Saturday, August 18, 2018

Doomed to Obscurity (Alissa Grosso)

Sometimes I find myself lamenting the fact that I've yet to make the New York Times Bestseller list or that Netflix has not yet called me to say they want to turn one of my books into a new series, which is when I realize that I only have myself and the books I read over and over again in my teens to blame.

While young adult books have existed for a long time, the genre was something of a publishing backwater prior to around the turn of the twenty-first century. Back in the day, there simply weren't all that many teen books published. This, coupled with the fact that the town were I lived in my teens had a fairly small public library, meant that my reading choices were limited.

My library didn't so much have a young adult section as it had a shelf. There were not many books on it, and I was a voracious reader. So, I read a lot of books more than once. There were a few that I read multiple times.

I would say that my library's YA shelf had a few books on it that if not exactly bestsellers, were at least books that people had heard of. Had these been the books that I chose to read again and again, I might be better off today. Alas, this was not the case. For some reason I was drawn to obscure, often somewhat weird books.

If you know Ellen Raskin at all, you know her as the author of The Westing Game. That's a great book, and I admit that I definitely read that one more than once, but on the teen shelf in my public library I discovered a book called The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. This book was published the year I was born. So, it was probably already dated by the time I was reading it in my teens. I didn't seem to care, because I read it more times than I can remember.

What's worth noting about The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues is that as books go it's fairly obscure. It certainly isn't as popular as The Westing Game, which was far and away Raskin's best selling book. It could be argued that The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues was maybe just a little too weird to ever be popular and mainstream.

Author Madeleine L'Engle's best-known work is A Wrinkle in Time. It's an excellent book that I enjoyed as a kid and which inspired me to track down L'Engle's other works. I think I read nearly all of them, but the one that I read the most? Well, it was one that ended up on the teen shelf at the library. A book called A House Like A Lotus, and chances are better than good that you haven't read it or even heard of it.

I believe that another book I read too many times in my teens, actually wasn't quite as obscure. While the Chocolate War was definitely Robert Cormier's best-known book, I think I Am The Cheese was pretty big as well. What I will say about I Am The Cheese is that it tended more towards the strange end of the spectrum, and unless I'm mistaken I think it's pretty much fallen into obscurity these days. Cormier wasn't exactly known for writing sunny, happy books, but my recollection is that this was a pretty dark book.

I was drawn to these slightly offbeat books and read them far more times than I read their popular counterparts. Undeniably the books that I was obsessed with as a teen have inspired and influenced the books that I write for teens. Had I read A Wrinkle in Time more times than I read A House Like A Lotus, maybe I would have one of those shiny award stickers on one of my books, but this is not the case.

When I think of I Am the Cheese I can see it's influence on my books Popular and Ferocity Summer. Certainly there are parts of my book Shallow Pond that owe their existence to A House Like A Lotus. I still haven't written a straight-up mystery, but I think the quirky characters aspect of The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues informed my own book Unnamed Roads.

Those books I couldn't get enough of in my teens may have doomed me to a life of literary obscurity, but I'm okay with that. Not everyone likes those popular, mainstream books, and if you're one of those people. I can say that I totally, one hundred percent get you.

You can find out more about Alissa Grosso and her obscure books at You can even get a free copy of her novel Popular, which is really nothing at all like I Am the Cheese, except for the parts that are.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Books That Wrote ME (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re talking about the books that inspired us to write for young adults.

However, if I’m being honest, I have to first pay homage to the books that actually helped to write other words, the books that helped me develop into the person I am today.

Like most children, books opened up new worlds for me. I walked willingly through each door, eagerly anticipating the “friends” and adventures I would enjoy.

But when I was in third grade, I read Don’t Take Teddy, a story about Mikkel, a young boy with a mentally-challenged older brother named Teddy. When Teddy accidentally hurts another child while playing and the neighbors insist he should be institutionalized, Mikkel decides to run away with Teddy to protect him. 


The story and the characters both broke and filled my eight-year old heart. What’s more, it showed me how books can change one’s perspective. How they can empower. Inspire empathy. And initiate the healing process.

I wanted to climb into that book, take those characters under my wing and save them. Protect them.

Hug them.
Up until then, I read to embark on my own adventures, to live my own dreams. After Teddy, I realized I could read to connect on a deeper, more emotional level with others.
And I realized I wanted to.

From then on, character-drive books were my go-to. I consumed The Catcher in the Rye, wept over To Kill A Mockingbird and Flowers for Algernon, devoured everything Judy Blume, and internalized the All Creatures Great and Small series (I even started my collegiate journey as a pre-vet major – talk about influence!)

