Sunday, October 22, 2017

(Re)Starts by Patty Blount



In computer science, we rely on the reboot to fix all manner of problems. When we install or uninstall certain programs, a reboot or restart is often required to remove any lingering ghosts in the machine* and voila! Everything’s fine. A reboot simply restarts your computer and all its software services.



If only life were so simple.

Think about it. If human beings could be rebooted like computers, there’d be no such thing as PTSD. Just uninstall Trauma.exe, reboot to remove any lingering traces of the program and ta da! No need for countless hours spent in therapy, trying to undo the damage of the past. YA author Adam Silvera explores such a reality in his debut novel, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, which I highly recommend.

The reality is human beings can’t literally start over. We can begin new experiences – a new relationship, a new school, a new career, another child, even a new identity. But we cannot literally start over. And yet phrases like starting over, starting again, a fresh new start, have become so common in our lives, they’re almost clichés.

When we talk about starting over, we’re really talking about embracing change. We’re trying to put a positive spin on something that terrifies the hell out of us.

That terror is what I try to show in my novels. For example, I used the same scene – returning to school following a traumatic event – in both SEND and SOME BOYS. In SEND, Dan Ellison’s first day at a new school is full of angst as he obsesses that everyone here will discover he’s the bully who caused someone’s suicide back in eighth grade. In SOME BOYS, Grace Collier’s typical Monday morning is infected by the growing certainty that everybody, literally every person she’s known since kindergarten, believes Zac, the boy she accused of rape, instead of her. Both stories build on that moment of terror: what will Dan do when his secret comes out…and it will? What will Grace do when everybody abandons her…and they do? It makes for compelling fiction but in real life? 

It's painfully hard.

In 2010, I learned my mother’s breast cancer was stage 4 and metastatic. What would I do when she died? She died in 2012. For a while, I felt like I might die, too. But I learned to live without her.

In 2015, I lost my day job. Two months later, I was diagnosed with an extremely painful auto-immune disease that I feared would also end my career as an author. What happened? I learned to change. I got a new job. I got a smaller, more economical car to get me there. I began treatment. I learned to use dictation software and write in the mornings now, instead of after work when my pain seems to worsen.



All the time, I’m learning to adapt to change and you know what? It’s GOOD! It’s not starting over, it’s just continuing on with a maybe a new coat of paint or a shiny pair of shoes but what’s inside is still me, still the sum of all my past experiences, traumas, and memories. I learn from mistakes, change what hasn’t worked, what hasn’t helped, and do better. Each day, I do better than the day before.

Tell me how you approach change, fresh starts and reboots! Comments are open.





*If you’re not computer savvy, don’t worry. Programs tell you when to reboot. If you are computer savvy, know that I’m referring to DLL files locked by the OS. If you know what service is impacted, you could simply restart the service, but it’s just easier all around to restart the entire computer so the right DLLs can be deleted.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Anus Tart: What We Can Learn From a Lackluster Reboot (Alissa Grosso)

The theme this month is starting over, which immediately made me think of Tobias Funke's vanity license plate. (I was actually mildly surprised that none of my other fellow YA Outside the Lines contributors had written an Anus Tart post.) For those of you who haven't watched Netflix's Arrested Development reboot the license plate is Tobias's attempt to get a license plate that spells out "A New Start" phonetically, but alas it is continuously misread as Anus Tart.

The misreading is appropriate for a reboot that seems to be a bit of a misread of the original three Arrested Development seasons, and falls short of capturing the magic of the sitcom. I'm not going to try to analyze all the reasons that these new episodes were disappointing, but I will say that a lot of it centers around the decision to have each episode focus on a different character (whether this was for budget or schedule reasons I'm not sure) and thus each episode ends up covering a lot of the same stuff as the previous one but from a different perspective, so that it almost feels like the whole reboot season could have been a single half hour episode or at least condensed into a few episodes. That's quite a change for a show famous for ending each show with an on-the-next-Arrested-Development segment where they squeezed in a few more jokes that were not actually in the next or any other episode of the show.

I've been thinking a lot about this lackluster reboot lately, because I am trying to write a sequel to one of my books. As it happens, I'm writing a sequel to an as-yet unpublished book so definitely my judgment is questionable. That said, I really liked this unpublished book, but the sequel just isn't doing it for me. I find myself wondering if I'm trying to write a sequel to a book that doesn't need a sequel. The storyline is not a traditional sort of series story so there's the risk that I'm forcing the issue by trying to extend the book into two or possibly more books. There's other problems too like a love story that isn't quite right and a plot that needs serious help.

Now, part of the reason that I'm so not-in-love with this sequel is that it is still a first draft, and first drafts are, as a rule, an ever-loving mess. For some reason this is something I need to remind myself of every time I write a new book. You would think with several books under my belt, I wouldn't need  reminding, but somehow I always forget the writing stage where I hate every single one of the thousands and thousands of words I've written and debate chucking the whole thing in the recycle bin and start from scratch or maybe take up some far less frustrating hobby. I'm at the stage where I'm trying to remind myself that the book I love so much that I wanted to write a sequel to it was also once a pile of dung that I had to rescue with rewriting and outlining and all that good stuff. So, this is all par for the course, and there's a very good chance that when I'm done with it, this sequel will actually be a decent book.

