write in "deep point of view" was to "write what you know", and my tumultuous youth was a minefield of fodder. 

Although the themes in my books are mature (a teen pregnancy, death of a parent/sibling, eating disorders, suicide, abortion, abuse, drug and alcohol issues, surviving in a post-pandemic world...to name a handful), don't worry, it's not all gloom and doom! 


All my books are suitable for ages13+, and are loaded with positive messages and the promise of a hopefully-ever-after ending. I primarily write contemporary YA Romance, but I 've also published a YA dystopian trilogy, The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael , which RT book reviews called "An action-packed read with a strong female lead," and a New Adult novella series based on Holt Medallion winner, Savage Cinderella (The novel is available for free download if you're looking for an emotion-packed, YA/NA romance/action/thriller).


And for those of you who are desk-dwellers or couch potatoes, I even have a health and wellness non-fiction title my clients and fellow authors love for its practical suggestions and easy solutions to everyday aches and pains! You can check out Overcome Your Sedentary Lifestyle and more about me and my books on my website at www.pjsharon.com. 




Now, as for what went right this year: I did enjoy a beautiful summer, managed lots of hiking, kayaking, and yard work, spent more time on my front porch reading and hanging out with my husband than I have in the fourteen years we've lived here in Western MA. As a bonus, and in order to meet the Covid guidelines, I had to rent a new office space (which I love) for my massage practice if I wanted to go back to work. 

But as far as what went right with my writing, I'm going to make a confession. I'm somewhat of a Pollyanna, always looking for the silver lining in every dark cloud, seeing the best in people, and generally maintaining a sunshiny disposition and an attitude of gratitude most of the time. Counting my blessings as I fall asleep at night, and reminding myself that every day is a new opportunity to do good in the world is what allows me to sleep nights and gets me out of bed in the morning. But this past year has absolutely kicked my butt in terms of sucking the light out of me and sapping my creativity. Here's the confession part... 

I haven't written since January. When I released the last novella in my Savage Cinderella series last December, I planned to take a break from writing for a few months and dedicate myself to marketing and promoting the series for the first half of the year before deciding if I would continue the series or move on to something else. I have trouble doing both writing and promoting well, and promotion is my least favorite part of being an author, so committing to it for six months was already outside my comfort zone. 

Then Covid-19 hit, and I, like most of us, went into survival mode: cleaning, baking, eating, and yes...drinking a tad more than usual, all in an attempt to adjust to this bizarre new normal of masking-up and hiding from the dangers of everyday life. This, while mourning the losses piling up around us. The deaths of over a quarter of a million Americans, isolation from loved ones, fear, food insecurity, civil unrest, and a tsunami of bad juju in general. It was enough to stop me in my tracks.

To be honest though, my ambition was already waning. I'd been writing steadily for thirteen years, producing and publishing twelve books since 2011, and with my focus shifted to social activism the past few years, I was feeling burnt out and ready for the break. Thankfully, my day job as a massage therapist and yoga teacher has taught me to listen to my intuition and trust in my process. 

Despite being a fairly driven, type-A personality, I'm being kind and patient with myself, allowing  my priorities to shift, and being okay with taking a time-out from my writing life. But I also know, like much of the rest of the world, that I've been stuck at a cross-road and that it's time to move forward. With hope now being more than a speck of light on the horizon as a vaccine awaits around the corner, and knowing cooler heads will be in control of the pandemic response, I'm seeing a growing light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, and it's time to get back to healthy routines and to looking forward to the future.  

However, there's still the dilemma of figuring out what comes next. Do I go back and continue writing another novella in the series or diligently trying to find a new direction for my writing? With no new characters burning a hole in my head, and no stories bubbling up from the depths of my soul, I am--for now--at a loss and technically still on hiatus. I anticipate this is a temporary state of being and that something will jump start my creative spark any day now. In the meantime, I'll be here once a month to share my love of YA lit and hang out with my author pals waiting for inspiration and motivation to strike. 

I hope whatever beach, on whatever tiny island my muse is lounging upon, that she's almost ready to pack it in, hightail it home, and get back to work!

In her absence, I'm always open to suggestions. What's hot in YA Lit these days and what kind of stories would you like to see written?

Peace and blessings until next month,

PJ

Baby Steps toward Better by Dean Gloster

            A good thing happened this year (really.) Thanks to surgery, I can walk again.

            Pain free. (Which is much better than much of 2020, which has been more like, “free pain.”)