In my teens, life took a dark turn. My mother suffered from depression and alcoholism, and when I was 15, she attempted suicide. At that point, books were more important than ever. They were my strength and my escape. My salvation.

Admittedly, there weren’t as many YA selections when I was young as there are now; however, books like Ordinary People (which was also made into a fantastic movie) helped me realize that (sadly) our situation wasn’t an anomaly. Other families experienced dysfunction too. 

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to receive help through professional therapy as well as support from family and friends.

But I’ve never forgotten that 15-year old who desperately needed that one book to reassure her she wasn’t alone, and that one day, she’d be okay.

Today, I write for her. For those like her. Because writing that one book for that one person is my mission, my dream and my passion.

It's how I hug the world.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

What Gets You Started? by Maryanne Fantalis

I've been reading through the previous posts this month, in which YAOTL authors talk about the books and movies that inspired them to write YA fiction, and it made me think about how inspiring fiction can be to those of us who write fiction.

When I was really little, I wrote tiny pencil and crayon stories that were usually concerned with animals. I loved animals, so my mom would read me stories about animals. At one time, I know my mom still had some of them in her house: for example, a little half page in pencil about twin horses named Brownie and Half-and-Half (one was brown, and one was black and white, if you couldn't guess).

As I got older and moved past reading and writing stories about mice (inspired, of course, by E.B. White and George Selden), bunnies (Robert Lawson), horses (Marguerite Henry) and dogs (Albert Payson Terhune, Jack London), I got into those classic teen mysteries: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden. Once I had a taste of those mysteries, I consumed them like junk food. And, of course, I had to write some. I wanted to be Trixie's best friend: the rich, pretty Honey Wheeler, with golden-brown hair (hence, "honey") and who spent most of her life at boarding schools and sleep-away camps. This was my suburban Long Island idea of a glamorous life. And I specifically remember writing my character's age in these stories as "thirteen" which was the age I aspired to. Also, I had the perfect name for my rich, glamorous character: "Thirteen year old Amber Grey..."

Oh boy, I was young.

As I've mentioned before in this blog, my best friend Lynn and I rewrote the ENTIRE SHOW of the original Battlestar Galactica when we were in sixth and seventh grade, putting ourselves into the story. That's a piece of my early writing I still proudly (and cringingly) possess.

My point is, we are inspired by what we love. I know a lot of people make fun of fan fiction and the writers who create it. I am grateful, now, that my horrid early writing is NOT on the internet to be reviewed by anyone and everyone, especially because I have decided to pursue a career as a published author. But for those who enjoy a novel or a film so much that they want to write within another writer's created world? There is no harm in that, only joy and a kind of reverence. Most of it isn't good enough for publication, but most of it isn't meant for publication. It's just meant for the enjoyment of the writer herself and anyone who might choose to read it if she gets the courage to post it on a forum. Are you going to take that away from her?

It doesn't matter what gets you writing. Even if you feel like you're copying something when you get started... you know what? Maybe that's what you need for inspiration, for learning your craft, for your beginning. From there, you can fly.

By the way, this post is coming to you under a "chickee" on the beach in Aruba. Because, you know, an author's life is a tough one, but someone's got to do it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Tracing YA Inspiration by Sydney Salter

I started out writing picture books - because they're short and easy. (HAHAHAHAHAHA)

When I wanted to tell a more involved story, I remembered how much I had loved the Box Car Children series, so I reread the first book, and while I still enjoyed those independent kids, the story was a bit more simple than the ones I sought to tell.

That's when I returned to YA; I hadn't read one since Judy Blume's Forever, which had been so scandalous in the 70s. I chose Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging solely for its provocative title. YA books used to be heavy on messaging, like the after school specials of my preteen days, so I really loved the new character-driven contemporary YA. I started devouring books by Carolyn Mackler, Sarah Dessen, and local authors I met at conferences like Carol Lynch Williams.

I loved the authenticity of modern YA writing.

And that's why I returned to my true inspiration for my YA writing: teenage me. I reread my old high school diaries. Insecure, boy-obsessed teen me gave me the courage to write the first of my novels that would be published: My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

It all started with Norma...

This month's theme is YA books that hooked us as writers.

I didn't even have to think twice for an answer: Norma Klein.

While her name might not be the first one that springs to mind for young readers in the 70's and 80's, she was amazingly prolific, with more than 40 middle grade, young adult and adult novels (you might recall Mom, the Wolfman and Me or Naomi in the Middle). While I loved her middle grade books, it was her teen books that enthralled me. They were about smart, independent girls who lived in Manhattan. They were aspiring scientists or talented artists. They made mistakes and took on issues that most young adult books were not taking on (most of the characters' parents were divorced, they dealt with unplanned pregnancies, they had sex and smoked pot, etc.) The thing I loved was that Norma's characters were never victims, they were applying to top colleges, were driven and self-directed and completely open minded. I so totally would have been their friend had I been given the chance. Her characters were modern, relevant and flawed, and I loved every single one of them.

