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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bad Blogger

Okay, so, like Jenn Echols, I've spent weeks wondering what the phrase "writing outside the lines" means to me. Writing outside the lines... W-r-i-t-i-n-g.... o-u-t-s-i-de... t-h-e... Okay, honestly? I've got nothing. Anything personal and essay-ish makes me squeamish. My own blog is a mash up of music and pictures and movies I'm obsessed with. I'd rather blog about other people's art than talk about my own.

So! What's a girl to do??

Oh, who knows.

No inspirational words for you! Only music and moving pictures.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

FREE BOOKS because UGH!

When we started this blog, we decided it would be a good idea for the authors' first posts to explain what writing outside the lines meant to them. I have begun composing a post like that, and stopped, about five times.

I do not want to think about it right now, okay? I am not in a Happy Place. One of my editors is supposed to be reading my to-be-published manuscript and sending me her notes on revising it, like, YESTERDAY. My other editor is considering buying another novel from me AS WE SPEAK. Worst of all, The Novel I Love So Much That I Will Just Die If It Isn't Published is out on submission RIGHT NOW!

(Note: I won't actually die if nobody buys this novel. A lot of my novels have not sold, and I am not dead yet. But this one is going to hurt.)

The last thing I want to do is dwell on how my writing doesn't fit in and isn't best-selling; how I have a knack for comedy in a dark market, a taste for unglamorous subject matter, and an absolute insistence on a happy ending (and killing the hero and having him meet the heroine in heaven DOES NOT COUNT). Like Tara, I write the book I want to read. That standard won't change, even if it damages my career. This business will break your heart, and if writing isn't fun, none of this is worth it. Period.

So come back in December and maybe I'll be in a mood to post about being thankful and the season of giving and stuff. Right now I'm going to stop whining and give away books.

You have 5 chances to win 1 book each, and you can choose from anything I've got:

MAJOR CRUSH. Hey, aspiring authors, don't write a romantic comedy set in marching band, okay? The only way that's going to be your first sale is if there happens to be a band geek working as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster. (Thank you Katie!)

THE BOYS NEXT DOOR + the sequel, ENDLESS SUMMER, in one volume. Full of romance cliches like a love triangle, pretending to date one boy to make another boy jealous, and falling in love with your BFF. You wouldn't like it.

THE EX GAMES. Proves to my critique partner that you can too say "fire crotch" in a teen romantic comedy. Ha!

GOING TOO FAR. About a 17-year-old Teen At Risk who falls in love with the 19-year-old cop who arrested her. The book I have loved the most, and therefore the hardest one to sell--though I'm afraid The Book I Love So Much That I Will Just Die If It Doesn't Sell is about to give GOING TOO FAR a run for its money.

FORGET YOU. Represents my finest triumph, because I wrote inside the lines for once. I had the good sense to take the __ out before this book was published. You should never, ever put a __ in your teen romantic drama in the first place. When my editor and I discussed the revision of this book, she did NOT tell me to take the __ out. She told me to take out only one scene with the __ because it wasn't working for her. I e-mailed her back, saying, "Upon reflection, I am going to take the __ out of the whole novel because it's not very romantic." She replied, "I'll bet that sentence has never been written before in the history of English."

I am going to draw 5 winners from the comments. Open to U.S. addresses only, please. Contest closes on December 15. Each of you will win 1 of my books of your choice. All you have to do is guess what the __ is. Also e-mail me at echolsjenn@yahoo.com so I can contact you if you win.

You don't have to guess correctly, because you won't.

Edited 12/2 to add:
Okay, folks, let's keep those guesses clean(er). There are certain things even I would not have put in a YA novel in the first place.

Hint: the guesses closest to being correct have been "porcupine," "cursing parrot," and "mangy rabid dog."

Edited 12/16 to add: Thanks to everyone for your guesses and your kind comments about my writing! Congratulations to the winners drawn at random: Snazel, Khyla, Tammara, Samantha Jo, and Katelyn!

Answer: llama.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Freak



I’ve always been a freak. As a kid, I sneered at the idea of playing dress-up, I hated make-up and hairbrushes, my clothes were old and torn, and I wasn’t afraid to throw a punch. Kids made fun of me on a daily basis. Teachers labeled me a ‘troublemaker’, mainly due to my incessant need to fight back. My mom was forever telling me to be less impulsive, to just ignore them.


And eventually I did. In junior high I retreated into my own world of books, music, and notebooks filled with my own stories. It might sound cheesy, but I think writing saved me. It kept me grounded. Helped me deal with the constant insanity that was my home life. My characters became my friends when I didn’t have any (no, I didn’t talk to them as if they were real people—I wasn’t THAT out there). But—through them—I lived out my dreams. The things I wished I could do, but I couldn’t for whatever reason. If I’m being completely honest, it was probably my own fear that held me back.


<---In high school, I found my band of freaks, literally and figuratively. I played drums for one band. Attempted to sing for another. My best friends were skater boys who played some kind of instrument, goths who’d drag me to nightclubs (by junior year I was a pretty hardcore goth myself), metalheads, stoners, wannabe gangsta types…y
ou name it, I probably hung out with them at one time or another. The one thing we all had in common was we didn’t fit into the so-called ‘norm’. We also had a tremendous passion for art—usually music. Many of us came from dysfunctional families and had trouble in school (be it academically or socially), etc. Stephanie Kuehnert’s post actually summed up my own high school experience quite well—riot grrls and all. Only I wasn’t nearly as ambitious or devoted to a cause. I didn’t know who I was or what I truly believed in…I just knew I wanted something more out of my life. Something I couldn’t find in high school. Most of the classes bored me. I was always questioning the curriculum, especially when it came to English class. I didn’t understand why we always had to read ancient books written by what I called ‘misogynistic middle-aged men.’