However, the thing about sequels or reboots is that they are never judged on their merits alone, they are also judged on whether or not they stick to the formula of their predecessor and capture the magic of the original. So, I come back again to that Arrested Development reboot. One thing they did get right is that they have all the original characters played by the original actors. There are a few new minor characters, too. My sequel too is pretty much the same characters, with a few new ones here and there. The challenge I'm running into is that in order to have a satisfying story the first book shows my main character growing and becoming a better person. I mean she hasn't exactly achieved sainthood by the conclusion of the book, but it makes it trickier to write a sequel. Does she fall back into her old ways? Should she be learning new lessons this time around? In some ways I envy the writers of a sitcom about a bunch of dysfunctional family members who were all pretty much selfish, awful people because the storylines are theoretically endless.

Where I don't envy the Arrested Development writers is with the pacing. A half hour network television show is 22 minutes of runtime so there's room for all the commercials. Since the reboot was done by Netflix, and does not need to adhere to strict network schedules or make room for commercials each episode is actually longer, though not all are the same length but they are closer to a half hour - most between 29 and 32 minutes. In terms of the pacing of a comedy show, that's a big difference, and I think it shows. Yes, it's extremely difficult to cram an entire story and all the jokes into 22 minutes, but it forces the creators to write clean and edit mercilessly. Think of it as the difference between a Facebook post and a Twitter post. Facebook posts are long-winded and rambling. Twitter's word count (yes, I know for some it recently doubled) forces users to get to the point. Writers tend to overwrite and include lots of details and explanations that do nothing to advance the plot. Great stories are born in editing.

All of which brings me back to my messy first draft of a sequel. I haven't yet reached the stage where I'm cutting the unnecessary bits out, but I think once I do I might find myself with a book that's a little bit closer to being good. In terms of pacing, though I'm struggling with something that might be dragging this sequel out just like the writers of Arrested Development were dragging out the storyline in the reboot. While my first book mostly takes place over a single long weekend, I have my sequel taking place over a full week. It's not a huge length of time, but I think the slightly more languorous pace might be slowing the story down too much. Does this mean I somehow need to cram the seven days of my novel into four? Yikes. It's a challenge, but if it's what I need to do to save it from ruin, I might just valiantly attempt it.

The Arrested Development rewrite came out in 2013, roughly seven years after the last of the original episodes had aired, though the show remained a cult favorite and a lot of viewers, myself included, didn't discover it until after it had went off the air. That said, seven years is a long time, and there's the possibility that some of the issues with the new episodes might be this big time gap. As my first book still hasn't been published, I'm not anticipating this sort of gap with my sequel though with the way my progress is going so far it could be that a small eternity might elapse before I complete the sequel.

A fifth season of Arrested Development is scheduled to air on Netflix in 2018. Will the show's writers and creators have learned from the tepid response to season 4 and address the concerns that fans had? Will it adhere closer to the original network series? Either way, I'll probably still watch it. Maybe by then I'll have completed my sequel, or scrapped it, or I'll have decided to wait to see how the first book is received before I try to resurrect the characters in a sequel.

So, if you take one thing from this blog post make sure it's that you have someone proofread your proposed vanity license plate before you buy it, lest your new start becomes an Anus Tart.


Alissa Grosso is the author of the books Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. None of them are sequels or reboots. Find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Our Life Together... (by Jody Casella)

I wasn't a big John Lennon fan when I was thirteen.

I knew who he was, of course. I had a couple of Beatles albums. I listened to them (and him) on the radio. Even back then, which seems like a million years ago, pre social-media and You-tube and the ability to listen to any song you want to at any time, the Beatles had permeated the culture enough that any random American thirteen-year-old could sing the lyrics to the "Yellow Submarine" and would have seen the famous magazine cover featuring John and Yoko naked in bed together.

My big thing when I was thirteen was listening to the Top 40 stations and trying to be the certain number caller to win a ticket to a concert or a free record, and one time, 

I was the caller, 

and I won the new song by John Lennon.

The DJ answering the phone was the DJ I heard every time I listened to that radio station and I was shaking with excitement when he asked me for my home address so he could mail me the record, a 45-single, (which, for the kids in the audience, is a small disc with one song etched onto each side). 

I wasn't particularly interested in the song. Maybe I had heard it played a few times and I thought it was just Okay, but I was still looking forward to getting my prize in the mail. 

A few weeks later John Lennon was murdered outside his apartment building in New York City. 

I heard the news of his death on the radio, saw the horror and shock and sadness of the people on TV, the gathering crowds outside his building that spilled into Central Park, people holding candles and singing Beatles songs and chanting Give Peace a Chance. 

I was thirteen, and just beginning to see beyond myself and my house and my town and my world, not grief-stricken by this man's death--someone whom other people, older people, apparently adored--but I was curious, listening to the news reports and reading the articles about the murder in the newspaper and wondering what kind of world, really, was out there, where this kind of random and monstrous thing could happen. 

A few days later the prize from the radio came in the mail.

The song by John Lennon, the song I've pretty much been singing in my head this entire month--

Starting Over






Friday, October 13, 2017

Ode To The Belly Button by Jodi Moore


It may have been because this post was on my mind.

It may have been because I was walking in 1000% humidity and my brain had started to melt.

It may have been because we all look at art differently.

Most likely, it’s because I’m weird.

With apologies to the artist, as I’m sure this statue does not depict what immediately came to my mind…

I give you…Ode to the Belly Button.



In all honesty, I found it challenging to write a positive blog post about starting over when so many, what with the recent hurricanes, fires and violence, are doing just that.