A few years ago, when I edited the anthology Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, I had the opportunity spend time with Judy Blume at her home on Martha's Vineyard. We talked about writing and life and so much else. I mentioned that I devoured every Norma Klein book growing up and she mentioned that they were very good friends. I got to ask all sorts of questions about Norma and her writing and learned that she wrote fast and furious. I heard about Norma as a person, as well as a writer and it made me wish that I'd had a chance to meet her as well, or at least been able to tell Norma how much she influenced me not just as a writer, but as a young woman.

I've purchased every Norma Klein book I could get my hands on (thank goodness for Amazon used books) and they sit on my bookshelf right beside the author copies of my own books. I still read Norma's books when I need to reset and remember writing that both captivated me and inspired me.

I always re-read one of her books when one of mine is published because it grounds me again on what I loved to read growing up, and it's sort of like mental sorbet. The sequel to my second book, The Book of Luke was just published, and when The Next Chapter of Luke was finished I went back to read It's OK if You Don't Love Me. Sure, it's more than 30 years old, but that's the thing about really awesome books. They're timeless.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fan Girl Much? Or How Buffy Made Me Write YA

Every once in a while, someone reads my very first YA novel, DREAMING ANASTASIA  and goes off on a rant about how it's trying to be like Twilight. And I always shake my head. I know why they say it -- Ethan starts the series as an immortal hottie and Anne falls for him. But then (not giving away the whole plot) she saves him (not that she means to; she's supposed to be saving Anastasia -- which she also does, at least sort of) he starts over again at 18. Anne's the hero of this 900 pages or so of trilogy. She's got a destiny. And a mission. And power that goes back to sources it takes her most of three books to figure out. She's got a plucky best friend named Tess. A mixture of feelings for Ethan. And did I mention that the series is a reimagining of the Baba Yaga Slavic fairy tales? With other Slavic folklore added with each book, including malevolent mermaids called rusalkas and a guy who can't be killed called Koshi the Deathless? Did I mention that Anne is quippy in the face of danger? More powerful than Ethan for most of the books? And that she sacrifices herself in a variety of ways for the greater good? Or that Ethan felt trapped as an immortal, fooled by the Brotherhood that recruited him. Guilty about how things turned out for Anastasia? Or that Anne saves him more than once?

So yeah. Absolutely nothing like Twilight.

You know what it is like in many ways? Buffy. But okay, without the vampires.

Plus I started the kernel what would become Dreaming Anastasia way back in the dark ages of 2004. Buffy was just ending its 7 year run. And I loved that show. You knew from the very first episode that it was turning tropes on their heads. Buffy was innocuous looking. Blonde. Petite. Seemingly harmless. But she wasn't. She was a vampire slayer. A destiny girl-- something she struggled with mightily. How do you balance having the life you want with the fact that you have to save the world? Or that the world sees you one way when you know you're really the Chosen One? (Okay, I know, sitting here in 2018 that this may seem old hat. But in 2004, it was not.) And she was also destined to one of the great star-crossed loves -- with Angel, the vampire with a soul. (well, until he lost it again and started killing all the people she loved)

Anne was - and is- my homage to Buffy. She's less frivolous and but just as loyal and she struggles so hard to balance this thing she's been given that she doesn't want. As soon as Ethan crashes into her life, everything changes. She's the hero of the story.  And she suffers because of that. She's also funny and brave and witty and very smart. (In short, she's as far from Bella Swan as I can imagine, with all due respect to those who love Bella -- whose story wasn't in the world while I was writing Anne.)

Ethan was-- and is -- a lesser homage to Angel, except that he's not a vampire, and while heroic, is definitely not the hero of the story. He's a sweet, loyal, handsome hunk who has been in over his head for like a hundred years and managed to do what the bad guys assumed he was too bumbling to do -- which was to find Anne and to mentor her and to help her figure out what the heck was going on with all this magical wackiness. (In short, he's no creepily over-protective Edward, again with all due respect to those who are still fond of that sparkly guy)

So there you have it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired me to write a girl named Anne and a boy named Ethan, who ended up in Dreaming Anastasia, which somehow miraculously got me an agent, who sold it to Sourcebooks, who eventually published it in 2009.

The rest is history. More or less.

You might say I was chosen.

Okay, you don't have to say that. But you could.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Forever a Teenager (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme: YA books (and movies, etc.) that hooked us as writers.