Needless to say, I kept writing what I wanted to read. Stories about kids like me. Kids like my friends. My stories became much darker in high school. I had friends who ran away and never came home, friends who got addicted to drugs and turned into monsters, friends who got arrested…or worse. And the current YA selection (this was the late 90s) had nothing but chaste stories about teen girls who got a kiss on the cheek at the end of the book. Or they’re biggest issue was being grounded or their crush taking someone else to the prom. So…I stopped reading and made a goal to become published before I was 20 (this obviously didn’t happen—and I’m very thankful for that. My writing was not meant for the public eye at that point)


But I made a promise to myself to never forget. I knew I wanted to write for teens—always. So I saved all the notes I passed back and forth with my friends, all the notebooks we filled up with stories about our dream boys and adventures, all the various knickknacks that made me remember an event (writing on napkins was popular). I even kept this ratty pair of jeans I wore almost every day. They were my canvas, covered in poems I’d written, my favorite bands, and drawings. Even my friends would draw on them or write things.


Now every time I write a book, I look through that box. It’s weird how a pair of jeans or an old note from a friend can put me right back in the moment. Almost like I’m living it all over again.


I write for the freaks. The kids who come from tough homes. The kids who feel like they don’t fit anywhere. The kids who use art to express themselves. The kids who don’t know who they are or what they want to do. The kids who just want someone to ‘get it’. It’s my hope that one of my books will inspire them to write one of their own. Because I know they have a lot to say…



Thursday, November 25, 2010

Toeing the Line


I like lines. As a kid, I got very irritated with the kids who scribbled all over the page. Not because they messed up their own drawing--I mean, How did you know what the picture was supposed to be, if you didn’t stay in the lines?--but mostly because they wore down the points on the crayons, and ruined them for the rest of us.

I would not only stay in the lines, I would go over them first with my chosen color and only THEN color in the space. The edge was neater that way, with the wax line of the crayon standing out more than the printed one. Plus, then the line color matched!

So maybe it’s not so much that I colored IN the lines, as I made the lines my own.

Lines keep things in order. They keep us on the right side of the road. They tell us where our yard ends and the neighbor’s begins.

It’s not really about being an unimaginative goody-two-shoes. It’s just that I’ve always been... particular. And lines keep things neat.

And okay, I am a little bit of a goody two shoes.

PDFHNew-2010-11-22-22-15.jpgWhich can make it a little challenging to write YA. Because my characters HAVE to break the rules, or it would be a pretty boring book. I remember writing Prom Dates From Hell and angsting over the fact that Maggie had to sneak out of her house to continue her sleuthing. She also breaks into buildings and trespasses and sasses her elders and even (gasp!) goes to a bar when she’s under age. I think she even drinks some beer.

On the other hand, it was WAY fun to write Maggie’s first person narration, because she got to voice all the things that I am WAY too goody-two-shoes to say.

So, obviously I’m not outside the lines when it comes to content.

FRONT.splendor.falls.cvr-2010-11-22-22-15.jpgFor me, it’s not so much about coloring outside the lines, but blurring the lines between things. In The Splendor Falls, I wanted to take the framework of an old fashioned Gothic Romance, add more magic (but more subtle than wizard and werewolves), but keep a very contemporary feel with a strong, savvy heroine. The heroine, Sylvie, has been a professional ballerina for years, despite being only seventeen, when a broken leg forces her to figure out what she’s going to do with her life now. Provided she’s not actually going crazy, since she’s seeing ghosts and feeling impossible things.

I do write right on top of the line with the age of my characters, though, because they’re all out of high school. (I’m some rebel, huh?) But that’s where the most interesting stories are. I remember thinking, the day after graduation: From now on, there is no where that I am mandated by law that I have to be. College, jobs, those are all my my choice and my responsibility.

Well, unless I got arrested.

Or joined the army. But I don’t like lines THAT much.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the lines are blurred with blood

My first novel is narrated by a 16th-century Countess imprisoned in the tower of her Castle for having murdered her servants and bathed in their blood. Yup.

To be clear: I'm not a murderous countess, conducting blood rites in my kitchen. I'm not even into hardcore horror novels and movies - I like to be scared, but I'm a bit of a wimp. When I was a teenager I read a story about the blood-bathing Countess Bathory, and she Freaked Me Out. The things that freak us out that stick around for a long time.

Years later, I started writing about the countess. There were so many questions I wanted to ask her. Like: "What the f@%$# were you thinking?" She's been dead for a really long time, so I read whatever books about her that I could find. Interesting, but not ultimately satisfying. Writing was the only way I could answer those questions myself.

Her story still freaked me out, even as I wrote it. But I found a way to connect with her; some small part of her to empathize: her lonliness. Fear. Insecurity. I know these feelings well; as a teenager they were part of my DNA.

