Saturday, October 13, 2018

Real...or Imagination? (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re exploring fact vs. fiction in our stories. This topic made me smile, as this is exactly what “happens” in WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN. The boy is thrilled when a dragon takes up residence in his “perfect” sandcastle and wants to share the magnificent news with his family…but no one believes him! The story, thanks to brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam actually allows the readers to decide for themselves. Is the dragon real? Or just a figment of the boy’s imagination?

I love to share this picture book during my author visits. When I ask these questions at the end, the decision is usually a 50:50 split within the audience, and each child is adamant about his/her decision, armed with passionate arguments to back it up.

Personally, hard as someone may try, I don’t think it’s possible to create anything without at least a teeny bit of our own selves running through it. After all, we see the world through our own eyes, processing it piece by piece based upon our own references.

The same can also be said of reading. We all bring our own emotional baggage and experiences to the stories we explore, which means that in a sense, we all read a completely different tale.

But here’s the question. Does an author know whether he/she is writing fact or fiction? And are the lines sometimes blurred?

This past week, I picked up a manuscript I hadn’t touched for about a year. This happens to me a lot. I get started, but then lose my way. Sometimes because I haven’t thought the whole thing through (yet). Sometimes because another project speaks to me in a louder or more insistent voice.

This project had a little of both. Although I couldn’t find the words to finish it earlier, it now seemed to call out for me like a child in need. Or perhaps it was my own inner child begging me to return…

You see, I grew up in a development of houses that bordered a golf course. In the winter (much to the irritation of the ground keepers), it made for some fantastic sledding trails. One afternoon, when there wasn’t anyone around to sled with, I decided to take myself on a nature walk through the wooded section. Near a clearing, under a tall tree, I found a baby bird. He’d obviously fallen from a nest, thankfully unscathed. I remember looking around to see if the mother was anywhere near. She wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t even hear another bird. It was just me, and this little guy.

Alone. In this big, big world.

(Note: since I obviously didn't take pictures when I was six, the part of the little bird will be played by our dove, Bake, who has always wanted to be in theatre.)


In my six-year old mind, it was up to me to save this baby. To teach him how to fly back to the nest where he’d be safe. Of course, I’d been taught never to touch wild animals, for reasons of safety…theirs and my own.

But I looked around and found a feather. Speaking in a soft voice, I explained the plan to my new little friend. And then I prodded him. Ever so gently. With the feather. He hopped forward. I praised him, then prodded again. Once more, he hopped. I must have spent over an hour doing this. Each time, he’d hop farther. A little bit higher. Soon, his wings began to flutter, then to flap. We kept working together. Tirelessly. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap.

Until he flew.

At first, he only traveled a few feet, and in the wrong direction, wobbling like Snoopy’s best friend, Woodstock. But we never lost hope, this bird and I. Over and over, he’d try, and I’d cheer. And finally, I watched as he fumbled his way up, up, up and landed in his nest.

I remember my heart filling. I remember spinning around as the snowflakes began to fall. And I remember hearing birds all around me, chirping, celebrating, rejoicing for my little buddy and me.

Did the last part really happen? I don’t know for sure. In my mind, it did. In my heart, it did. In my memories, it absolutely did.

I guess it will be up to my readers to decide whether it was indeed fact, or fiction.

May you all experience, and spread, a bit of kindness today and forever.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

What We Think We Don't Show (Maryanne Fantalis)

People frequently ask how much of me is in my books, especially because I tend to write in first person. "Is Kate, the main character in Finding Kate, a lot like you?" (Actually, she and I are quite different, which made her hard to write sometimes.) And then there's the follow up: "Are the other characters in the book based on the people in your life?" This seems to be a common belief among readers, and apparently it's a common practice among writers. How many times have you seen a coffee mug or a tee shirt like this:

Funny Author Novel Meme Square Car Magnet 3" x 3"
Car Magnet from

I literally have no idea how I would do that. I mean, I get the concept, but to base a character on a real person seems impossible to me. My characters are real people with goals and needs of their own. How could I make someone in a book a version of someone who was real? Maybe there's an echo of something in my real life in my characters, but I never set out to put my real life in my books. To me, there's a definite line between the two.


Sometimes we reveal more than we think.

My second completed manuscript was a YA fantasy about a young woman who discovers some pretty surprising truths about herself, truths that redefine who she believes she is and who she can become. While my editor and I were working through revisions, she said to me on a call one day, "Did you realize that you have three wicked step-mothers in this book?"

Huh. Do I?