It can be disheartening. Overwhelming. Exhausting. And many of us may feel as if we’re sinking…tethered to an anchor that continues to pull us down.

But this beautiful sculpture, this lovely swirling piece of art, made me think of a belly button; a constant reminder of when our umbilical cords were severed and we were first separated from the safety of our mothers’ wombs. When we began our journeys to become individuals. When we had to learn pretty much how to do everything: how to walk, how to talk, how to interact with others.

And we did. We broke from that initial tether. We started over in an uncertain world. Peppered with monsters. Salted with giggles. Sweetened with wonder.

Of course, a huge part of learning about life for me was through reading books, first on my mother’s lap, then independently. And then welcoming my own children on my lap.

Stories teach us that we can be king (or queen!) of the Wild Things. That friends may be found in the most unlikely places. And that even nightmares need a little love and understanding at times.


Books enlighten us. They encourage us to engage. Empathize. Embrace.

And they allow us to realize that each day is a chance to start over. To help make the world a better place. Some of us will make the trek to tame the monsters. Some will calm the nightmares. Others will build the bridges to friendships.

When evening comes, we’ll hopefully break from our tasks to break bread together and share soup.

While it’s still hot.

Because we’ll need our energy. After all, tomorrow is yet another chance to start over.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Adrift


As everyone has been saying this month, there are lots of opportunities in your life to start over, whether you want to or not.

One time that stands out to me, looking back at my career as a writer, came in the mid-2000’s and I want to share it because it’s the kind of experience I think many of us have but no one really likes to talk about.

At the very end of the 1990s, I finished my second novel, a YA fantasy, and was ready to send it out to publishers. You see, boys and girls, this was a more innocent time when the common advice was that it made more sense to approach publishers directly and not waste energy trying to find an agent. In the world before “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” hit big – in the world before children’s books became a publishing juggernaut – this advice was sound. The market was only just beginning to shift, and even the Big Five had not yet shut their doors to unsolicited submissions.

And thus, I found myself pulled out of the “slush pile” at HarperCollins by a very junior editor looking to build her list.

We worked together for years – literally years – to improve my work. I have every letter she sent me, because of course this was a time before emails, and every thick, printed draft we mailed back and forth with edits. In the end, having been promoted several times in the interim, my editor presented my novel to the Acquisitions Committee.

And, in the end, they passed.

It’s hard to describe the mixture of devastation and heartbreak that followed the phone call from Robin, my editor, in which she imparted that news. She was pretty upset too, considering how many years of work she had put into that novel, and how much belief she had in the quality of my work.

Confident that I should keep looking for another publisher, she offered me the name of a friend of hers who had recently left a publishing house to become an agent.

And so, it began.

The creeping doubt. The fear. The sense that I had had my chance and blown it, and nothing would ever happen for me again.

As more rejections piled up, these feelings intensified. Maybe Robin and I had suffered a massive, years-long delusion. Maybe the book was terrible.

At some point, I decided that it wasn’t the story but the writing.  I tinkered. I moved scenes, cut them, redid them. I changed the main character's name. I rewrote the beginning again and again. Knowing I have a very different style when writing first person versus third person – follow my logic here – I rewrote the entire book from first to third. I know. Who does that? (Confession: I kinda like it better!)

I continued to send it out. I started other projects.  I started writing the sequel, an act of faith and also of superstition (if I wrote Book 2, surely Book 1 would get published). I wrote bits and pieces of other books in the series, which spans a thousand years in my fictional kingdom’s history. After all, don’t publishers love YA series? I sank my teeth into a Shakespeare adaptation which… turned out not to be a waste of time, ultimately.

But for more than five years, I was adrift.

I had no idea what to do, what to think, which way to go.
I think one of the biggest risks of the publishing business is this kind of limbo, this sense that the rejection of one project is a rejection of us and all that we are and all that we do, that a failure to reach one goal is the inevitable end of all possible paths to that goal, and that we are never, no matter how hard we try, going to be enough.
It’s ridiculous to give others that kind of power, but creative people are sensitive souls. We tell ourselves we won’t let it be this way, that we know a rejection isn’t personal, but the big ones sure feel that way.
I’m sorry to say that it was not an act of will on my part but a flash of inspiration that got me back on track creatively. My new start came from attending a Shakespeare play, and the realization within a few days that this was the project that I needed to be working on.
Let’s save the starting over stories of FINDING KATE for another time, okay?





Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Finding That Loving Feeling (Again) by Sydney Salter

A couple of years ago, my writing turned into a grim chore. Many factors sucked the fun out of my writing life, running the gamut from industry changes to the walloping paradigm shift of ailing mothers.

A sensible person might have given up. I know many, many people who have stopped writing, and survived, maybe even thrived. But I can't stop (maybe if I enjoyed housework more?!?).

Instead I set about finding the fun in writing again - and that mostly meant writing for myself.

I joined an international pen pal club. My favorite part of the club involves monthly exchanges - lists, objects, stories. Writing letters about myself and my too-mother-filled life proved more burdensome and made me really grateful for phone calls and emails and text messages. I am not a natural letter writer.

I broke out my writing exercise books. Writing quick experimental pieces was fun, low-pressure, and gave me a sense of accomplishment on those days when in-depth writing sessions simply weren't possible. I started my writing life with Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones ten-minute timed writing, so this felt like a return to the passion I used to feel.