This is what writing "outside the lines" is about for me. Being able to embrace my inner freak. She may be a lunatic, but that's okay. I want to hear her story.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding a Voice

I never set out to write outside the lines. When I wrote my first manuscript, I had a twelve-year-old unsophisticated daughter and I wanted to write something for her––and girls like her. Something fun and sweet. Something safe. Inspired by a novel written by a big name YA writer, I sat down and wrote that first manuscript. It was good enough to land an agent who sold the manuscript, and I envisioned my career unfolding as a writer of contemporary YA romantic comedies. And I was okay with that.

Then my editor was laid off and the new editor was not feeling the project. At. All. She cut the manuscript loose and we ended up back out on submission. Trouble was, the climate had changed while I was doing revisions for the first editor. Paranormal had shot through the roof and all my rejections expressed a fear that my sweet little contemporary would get lost.

We were still waiting on the final verdict from one last publisher when I decided to start something new. It was the story of a girl whose reputation was trashed by a boy’s lie back in middle school. Now the girl had just graduated high school and the boy was a Marine, home from Afghanistan. He was wounded, both emotionally and physically, and kind of an outcast––not unlike the girl. It was her story. And, again, I had another writer––whose style I admire––in mind when I began.

Except her story wasn’t working. So I tried alternating voices. And when I started writing for the guy, his story roared in my head. He was loud, clear, profane, and refused to go away.

The first thought that enters my mind when I see what awaits me at the end of the concourse is a prayer––well, sort of. It’s more like Jesus Christ, please tell me my mom didn’t hire a fucking band.”

This was not what I expected.

I sent the first three chapters to my agent to get her opinion. After all, you don’t see many 19-year-old Marines in YA novels. She read it, loved it, and a week later told me she couldn’t stop thinking about the character. She suggested we submit a partial manuscript to a group of her favorite editors and I was beyond shocked when it sold at auction.

But as exciting as that was, this isn’t about the sale, the character, or even the story. It’s about finding my own distinct YA voice.

Like Danielle, I have a kindergarten scissors story. I had trouble with the lefties, too. They were too loose and when you tried to cut with them, they’d slip and crease the paper. So when we were given sheets of red paper with an apple shape to cut out, I put down the scissors and tore around the lines. My apple had ragged edges, but I’d still managed to maintain the integrity of the shape. Hanging on the bulletin board, mine was distinct. As I mentioned in Danielle’s comments, I got a “needs improvement” on my report card for my cutting skills, but even at five I was smart enough to know that my solution had still produced a recognizable apple.

I guess that’s how I feel about my writing these days. I’ve put down the scissors and let my own voice, my own style, emerge. Ragged edges and all.


My book, THE NEW NORMAL, is due Fall 2012 from Bloomsbury.

Monday, November 22, 2010

That's what's great about YA: it is outside the lines!

After a lifetime spent reading and writing fiction meant for adults, I was drawn to YA because it seemed to be located outside the lines of what I was used to. I suspect this is true for a number of newcomers to the genre: when adult literary fiction starts to feel too confining, too intolerant of passion and fantasy, well, you might find that there's more room to explore your vision in literature meant for young adults. YA has become a refuge for the ideas, emotions, and themes that don't quite fit in or aren't quite acceptable in books aimed at older people. The fact that so many adults are reading YA novels shows that it's become a refuge for readers as well!

I have the impression that this is happening in movies, too. So many films for adult audiences offer characters that are so grossly reductive, such caricatures of what human beings can be, that it's a huge relief to watch, say, Where the Wild Things Are or Wall-E. For all their fantasy, many movies for kids take life seriously and struggle to understand it. Has all the moral and emotional depth and complexity moved into art for young people because we actually have greater faith in the maturity of fifteen-year-olds than in that of thirty-five-year-olds?

It's hard to imagine another explanation for some of the best books showing up in the YA section. I'm not sure, for example, that a portrayal of the effects of trauma as unsparing as Mockingjay would be publishable in adult fiction. It would be written into something brighter and bubblier; it would pretend to affirm life by suggesting that life never harms anyone irreparably. But because Mockingjay is for teenagers, it can be honest enough to admit that Katniss and Peeta will never fully recover; that sometimes the best in us shows as much in how we can't heal as it does in our resilience. And in adult fiction, you'd never find a hero as horribly compromised but still utterly sympathetic and admirable as Chaos Walking's Todd Hewitt, either. YA has room for all the emotional extremes, the directness and immediacy and ardor, that rest of fiction seems uncomfortable with.

I'm happy to be blogging with everyone on YA Outside the Lines. My debut novel Lost Voices will be out next July. It's about heartbroken killer mermaids: something that I'm pretty sure would have been way outside the lines if I'd tried to make it a book for grown-ups!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On the Edge


I’m married with children, and look pretty average. I don’t stand out in a crowd. Which is how I prefer things. But never judge a book by its cover an author by her tattoos, hair streaks, crazy clothes, or lack thereof. Underneath my ordinary exterior, I have some pretty wild thoughts. Hooray that most people can’t read my mind!

My crazy ideas started with my unusual childhood. My dad raised my sister and me on a sailboat while we voyaged around Central and South America. We didn’t have a TV or even electricity. In the evenings, we cooked, ate, and read by kerosene lanterns. My best toy was my imagination. With that kind of start in life, of course I should grow up to write outside the lines.