 

Sure, there were complaints. But it was exciting, and we arrived ahead of schedule.

            I’m an enthusiastic weekend athlete (downhill ski racing and Aikido), so I was used to a level of periodic soreness and discomfort.

Especially because I operate at a consistently high enthusiasm-to-skill ratio

It turns out, though, that what I had for the last couple of decades wasn’t muscle soreness—I really had a bulging disc pushing the spinal nerve into the bones where there was a narrowing of my spine. The result was sciatic pain in my legs. This year, it got so bad that by the end of February, I could no longer walk more than a block.

 Ouch

My surgery initially got cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I was in so much pain that as soon as Alameda County, California was allowed to do elective surgeries, they got me in as the first patient the first morning.

It was exciting, because there was a kind of ragged energy to re-starting a whole surgery department, with new Covid protocols, after over a month off. (“The vendor says the equipment will be here in 20 minutes!”) They initially got me to sign a consent for the wrong spinal surgery (which, I was assured later, except for this one time, “never” happens.) But we sorted that out, and it went great. I’m not a Republican Senator, so when they cut me open, they actually found fragments of a spine. They trimmed the disc, took out the bone knobs, and now I can go back to all the activities I was doing before—except without pain.

(Except for the minor, “there probably won’t be a Covid-safe ski season” thing)

            The repaired back has been great for my writing, because I like to pace or take a walk and think, when I’m a little stuck. And now—voila—I can walk. I’m making great progress (finally) on my revising my current novel and I’ve started the early fun stages of writing the next.

 

The beginning of a book is magical

            Of course, the only reason they could get me in for surgery in late April was that we’d done a collective good job in my county of wearing masks and social distancing—staying home, saving lives, and letting our hospitals reopen for non-Covid patients and procedures.

            Things would be grimmer if I needed that surgery next month, or lived somewhere else in the U.S.

Now over one-fifth of U.S. hospitals have staffing shortages, and we just broke the record—again—for the number of Covid-19 patients currently hospitalized. If the number and rate of new Covid-19 infections keeps going up, we’ll soon be facing a caseload way beyond the capacity of our current medical system—already ICU beds are full in some cities, leading to triage where patients who could be saved are turned away.

            I know it’s been a long year. But do your part. Wear a mask. Stay home. Don’t mingle.



            It saves lives. It helps some of us become pain free.

            Good luck to us all and best wishes for a better 2021. 





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.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 57 percent of his soul.

 

When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing—and, let’s face it, there’s less of that now—he’s on Twitter: @deangloster

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Humbug (Brian Katcher)

 

This may be a minority opinion, but I have to say I didn't enjoy this year very much. As a teacher, I'm having very little face to face contact with my students. My 8th grader daughter did not get to see her friends all summer. Both my maternal grandparents passed away. I had nothing published. Our vacation plans were greatly reduced. This year is has replaced 1987 and 2000 as my least favorite years.

But there is much to celebrate as well:

*My wife and I both kept our jobs with full salaries.

*My entire family and all my close friends have managed to avoid COVID.

*While I'm feeling down in my writing career, I'm certainly not out. My wonderful agent, Mandy Hubbard, is working to get a deal for me.

*My 2002 Saturn is still running great. It's one of those cars that lasts forever.

*While we didn't get to go to Seattle as planned, we did take two extended camping vacations.

*Oh, one last thing. Something really great happened on November 3rd. I can't quite remember, but it almost made up for this entire crummy year.

Love you all. 2021 is going to be our year!

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Things That Have Gone Right This Year (2020 Edition)

Learning to bake.

Becoming a better cook.

Becoming a better reader.

Becoming a better illustrator.

Taking deep breaths.

Appreciating nice walks.

Learning more about my neighbors.

Watching the skies.

Watching leaves change.

Taking time to contact old friends.

Taking time to watch favorite movies.

Discovering new shows.

Discovering the art of saying thank you.

Embracing imperfection.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

2020 Blessings & Strategies (Brenda Hiatt)

Since we’re blogging this month about the things that have worked/gone well in 2020, I’m going to riff off of Patty Blount’s post and count my own 2020 blessings. What will make this a little easier is something I started several years ago and that has been especially helpful this year: a blessings journal. It’s not journaling in the classic sense—just a nightly list of 3 things I’m grateful for from that day. I keep the journal next to my bed and do this right before I go to sleep each night and it really does seem to help, especially when I’m slipping into the doldrums. (Something that’s happened kind of a lot in 2020, no surprise.) Most of the “blessings” I list are ordinary stuff—the (usually few) things I accomplished that day, some little thing that made me smile, like a vid chat with my daughter or grandbabies, what I had for dinner. (That last one comes in really handy when the days all run together and I can’t remember how recently we had pizza or whether a particular meal was so long ago that it’s time to toss the leftovers.) Anyway, this habit has stood me in good stead in 2020 and I highly recommend it—especially for anyone prone to depression. 