I have to confess that no particular YA book or movie turned me into a YA writer.

As a kid, I read everything in sight ... when not building forts in the woods or playing baseball or basketball.  I preferred Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men over Little Women.  I preferred the Hardy Boys over Nancy Drew, although I did like Nancy’s friend George.  (But I wanted to bitch-slap Nancy’s pathetic friend Bess long before bitch-slapping was a thing.  Thus, the Hardy Boys.  Plus, they were BOYS.  Hellooooo.)

As an adult, I quit reading fiction for many years while practicing law.  When I ultimately found books again, specifically on a beach on the St. Croix River one hot August day, I mostly read my sister Sheila’s romance novels.  They were handy, and I picked the ones with fast cars and/or intense action.  Then I started writing novels but kept trying to find a genre that really clicked for me.

I took an online voice class.  Everyone in the class agreed that I should write YA, because my personality is basically that of a teenager.  So I tried it out ... and loved it.  It’s as simple as that.  I became a YA writer.  Poof.
Sam and Jake: Sixteen Candles
But once you start writing YA, you can’t just rely on the fact that your brain still operates on age-17 thinking.  It’s been a while since I was actually 17.  (Five years?  Six?)  I had to read books and watch movies about teens, and there are only so many times I could watch Sixteen Candles (Jake!) and Gidget (Moondoggie!) and call it research.
Gidget and Moondoggie
I found The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot.  Meg has no idea, but she writes JUST LIKE ME.  No wonder I gobbled up almost everything she wrote!  Then Ally Carter entered the picture.  She doesn’t write exactly like me, but she gives it her best shot.  Her Gallagher Girls series, beginning with I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, held me captive for years.  Action, action, action.

The Princess Diaries
I’m still as in love with sports as I was at 17, so my characters are, too.  Tera Lynn Childs came along with Oh. My. Gods., which gives new meaning to a girl being an Olympic athlete.  Honestly, it’s AMAZING how all these authors write specifically with me in mind.  Ann Brashares chipped in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and specifically soccer star Bridget.  Thank you, Ann!

Oh, and I love royalty, too.  My go-to YA books for that are by my real-life friend Nicole Burnham, writing as Niki Burnham, starting with Royally Jacked.  Like Meg Cabot’s, that voice is similar to mine, too.  When I’m writing the first draft of a book, I stay away from writers whose voices are anything like mine, but the rest of the time?  Love them to pieces!  It’s a bit like reading a book I wrote but without doing the work.

I mostly write pretty light, because I frankly don’t like darkness.  Some of the stand-alone YA books I’m working on involve tougher issues, though, so I occasionally read “tougher” books in order to put myself in that head space.  Two faves:  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  Really, really good books.

And on and on.  None of these books turned me into a YA writer, but do they inspire me as a YA writer?  Like, totally.

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

Sunday, August 5, 2018

by Fae Rowen

I wrote my first book in the fifth grade while waiting for the next Nancy Drew book to come out. Of course it was a Nancy Drew mystery, about drugs hidden in a stuffed animal Nancy won at a carnival. No one ever read it but me.

I wrote my second book, decades later, for the same reason. I was waiting for the annual release from my favorite author. That book, my first YA medieval fantasy, will forever remain "under my bed."

But it marked the start of my journey as a writer.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I've had to deal professionally with some men who believe "girls" can't think. I didn't realize this recurrent theme until my fifth book, which I was working on when The Hunger Games was published. That book, and the subsequent movies, hit me where I the area of How can people treat each other so badly?

I write speculative science fiction. That means I write about future societies, their culture, what makes them what they are. I find my hope in the youth of those societies. Those brave young souls who push the barriers that adults have erected to keep them strait-jacketed. Sometimes they are wealthy; sometimes they are dirt poor. Always the struggle involves misguided, sometimes wicked, adults, resource allocation, trust, self-reliance, an "interesting" skill set, fighting for a higher cause, and first love.

Did I mention that the first movie I remember ever seeing was Disney's Sleeping Beauty? Although it's not set on a prison world, it does have all the hallmarks of every one of my books. Not just the YA series.

Back to The Hunger Games. I'd never intended to publish any of my books. Somewhere that first premise of, "These books are just for me," became my reality. But I shared P.R.I.S.M. with a critique group. I entered contests, just to see if it was good enough. Gradually I began thinking that maybe I could share the book with the world, though that was a very scary proposition. There were dark spaces in the book. Dark spaces that might cause people to raise an eyebrow. Might make them wonder about where I got those ideas.

Back in the fifth grade, I didn't know anything about drugs. Really, nothing. But I knew they were bad. Illegal. I don't have those one-finger-at-a-time typed pages, so I can't go back to see how childish it was, but I do remember pouring my heart and soul into that book. Like most future-writers, I was a voracious reader, so even at that young age, I got story structure.