This is the premise for my YA novel, My Invented Life:

Roz, a hyper, funny, and attention craving theater geek, worships her older sister Eva. Which is great! Except that Eva won’t have anything to do with Roz. When Roz finds a lesbian romance in Eva’s room, she thinks it’s the key to the gulf between them. After Eva refuses to talk to her, Roz “comes out” at school in the hope of encouraging Eva to do the same.

The story takes place as the sisters rehearse for As You Like It. Shakespeare’s play is chock full of secret identities, romance, and humor, making it a perfect mirror to the plot.

When I first came up with the premise, one of my critique partners hated it. No teen girl would pretend to be a lesbian! I disagreed. Any idea can be made plausible if the writer sets the stage properly. Roz is exactly the zany, fearless, sister-worshipping teen that could invent an imaginary girlfriend. So I went with it.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

The first thing I see is Eva’s journal. I’m not tempted. It rests seductively at the center of her night table, and the latch appears to be broken. Still I won’t touch it. Even though I know she’ll never find out. And even if it might reveal why she deleted me from her life.

OK then, one little peek.

The story takes many twists and turns after Roz “comes out.” Although my premise borders on absurd, I love all my characters equally, and handle the topic with sensitivity. My favorite line from a review by a blogger (ShelfElf) is:

funny + depth = pure reading bliss

Only a fen-sucked clotpole wouldn’t agree!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My First Time

Welcome to my first regular blog post. That's right: first.

I've written guest posts for some wonderful sites, but until now I've never committed to anything regular and ongoing, for myself or anyone else. I admit it--I was wary. My characters speak in the first person more than I do. They're so upfront and articulate about their thoughts and feelings, about the kinds of yearnings,hopes and humiliations I tend to keep to myself. Yes, they draw from my life, but they're not me on the page.

Here's what drew this fairly private private author to commit to blogging on the 18th of every month: a community gathering around writing outside the lines and from the heart. Because that's what I hope to do every time I sit down to write, access something honest and brave and new and alive enough to strike a resonating chord within me and in the hearts of those who read my words. Maybe that's why, in both my books, the heroine has to find a strength and power--an honesty--deep within herself that she didn't realize she had.

What does writing outside the lines mean to me? Letting the story carry me where it needs to go. My stories tend to go roaming through different genres--myth, folk and fairy tales, romance, mystery, suspense, comedy, intrigue. They draw on buried secrets (and strengths), dreams, transformations, the ancient world popping up in the present. I try not to think about what's currently hot; I want the heat to come from a breathing character pushed beyond what she can handle.

And, to be honest, I like the heat of a good romance, whether between the lord of the underworld and the sheltered daughter of a goddess in Radiant Darkness--


. . . a retelling that turns the Greek myth of Persephone into a coming-of-age tale about a young woman making her own choices . . .




Or between a castle falconer and Addy, a time-traveling imposter passing herself off as the lord's betrothed in Wildwing--


. . . a tale of mistaken identity, castle intrigue,
and learning to follow your heart.


There it is again--following your heart. Writing from the heart, outside the lines. It's great to be here with you.

Stay in the Lines? I can't even cut straight!



Seriously, ever since the teacher tried to make me use lefty scissors in Kindergarten, I knew I could never stay in the lines. I quickly ditched the lefty scissors and hurried through the cutting and pasting to get to the good stuff. Today I'm proud to be a lefty but don't need special scissors!

I am so happy that the MTV Books group moved over here and that our blog family expanded so much. It just makes me realize that there are more authors out there that follow their hearts and write what they want. And when Barb suggested, Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield, one of my favorite songs, as our theme song, I knew we had a good thing going!

With most anything I do, I have always tried to follow my heart and not be a sellout. I don't believe in kissing ass but rather my philosophy is simple, treat others how you would like to be treated. There have been a few times in my life where I had to question this but I always come back to the same point, that I have to do what's right for me and make a decision that I can live with.

When I was in my early twenties and worked at a computer company in the marketing department, the first department to be laid off, I knew my days were numbered. One of my co-workers seized the opportunity and sucked up to the boss all day long. While, that strategy worked for him, I was not digging it and just went on doing my job. I was laid off first and decided to go into teaching instead. So I do believe everything happens for a reason and that it's okay to be yourself. I just wouldn't have felt right hanging onto that job when I couldn't be myself. So that's why I'm happy living and writing outside of the lines.

I'm really excited for my third book, Pure Red, to be released next fall. When I sat down to write this book, my main goal was to write something that I felt passionate about, not what the current market trend was. Pure Red is about sixteen year old Cassia Bernard who takes one summer to find her true passion and to do this she has to believe in herself. Cassia definitely lives outside of the lines.