So, what am I specifically grateful for right now, in terms of what’s worked for me in 2020? Let’s see… 

My Zoom, FaceTime and Skype skills are massively better than they were a year ago. Originally a complete Zoom novice, I’ve now been a featured speaker on a writing panel and also at a reader event. (Oh, and I discovered face powder—something I never used before—really does help mitigate shine when on camera, LOL.) I now host a weekly Zoom critique group meeting with three other writers who are becoming good friends, though we have yet to meet in person. They’re all local, so once it’s safe it should be a lot of fun to get together for real! 

 


The writing has been hard this year. But all that extra (necessary) revision kept me at my treadmill desk daily, day after day and month after month. As a result, I’m in better shape than I was a year ago and even lost a few pounds! Some of the credit for that also goes to a twice-weekly hardcore Pilates interval workout my daughter now leads on Zoom because of the pandemic. Those workouts also give me a chance to hang out with her regularly, even though she lives 2500 miles away. I’ve also been eating (slightly) healthier this year, due to cooking at home a whole lot more than usual. 

I’ve always been big on daily routines, but they’ve become even more ingrained—and necessary—this year. Those routines are what keep me on track on those days I don’t feel like doing much of anything. Some good habits I’ve added include exercising before breakfast, doing a couple of German lessons before lunch and solving a Sudoku puzzle every afternoon. (I’m still working on the “no internet after dinner” one…)  Having set times to write helped enormously to keep me moving forward on the book I thought would never be done…but that I was finally able to release at the end of last month. (Whew! It’s even getting great reviews!) 


My biggest 2020 triumph


With any luck, I’ll be able to keep up with all my good habits going forward, even when the unique challenges of 2020 are no more. Can’t wait! 


Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-five novels (so far). The most recent, Convergent, released October 27, 2020.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Three Good Things About 2020

 

By Christine Gunderson

 

This month, we’re blogging about good things that actually happened with our writing in 2020. Remarkably, I can think of not just one, or two, but three good things that happened in my writing life this year.

 

The first is the Omega Zoom. My 2019 Golden Heart class started a monthly Zoom accountability group. We meet to discuss our goals for the month and how to achieve them. But for me, it’s also a monthly reminder that I’m a writer, something I only seem to remember if I’m connected with other people who write.

 

The women in this group are smart, talented, and make me laugh until I cry. We also share practical information and I actually learn something new every time we talk. If it weren’t for the pandemic, we’d settle for seeing each other once a year at an RWA conference, but now we can see each other once a month on Zoom. It’s wonderful, and I feel like I’m part of a writing community again.

 

This leads to the second good thing that happened in my writing life this year. One of my Golden Heart sisters has five children, yet she still makes time to write. I asked how she does it, and she said she goes to bed early, gets up early and keeps “weird” hours.

 

It sounds crazy, but when she said this, I realized I could give myself permission keep “weird” hours, too. I’ve been getting up at 4:00 a.m. to write and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

 

Thanks to her, I finally figured out that getting up at 4:00 a.m. is only possible if I give myself permission to go to bed at 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. In the past, the taciturn Scandinavian homesteader who lives inside my head and directs my moral compass told me it was lazy to go to bed that early. I also felt somehow that if my family was awake, I had some kind of obligation to be awake, too.

 

I’ve now chucked this idea in the trash with all the empty hand sanitizer bottles. And I’ve stopped fighting myself. My body is ready for sleep at 8:00 p.m. and I wake up naturally at 3:45 a.m. every morning. In the past I’d roll over and go back to sleep, but I now understand this is how my body clock is wired. This Is The Way as the Mandalorian would say, and I need to roll with it. Now the dogs and I get two full hours of writing in before anyone else in the house even opens an eye. 

 

Writing in third person is the third good thing to happen to my writing in 2020. Prior to this year, all my books were YA novels written in first person, present tense. My agent read a few chapters of the book I’m working on now and asked if I’d be willing to consider writing it in third person, past tense, like normal people. 

 

I was scared. I’d never written in third person before. In fact, I always felt like a little bit of a fraud because I didn’t write in third person. 