I wrote twelve short stories. No one seemed to understand why I was writing these stories, and I found myself answering the same questions over and over again. No, I'm not submitting them. No, they don't really have a theme. No, I'm not letting anyone read them. Yes, I am still writing those short stories. I felt sort of weird among my writing friends - like I'd become the oddball aunt who knits sweaters for her cats. Completing stories allowed me to actually finish a piece of writing, plus the short form worked better with my limited writing time. And it was fun. No pressure. Just for me.

I hadn't quite found all the fun in writing when I started a new novel, but I'd grown used to the new norms in my life, and I allowed myself to go with the flow (even though life's beavers keep trying to dam it up). The other day I sat down truly excited to write, and I realized, hey, the fun is back!




Sunday, October 8, 2017

Late To The Party by Kimberly Sabatini

It's almost 9pm on my date to post and I'm just trying to get my act together. I thought about skipping this post. I thought about how I really need to get my act together because everyone else seems to be able to juggle ALL THE BALLS and clearly I'm not up to snuff.



And then I reminded myself of a few things...

I did do things today and they were important--they just weren't this thing.

Everyone's perfect life on social media is probably just as messed up and unorganized as mine. And if it's not they probably have other issues.

If I'd written this blog post earlier, I can guarantee it wouldn't have been THIS post. I would have been blabbering at you about something else. And today, maybe you needed to hear this as much as I did...

It's never too late to start something new...try being kind to yourself. Even if you're late to the party, I still think it's worth it. <3

What are you the hardest on yourself about?





Saturday, October 7, 2017

Starting Over (Joy Preble)

We talk a lot about starting over. Fresh starts. Do overs. We have a lot of language for it. We like the hopeful idea of it--that if we journey to a new place, we will be successful or safe or happy or at least not what we were when we began.

About twelve years ago, I started writing seriously. Maybe a few years before that, actually, but there were fits and starts as I figured it out, and I was teaching five English classes and raising a child and doing a million other things that filled the hours, but something inside me had clicked and kept saying "Write! Write!" So I did.

It changed everything. I loved (and still love) teaching. But I had never given my all to my art and now I was and with some luck and timing (both of which are often everything), I found an agent, sold a book and went on from there. My world grew exponentially. The authors and editors and publishers and book sellers who are in my life now, making it a richer, fuller place, would never be here with me if I hadn't taken that leap. It was stunning really, finding these people who are my tribe, realizing that they were all out there but had I not pushed for change I would never have met them, never have counted them among my most cherished of friends and acquaintances.

I'm in the middle of starting again right now, although this one is less obvious. Last year, after having been fortunate to write full time and teach part time for five years, I needed a change. Some of it was money. Some of it was hitting that wall that some of us hit. I'd published seven books quickly and that next story wasn't coming as easily. I needed something else to fill that well again. A job at a local indie bookstore came my way. I took it, even though it meant more hours away from writing. I needed to learn again, to immerse myself in a different piece of the industry. So once again, I leaped. Slowly, painfully, the book I'd been struggling with started to take form. After finally getting that full draft, I started it over, too. I think now it's the book I was always aiming for. We shall see. Publishing isn't the same as it was a decade ago either. We're all of us constantly reinventing.

Of course these are small starting overs. I'm in Houston and many people around me are rebuilding houses and routines and lives after Harvey and 51 plus inches of rain that wouldn't stop.

Still. Sometimes you need to rip out the walls of your life. Or paint it a different color. Or whatever. Sometimes you are forced to. Sometimes you simply know it's time.







Friday, October 6, 2017

Fresh Starts: All Day, Every Day (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is “starting over.”  Ha.  I swear, I start over every day of my life.

At the beginning of this summer, I had a massive start-over on guitar.  The triggering event knocked me off my feet, utterly crushed me, and freaked me out so much that I actually fried all of the electronics within five feet of me, including my phone.  But within 24 hours, I took action, and REALLY wonderful things happened, because I’m all about making lemon martinis when life gives me lemons.  (Okay, I make Cosmos.  Why would I want a lemon martini?)  I’m sooooo grateful for the wonderful parts, but it was a painful and sad time for me and pretty much wrecked my summer ... and I write comedy.  Not surprisingly, it’s really hard to write funny stuff when you’re sad!  You can be in pain and be funnyhey, I got a mega dose of dark humor growing up in my familybut sad?  No.  You need chocolate for this.  And I’m an Atkins girl.  Luckily, Cosmos are Atkins-friendly.

I’m pretty sure.

It’s possible to make fresh starts of your own volition, like with New Year’s resolutions.  But as I think of all the fresh starts I’ve made, and continue to make, I realize that most of them were thrust upon me.  Not asked for, not wanted, got them anyway.

My choice?  Wallow in the pain or, yes, make a fresh start.

I’ll be honest:  I usually wallow for 24 hours.  It’s an ugly time and usually involves pasta, my bed, and ultimatelywhen I’m finally feeling the first glimpse of a future despite having endured the Most Horrible Thing That Ever Happened to Anyonea Channing Tatum movie.

A possibly gratuitous photo of Channing Tatum.
For bonus points, on a motorcycle.
After 24 hours, though, I am SO sick of my bed and pasta (although not Channing Tatum), I’m ready to take a hard look at what’s wrong ... and take action to fix it.  Great, fearless action.  Action so frenetic that it exhausts most people around me just to hear what I’m doing on a daily basis.