Now, I don't have a step-mother myself, and my own mother was by no means wicked, but I definitely had my problems with her. And while I didn't set out to explore those problems in my novel, there they were, clear as day to anyone who was paying attention. Not to me, of course, because I was too close to see. It took someone else, someone outside the story, to observe what my subconscious mind had snuck in behind my back.

Do we authors disguise ourselves in our writing? Do we reveal elements of our lives, our beliefs, our personalities? Of course. All our ideas and inspirations come from somewhere, consciously or subconsciously, and who we are informs our characters and our stories. Should you look for an author's literal life story in their fiction? Probably not (sorry, Shakespeare scholars). But are there hints, intended or unintended? Are we there, disguised in our characters and hiding behind the scenery? Absolutely.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Disguising A Search for Understanding by Sydney Salter

I didn't want to write a story about a girl on a soccer team, especially not in a tight market that demanded big, edgy ideas. But I desperately wanted to understand my athletic daughter.

I had been watching my daughter and husband bond over their shared soccer experience, and I knew I had to find a way to connect too. I had no credibility. Apparently, forty-two minutes on the elliptical machine while watching the Amazing Race isn't a sport.

I did what I usually do when I need to learn something, I bought some books. I read memoirs that helped me get into the head of intense athletes, mostly football players who kept competing no matter what it did to their bodies or brains.

I developed a range of decidedly sporty conversation topics. (And maybe I talked about concussions too much.)

In the midst of my sporty reading, I remembered a joke made by a friend who had cycled in the Olympics - forget doping, he said, let them add an extra heart, let them explode if they want.

I got the idea for what has come to be described as my sci-fi sports novel Sponsored (coming soon-ish from ChiTeen).

The story doesn't resemble my life in any way, but the research allowed me to understand the way my daughter drives herself to perform physically, and maybe in other ways too. I know that I supported her better through her competitive high school soccer years, and now during the transition to informal college athletics.

My favorite thing about writing fiction comes from that combination of real life experience, real emotion, stuff learned in books, and imagination - how it all mixes together to create something that never existed before.

Monday, October 8, 2018

What Facts Have Grown From Your Fiction? By Kimberly Sabatini

Sometimes when writing, we have a glorious moment where we stumble upon an unexpected and illuminating deep thought. It often feels too big and wonderful to have come from our own limited scope of abilities as a writer and a person. It causes us to suck in a breath or tremble with the magnitude of what we've just discovered. It is a thought that rises from our imaginations but feels like a universal truth. And in some capacity, it changes us.

Discovering those moments is one of my favorite parts of writing. But immediately after I've been affected, I then hope there might one day be a reader who will also find themselves altered by my words or ideas.

In my novel, TOUCHING THE SURFACE, this thought grew from my fiction and has had a lasting effect on how I see and navigate the world...

Life altering mistakes are meant to alter lives.

And as a reader, I've recently been deeply moved by Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle. This particular quote from book Four--The Raven King stuck with me...

“If you can’t be unafraid, Henry said, be afraid and happy.” 
― Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven King

In everything I read and write, I am always on the lookout for facts and truth that grow from imagination and fiction. I loved to plumb my own depths and share what I've discovered. I also crave exposure to universal truths as they appear through someone else's lens of experience.

I would love it if you'd share your moments of illumination as a writer and or a reader. What facts have grown from your fiction?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Everything Is Real. Or Maybe Not. (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is fact vs. fiction, or what we reveal in our fiction and what we “disguise.”  (Happy Halloween!)
“I can't disguise myself with a wig and dark glasses - the wheelchair gives me away.” ~ Stephen Hawking

For me, much of “real” vs. “made up” involves whether to name real people, places, and things in my novels.  Personally, I think putting actual restaurants, streets, buildings, products, and even celebrities in books makes them more accessible.  I don’t know anyone who drinks a “cola”: it’s Coke or Pepsi.  (Okay, it’s Coke.  Or, actually, Diet Coke.)  If I’m reading a book set in New York City, I want to hear about the Saks or Macy’s windows at Christmas, not the windows at Fictional Department Store.  Reality puts me RIGHT THERE in the story.  Specifically, on Fifth Avenue.
And suddenly I'm thirsty.
 If nothing disparaging happens at or to the real person, place, or thing, I name it.  My characters can drink a Diet Coke as long as they don’t open the can and find a dead bug inside.  Similarly, my characters can attend actual high schools as long as nothing bad happens at the school.  That’s why, in two different YA novels currently in the works, the teens in one novel attend Southwest, Washburn, and Breck High Schools in Minneapolis ... but the other novel takes place at a fictional Minneapolis high school, because that book deals with bullying and other issues facing my teen heroine, often at school.