So for me, the term outside the lines applies to my whole life philosophy and I say if you want pizza for breakfast, you can have pizza for breakfast:)!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Skirting the norm (make that paranorm) by Wendy Delsol


So thrilled to be a part of YA Outside the Lines. And to think, once upon a time I was scolded for coloring in such a manner (and for biting the fingers off my dolls, but ... I digress).
First off, I'm flattered to be included in this prestigious lineup of writers. A shout out to all the talented members of the group and a pledge to do my best to keep up.
With "outside the lines" as a suggested topic for our first post, I decided to write about the literary term high concept. High concept is used to describe an idea or angle that is fresh or unique. An orphan with a lightning bolt scar who is invited to a boarding school for wizards was, in its day, highly original.
If I were to attribute my "breakthrough" in publishing to one thing it would be purposely breaking out of the vamps and weres trend in the paranormal genre and inventing a new supernatural power. I mean, it's fiction, right? Not that there's anything wrong with vampires (except that whole suck-you-dead thing). I have enjoyed many of the post-Twilight Dracu-lores. It was, rather, that I felt there had to be infinitely more to explore in the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night field.
I was drawn to the angel angle (and not just as an anagram), because the concept of a spirit form has always intrigued me. When brainstorming a fresh take on the human soul, I thought of the before--rather than after--scenario. An episode of an Unsolved Mysteries TV show that had stuck with me for years came to mind. In this particular segment, a young boy told his mother that he had a pre-birth memory of hovering over the earth and choosing her. Wow! What a fascinating concept. I tweaked it by combining it with the symbolism of childbirth--the bundle-bearing stork--to invent my human Storks, women charged with the pairing of undecided souls with the right mother.
So the tagline for our blog is "pushing boundaries and writing from the heart." I personally like that we're all coming at writing YA with different approaches. My Stork trilogy is light fantasy with romance elements. Pushing what is traditionally considered boundaries? Probably not. Different? I hope so. And from the heart? Yes. Trusting that we're all curious about what comes before and after, I write beyond the confines of empirical knowledge.
So I'm thrilled to be included in an outside-the-lines community. Here's to the great unknown, skirting the (para)norm, blazing trails, and having a posse with which to do so. Let's ride.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Pretty Cool Place To Be

I was never good at coloring inside the lines. That artificial boundary taunted me to be daring enough to blow it off. I’d like to say I was just that bold, but okay, actually I just wasn’t that patient, or maybe I just didn’t care about staying in the lines. I didn’t see the point.

When my dad first heard that I sold a book, he teased, “Maybe you’ll be the next JK Rowling!” Ha! Who wouldn’t want to be her? But actually… me. I’m not trying to be the next JK Rowling or the next Sarah Dessen or the next Stephenie Meyer. I’m trying to be the first me. And so maybe my books won’t be purely mainstream, but they will always be from my heart.

It was considered a risk to write a novel in a Southern dialect, but that was the truth for my main character, Savannah, in Breathing, and I didn’t want to portray a watered-down version of her. And I’ve had lots of teens and adults write to me to tell me how much they liked the Southern-style language. But did it make others not give it a chance? Maybe. Do I regret including it? No. Because I had to stay true to the character that came to tell me her story. And her personality is wrapped up in her history, her setting, her community, and her language.

It’s also said that authors should write three books in the same genre before switching genres in order to brand themselves. Well, my brain resists. It’s been trained to listen to the words that flow from my heart and those don’t always fit inside the lines. So I’m working on one book that’s contemporary, but much darker than Breathing, and another book that is paranormal.

I was actually an extremely obedient child, never wanted to get in trouble. But at some point I figured out that always staying in the lines– just like with my old coloring books – is boring. So I’m still a law-abiding well-behaved person, but when it comes to writing, to pouring my soul on the page, that’s where I’m free, no constraints to bind me. I’m thrilled to be a part of YA Outside the Lines and hope that together, we can all remind each other that outside the lines is a pretty cool place to be.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Writing Outside the (tan)Lines

This is how I spent the past week, sailing around a bunch of islands on a sailboat. I'd looked forward to this vacation for so long, and not just because it was a well-needed vacation, but because my vacations are all about relaxing and reading.

Weeks in advance I started scouting for the books I'd bring along with me. I settled on 5 teen books that I was sure would make great reading. I also brought my Kindle, where I had some non-fiction books I wanted to dive into. But first I started with my teen fiction. It didn't occur to me that I'd brought along 3 very depressing books (all having to do with some sort of death/suicide). One was more mainstream and one was just all about fun (DASH AND LILY'S BOOK OF DARES, which came out days before I left for my trip and was SO enjoyable).

I have to admit, I wasn't loving the death/suicide books. And I wasn't sure why (short of their depressing subject matter). But as I was reading them it occurred to me that it seemed like death/suicide was an increasing topic in teen lit - like I'd read the same story before a million times. Especially the sort of "person dies, friend/relative finds journal/diary and tries to figure out why." Which got me really depressed because it made me ask the question no author wants to contemplate: are there any original stories out there?

Yeah, it depressed me. Because if there aren't any original stories left to write, then where's the hope for a writer? Then DASH AND LILY gave me hope. Because the story isn't exactly earth shattering: just a story of boy meets girl (eventually, that is, after a lot of back and forth with a journal). Pretty basic. But it felt so fresh, thanks to some really fun and smart writing. Of course, that kinda depressed me too because then I had to ask myself: am I capable of being that fun and smart?

So much pressure. And here reading was supposed to relax me! Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to writing outside the lines, and what it means to me. It means that I can not like a book that everyone raves about and it doesn't mean I'm wrong. It means that I can be scared shitless of writing a story that's already been written, but still write it because hopefully I have something new to say. And it means that regardless of trends, you just have to write what makes you happy. And hopefully that will make some reader, somewhere, happy too.

Born to Write Outside the lines.... since 8th grade at least

My bio says that I got my start "writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades." If we're going to be technical about it, I got my start writing about a colony of cows who lived on the moon.... or maybe it was Mars. But I started really writing from the heart and writing outside of the lines (which are one in the same in my book) with that bad poetry.