I'm working on the second book in my P.R.I.S.M. series. It finishes the story that began in Book One. And every time I sit down at the computer, I feel that youthful reader urging me to dig deeper, throw more obstacles at my characters, burn bridges so they'll have to construct new ones. I feel the love for the imaginary characters that live inside my head. And I hope that someday, the love I have for my characters will be translated into the love that my readers have for them.

That's what the Hunger Games series did for me. It made me bond with more than one character, made me the feel pain, hope, and joy of those characters. The Hunger Games taught me that we fall in love with books not just for plots, but for the characters who live through those thrilling plots, surviving every obstacle nature and man place in their paths. We remember how we feel about the characters. And those feelings can make us better people.

That's why I write YA stories.

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.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard, putting the finishing touches on P.R.I.S.M. Book Two.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.
When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at  or

Friday, August 3, 2018

Taking the Blame - by Janet Raye Stevens

So, now we’ve reached the portion of the blog where we thank (or curse) the ones who got us into this glorious mess of writing young adult fiction. By which I mean the YA books/films that got us hooked on the genre.

First, I suppose I should blame my mother. As I’ve noted in previous posts, she was a voracious reader, devouring books of all kinds. As a child, I followed her around, snatching up the completed books strewn in her wake. Looking back, I think she knew this and tossed books in my path that were more kid-appropriate than her racy romances, murder mysteries, or thick fantasy tomes.

Next, I have to blame the feisty real-life heroines I read about. Girls and women who faced tough trials and ultimately triumphed.

I still have my beat-up copy of KAREN (Buccaneer Books, 1952), the inspiring story of a girl born with Cerebral Palsy at a time when little was known about the disability. I read that book probably twenty five times (or more!) growing up. With a brother who seemed to always be either about to have back surgery or recovering from his most recent back surgery, I guess I found Karen and her family’s struggles to find new treatments while living a normal life relatable.

Another non-fiction book I read and re-read a dozen times as a kid, and another book I still have on my bookshelf is WOMEN OF COURAGE (Random House, 1964).

Inspiring narrative biographies (with illustrations!) of five historical figures whose names weren’t typically in the news then: women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony, activist and social reformer Jane Addams, educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, groundbreaking pilot Amelia Earhart, and anthropologist Margaret Mead.

They were five women from vastly different backgrounds, each with dramatically different life journeys, but they had some things in common—they had jobs, they made a difference, and they did it through drive, spirit, and courage.

Moving on, I can’t forget to drop some blame on the movie TRUE GRIT (released 1969, based on the 1968 book of the same name by Charles Portis, which I confess I’ve never read).

I adored this movie as a kid, and still do, and that’s largely because of Kim Darby as Mattie Ross, threatening to sic her Lawyer Daggett on anyone who stands in her way. Kim Darby delivers a performance that is not only magnetic and energetic, she’s the only one of John Wayne’s costars to ever (almost) overshadow him.

Mattie Ross has most inspired my YA heroines, strong-willed, fierce, fast-talking girls who don’t want anyone to know they’re really shaking in their boots.

Next, and most prominently, I have to blame Robert Heinlein for the stories that captured my imagination and most influenced my writing today. Specifically, two of Heinlein’s what was then called “juvenile” novels, stories I re-read until the bindings of both books complained from overuse.

First, CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY (Scribner’s, 1957). I read this book over and over. What I remember of the plot is orphan boy Thorby taken in by a kindly beggar and several hundred adventurous pages and Dickensian plot twists later, he’s rich.

Turns out, the story is a bit more complicated than that. CITIZEN has Important Themes, like greed, identity, soulless corporations involved in the interstellar slave trade, and a boy who learns that one determined person has the power to upend the apple cart.

I guess I didn’t notice—I was having too much fun reading the darn thing.

I’ll pour the final cup of blame for Heinlein’s TUNNEL IN THE SKY (Scribner’s 1955). Basically Lord of the Flies meets Robinson Crusoe meets Lost, TUNNEL caught my imagination the most. The final exam for Rod, the hero, and the rest of his Advanced Survival high school class requires them to step into a “tunnel in the sky” and survive a weekend on the wild, uninhabited planet where the wormhole dumps them out.

Naturally, something goes wrong. The students are stranded for months. To survive, Rod teams up with a guy named Jack, then takes an inordinately long time to figure out Jack is a Jacqueline. They’re threatened by strange beasts as well as other students fighting for survival until everyone figures out how to work together.