 

But I tried it and the result was electrifying. I feel like I’m learning to write all over again. I’m doing things with character and setting that I couldn’t do when I was writing in first person and I love it. The book I’m working on now is different from anything I’ve written before and writing is fun again because I’m learning again. 

 

Words like “dumpster fire” will long be used to describe the year which is mercifully about to end, and these words are utterly appropriate. But there are still a few embers of positivity to be found amid the rubbish. When 2021 and better times roll around, I hope I’ll remember to be grateful for the things that got me and my writing through the epic volcanic mess that was 2020.

 

And by the way, that meteor that was heading for the earth? It never hit us. Not even close. Also, I don’t know a single person stung by a murder hornet. See? Maybe 2020 wasn’t a total disaster after all.

 

###

 

Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor/reporter and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher. You can find her at www.christinegunderson.com

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Acknowledging 2020 by Patty Blount

At the end of every novel, the author thanks a whole bunch of people in the Acknowledgements section. "The book couldn't have been written without the help of so many people."

I thought I'd do something similar for this post because even despite how awful this year has been, there is always something good to be thankful for. 

 First, my new agent... My last book release was in 2018 and since then, I've struggled to find any viable ideas for my next YA novel. I did, however, have an idea for a romantic suspense that I decided to write, even though it's not my genre. And you know what? It's good! Good enough to secure a new agent, who tells me it's good. 

Next, my fellow YA authors. I belong to the YARWA chapter of RWA, an organization for romance authors. I finally had the beginning of a new YA novel idea and was truly struggling with it. I reached out to my chapter for help and was honored when some amazing folks offered to brainstorm with me. The result? THE CHRISTMAS STRIKE, a young adult rom/com in which a teen with a Christmas birthday goes on strike against the holdays --er, holidaze -- with some help from her brother's college roommate. I hope to be able to share good news about both projects selling soon, so huge thanks to Shaila Patel, Katherine Fleet, Melissa Chambers, and Tambra Nicole Kendall for being so generous with their time. 

In addition, my Long Island writers' chapter has held my hand through a number of crises this year, including a death in the family and a cancer scare. Thank you, LIRW! 

So... yeah, I could tell you 2020 sucked from January to December but though it's been awful in many ways, there were still quite a few bright spots. Look for them. Shine the light on those, not on the blights. You'll feel better. Trust me.







Friday, November 13, 2020

Discovering New Paths (Jodi Moore)

Ever since I was a child, the beach has been my happy place. As I’ve grown older, it’s become more than that. It’s my place to take a breath. To reset. To reconnect with me.

 

I could easily sit all day, luxuriating in this sensory world. Listening to the waves. Inhaling the salty air. Sinking my toes into the warm sand.

 

On lucky occasions, I did, photographing the birds as the sun painted the sky different shades of splendiferous. 

 

 



You see, while I grew up in south Jersey – only an hour away from the shore – now I live 5 hours away in PA. Again, not usually a huge problem until...

 

Enter the pandemic.

 


 

Like most, we worked to find a new normal, while keeping our loved ones – and ourselves – safe. While we used to travel (mostly for work) on a weekly basis, we’ve become homebodies. My husband and I learned to conduct workshops and school visits via Zoom. We formed a ‘quaranteam’ so we could see our (grown) sons and their girlfriends. We played games and put together a ton of puzzles.

 

To feed my body, I learned new recipes. To feed my soul, I took illustration classes. But as spring blossomed into summer, the walls began closing in. My heart ached for the beach.

 


 

“Can’t we just squeeze in one teensy trip?” my heart begged.

 

“Sorry,” my brain answered. “We are in a pandemic and can’t travel.”

 

Then, one day while on a walk, my heart noticed a nature trail and began thrumming. 

 

 

Immediately, my brain launched into a full dissertation on the issues of tics, snakes, mountain lions...

 

“Sorry,” my heart quipped in a tone that dripped of sarcasm. “We’re going in.”

 

And we did.

 

Even my brain had to admit it was glorious. Listening to the bird calls. Inhaling the fragrant air.

Watching the colors flutter by. 

 


 

 

We’ve been back almost every day since, watching the seasons paint the leaves a different shade of splendiferous.

 

 

No, it’s not the beach. But it is spectacular. It’s a new place for me to take a breath. To reset. And yes, to connect to me.