Ten years ago, my bro Patrick died unexpectedly of a heart attack in January, when my sister Sheila had stage-four lung cancer and we were awaiting HER death.  She died four months later, in May.  I didn’t write or edit a single word on a novel between the date of his death and the date of hers.  The day after Patrick died, I looked into my bathroom mirror and saw a stranger.  I actually said out loud, “Who ARE you?”  I had a perm I’d hated for years, I’d quit playing sports, and I’d long since stopped going out to hear bands.  If you know me at all, this was shocking, but I’d left myself behind at some point.  Unrecognizable.  Forgotten.

Over the next several months, I grew my hair out straight again (basically the haircut I’d had in high school), Googled “women’s basketball leagues Minneapolis,” and discovered that the musicians I listened to in college were still playing.  This fresh start took time, but it put me on the path back to myself, and I’ll never let myself get lost again.

So what do I do every time life nails me again?  I make ANOTHER fresh start.

Luckily, there’s an unending supply of them.

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 5, 2017

Starting Now

by Fae Rowen

I've been thinking about this post for three months. Dreading it. To me, starting over means building back from nothing, and that's scary to think about. I am immensely grateful that, although I've had my share of life's tragedies, I've never been left with nothing. There's always been something left to use to rebuild.

The hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquake in Mexico have left so many with nothing. Homes beyond repair, personal photos and keepsakes gone, family members lost, daily routines still not back to "normal" cannot compare to my solitary, necessary attempts to start over.

And then there was Las Vegas. A man-made disaster with unspeakable, far-reaching tentacles of impact to so many individuals.

In the light of the thousands of people who have to re-start their lives from the ground up, how can my puny, singular starting over vignettes compare? What can I offer?

The circumstances that initiated my personal reboots don't matter. What does matter, is is that none of us need a massive occurrence to start over. Every morning, every sunrise gives us the opportunity to start again, even if we only concentrate on making one thing in our lives better.

What would you like most to change in your personal life? What will it take to effect that change? There's a reason for the saying, "Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Most of us have the luxury of time to start over, to change, because we aren't fighting for survival, for the necessities required for life. Taking that first step to begin changing what you don't like about your life isn't easy, but if you begin small, you'll have success. And success breeds success. Soon your steps will be bigger and change will happen faster.


A few years ago I had a health scare. I wanted to change my lifestyle, but I wasn't sure what I could do. I started walking, and could barely make it to the end of my block. I walked with a friend twice a week. Gradually, the distance I could walk increased. For more than a year, as I got ready for my friend's arrival, I used to hope she'd call and say she couldn't walk that day. I wondered if I would ever enjoy walking. I used to play racquetball and do martial arts, and I was reduced to wishing I didn't have to walk a mile or more twice a week.

But a weird thing happened. Less than a month after I wondered if I'd ever enjoy walking, my friend called to say she was sick. And I was disappointed. I walked by myself. Because I wanted to take that walk. Now I walk twelve to fifteen miles on trails every week. I love it. And I'm so grateful that I am able to do that for myself and my health.

Do you want to become a better person? Find someplace you'd like to volunteer. Show up and stick with it. For the past ten years I've volunteered one day a week at my local neighborhood elementary school (nope, I don't have kids attending the school) going from room to room with a box filled with fun stuff to help students learn math concepts without a book. (If you haven't read my bio, I'm a hard-core mathematician. The kind who talks about the elegance and beauty of math. Don't run away screaming, please.) Working with these young learners has given me a softer edge that I wish I'd had many years ago. I started my volunteer work there as a way to repay the school for sharing its facilities when there'd been a need in the community. I hadn't intended to still be volunteering ten years later.

Van Halen's song Right Now has become my anthem for change. If I don't become an agent for starting over now, even in small ways, my life will stagnate. Pretty pictures and stagnant don't match.

Finally, when the magnitude of beginning again is too much to bear alone, get help. From family, from friends, from professionals. Humans communicate with words, with pictures, with body language because we're meant to work together, to help each other. I have been resistant to asking for help since I could say "No!" But I've learned that allowing others to pitch in and help not only assists me, it helps those who do the helping. Allow others to heal by letting them help you. Starting over doesn't have to be a solitary event.

You may believe that you are starting over purely for your own benefit. That may seem like the truth. But when your life is better, the lives of those you touch become enriched.

Best of luck in your endeavors to start over.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fits and Starts - by Janet Halpin

I honestly couldn’t nail down my blog post this month until almost deadline. I mean, there are a whole lot of times in our lives when we’ll have to make a fresh start, figure out who we are and what’s next that I couldn’t choose just one. Moving, going off to college, a breakup, a marriage, a new job, all present new opportunities but scary unknowns.  

I finally settled on the most unsettled time of my life—when I graduated from college.

Growing up, I knew two things: I wanted to be a writer and I was going to go to college. The first was my idea, but that other thing was my mother's. Though we didn't have a lot of money (or any money, truth be told), she was determined I be the first in our family to go to college. Anyone who ever met my mother found out fast she would not be defied and she made things happen, so...  

I went to college. I did pretty well grades-wise, made a bunch of lifelong friends, and did a moderate amount of partying. Junior year came and I had to decide on not only a major, but my future as well. I panicked—though my going to college was never in question, what I’d do afterward became the biggest question of all.

I knew I wanted to do something that involved writing, so I declared myself a Communications major. I know, right? I’m snickering right along with you. Seriously, what can you do with a communications degree? I had no idea, and when graduation rolled around, I had no prospects either. Especially in the early 1980s, when the economy went down and unemployment went up.