I simply loved those books, even though they were what my brother called “boy books.” As if a girl can’t enjoy the adventure, the danger, the creepy monsters, and the snappy dialogue! As if a girl wouldn’t “get” the semi-science-y fiction and the deeper themes the author has imbued in the story. As if a girl can’t see something of herself (or what she wants to see in herself) in the protagonist, even if he’s a boy.

And as if a girl can’t be inspired by those stories, and the stories of women of courage and girls with true grit and vow to write her own adventurous stories with Important Themes. But this time with a female protagonist who learns that she is the one person who can upend the apple cart.

And if my work should somehow inspire a reader to become a writer, I’ll happily take the blame.

2018 RWA Golden Heart winner Janet Raye Stevens creates feisty heroines across genres, writing adventurous YA & adult sci-fi, mystery, and contemporary romantic comedy.

Sunday, July 29, 2018


I treasure reader feedback.

I remember the day my father took me aside and said 'Son, someday you're going to make me very proud.'

It was last week. Since I'm 43, I can't help but feel a little insulted. But it got me thinking of all the wonderful compliments I've received over the years.

I'm sure I'll remember one soon.

Oh, here go. When I once wrote a book called ALMOST PERFECT, which was about a transgender woman named Sage. Not being transgender myself, I had no idea what I was doing. And a lot of readers let me know.

But one day a reader wrote me and said that the book had been a big inspiration to her, and when she transitioned, she chose 'Sage' as her middle name.

I can't remember ever being so touched. And I guess that's what being a writer is all about. People do read your books. People enjoy them. And sometimes, they even make a positive difference.

Now I'm going to go look up all my old high school acquaintances and see who's been arrested recently. Besides me.

Mom always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up, 'within reason.' When I asked her what she meant by 'within reason,' she said, 'You ask a lot of questions for a garbage man.'-- Jack Handey

Saturday, July 28, 2018

On Compliments: From “Killer Gloster” to Author to Friend by Dean Gloster

            This is a journey in two compliments. It includes an NFL player calling me a “Killer” to my father. But if you stay with it, I promise it ends well.

I start my mornings with a complimentary cup of coffee.
It says, “with my help, you’ll be amazing.”
            Our topic this month is the best compliment we’ve ever received, and I have two: A perfectly-delivered second-hand compliment, and the compliment that topped that—a group of hands extended in friendship.
The second-hand compliment.
            Sometimes it’s the circumstances that make a compliment special. Like the time an NFL player told my dad I was a tough guy.
            As an athlete, I’m a good bookworm. Genetically, I’m the combined product of slow-twitch muscle fibers for sluggish and Irish-ancestry-programming for small. I was especially slow and short at the beginning of high school, before my sophomore growth spurt, when I zoomed to almost-average-sized.
            So, of course, I joined the Reno High School freshman football team.
            At 5’2’’ and 110 pounds, I was ten inches shorter and almost one whole me lighter than some of the kids on the team, who’d already experienced their growth spurts. I was also the slowest guy on the roster. I did, however, have a high enthusiasm-to-skill ratio. And I’d played three seasons of Pop Warner football before that, along with most of a lifetime of backyard tackle football.
            It didn’t take me long to impress the coaches. That was back in days before awareness of the effects of multiple concussions. So we weren’t discouraged from using our helmets as weapons. I knew that I could stop even the biggest guys in a tackling drill by staying low and spearing their driving knees with my head. So the coach would put comparatively huge Martin Squires or Steve Ramos on one side of a tackling dummy and ask who wanted a piece of him.
            “Let me at him, coach!” I’d yell, in my high-pitched voice.
            Perspiration rinse. Repeat.
            The coaches never confused me with a useful athlete, but I was a heck of a motivational tool (and football coaches are all about the motivational tools.) Though I was smaller and slower than everyone else, I could knock them all down, given the right circumstances. So the coaches used me as an example, to encourage the other kids to hit harder. They nicknamed me “Killer” Gloster. I got announced at a high school assembly that way, and girls who hadn’t spoken to me in two years of middle school started saying, “hi, Dean” in the hall. (I’d look behind me to see if they were talking to someone else named Dean.)
            Back then, most freshmen were not hitters, but across the field, over at the JV and Varsity practices, they all were hitters—and also big, fast, and strong.