 

What new path will you find today?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Finding New Ways To Succeed by Sydney Salter

2020 has been especially isolating for me--I am married to a health care worker who carefully preserves a single-wear mask for weeks at a time. Every time he works, he might bring Covid home. The fear takes up way too much space in my brain way too much of the time. I am unwilling to risk passing the disease to anyone, so I isolate all the time. I still Zoom with my writing group and I've joined a new anti-racism book club that meets on Zoom (I've actually made friends in quarantine). 

I couldn't work at all for the first few months as we figured out this new normal - and tried to prepare for so many unknowns. I probably gathered too many dried beans. Our adult daughters moved home for several months. I relished the opportunity to spend quality time with them--while they chafed at their suddenly stunted lives, so it was a weird mix of fun and existential angst. Way too much angst. 

I have managed so much stress in 2020. I have also found a new way to work. 

I've always focused on one project at a time. In 2020 that left me with too many days when I couldn't find the mental space to work on my next chapter. Or I'd be too busy researching home air filters. Or looking for new recipes for dried beans.

So I decided to work on my next project--something that I've wanted to write forever. Something just for fun. Unlike my WIP it's still perfect in my imagination. Full of possibilities rather than problems that I'll have to wrestle with in revision. 

So on the days when I'm feeling focused, I work on my WIP--eight chapters to go--and then SO many revisions to come. So many problems to fix.

On the days when I'm feeling ugh--like the day after my husband's preschool-aged patient lost a parent to Covid, I research my next project. I sit and take notes, even if only for a half hour. 

I have also leaned into the isolation--the time away from everything, including self-imposed deadlines. 2020 will end soon, but the aftereffects of this year will continue for a long time. That gives me time to support my family. But it also gives me time to polish my work. No need to rush anything right now. 

2020 has helped me find new ways to succeed, and new ways to define success. 


Sunday, November 8, 2020

ONE MORE TIME--By Kimberly Sabatini

All month long, we're blogging about things that have actually worked or gone right (in our writing lives or elsewhere) in 2020. I'm taking a little liberty with this post and the historical moment we are living in. I'm blurring the lines between the past and the present--between what has been, what should be, and what I hope will be. 
What should always be...


 


If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on... 
It outlives me when I’m gone 

Like the scripture says: 

“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree 
 And no one shall make them afraid.”
 
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.
 
I want to sit under my own vine and fig tree.
 
A moment alone in the shade. 
At home in this nation, we’ve made.
 
One last time.
 
One last time.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, 
I am unconscious of intentional error, 
I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. 

I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will view them with indulgence; 
And that after forty-five years of my life, dedicated to its service with an upright zeal-- 
The faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as I myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize the sweet enjoyment of partaking in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

One last time

ONE MORE TIME...

Friday, November 6, 2020

Life Hacks: 2020 (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging about things that are actually going okay in 2020: tricks we’ve found that work to destress, to help us focus, write, maybe even find a little joy behind our face masks.

Life hacks to get us through 2020.


(How I'm actually hacking 2020)

Confession: I haven’t yet found ANYTHING to help me write novels.

But writing SONGS? Yes! I’ve written 19 songs so far in 2020 and am currently working on my 20th. I joined a Facebook songwriting group that offers two challenges per year: you write a song weekly or biweekly (depending on the challenge) based on a word or picture prompt, video yourself playing it (UGH!), and post it on the Facebook page. It forced me to keep going with songwriting.

I also just started a four-week Zoom songwriting class. It breaks songwriting into chord progressions, song titles, melodies, lyrics, etc., including sprints of automatic writing for lyrics. I realized the other day that I should build this into my life, regardless of FB challenges or Zoom songwriting classes: at least once a week, sit down and scribble song titles and snippets of lyrics, and play around with chord progressions and melodies for possible songs.

It occurs to me as I write this that I can do the same sort of stuff with novels, but that thought doesn’t prevent me from choking on the fact that writing (and revising) novels has stymied me since March.




BUT November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is one long writing-sprint challenge, and God knows I’m a sucker for challenges! So I’ve signed up to try to write at least 50,000 words on a novel. Maybe I’ll be able to say in December that I finally (FINALLY!) found a life hack for writing novels, and it was NaNoWriMo.

Please God.

As to other life hacks for 2020? I’ve found two main ones, but the first will be revolting to any number of friends. (heh heh.) I found an AMAZING trainer, and a gym where I feel safe despite COVID, and it has seriously changed my life. Or, more accurately, it has started to give me back the life I used to have. I won’t say more, because my nonathletic friends are already throwing up in their mouth as they read this, and I try to be compassionate.