In my Bennet Sisters YA series, the characters live in Woodbury, Minnesota, so they hang out at the Mall of America (not a Fictional Really Big Mall) and DQ and such.  But one mildly ugly (and, okay, funny) scene takes place in a pizza parlor, so I invented that restaurant.  In Cat Bennet, Queen of Nothing, Cat takes a road trip to Wisconsin Dells.  I made up the particular waterpark where she gets a job, because someone almost drowns - oops - but she drives along Highways 494 and 94, stops at the (real) Menards in Hudson, Wisconsin, etc.

The one exception that writers talk about is that Disney does NOT like to be named in novels not published by Disney, and some cranky suits at Disney headquarters are bizarrely litigious about it.  So most novelists avoid using the word “Disney.”


(Actually, I avoid it, too.)

Another aspect of fact vs. fiction is the characters themselves.  Readers often try to guess which character in a book is “really the author.”  Short answer: the cute one.  (Ha!)  No, ALL of them are.  I mean, not precisely.  Everything I write comes out of me, so it’s all “me” in a sense, but it’s really a conglomeration of everything I’ve ever done, seen, read about, etc., all of which I put into my magic writer’s “blender,” which spews it all out in fragments that make up the various characters and the things they do.

Example: my Bennet Sisters series.  It seems like most women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice decided at some point which Bennet sister they’re really like, usually Elizabeth or Jane.  (Elizabeth!)  When I started writing the series, my daughter teased me for thinking I was just like Liz; she also said that neither Liz nor I was all that.  (She is now dead to me.) (Kidding!)  But then I wrote Mary’s book ... and I EASILY channeled the geek I always felt I was in junior high.  Then came Cat’s (f/k/a Kitty’s) book.  Problem: Cat/Kitty isn’t athletic or brainy or funny or, really, anything like me, so it took forever to pull her out of me.  But finally I made her artistic, and sent her to Wisconsin Dells, and taught her to drive a manual transmission: all pieces of me.  It wasn't that tough to find Lydia, the Bennet bad girl, inside of me.  This won’t surprise most who know me.  heh heh.

One final question of fact vs. fiction, even within fiction: how much of her true self does a fictional character reveal to OTHER fictional characters?  In Lydia Bennet’s book, Livin’ La Vida Bennet, she’s the ultimate bad girl of her high school.  But ... is she?  Or, since everyone in her life is determined to believe she’s bad, does she merely let them do so regardless of the truth? 

I could go on, but then I’d have to talk about how much we disguise ourselves in another form of fiction: social media.  Don’t get me started.
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

Friday, October 5, 2018

Disguising Real Life

by Fae Rowen

I'd finished my second book right before my father unexpectedly died. I was devastated. (I shared what a Daddy's girl I was in Dec. 2017 and in a few other posts here at this link.)

For three months I couldn't write. The idea I'd had for my next book seemed shallow.

My husband was supportive, but he was worried about me. He described me as a crumpled piece of paper skittering across the dock at the harbor. He was right.

I decided to write a book about how much I loved my father and how much he had loved and supported me. That sounds like a great idea, but remember, I write science fiction.

No worries. I wrote about a girl who'd been able to attend a prestigious college because of her parents' sacrifices and belief in her. She'd graduated and was a member of her planets' space force. Like me, she hadn't recognized all that her parents' had done for her during her childhood and teen years. Then her father fell ill and couldn't get the care he needed without her.

She stayed with him at the hospital, haranguing doctors and nurses, asking about test results and treatment to improve his condition. She was terrified of losing him. Unlike me, she'd already lost her mother, and her father was her only living relative.

I thought about what the beeping monitors, testing procedures, hospital rooms and personnel might be like in the far future. He was at his local, sub-standard medical facility and she had to fight, almost literally, to get him moved to a top-notch hospital.

To accomplish the move, she made a life-altering decision with a terrible person from her past, that would be very bad for her future. But it was the only chance her father had, and she took it.

I didn't have to make a life-altering decision. My father was gone too quickly, but I would have done anything to save him. I knew that feeling well.

In my book, her father survives, and her actions end up improving his quality of life once he heals. She extricates herself from the situation into which she'd placed herself and all ends happily.

Writing that book was therapy. I came home from my teaching job every day and sat at the computer for hours to work on the book. There were many nights my husband would open my office door, look at me, then say, "I'll just have corn flakes for dinner." Yes, I've put him up for sainthood.