When young, football players come in various speeds and sizes,
but eventually it’s only: fast and large
            So I gave up high school football after one season and joined speech and debate instead, which didn’t require as much footspeed or result in as many concussions.
            But that made me an even better motivational tool, because after that the coaches weren’t limited to the actual facts. They’d tell players that a kid named “Killer” Gloster who was smaller and slower than everyone had played his way one week into first-string Tackle (which never, actually, happened: kickoff team was as far as I got.)
            It turned out, though, that one of my teammates in freshman football, Eric Sanders, went on to play twelve years in the NFL, as a lineman for the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions. Once during that time, back in Reno, he ran into my dad, who had the same first and last name I do.
            “Dean Gloster?” Eric Sanders asked. “Do you have a son who played freshman football at Reno High?”
            “Why, yes.”
            “I remember him!” Eric, the NFL player, said to my dad. “His nickname was ‘Killer Gloster’. Man, that kid was tough.”
            My dad, who’d joined the Navy during WWII and went through college on a combination of the GI bill and a freaking boxing scholarship, was an actual tough guy, so it was awesome when an NFL player remembered me to my dad that way. (Thank you, Eric. Seriously awesome.)

The best compliment—belonging.
            The best compliment I ever got, though, was friendship and belonging. After three decades as a lawyer and partner in a law firm, a few years ago I changed careers to write novels for young adults. (Good-bye predictable income. Hello, writing in scenes.)
            The first time I went to a conference of writers for young people and saw that sea of introverts, all excited by story, who’d left their caves of imagination to pretend to be extroverts for a weekend, I thought, These are my people. This is my tribe.
            Among other things, I went back to school myself, and in my fifties enrolled in the MFA program in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Vermont College of Fine Arts, the coolest place on earth.
It’s a real-world Hogwarts. And, yes, they even have a ghost.
            I had some trepidation. I’d been out of school longer than some of my classmates had been alive, I was older than most of the faculty, and I was a male in a program that—like the world of writing for young people—was 90% female.
            And, historically, I’m not great at fitting in. When I’d gone to law school three decades earlier, I hadn’t gone to belong, I’d gone to excel. Even in my career as a lawyer, I tried to stand out, not conform.
            And, to be completely honest, I’m wound a little tight.
            I tend to be enthusiastic and intense about the stuff I care about, which includes—especially—writing craft.

   Some days, I think I should have a warning label   
      So heading off to the MFA program, for me, had the hallmarks of a titanic adventure—you know, in the sense of ship steaming directly toward iceberg.

“Graduate school dead ahead!”
             Sometimes, though, surprise endings are great ones. I did fit in. I was just one more quirky writer in a group of wonderful writers. There were other people my age—and even older—also going back to school (and with the same trepidation I had.)
            One of the things no one tells you as a kid is how hard it is to make good friends as an adult. But going through a really challenging two-year writing program together—which is the equivalent of knocking out a 12-foot mountain troll every single semester—is a great way.

            The program was amazing. The people were wonderful. I got some friends for life who are writing amazing books.
            And I got to belong, a wonderful compliment that still makes my heart feel full.

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, which he took up in his forties, and Aikido, which he took up in his late fifties. So, yeah, he might still be wound a little tight.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Celebrating the Compliments, At Last (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

I've never been one to rest on my laurels. Or even, to be honest, to bask in some well-deserved praise. I'm always ready to move on to the next thing, the next challenge, the next mountain standing in my way. Stopping to celebrate seems...self-indulgent, maybe?

When I graduated from high school, I felt like all the congratulations, all the "You did it!" greeting cards, were superfluous. Did anyone think I wasn't going to do it? I remember asking. What would everyone have said if I hadn't done it? It was expected.

I never think I've done enough, so at times, I have to step back and remind myself that I did (at least once), what I set out to do, which was to write a halfway decent novel in The Last Sister, even if I committed a bunch of cardinal sins which earned me eye rolls and sniffs from certain quarters.

Said cardinal sins:
  • ·         Small press publishing—Sure, they say there isn't a hierarchy, but we all know there is.
  • ·         Not fitting every single reviewer's desires and expectations about what I could have done with the story into one book. Honestly, I am over this. One book can't do everything, nor should it. That's why we have lots of books. You want a different story, you write it.
  • ·         Writing a YA historical in the first place—Don't I know anything? (Apparently, I do not.)
  • ·         Knowing people who read books. (You would not believe the number of people who told me they felt obligated to read it and expected it to suck for the sole reason that I am a real human whom they know, but they were pleasantly surprised. But you know, that's a compliment, too: I overcame their negative preconceived expectations. Does this happen to anyone else? Does the reading public think books are written by robots?)

The compliments I care most about are always about my writing. But, like most people, I recall and believe negative feedback far more readily than compliments. One little "but" in a review affects me far more than two hundred words of praise.

As I wrote last month, it's been a few years since I published The Last Sister, and my writing confidence has taken a few hits in that time. So I decided recently that I should let myself celebrate the compliments.