 



The other life hack is something I do in a weekly goal-setting group I’m in. Each week, we say how we did on our goals for the previous week (ha ha!) and list goals for the coming week. My final goal each week: “Do something joyful.”

It’s active: DO something joyful. Seek it out. It might be riding my scooter (instant joy), or going to Five Guys on a tough day, or catching live music (difficult but not impossible in a pandemic), or spending time with close friends (also difficult but not impossible). Most weeks, I wind up finding three or four truly joyful things I did. One week this past year, I found exactly zero joy. But every other week, this weekly goal has been a game-changer for me.

 


2020 has been a nightmarishly hard year, and the end of the pandemic is not even remotely in sight. But I’m going to try NaNoWriMo, keep writing songs, keep knocking myself out at the gym, and keep ACTIVELY seeking joy.

Do your best to get through this. What the heck: I will, too.

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.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

One Hundred Years of Enjoyment (Brian Katcher)


 

I have probably read a dozen books in my life and many of them affected me greatly. There are the 'screw the man' counterculture masterpieces like Catch-22 or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Historical epics like Shogun. Horror classics like 'The Call of Cthulhu.'

But there is only one book, that every time I reread it, I e-mail the person who originally recommended it to me to thank her (so thanks again, Cindy Janes-Daily). That book is One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad) by Gabriel García Márquez.

It's the story of the Buendia family of Colombia. After the family patriarch kills a friend in a duel of honor, he takes his wife and some friends and heads off into the jungle, where he founds the city of Macondo. The book follows the family through many generations, from the post-colonial revolutions to the 'banana wars' to modern Latin America. 

This is a magical realism novel, so in addition to the historical context, we get a lot of strange and mysterious happenings: ghosts, magic, alchemy, etc, which are accepted as normal by the characters.

To me, Macondo will always be that magical literary place where I long to escape. My Middle Earth, my Wonderland, my Hogwarts. 

I know this book often appears on lists of dreary required reading, but trust me, you'll love it. Or you'll hate it, like my Philistine brother-in-law. But it was one of the few books I can honestly say touched my soul. I liked it so much that I reread it in the original Spanish. Took me almost a hundred years.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

The books that are keeping me sane (Brenda Hiatt)

Like many, during this difficult time I’ve retreated to comfort reads. I’m just not up to being challenged, so books that are amusing or heartwarming are my go-to reads…and rather than risk any unpleasant surprises, I’m RE-reading favorites right now. I’m nearly through yet another rereading of the Harry Potter series. I’ve also been re-enjoying the James Herriot books, which I hadn’t read in probably 25 years. Very cozy, harking back to a simpler time, with plenty of laughs sprinkled in. (If haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them, especially if you love animals. The trials, tribulations and foibles of a young veterinary surgeon in Yorkshire, England in the 1930s.) 

Beyond that, I’ve been nearly killing myself getting a book ready for release this coming Tuesday (October 27th), which is why this post is both late and short. 

I very much hope this book will also touch readers’ hearts and occasionally make them laugh.

Stay safe and happy reading!



Convergent
, the long-awaited next book in Brenda’s Starstruck series, FINALLY releases October 27th!



Thursday, October 22, 2020

Tugs on My Heart Strings (Patty Blount)

 This month's topic is a tough one for me. I am an absolute book glutton. I read several books a week and the problem with reading as fast as I do is that I don't always remember the stories I've read. They begin to blur together after some time. 

But there have been several that have made such a deep impact on me, I've never forgotten them. In fact, I re-read them when I feel sad. Here they are, in no particular order. 

NATURAL BORN CHARMER by Susan Elizabeth Phillips



This novel is a rom-com with depth. It was the first novel I'd read by this author and was a book club selection at the time. It was part of a series but could stand alone. The opening scene features the drop-dead gorgeous quarterback of a football team driving a country road and spotting a headless beaver. 

Not an actual beaver, mind you. 

A person in a beaver costume, minus the head. And she is PISSED OFF. This is the meet-cute for Dean and Blue, the main characters in this hilarious story that soon proves it's far deeper than you think. Make no mistake, Blue and Dean's relationship is one of the funniest things I've ever read but there are additional love stories. Blue and Dean both suffer from abandonment issues and there are some achingly sweet reunions throughout the novel. There's also an element of 'finding yourself' that truly touched me. This book is so special to me that whenever I'm asked to pick a book, this is the one I say first because it's nearly perfect. Here's a review I wrote back in 2011

THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins



This novel is first in a series with small town charm and characters all up in each other's business. The main characters in this story are Faith and Levi and though I first read this novel about 10 years ago, I still have the biggest crush on Levi Cooper. Their love story starts in school, when they're children, and extends all these years later when Levi busts up Faith's wedding to the town doctor. 