When my best friend read the draft of the book, she looked at me and said, "So, do you feel better?"

I nodded my head.

I never intended to release that book to the world. If you don't know me, you wouldn't recognize me all through the words woven around virtual blood splatters on the pages from the time when I just wanted to give up on everything. Even life itself.

Years later, I've done one full edit of the book, and let a few more people read it. One friend commented, "I've never known someone who wrote a book before. This is going to sound weird, but I would have known you wrote this book even if your name weren't on the top of the pages." I guess I'm not so good at disguises.

I'm going to start revising that book after the holidays for release in the late spring. Probably in May, my dad's birthday.

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Fact, Fiction, and Disguise, Oh My!

The theme here at YAOTL this month is fact, fiction, and disguises. Perfect for the month of October and Halloween, where fictional characters in disguise hit the haunting grounds and scare the facts right out of us.

I wish I could devote my full attention to the of the ins and outs of the facts I reveal in my fiction and what I disguise. But the fact is, I’m on deadline with my latest work of fiction and just don’t have the time to for an in-depth examination. So, I present a bunch of totally random inspirational quotes and advice for your edification and entertainment.


This is probably the most on point quote about writing that isn’t really a quote about writing (another fact: Michelangelo was a genius, but you knew that).

Now, I have no evidence that Michelangelo was a “pantser,” an artist who had no idea what he was going to create until he first put brush to palette or hammer to chisel, but this quote makes me lean toward "yes." This is kind of how I write--the theme, motive, plot, even the characters’ goals and needs are revealed as I chip away the excess marble and the story takes shape.


“I don't promise to forget the mystery, but I know I'll have a marvelous time.” – Carolyn Keene (Nancy’s Mysterious Letter)

“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.” – Doris Lessing (Autobiography, Vol. I)

“A good book isn't written, it's rewritten.” – Phyllis A. Whitney (Guide to Fiction Writing)

“While we read a novel, we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren't there, we hear their voices... Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.”– Ursula K. LeGuin

“Do act mysterious; it keeps them coming back for more.” - Carolyn Keene Redux

These ladies know what they’re talking about. Sometimes fiction is the best way to reveal truth, comment on society, and explore the human condition. Sometimes it’s good, rollicking fun. But it’s always transportive and leaves you wanting more.


Another great quote about writing that’s really about writing. Being an author does feel like you’re channeling Loki, being a trickster in disguise 24-7, except the purpose of the trick is not to present something false to your audience, but to get at a deeper truth.

A pen name is a pretty awesome disguise. Whether it’s totally fiction (George Eliot), partially fact (the first part of my pen name is real), famous (Anne Perry, Anne Rice, a few other Annes I'm sure), really famous (Mark Twain), or chosen to fit the genre (Dr. Seuss, anyone?), a pen name can be liberating. It can mask gender (Andre Norton), it can provide cover for an author well-known in another field, and it can simply give an author the freedom to explore a different genre or ideas.

I took on a pen name last year, and I love it. It’s given me both validation and a singular identity as a writer, not connected to any other part of my life.



We don’t need no stinkin’ badges. 

We really don’t. 

And finally, FEATHERY FACT:

"I’m sure no one will recognize me in this disguise."

...So, there you have it, a truncated treasure trove of fact, fiction, and disguise. I'll see you next month when I’m (hopefully) breathing easier!

It’s a fact that Janet Raye “Featherhead” Stevens spends a lot of time in her fictional worlds, often in disguise.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

It Took Me 30 Years to Be Able to Talk About This (Brian Katcher)

I have not willingly talked about this incident since if first happened in 1991, not even with my wife. I hope you realize how I'm baring my soul here. This is not just my most humiliating memory from my teen years, but from my entire life.

It was 1991. I was not quite sixteen years old. I was a nerdish kid, and had never had a date. Girls terrified me. I had no idea how to talk to them, and most of them were glad that I didn't try.

Anyway, I was a member of the Key Club, a public service organization at my high school. We had a regional meeting every year. This year it was in Kansas City (my school was in a St. Louis suburb). For some reason we flew across the state.

We stayed in a fairly fancy hotel. I had to share a room with two guys I didn't know from another school and somehow I wound up on the floor both nights.

At any rate, there was a communal 'get to know each other' meeting. Lots of wacky games and other miserable activities. Except...

I got paired up with a girl. And Lord, was she cute. Fifteen, like me. Blonde, slender, and just gorgeous. And...we talked. We acted silly. She didn't try to change partners. One activity involved passing a Life Saver on a toothpick to a toothpick held in your partners mouth. "Geez," she said, "I'm probably going to end up accidentally kissing you."