I did what any rudderless college graduate does—I went home, determined to figure my future out. I scoured the newspaper help wanted ads for any jobs that might involve writing, PR, marketing, media, and mailed out dozens of chirpy cover letters and my quite thin resume.

In the meantime, I had to make some dough, so I signed on with a temp agency that sent me on a variety of assignments that quickly taught me what I didn’t want to do. I typed and filed for a plumbing company, stuffed cancelled checks and monthly statements into envelopes for a bank, and worked on the line packaging pills and cold medicine at a pharmaceutical factory.

I hated that last assignment, but it made my dad happy. He’d worked in a factory since forever, assembling something metallic, widgets or valves or whatever. He breathed in metal shavings all day on the line, inhaled the toxic ambrosia of his Pall Mall cigarettes while on break, and stopped for a Schlitz and a shot on his way home for nearly 40 years. My following in his footsteps made him so proud, and he simply didn’t get my desire to write, for a future more challenging and creative than taping up cartons of Dimetapp and moving them to a pallet.  

I eventually did land a job writing. Nearly two years after graduating, I was hired as a stringer reporter for a rinky-dink little radio station that covered 20 towns and had a colorful cast of characters both on-air and behind the mike. It wasn’t the big time, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but it was a foot in the door that ultimately led to better jobs with better pay, where I could support myself doing what I loved most—writing.

Sadly, my father didn’t live to see me succeed. All those years inhaling metal shavings, his two-pack a day Pall Mall habit, and his fondness for Schlitz took their toll, and he died of a heart attack at just 64. My father probably wouldn’t have understood the person that following my writing passion helped me to become, but I like to think he would’ve been proud of me. 

Inspired by the genre fiction that enthralled her as a kid, Janet Halpin writes YA, mystery, Sci-Fi, and WWII-set time travel, all with a dash of humor and romance.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Starting Over: Writing to Soothe My Burned Out Soul by Lea Nolan


Nine years ago, I was a health policy analyst specializing in health care access for low-income and vulnerable populations. I was also in a PhD program in public health, a mom to three small kids, and a wife. And I was falling apart.

You see, my specialty—poor people, immigrants, racial/ethnic minorities, the uninsured, and the safety net providers that serve them—are usually the ones who get the short end of the stick. There’s never enough money to care for these populations, few providers willing to treat them, political forces that actively work against providing them the coverage and care they need, and deep unmet need and seemingly endless, needless suffering.

Depressing, huh?

For years I had a fire in my belly. Every injustice stoked my desire to right the health care world. But as I got older, and saw how slowly change came despite glaring deficiencies, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer weight of folks’ pain and suffering, and the indifference and inequity of our nation’s health care system. The fire dimmed but I kept at the work because I was in a senior position at a well-respected academic-based policy shop, and I didn’t see any alternative.

And then a friend raved about a book she’d read. It was about teenagers and vampires and romance. I’d love it, she promised. Go and get a copy right now. Trust me.

Was she serious? Teenagers? Vampires? I was a full grown, serious adult with a serious career, in a very serious PhD program. I hadn’t read about teenagers or vampires since I was a teenager myself.

But she was my best friend and I respected her opinion so I indulged her. I cracked open a copy of Twilight and consumed every page. It changed my life.

Not only did I fall for this book (just as my friend had promised) but it introduced me to the world of young adult fiction. There was no such thing as YA when I was a teen. We read books by writers like Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, then graduated to works by Tolkien, VC Andrews, Anne Rice, and Stephen King. But now, I learned there were tons of amazing coming of age stories, often about girls, that addressed very conceivable problem teens might confront (even if they were set in fantastical lands or situations).

This discovery lightened my heart in a way nothing else had. It transported me back to my youth when I was an avid reader and opened a space in my jaded, analytical brain for fiction and the magical possibility of what if? I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.

I was inspired and in my hubris, thought it would be easy to write a book of my own. Ha ha! Two years, and six-significant re-writes later, I finally had a YA manuscript that was ready to query. Happily, it caught the attention of my first agent, although it wasn’t good enough to submit to publishers. But that was okay because I’d already begun another book that was good enough and eventually became CONJURE, the first book in my Hoodoo Apprentice series.

Today, I write nearly full-time, concentrating on YA books and contemporary romance. Although I dropped out of that PhD program, I’m still involved health care, too. I teach a variety of health care management and policy courses in a graduate program. It keeps me well versed in the policy side of things and the analytical side of my brain working. For me, it’s a great balance.

I’ll forever be grateful to my best friend, who urged me to read a book about teenaged vampires, and for that book which helped fill a hole in my heart and inspired me to change my life.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

LIFE UNEXPECTED by Jaimie Engle

In 2012, my grandfather died. He was my favorite grandparent and it truly broke my heart. I stood beside his bed crying, playing Frank Sinatra to comfort him as he passed, and prayed that I would make it through. At the time, I was working on my novel Dreadlands:Wolf Moon, a Viking era paranormal with werewolves and Norse mythology. Totally unrelated, right? Not at all.


Life Changing Fiction


From the first chapter of this book, I knew that (spoiler alert) the mother was going to die. During chapter one, the protagonist, Arud, is hunting a deer for his mother to use in stew. As soon as the arrow hit the buck, I remember setting my pencil down and covering my mouth: the deer was his mother. This foreshadow needed to be powerful, to demonstrate not just the boy’s personality but also his place among his people. In their culture, the death of the innocent sustained the lives of the rest. Innocent blood redeemed the people. My theme.