There is one scene in this novel when Faith reveals her darkest secret guilt to Levi. No one knows it, not even her own family. You know how some romance novels feature a grand gesture? The hero rents out a billboard or perhaps a horse drawn carriage, things like that? Levi, the police chief, goes to work. He spends almost all night investigating what Faith revealed to him and then, in the middle of the night, knocks on her door to share what he learned. It is by far the most heartfelt and romantic scene I've ever read and there isn't a single flower, chocolate, horse-drawn carriage, or billboard in sight. 

PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry




I was talking to my editor about what would later become my third novel, SOME BOYS, and explaining how I wanted to write the novel in dual points of view. She sent me a link to Pushing the Limits and I became a lifelong Katie McGarry fan before I finished the first chapter. 

Katie writes deep, angsty, heartrending YA novels that gut me and then put me back together in ways like nobody else. This novel features Noah and the unfortunately named Echo, two lost souls dealing with heavy issues no teens their age should ever have to face. Their love story is nothing short of epic with each deciding to do something for the other that is so huge, so full of risk, I had to stop reading to get myself back under control just so I could see the page again. If you're familiar with O. Henry's Gift of the Magi, that's the level of epicness I mean and I can't tell you more without dropping major spoilers. This book is special. 

Despite how completely wrecked I was reading this book, Katie finds ways to end her novels on hopeful and high notes that are like promises I can trust whenever I buy one of her books. I may have to hold on tight and close my eyes for a minute or two, but the end will be oh-so-sweet and worth the tears. 

What books touched your heart? I'm always looking for new ones to read. Hit me up in the comments! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Moments in Books That Stay With You (Holly Schindler)

When I started drafting my first YA manuscripts, I completely immersed myself in the latest YA books. My earliest favorites included Gabrielle Zevin’s gem ELSEWHERE.

There were just so many parts of the book I found so clever. The idea that we age backward in heaven (don’t we all say it would be heaven if we could start old and get young?), the idea that we specialize in learning a new task in heaven (accounting for inexplicable talent when we’re reborn), etc. 

 

One of my favorite inclusions in the book was a tattoo. (I’m not returning to the book to write about this aspect. I’m writing from memory. And I originally read this book soon after it released in 2005.) The main character becomes involved in heaven with a man who has a tattoo for his love. As they age backward, the tattoo gets brighter and brighter, looking newer and newer. The main character grows closer and closer to her love interest. At the point at which they fall in love, the tattoo disappears. 

 

Really, ELSEWHERE isn’t a silly, funny, laugh-out-loud book. But it’s the first YA I thought of when I thought of writing a post about books that made me smile. A full fifteen years after reading it, I still remember those passages fondly. Probably imperfectly. But definitely fondly. A book doesn’t need to be a comedy to have light moments. It doesn’t need to be fluff to make a reader smile. 

 

And maybe, if the book is a more serious read, those moments of levity have more of an impact. Maybe, if readers’ heartstrings are already being tugged, the sweeter passages land in a deeper place in their hearts too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The NOW of Pooh (Jodi Moore)

 This month, I was asked to suggest a book that has perhaps made me laugh, filled my heart, or lifted my spirits. At any other time in my life, this would have been an impossible task. My brain would have been spinning. There are so many amazing reads by brilliant authors out there – both old and new.

 

But this is now, so my heart led me back to the classic it craved: The Tao of Pooh.

 


 

 

Personality-wise, I’ve always considered myself to be a 50/50 split between Tigger and Eeyore.

 

Yet recently, one of our sons pointed out to me that I do tend to worry, overthink and hesitate an awful lot like Piglet.

 

Which got me thinking. While I believe it’s admirable to adopt a lifelong love of learning, I do step up onto my soapbox every once in a while like Owl. I’ll readily admit I’m a fiercely protective mom (like Kanga) and while I try not to be persnickety like Rabbit, I do become rather frustrated by foiled plans. 

 

Finally, there may or may not be a host of stuffed animals on my bed that I tend to talk to like Christopher Robin sometimes (okay, a lot...don’t judge. They’re good listeners.)

 

 

 

So, I thought, I’m pretty much a hybrid of all...

 

Oh... Bother.