She didn't accidentally kiss me.

All too soon, the session ended. But the thing was, there was a dance that night. Dare I? I'd never have the courage again.

I told her that I'd be at the dance and maybe she'd like to, you know, meet me there, if she was planning on coming.

She said she might.

I got there early. I stood around, trying to act casual, like I wasn't creepily waiting for her. I fully expected her to not show up, or even worse, to show up with a group of friends and pretend not to know me.

She showed up. Alone.

I asked her to dance. She said yes.

We danced every dance. Every dance. She didn't act bored. She didn't try to find another partner. She seemed to be having a good time.

The dance ended. I walked her back up to her room. We stopped on the stairwell outside her floor.

I told her I had a good time. She said she did too.

I moved to kiss her.

She kissed back.

And though she lived too far away for me to ever see her again, I have to say that the memory of my first kiss still makes me smile to this day.

Oh, the embarrassing memory. The next day, at the airport, I wandered off to look at things in the gift shop. I lost track of time and ended up missing my flight. Our sponsor had to leave the flight, call his wife to pick up the other club members in St. Louis, and fly back with me at a later time. He wasn't angry about it, but I could tell he was pretty frustrated with my screw up. He was a nice guy, kind of a mentor, and things really cooled between us after that.

God, that was cathartic to finally say after all this time.

You thought I was going to embarrass myself with the girl, right? Don't worry, I had plenty of humiliating experiences with women during the following decade.

Friday, September 28, 2018

National Embarrassment by Dean Gloster

(Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual assault and the patriarchy)

I was going to write about my most embarrassing moment as a teen, and I had a whole topic lined up, but then, when I was supposed to type it yesterday, they had this Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, and now the Republicans are moving forward to try to confirm him as a Supreme Court Justice—despite credible claims that he committed sexual assault and then repeatedly lied about it (and pretty much everything else.) There’s still some uncertainty, as I type this, about the outcome (there will be a "limited" FBI investigation) but that confirmation is possible is a national embarrassment.

So instead of writing what I was supposed to yesterday, I basically broke for a while. Sorry. You get to read the results.

Except for the prep school and assaulty parts, Judge Kavanaugh and I have similar resumes: We both clerked for Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judges. We both clerked for a Supreme Court Justice. Heck, we actually clerked for the same Justice, but a decade apart.

Which is pretty embarrassing, at this point.

We’re even similar in that I’ve given up the law to write fiction, and Judge Kavanaugh has branched out into lying under oath. (Details upon request. He lied about almost everything.)

He also managed to turn his confirmation hearing—basically a job interview—into a snarling rage- and tear-filled meltdown where he interrupted female senators and talked about his love of beer. Judicial temperament much?

Beyond embarrassing.

I believe in the rule of law. I believe in empathy. I believe in facts. I believe in the power of honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and sacrifice for the greater good. I believe women and girls are human beings who matter.

I believe Christine Blasey Ford.

And I believe our country is in serious trouble. 

I believe you should look at the expressions of the women.

As a fiction writer, I also believe in the capacity to change. But I know that change is incredibly hard, and it requires wrenching hardship as a catalyst—we only change when we are forced to, when failure to change would cause almost complete destruction to who we are or what we most love and believe in.

We are there, America. We are dealing with the party of Quirrell, who famously remarked in the first Harry Potter book that his master had taught him “there is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to seize it.” This morning on Twitter, writer Anna Ursu said she would love to see more male kidlit writers using their platforms to stand up for women.

Yes. That’s overdue. And writers—especially those of us who write for young people—should stand up for human decency, empathy, and dismantling systems that enable abuse without consequences.

I’m part of the community of writers for young people—which is roughly 90% female—and it’s 2018, in the age of social media. So I’ve seen a huge number of women I know share their wrenching, searing, hearbreaking #MeToo and #WhyIDidn’tReport stories.

Words fail, except that we cannot fail another generation by letting this go on.

We have to change the world, politically and through everything we do. I don’t want to be embarrassed to be an American. I don’t want to be part of a patriarchy built on silencing victims of assault and refusing to hold their privileged attackers responsible.

It’s not embarrassing.

It’s evil.

And time’s up.

It’s been a hard week for lots of people. The number for RAINN, the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline, is 800-656-HOPE (4673.) Take care of yourselves and be well.

 Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out 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.” Dean’s hobbies are downhill ski racing and Aikido. He’s currently at work on a novel about a 16-year-old boy who gets a sketchy summer internship and finds out it’s with Death herself.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Thursday, September 27, 2018

I'm with Stupid (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

At my middle-school award ceremony, I was going to get an award for my part in a fundraising drive. I couldn’t see the stage very well—the curse of being a person who is almost always shorter than the people sitting in the rows in front of me—but I did wonder why every award recipient who went up front was huddled on one side of the stage, leaving plenty of empty room. There were giggles in the audience also, but I was too nervous waiting for my name to be called to figure out what that was about. When it was my turn, I left the glasses I’d only recently begun to wear back at my seat—I didn’t like getting my picture taken with them on—and went up front. I took my place in the empty gap where nobody else had wanted to stand, and the applause was mixed with laughter that I didn’t understand.

It wasn’t until I got back to my seat that my classmates told me what had happened. Apparently, one boy on stage was wearing an “I’m with Stupid” shirt, with a pointing arrow. Nobody had wanted to stand in the direction the arrow was pointing, until I, with my compromised eyesight, did.

I’m not sure I would have noticed his shirt even if I’d worn my glasses. I was never looking in the same direction as everyone else back then, often lost in my own daydreams. At that point in my life, just before the years of bullying started, I hadn’t learned to be vigilant, to anticipate the putdown, to watch everyone with suspicion, to read my environment for every threat. Did that make me stupid? In the bullying years, I would have said yes—I would have said you can never let your guard down, ever.

Later I came to think that the hyper-vigilance resulting from the bullying cost me something, too. Thinking about those costs led me to write Until It Hurts to Stop, the story of a girl who struggles to get past her own bullying years.

Now I think there’s no way to head off every embarrassing or awkward moment, to prevent every mistake, to be flawlessly cool all the time. Sometimes you are going to be the one with the toilet paper on your shoe, or the button that pops open at the wrong moment, or the inconvenient fit of coughing. Sometimes you are going to stand on the wrong side of the “I’m with Stupid" guy. It’s really okay.

Embrace the imperfection.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Oh, those embarrassing teen moments! (Brenda Hiatt)

As most writers do, I like to draw on my own life experiences to bring characters, events and emotion to life in my books. I’ve found this is particularly true when I’m writing teen fiction. That time of my life was so very fraught—everything mattered so very much! I suspect this is true for most teens throughout the ages and it’s one of the things that makes writing YA fiction so fun for me. I love being able to put so much raw emotion right on the page while still keeping it real. All those countless hopes, dreams, fears and humiliations of my own teen years find their way into my books—in particular my Starstruck series—in various guises. For instance:

Do you remember your first real “crush”? How about your first huge embarrassing moment? Were the two linked in any way? Mine were! 

I was 13 years old, a freshman in high school, and totally infatuated by the cutest guy in the whole world (to my 13-year-old sensibilities, anyway). I mean, I obsessed about this boy! He had these dreamy blue eyes and wavy blond hair… I was sure the Carpenters song “Close To You” was written just about him! 

I went as stalker as a girl without a driver’s license could go, even convincing my mom to drive past his house once or twice (since he didn’t live within biking distance). 

When I discovered that he went to the gym to shoot hoops near the end of his lunch period most days, I started sneaking down that hallway every day and peeking through the window in the gym door to watch him play…in a sleeveless shirt! Oh! Be still my newly-awakened heart! I wove endless fantasies about the two of us, fantasies about how he would suddenly realize I was the one he’d been waiting for all his life. How all the other girls would be jealous when they saw us holding hands. How we’d happily start planning our future together. Okay, maybe he didn’t actually know my name yet, but I was sure it was just a matter of time before he woke up to the fact that we were Destined to be Soulmates. 

(If you’ve read the first chapter of Starstruck, you now know what inspired M’s little fantasy about the gorgeous-but-unobtainable Jimmy Franklin…) 

One day after lunch I made my customary stop by the gym to spy on him playing basketball…but he wasn’t there. I stood outside the door, disappointed and undecided. I peeked, then peeked again, hoping he might make an appearance after all. Finally, despondent, I gave up and turned away—only to see him coming down the hall toward me! 

Someone cool would have just nodded, smiled and walked on her way, pretending she had somewhere much more important to be. Alas, I was not even the teensiest bit cool. Instantly assuming he knew exactly why I was there, I was beyond mortified. So mortified that, instead of trying to pass it off as no big deal, I turned away, pressed my face into the corner and quite literally tried to melt into the wall. Yes, really. 