It was eighth grade. I was dealing with a lot. Friendships crumbling. Mean girls. Mean boys. Crushes that taught me why they were called crushes. So, naturally, I was really into Sylvia Plath. And when we were told to write poems for English class, I mimicked her, alluding to suicide and self-injury in the poem I handed in. I'm not sure that I was truly suicidal, though that was the year I started cutting myself. I got sent to the guidance counselor for my poem. I didn't get any real guidance, but it didn't matter. I'd found what I needed: words could be the outlet for my pain. Of course it would take a while for me to give up my other unhealthy outlets.

Fast forward to junior year of high school. I was still writing my bad poetry though it had evolved to include more of a punk influence. Now I was ripping off Sylvia Plath, Courtney Love, and Kat Bjelland of the band Babes in Toyland (though clearly Courtney and Kat were pretty influenced by Sylvia, too). I was also writing short stories about kids hanging out in diners and smoking cigarettes and girls trying to fall asleep after watching their boyfriends nod out on heroin. Then there were the political rants. I was a Riot Grrrl and had a lot to say about the injustice I saw in the world. Can't you tell from the picture on the right? I'm outside the auditorium of my high school at seventeen, plotting revolution.

My high school had a literary magazine called Crest. Needless to say, they did not want to touch my writing. It was too raw. It talked about things (rape, drugs, abuse, self injury, depression) that we were supposed to pretend that fresh-faced teenagers from the suburbs did not deal with. Maybe if I channeled Ernest Hemingway (the most notable graduate of my high school, who my town always put on a pedestal even though he hated the place) and wrote about fishing. Maybe if I wrote something sweet and innocent. Maybe if I made friends with the Crest editors. Yeah, I didn't think so. I liked where I was outside of the lines. It was real out there and I was going to talk about it. So my friends and I got together and put together our own literary zine.

We called it Crust.

I put out several different zines in high school, some just of my own writing, some collaborating with others. I did it because I felt we were dealing with things that no one was talking about. I did it because I felt like if I didn't give voice to those things they would eat me alive.

That is why I write. I tell the stories that I needed to hear as a teenager, the stories that I couldn't find. I give voice to the characters that might be ignored by society at large, the characters who I think have something really important to say. If that puts me outside the lines then I am happy to be here and as you can see by the contributors to this blog, I am in very good company.

My first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is about the girl I wanted to be. Emily Black is a tough and talented singer/guitarist for a punk band that she forms in high school with her best friend. But of course she has a hidden vulnerability. Emily's mom, Louisa, disappeared when Emily was an infant. Emily's father has always told her that Louisa was a free spirit who went to "follow the music," specifically punk rock which was just really heating up in America when Emily was born in the seventies. Emily pretends that she doesn't miss or want to know her mother, but in truth her music is a way of crying out to Louisa. If Louisa is following the music, won't Emily's songs lead her back home? But of course Louisa has a dark secret: the truth about why she really feels like she can't be with her family.

This book paid homage to all the female punk musicians I admired growing up, who I always thought deserved as much (and sometimes more) of the spotlight as the men. It was also an "outside the lines" book because no one could seem to decide whether it was a YA or an adult story. It took over a year to sell because of this and MTV Books, who ultimately bought it, never really seemed to settle on which way to market it. Personally it was the kind of book I always wanted to read in high school, but would have loved as an adult too. So I hope that people of all ages (or, well, ages 14+) enjoy it and I was honored when my local library asked me to be on a READ poster posing with it:


My second book BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is about the girl I was. It's not an autobiography. Unlike my main character Kara, I was not addicted to heroin. However I did struggle with self-injury, depression, and a lot of the other issues she deals with in the book. BALLADS is the story I've been trying to tell since the bad poetry and stark short stories I wrote in high school. Once again it gives voice to the things that real teenagers deal with that adults often like to pretend don't happen. However as one of my characters, Maya, says, "Secrets lead to sickness." If we hide from what is troubling us, we won't find any solutions. I learned that the hard way during my teenage years, but ultimately I wrote my way out.


So I write from the heart, I write outside the lines, but I write to tell the stories I think need to be told and to help heal the wounds that I know need to be healed.

And since this new blog makes me so happy and I want as many people as possible to read what my fellow authors are posting. I'm gonna do a little giveaway....

The Contest

I'll draw one winner who will get a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia plus the last 'zine I ever made (not Crust, it's called Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave).

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment, but you can gain a whole bunch of entries by doing the following:

+5 for becoming a follower of this blog
+5 for each time you tweet a link to this blog (YA Outside the Lines in general, not my post specifically necessarily, though posting specific links to my post or any of the other authors' posts counts too)
+5 for blogging about our lovely new blog and helping us spread the word
+1 for leaving a comment on any YA Outside the Lines post.

The contest will run for a month, I will announce the winner the next time I post here which is December 13th.

Please record your additional entries here as I won't be able to count up all the comments, tweets, etc. I will only be counting entries here. And it is probably best to leave an email address so that I can contact you if you win.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why I Can't Do Lines

Years ago when I wrote the first of several never-to-be-published novel manuscripts I didn’t have a clue about trends or popular genres. I was a middle school teacher with a story idea and a cast of characters, and I’d read enough young adult literature to think I knew what I was doing. The characters weren't complete stereotypes, the plot wasn’t awful, and, being an English teacher, I double-checked the manuscript's spelling and grammar. My effort was greeted by a steady stream of form rejections, which I read with dismay. I wrote another manuscript, received more rejections, wrote another and another ad infinitum. A sad tale, but the same one told by thousands of other hopeful writers.