 

That’s when I decided to reread The Tao of Pooh, where author Benjamin Hoff invites one of our favorite bears – Winnie the Pooh – and all of his loveable friends to help explain the wisdom of the Taoists.

 

Written using examples from A.A. Milne’s classic tales, Hoff explains a complex philosophy in a simple, yet powerful manner, illustrating how a ‘Bear of Little Brain’ has reached that which eludes so many: the state of true enlightenment.

 

“While Eeyore frets

and Piglet hesitates

and Rabbit calculates

and Owl pontificates...

Pooh just is.”  

- Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

 

The book is both comforting and empowering, and it offers just the perfect little ‘smackerel of something’ my heart and soul needed.

 

It may be just what you need too.

 

 

 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Knockout of a Good Read by Sydney Salter

One of the best books I've read lately that touches the heart, gives a few laughs, along with some heartache is The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe. The book celebrates friendship while being different and trying to survive high school. 

Lots of surprises in this one! Lots to think about too! 

The Knockout Queen is not marketed as YA, so I guess that makes it a crossover novel. But it's one that teens would love and think about long after finishing the last page. Great discussion book too! 


Here's an interview with the author: The Nerd Daily

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

I Love You, Georgette Heyer (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging at YA Outside the Lines about books that touch us, or make us laugh, or lift our spirits. They’re crucial, I think, in these pandemic days.

I’ve been doing almost exclusively comfort reads since March. Okay, there’s always an exception. The exception, of course, would be books for work: research or craft books, or YA novels that help keep my writer’s voice in the mind of a 17-year-old girl.

(For better or worse, though, my mind usually IS that of a 17-year-old girl.)

I’m currently working on a series about a high school for psychics, so I’ve been rereading Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Oh. My. Gods. novels by Tera Lynn Childs. (Brutal work, but someone’s gotta do it.) And Save the Cat by the brilliant and way-too-short-lived Blake Snyder.

But just for me? I’ve been reading historical romance: my ultimate comfort reads. 


The tricky thing for me as a writer is that whatever I read can unconsciously affect my own novels. Years ago, I was reading Bridget Jones’s Diary when I suddenly caught my own characters talking about “shagging,” and that was it for Bridget until I finished writing that particular novel.

The language in historical novels is so utterly different from my own that, even if it pops up in my writing, I immediately recognize it. A couple of examples: “ninnyhammer” and “watering pot.” THOSE aren’t happening in a modern novel, YA or otherwise.

Historical novels are also filled with ballrooms, debutantes (a few of whom, including the heroine in almost every story, are quite clever), and English dukes, earls, viscounts, etc., some of whom are delicious rakes. Totally not part of my life or general way of thinking. I love that.

Historicals are an escape. In 2020, escape is the ultimate quest.


And since 2020 makes me crave a GUARANTEED escape, I’ve been rereading a lot of historicals. One series I love is the Westcott series by Mary Balogh. It starts with Someone to Love, featuring poor-orphan-turned-major-heiress Anna Snow and Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby. Avery is the closest competition I’ve seen to my ultimate historical romance hero, Jo Beverley’s Lord Rothgar, who first appeared in My Lady Notorious and who makes Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy look ... well, yawn. Anyway, I just reread Someone to Love last week. Swoon!

But there are escapes, and there are ESCAPES. So now, at the end of this blog, I finally get to its subject line.

I LOVE YOU, GEORGETTE HEYER.

When I was a young pup of a writer and still practicing law, my then-secretary gave me Georgette Heyer’s Frederica and basically told me that I would never amount to anything as a novelist until I read Georgette Heyer’s novels.


Barb Miller, you were so right. Thank you. And I still love Frederica to death.

Georgette Heyer died in 1974. Before her death she produced an amazing number of historical romances and other novels, filled to the brim with humor and extremely lowbrow slang and twists and turns and, yes, romance. She’s often called the next best thing to Jane Austen, but she’s really nothing like Jane Austen. I love them both, but Jane completed a mere six novels in her lifetime and Georgette (who clearly KNEW I would be desperate for comfort reads in 2020) wrote more than 50.

Aside from Frederica, which will always have my heart (yikes, there goes my YA voice!), I can’t possibly recommend one or three or five of her novels, because my favorites are usually the ones I’ve just read. But I WILL note that in These Old Shades, the Duke of Avon is Georgette Heyer’s entry in the “Who Can Possibly Compete with Jo Beverley’s Lord Rothgar” contest. Heh heh.



So go read some Georgette Heyer already!

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.