Fiction Changing Life


I had no desire to get back to writing, but as I wrote this scene, I recalled my broken heart, the emptiness, the tears and pain as I watched my grandfather leave this world. I used these emotions in the scene as Arud knelt beside the deer in silence as it died, thanking the beautiful creature for sacrificing itself to sustain his own life. Later in the book, I drew even deeper into my loss to write the scene when Arud’s mother died. When my grandfather died, I thanked him for his love while gently touching his forehead. I told him how much I would miss him. 


An Unexpected Journey


Using this experience, Arud stroked his mother’s hair and thanked her for her sacrifice, the same motions from chapter one with the buck. In a subsequent chapter, Arud returned to the spot where his mother died and stared longingly at the empty space beside the churning river. This was me, each time I passed the home where my grandfather lived out his final days. Each time I returned to the memory of his room, which now stood empty and cold, like him. It pained me, and I poured that pain into Arud’s loss. It wasn’t easy to face, but using this unexpected time to build my character was the exact mourning I needed to start over.




Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Beginning of the Journey...a True Confession

I thought long and hard about which teen crush I should confess to, since I had quite a few growing up. Yes, I was one of those teen girls who had posters of celebrities covering my walls with not an inch of bare space. In the end though, I decided to share the teen crush I was most obsessed with for the longest time. I’m dating myself and you’re probably going to laugh out loud, but the teen crush I was most ga-ga for back then was none other than Steve Perry of Journey.


It all began one fateful summer day when MTV debuted on our cable TV in New Jersey. Many people don’t realize this, but NJ was ground zero for the launch of MTV on August 1, 1981. The first music video they played was Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles. I remember being glued to the TV with my friends and we were in awe. We were at that perfectly ripe age when our interest in music was just beginning.  A dozen or so music videos in, and we were hooked.
And one of those videos was a live concert recording of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing with front man Steve Perry belting out the vocals. Now, he’s not ugly or anything, but no one’s going to claim he was ever drop-dead-gorgeous. But there was just something about his spectacular voice that simply spoke to my soul. Yes, I did. I said that. And I meant it. Obviously, since the song has made an incredible revival in recent years, I’m not the only one who feels that way.
From the moment I heard Don’t Stop Believing, my teen life was forever changed. I immediately recorded every one of Journey’s songs off of MTV or the radio. This was the time of the great ‘mixed tape’ and Journey got top billing on all of mine. When I saved up enough money, I finally went out and bought a few of their albums. Suddenly, my walls were covered in Journey posters, with Steve Perry’s face chief among them. Every morning, I woke up and blasted Don’t Stop Believing on my boom box. And every morning my father would yell upstairs, “Turn that shit down!” When I finally got to see Journey in concert, I lost my voice and gave myself the headache of the century screaming my lungs out. Their music got me through many rough patches in my teen years.


In fact, Don't Stop Believing and Steve Perry even landed me one of my first boyfriends in high school. How, you might ask? Well, I’ll give you the short version. One day while rushing to class, I literally bumped into this cute boy. Our books and papers went flying. As we gathered up our things from the floor, I noticed he had Journey lyrics and logos written all over his notebooks, just like me. And he had scribbles of writing and poetry on scraps of paper, just like me. Out of embarrassment he tried to hide his, and I tried to hide mine, but we both knew what we had seen. Later, ‘the music man’ and I started talking about our mutual love of Journey and writing, and the rest as they say, is history.

Yes, for the next few years, I was more than a little obsessed with Steve Perry, Journey and my 'music man'. But it was a fun and harmless obsession that still makes me smile every time I here that song.

Friday, September 29, 2017

I Crush Your Head (Brian Katcher)





There was a time I would have rather have thrown myself on a grenade than face the terror of talking to a real life human female. I was thirteen when I first asked out a girl (she said no). I didn't have the nerve to try again for two years.

But during those rough junior high years, I did have my teen fantasy women. After watching The Day After, it occurred to me that I really stood a chance with any woman in the world, provided we were the last two people on earth.

 In no particular order:


Image result for molly ringwald

Molly Ringwald

I think a lot of guys shared this crush with me. While she was never a huge sex symbol, I think that was part of her draw. She looked like someone you might have gone to high school with. Cute, but not totally out of one's league.


Image result for cybill shepherd

Cybil Shepherd

Star of TVs Moonlighting along with Bruce Willis, she was a former beauty queen who once dated Elvis. I remember calculating our age differences and deciding that when I was 18 and she was 42, it could totally work.

Image result for simply irresistible video 

 The chicks from the 'Simply Irresistible' video

Completely interchangeable gorgeous women. Yep, that's how I viewed females in 7th grade.


Image result for kelly lebrock 

Kelly LeBrock

Beautiful in her own right, she was the star of Weird Science, a movie about a couple of nerds who create a virtual woman to be their personal plaything. I think I was intrigued by the science and moral implications of the film.

Others: Brooke Shields,  Erin Grey, Suzanne Somers, Melanie Griffith, Christina Applegate, Kim Bassinger and Vanna White.