In the meantime I read at least a hundred YA books, worked on my craft, and kept an eye on market trends. As the years, manuscripts, and rejections piled up, I sometimes longed to tap into the latest trend. If I could catch that magic wave a savvy editor would certainly unearth my manuscript from the slush pile and make me a best-selling author. Or at least take the time to send me a personalized rejection.

That fantasy would never come true for me because I can't invent a plot on command. Knowing the trends was one thing; writing to a trend was beyond me. The characters in my head told me what to write, and they didn’t care what the market guides were saying. Nobody was buying my work, but I had to keep doing what I was doing.

In 2007 I finished a story about a fifteen-year-old girl living in Des Moines, Iowa--of all places--who dreamed of being an actress. She didn’t smoke, drink, swear, or dream about boys, and she was woefully lacking in supernatural abilities. On top of that, she had an obscure condition called alopecia, which caused her gorgeous hair to fall out. Where did a story like that fit into the current market trends? Good question. Trendy or not, Fairest of Them All was my first published novel.

My second novel, A & L Do Summer (May 10, 2011, from Egmont USA), also strays far from the vampire-beaten track. It features two high school girls looking for excitement in a rural Iowa town. Their co-stars include a sexy farmer, three nasty villains, a grumpy old woman, and a cop who always shows up at exactly the wrong time. Throw in assorted farm animals for authentic Iowa flavor and the result is a summer of chaos, romance run amok, and general pandemonium.

That's my story. Until the characters inside my head stop pushing me around, I’ll continue writing outside the lines.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What's in a name?

When we were searching for titles for my debut novel, Tell Me a Secret (HarperTeen 2010), we probably went through a hundred—no, wait, at least two hundred—titles before we hit on the right one.

It was the eleventh hour: Saturday night at two a.m., and the final title had to go into the catalog on Monday. The best we'd come up with was The Darkest Light, and the design team had no idea what to do with it. They didn't like What Would Xanda Do (would teens know what that meant?). We'd already nixed the working title (Brimstone Soup...too paranomal) and the title it sold under (A Light That Never Goes Out...fantastic Smiths song, but...uh, what?).

I was just falling asleep when I remembered a conversation Miranda and her sister Xanda were having in the first chapter:


"Do you want to know a secret?" I whispered to the sister in the mirror.
"Tell me," she whispered back. "Tell me and I'll tell you one."

I sat up in bed. I gripped my sleeping husband and shook him. "Tell me a secret!" I hissed. "Tell Me a Secret!"

I don't know why I thought it would be easier the second time around. My working title, Street Creed, was great...right? Never mind that it was a little bit difficult to say, and people sometimes thought it was a typo for Street Cred...

Ok, maybe not so much.

I was lamenting (read: whining hopelessly) to many of my writing friends. [Note to friends...thanks, I love you!]

Stephanie Kuehnert and I were having a writing heart-to-heart, and she kindly commiserated by telling me about an early title of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone...involving Sid Vicious.

"But wait," she'd protested. "This is about American punk, not British." They eventually hit on the title, a song by Sleater Kinney. Yes. Exactly.

When I finally thought of the title for novel #2, I almost missed it. Too close to Tell Me a Secret, I thought dismally. People will think I just spent two years writing the same book. Then a wise friend pointed out writers like Ellen Hopkins, Courtney Summers. Their titles go together. Kinda like mine. Even crazier, the working title of the novel I just started will fit right in.

So what is it? First, I'll give you a teaser for the book:


Joy Delamere is suffocating.

From asthma, which has nearly claimed her life. From her parents, who will do anything to keep that from happening. From delectably dangerous Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out.

Joy can take his words—tender words, cruel words—until the night they go too far.

Now, Joy will leave everything behind to find the one who has offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. She will become someone else. She will learn to survive. She will breathe…if only she can get to Creed before it’s too late.

Set against the gritty backdrop of Seattle’s streets and a cast of characters with secrets of their own, Holly Cupala’s powerful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the meaning of love, and how far a girl will go to discover her own strength.

The title?


DON'T BREATHE A WORD.

I'm not really sure who thought of the title of this motley group of YA authors writing Outside the Lines, but I think it suits us perfectly. We are "pushing the boundaries and writing from the heart." We write about passion and heartbreak, every one having a unique voice. Who knows what we might do together? I'm thankful for all of you who have decided to find out, and I'm grateful to be a part of it.

Speaking of Stephanie, she's featured in this video I made of author friends telling secrets (you won't believe her secret, people). Enjoy!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing outside the lines means telling uncomfortable truths

Because I write about violence and the terrible ways that adults sometimes betray others, I write outside the lines.

Shock Point is based on the experiences of real teens at many overseas bootcamps. My editor actually had me tone the book down, but in real life many teens have suffered savage beatings – and worse.

Torched, which is about a girl who goes undercover with an extremist environmental group, shows that even the “good guys” aren’t above manipulating others – and that it's sometimes not so clear who the good guys are.

And Girl, Stolen again shows that there are often shades of gray. The "good" character, a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when the car she is in is stolen, ends up doing something very bad. And the "bad" boy, the one who was stealing the car, eventually reveals his good heart. There’s even a mean dog that turns out to be not quite what it appears.