I bought a shadowbox for my IPPY Silver Medal for Historical Fiction I earned for The Last Sister. I'm going to hang it on my office wall. I opened up my file of starred reviews, and positive reviews from major review sources, and kind words from friends (even those who were pleasantly surprised that my novel wasn't terrible).

I'm not resting on my laurels, but I am letting myself enjoy them. I'm accepting the compliments and the energy they give me.

As I embark on another major novel project, I'm keeping the positive feedback front and center, knowing I did this once, and it wasn't a fluke. I know what I'm doing. I can do it again.

*Also, it's been a while since I gave The Last Sister some love, but I'm trying to be kinder to myself and my work. So if you read and enjoyed it, would you please leave a review at Amazon, even though this book is now really old in publishing years? I would link, but from what I understand, it works better if you search Amazon.*

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Compliment my books or my kids—not me! (Brenda Hiatt)

Reading through this month’s posts, I see I’m not the only one here who often feels awkward or uncomfortable receiving personal compliments. If someone tells me they like my outfit or my shoes, my first instinct is to deflect. “Oh, my daughter picked it/them out. She got all the fashion sense in the family.” If they tell me I have great hair, I laugh, say thanks and add something like, “Probably time to color again, huh?” I’ve never been good at accepting compliments about myself. For one thing, I’m never prepared for them, so I never have a good answer ready (see above). And most compliments seem to be about things I can’t really take credit for. I don’t make my own clothes (or shoes!) and can’t control how my hair grows, or its texture. Possibly I’d feel differently if I were a seamstress (I am so not!) or a hair stylist (ditto). 

Because, I confess, I adore it when people compliment my books, something I can take credit for. It’s even better if they do it in email instead of to my face, because that gives me time to craft an appropriate response. (No one has ever complimented my shoes or hair in an email, so I can’t say how I’d reply there.) Why I feel so differently about book compliments I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s similar to the way I also love it when someone compliments one of my daughters. Those compliments also make me glow and of course I always wholeheartedly agree with them. It would just be weird to respond to “You have great hair!” with, “Yes, don’t I?” But I have no problem replying to “Your daughter is so talented!” with, “Yes, isn’t she?” 

Things I like receiving compliments about:

My books
My lovely, talented daughters
Cutest grandbaby ever

Of course, I'd never respond to an email saying, “Your books are wonderful!” with, “Yes, aren’t they?” Instead I let the person doing the complimenting know they made my day, making my reply partly about them. “I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it!” or, “What a sweet note! Thank you so much.” 

Not only are my responses heartfelt expressions of gratitude, I always hope they’ll encourage those readers to reach out to other authors as well when they enjoy a book. Ours is a lonely profession, so it’s nice to be reminded there really are people out there reading what we write. That’s why I often say something like, “What a lovely start to my day!” or even, “Emails from readers like you are what keep me writing!” 

That last bit is true, by the way. I probably would have stuck to my original plan of ending my Starstruck series after the fourth installment if I hadn’t received so many emails from readers begging me to please, please, please write more books in that world. 

My favorite compliments tend to be those from my teenaged readers. Their emails, comments (on places like Wattpad) and even reviews (which I mostly avoid reading) are sometimes so enthusiastic! A few favorite examples (unedited):

"Oh My gosh you have no clue how much I'm excited to even talk to you!! Btw, your "Starstruck" series are the best books I have ever heard about, and read!!!"

“Dear Ma’am, I really enjoy reading the Starstruck series, and sometimes I think that it's all real and not just a story.”

“I WAS SO EXCITED and when I started reading the books,i could not stop reading them. I READ THEM ALL IN ONE DAY.Thanks for making them”

“I just wanna say that star struck is like the best book ive ever read”

“I have been on Wattpad for a couple of years now and all I do is read (yes that means no social life) and this is by far one of the BEST books I gave read I can't wait till you update Starstruck.”

Normally I would not have read a book about aliens are martians or anything like that. Which is weird because I'd be quicker to believe in aliens and I would werewolves. Anyway I just wanted to say thank you again for being such an amazing writer I'm already 26 pages into Star-Crossed and I'm already in love with that one too and cannot wait to read the rest of them actually now I have all four I just bought the last one Starfall.”

I love your starstruck series book I discovered them last year I was fifteen I have every single book the  novella and Rigel's Jewel. I can't wait for the novella's series well if you make one you said you were thinking about it and I'm just waiting patiently. Thank you so much for making these books.” 

I suppose one thing compliments about my kids and about my books have in common is that giddy sense of, “I made this! And it’s really good!” It’s always nicest to receive a compliment I think might be, in some measure, deserved—at least for me.

Brenda Hiatt is the author of 23 books so far and she's proud of each and every one. (She also takes very good care of her hair, but would rather be complimented on her books!)