He walked past me into the gym without a word and I hurried away, never to spy on him again. He never did learn my name, to the best of my knowledge, and none of those wonderful fantasies ever came true, but to this day I still remember my first crush and the horrible embarrassing incident that pretty much ended it. 

Sometimes I wonder if he even remembers that weird girl who acted so strangely outside the gym that day. I guess I’ll never know. And…maybe that’s just as well.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Retroactive Embarrassment (Or Remember the '80's?) By Christine Gunderson

Our topic this month is embarrassing things that happened to us as teenagers. I can’t write about this, because honestly, I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, much less an incident my brain has actively tried to repress for decades.
However, I do remember those brief shining moments from high school when I thought I looked really cool.
January 1986: Standing in front of the concession stand during half-time of a boy’s basket-ball game in rainbow colored leg warmers and a leather bomber jacket. 
April 1987: In biology class in a Coke-a-Cola rugby shirt and Guess jeans pegged at the ankle for maximum skinniness.
October 1988: Leaning casually against a locker in a denim mini-skirt with white Reebok high-tops and scrunchy socks.
In my mind, I was pretty in pink. I was taking people’s breath away. I was so cool I wore my sunglasses at night. 
And then, like a damning piece of evidence in a murder trial, a picture from the ’80’s will appear out of nowhere and I will see the truth.
Pictures don’t lie. I looked like Marie Antoinette in acid washed jeans and a Def Leppard t-shirt. Love bites. And so do pictures from high school.
Leg warmers and a leather jacket? Yes. I wore these things, at the same time.I looked like a girl who couldn’t decide if she wanted to work out at the gym or get into a dog fight with the Red Baron.
And the hair? Like courtiers at Versailles, those of us who grew up in the 1980’s believed true beauty could only be found in big hair. 
The desired look was Cleopatra-like. A large pouf in the center of the forehead, with huge wings protruding from the side. I was able to achieve this ideal, thanks to the magic of Aqua Net hairspray.

Me, circa 1988, and my very big hair. Also note my super cool geometric earrings.

I recently purchased a can of Aqua Net to hold my daughter’s bun in place for a dance recital.  I removed the cap, pressed the top of the can and the 1980’s came out in an aerosol cloud, right there in my bathroom. 
The scent took me back to Johnny Holm Dances at Stump Lake (Remember those, high school Facebook friends?) At these dances, thanks to Aqua Net and cutting-edge perm technology, my hair was my crowning glory.
But now, like my Gen X peers, I’ve said goodbye to all that. At best, we now look sleek and professional. At worst, a little paunchy and decidedly middle aged. But traces of the ‘80’s still linger in my psyche. 
When I get nervous about speaking before a group, or going to some intimidating social event, I make my hair a little bigger and apply more hairspray. Big hair makes me feel secure. It makes me feel pretty. It makes me feel studly, gnarly, and rad, the three dwarves of totally awesome 1980’s slang. When it comes to hair, I go big or go home.
So, when my kids look at a picture of me from high school and say, “why was your hair so… large?” I tell them my mountainous hair was the epitome of cool at the time, and that someday their children will look at their UGG boots and Under Armour everything and ask the same question. 
Because when I was a teenager, the goal was not to look normal. The goal was to look ridiculous in exactly the same way everyone else looked ridiculous. And when I look back at the pictures, I know I succeeded. 
Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog.  When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

"You have WHAT caught in your braces?" by Patty Blount

This is me on Fred's lap back in the day. Yep. It was the '80's. 

Oh, embarrassment... a teen's first enemy. There are so many cringe-worthy moments, like the time I got a zit on my already-oversized nose...or the time I walked right up and INTO a car that wasn't my parents' but belonged to some random person stopped at a stop sign by my school...or the time in high school when I was the first person to arrive in class, took my seat all way by the window, didn't notice that all the people filing in were strangers. Nope, it wasn't until the bell rang that I noticed I was in the wrong room and had to endure laughter from 30 strangers as I high-tailed it out of there.

All worthy contenders and all worthy of a few grins. But no, the one story that chases me, that I will never live down, happened when I was 16 years old.

First, the set-up: I wore braces until I was 19. Second, Fred, the boy in this story, is now my husband.

Okay, here's the story. My boyfriend and I went out to dinner with a large group of friends. I believe there were 6 or 8 of us there that night, a restaurant with a notoriously long wait called Cooky's Steak Pub. Cooky's was famous for its soup, salad, and dessert bar, included in the price of your meal.