Other ways I write outside the lines:

  • I write for adults as well as teens.
  • I write mysteries and thrillers, which are seldom seen as literary.
  • I write realistic fiction - no werewolves or vampires or magic powers.
  • Sometimes my young adult books are in third person - and any more, that's really unusual.  

Do you write outside the lines?  Can you think of any authors who do?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A breeze with a voice in it

Imagine a sheltered 19 year old girl away from home on her very first teaching job. The day has settled down for a moment, and she finds herself miraculously alone, and takes the time to write.

"Well, here I am at Roe-Head, it is seven o'clock at night. The young ladies are all at their lessons. The school room is quiet. The fire is low, a stormy day is at this moment passing off in a murmuring and bleak night. I now resume my own thoughts; my mind relaxes from the stretch on which it has been for the last twelve hours and falls back onto the rest which nobody is this house knows but myself. I now, after a day's weary wandering, return to the ark which for me floats alone on the face of this world's desolate and boundless deluge; it is strange. I cannot get used to the ongoings that surround me. I fulfill my duties strictly and well; I am not, so to speak, if the illustration be not profane, as God was not in the wind nor the fire nor the earthquake, so neither is my heart in the task, the theme, or the exercise. It is the still small voices alone that come to me at eventide, that which like a breeze with a voice in it over the deeply blue hills and out of the now leafless forests and from the cities on distant riverbanks; it is that calling of a far and bright continent that which wakes my spirit and engrosses all my living feelings, all my energies, which are not merely mechanical and like Haworth and home, wakes sensations which lie dormant elsewhere. Last night I did indeed lean upon the thunder-wakening wings of such a stormy blast as I have seldom heard blow, and it whirled me away like heath in the wilderness for five seconds of ecstasy, and as I sat by myself in the dining room while all the rest were at tea, the trance seemed to descend on a sudden, and verily this foot trod the war-shaken shores of the Calabar and these eyes saw the defiled and violated Adrianopolis shedding its lights on the river from lattices where the invader looked out and was not darkened...while this apparition was before me, the dining room door opened and Miss W came in with a plate of butter in her hand. 'A very stormy night, my dear!' said she. 'It is, ma'am,' said I."

The young girl's name was Charlotte Brontë. She was still a number of years away from writing her masterpiece, Jane Eyre. But, as you can see, the seeds of the novel were already present. The almost neurotic itch to let her mind free was already deeply rooted.

I know this feeling so well. I remember in the Air Force standing guard at the door of our dormitory at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Forty-nine guys sleeping in their bunks behind me, time dripping from the hands of the little black and white clock above my head. Two a.m., my nose tucked into the thick Air Force field manual, pretending to be studying. When what I was actually doing was writing poetry in the margins. Little stories. Fleeting bits of description inspired by what I had seen that morning as we had tumbled out into the raw 5:30 February on the frigid squadron concrete: "The way trees lean reminds me of dawn-shocked, vermilion fingered skies." Okay, so the writing wasn't so good. But the nervous twitch to write, the desperation to put words on paper, the ache to escape the structure and routine and sameness of the daily world -- all that was there and it was pristine, divine. I sometimes think I wouldn't have survived without those moments, those pieces of stolen time.

I would imagine most writers know this feeling well. How it is so monstrously difficult to find a way to make the worlds within our heads mesh with the world without. We are miserable when our thoughts are co-opted. External noises can make us immediately less sane. The calling of our name, hands tugging at our arms bring about the dissolution of the infinity that captures us inside. And we all have our Miss Ws who arrive at exactly the wrong time, however sweet or well-intentioned. Oh well; at least she brought butter.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Welcome to Outside the Lines...

I break tradition
Sometimes my tries
Are outside the lines

We've been conditioned
To not make mistakes
But I can't live that way, no


First time I heard "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield, I thought, "Wow, that's just the perfect song for a writer." Not only that, but to me, it was the perfect song to describe how I write. Although, with respect to her lyrics, it's not so much that I haven't been conditioned to not make mistakes, but more this idea of having to play by the "rules" and not venture beyond the mainstream in order to succeed as an author.

Yeah... those of you who know me know how I feel about "rules" and about anyone telling me I have to play by them in order to succeed.

To say I rebel against such proclamations would be putting it mildly. Honestly, I think the same could be said for all of us who are contributing to this blog. There's no one overwhelming trend or style among us. Nothing that could be pointed to as any one unifying factor other than in looking at the very wide and varied list of books by our authors, you might agree that one thing we're all very good at doing is venturing beyond the mainstream.

This was a deliberate choice on the part of the six of us who migrated over from the former MTV Books blog. When we were casting about for a theme for our new venture, "Unwritten" immediately occurred to me as something that bound us together (beyond "We all wrote for MTV Books at one time."). And when we made the decision to invite a few friends to join us, that became our mantra—let's find others who are like us. Who write a bit outside the lines of what's expected or even considered popular in YA.

So here we are. Happily writing outside the lines. And I'd like to extend my humblest gratitude to my fellow Former MTV Books Blog contributors for selecting me to kick off our new adventure. So to Jenn, Jenny, Danielle, Steph, and Jan: here we go ladies! And to our new contributors, thank you so much for choosing to cast your lot with us.

As for the rest? Well, it's still... unwritten.