 I've matured considerably over the past few decades. As a boy, I judged women solely on their looks. As I matured, I realized that the only women worth pursuing are those who are intelligent, kind, and exist in real life.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Crushing on Beirut, Lebanon by Dean Gloster


In my early twenties, I got a crush on an Idea.
I decided I would go to Beirut, Lebanon to write The Great American (Expatriate) Novel about the U.S. press corps and the then-raging Lebanese civil war.
I had it all worked out. I’d buy a tan shirt with lots of pockets, set up some freelance writing assignments, and then tag along with the working press through the armed checkpoints choking that city. In the presence of the colorful backdrop of a civil war, I was pretty sure, the novel would practically assemble itself, as the Muse murmured it to me in chunks, chapter by chapter, over the motivational soundtrack of Mediterranean surf and desultory rifle fire.


It’s possible I’d read too much Hemingway.
It’s possible I was willing to go to extreme lengths to put off a legal career.
It’s also possible I was somewhat out of my mind—my mother had just finished drinking herself to death, and I had a touch of PTSD from a difficult childhood. Like some--but only a minority of--people with PTSD, mine manifested through a counter-phobic mechanism that left me with an instinct to move toward danger, in an effort to master fear and to avoid feeling vulnerable.
I was in a one-year clerkship with a federal judge in Washington D.C., saving up money for the trip. Two nights a week after a long day’s work, I’d scuttle over to the Department of Agriculture for beginning Arabic classes. (Although I never did get the necessary fluency for that Berlitz favorite, “Please pass the clotting sponge, as I have a severed artery.”)
Like many youthful crushes, it was a terrible idea.
At the time, I had no idea how to write a novel, and my most impressive writing credit was a 1200-word article for the magazine California Highway Patrolman. Except for enthusiasm and excessive confidence, I was ridiculously unprepared. And flying to Beirut was a leap in exactly the wrong direction from becoming a novelist.


Instead of doing the sometimes painful self-examination of my life and my emotional landscape to see what story I had to tell, I’d planned to pick through rubble of a war half a world away, searching for someone else’s story with the goal of packaging that pain into a narrative arc. And, in the process, possibly get blown up.
I was saved from that folly—and from one Earnest but Very Unpublishable Novel Manuscript—when the U.S. sent Marines to Beirut. In response, the locals—especially Hezbollah—began kidnapping U.S. reporters. The press scene I was going to write about evaporated, and getting around a city at war became not just ridiculous, but impossible.
            I ended up feeling a little lost.
            But, as one does, I got a rebound crush.
I finished my clerkship, and with the money I’d saved, I traveled through Asia as a freelance writer, ending up in Peshawar, Pakistan. This was the mid-1980s, and Peshawar was the center of the armed opposition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. There were seven resistance groups in town, separately fighting the Soviets—and, occasionally, each other. There were even two rival Afghan Information Institutes vying to educate journalists. The directors of the competing institutes spent much of their time explaining how the other guy was an idiot. In fairness, one of them was pretty out there: He’d been evicted from his prior house after his landlord found out he was storing live Soviet munitions to show journalists—including a 155mm howitzer round, which could have sent bits of his ceiling into low earth orbit. His standard method of testing visiting writers—which he used on me—was to fling a deactivated Soviet butterfly mine in greeting. I stoically let it bounce off my chest, having been warned to expect it.


Peshawar was a wild place, in a Wild West time, with bearded, bandoliered, shotgun-wielding guys guarding the banks. The nearby town in the tribal area, Darra Adam Khel, was filled with local arms craftsmen and a teeming arms bazaar. It was an NRA lobbyist’s wet dream, where you could buy weapons from everywhere on the planet and then use them, just a few miles away, to actually deter expansionist Russian Communism. (If Chinese anti-tank mines are outlawed, only outlaws will have Chinese anti-tank mines…)


            There was so much local color that it would drop out of the sky in ballistic arcs, bullets shot into the air by an AK-47 to celebrate a wedding, gunfire you could hear (tup-pup-pup-pup) over the genteel thwock of a tennis ball hit on the grass courts of the Peshawar Club.
            I was invited to join a sketchy mujahedeen resupply trek across the steep brown hillsides into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, but wisely demurred.


            By then, I was over my war zone crush. I’d figured out that there was nothing especially ennobling about terror for my physical safety. The possibility of getting blasted into bone chips by a helicopter gunship, it turned out, wasn’t that romantic. Even for someone who’d read too much Hemingway and who’d planned to write about it in short sentences.


            I didn’t get a novel out of the trip. But I did get amazing experiences: Traveling through Asia with the help of a magic business card that said “Freelance Writer” meant that I paid attention, asked questions, and took notes everywhere. I’m an introvert, and because of the existence of that little card, I made calls, set up meetings, and went places I otherwise wouldn’t. On visiting day, I wandered up to the gates of Chang Mai prison in Thailand and asked if they had any English-speaking prisoners who wanted to talk to a writer. That led to the most harrowing 50-minute conversation of my life. (The takeaway: Don’t go to a country where there’s no presumption of innocence, and don’t go with a traveling companion who decides to buy heroin. From the nephew of the police chief.)
            These days, I try to look closer to home for the subjects of my novels. Still, like other crushes, sometimes hearing an old song will bring a recollection of my first. Whenever I hear snippets of the eighties Genesis song, “Home by the Sea” I think about Beirut, Lebanon, and my unrequited crush on a Really Bad Idea. And I shake my head, with a slightly goofy, wistful smile.

 Dean Gloster is a former stand-up comedian and former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. He lives in Berkeley, California where he writes novels for young adults. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse.
School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story … will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” He's less crazy than he used to be.