After a long wait, we are seated at a large round booth and our orders taken. The line for the soup and salad bar is long but eventually, we're all back at the table, sipping soup and nibbling on salad and bread. We're enjoying ourselves and hardly no time passed before our meals arrived.

It was a Saturday night and I suppose the restaurant was doing its best to turnover tables quickly. As soon as our meals were cleared, we noticed that the line for the dessert bar was wrapped around the dining room. It was as if everyone present finished their meals at the same time.

So...we came up with a plan. Half of us would endure the line and bring back enough dessert for the whole table. Each person would load a plate with ONE item. One person would grab several scoops of ice cream, another would grab toppings, another would take several slices of cake, etc.

It took nearly 20 minutes, but soon, everyone was digging into the little mini-bar we'd created back at our table. I'd made the most incredible sundae ever constructed. Chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles/jimmies, nuts, a cherry ... it was worthy of a food magazine centerfold.

Those who know me well know how much I adore all things chocolate.

There I was, floating on a delicious chocolate haze, when one of the girls began to cough. "I have Tom's sprinkles caught in my throat," she managed to croak out.

Without missing a beat, I chimed in. "I have Fred's nuts caught in my braces."

The entire table exploded into belly laughs. Fred, my poor boyfriend, gaped at me. A passing waiter, who'd heard my unfortunately phrased remark, had to put his tray down to avoid dropping it all on us while he laughed. People at nearby tables laughed.

But me? I didn't laugh. I didn't laugh because I didn't understand why this was hilarious. There were nuts on my sundae, they were caught in my braces, Fred was the one who'd brought the dish of nuts to the table... They had to EXPLAIN it to me. It took a solid minute for me to finally catch on, which only made everyone laugh that much harder.

A lot of decades have passed since that night. I can laugh about this now. Cooky's Steak Pub is long since shut down. I married Fred but we're no longer in touch with anybody else at dinner that night. But every once in a while, we run into someone and the first question they ask is, "How are Fred's nuts?"

People will tell this story at my funeral, I have no doubt. I wish I could tell you that was the last time I was ever so mortified, but nope... just a few years ago, I almost knocked myself unconscious when my hand slipped while trying to squish myself into a sports bra. That moment ended up in an author friend's manuscript.

I remember the awkward way I laughed and the way my face burned. I remember wishing a hole would open up and swallow me alive. Though none of my characters have ever had their boyfriends' nuts caught in their braces, I think the emotions that surround such profound embarrassment are universal and I often use this to infuse my writing.

Friday, September 21, 2018


It wasn't so much an embarrassing moment. More like an embarrassing year.

A bit of backstory: I was nine years old when the worst, most tragic event of all time came crashing down upon my slender little third-grader shoulders:

I could no longer read the chalkboard.

It happened suddenly, actually—I came back from spring break to find that my desk had been moved by well-meaning floor-sweeping janitors from the front row to the back.  And the daily handwriting assignment, which our teacher put up on the board for us to copy each morning, was a complete and total blur.  I couldn’t see.  Period.

My first glasses were fairly strong (for 20/200 vision).  And—I hated them.  Talking hate here.  Hate.  The fact that it was 1986 didn’t help, either.  Remember glasses of the ‘80’s?  The enormity!  The hideousness!  Uuuugh!

And it officially began: the battle with my mom for contacts. 

I didn’t just want contacts.  I lusted after them, especially as my eyes grew progressively worse.  By the time I was headed for junior high, my prescription was creeping up toward a -5.00 (20/500 vision), and there was no way I could just take my glasses off at that point and navigate the majority of my days without them, haul them out of a backpack pocket to read the board once I got to class.  Not if I didn’t want to start having long, heated conversations with hallway water fountains, anyway.

So, the summer before seventh grade, I came up with my infinitely brilliant plan:  I would get the ugliest pair of 1980’s glasses I could find.  I mean, ugly.  Proof:

I just knew what would happen: when we picked up the glasses, and Mom saw how awful I looked, her eyes would widen in sheer horror.  She’d insist we exchange the glasses for contacts immediately, if not sooner.

Yeah.  Didn’t work.  As my seventh grade picture up there reveals.

Sure, I did get my contacts—the summer before high school, actually.  And I wore them until I gleefully pitched the lenses and all the unending vials of cleaning solution in the trash shortly after my thirtieth birthday. 

Mom and I still laugh about my plan...and the fact that in the end, the things that are important to us as teens are never the things that are important to us as adults.  I now wear my glasses the same way I wear jewelry--all different colors, shapes, sizes. Can't really imagine planning an outfit without them: