Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I've Got A Voice (Jodi Moore)

This month, we're writing about gratitude, and admittedly, I found this post hard to write.
It’s not because I have nothing to be thankful for. Rather, it’s because I have so much.

I have a loving family, who support me in every way. I have more than a mere roof over my head. I have a nice house. In a nice neighborhood. With nice neighbors. I have plenty of food. The water running from my faucets is clear. Drinkable. I have a warm coat and mittens, now that the weather has turned colder.

I am healthy.

And thanks to the support of my family, I’m living my dream of being an author. Because again, they support me in every way.

Which is why I’m finding this post so difficult to compose.

(See how I've been going around in circles?)

Please forgive me if this sounds overly dramatic, but I think I’m suffering from survivor’s guilt. No, I don’t live near the fires in California, where my house is the only one still standing in a neighborhood of nothing but ash and memory. Our sons didn’t leave an area the moment before a gunman arrived or have to live in fear of getting stopped for a traffic incident. I can see them, talk to them, hug them, whenever I wish. And though some of our loved ones have had challenges with addiction, we are fighting, and caring and enduring. 

We are living.

We are lucky. I want to say blessed, but that would indicate a higher power would choose us over someone else. And I don’t believe that. I can’t. I won’t.

Rather, circumstances - fate, if you will - have set us in a position where, yes, we are entitled. And as I look out into the world, as I read the news and watch TV, I am saddened, often horrified, even gutted, to see those who are not so lucky.

I haven’t a surplus of funds. But I am thankful that I have a heart to care. Ears to listen. Strong arms to lift, hold and hug.

Perhaps most importantly, I have a voice.

And I will continue to use it for those who cannot. For those who are not so lucky.

How will you use yours?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Lesson To Be Grateful For - Maryanne Fantalis

Sometimes, what feels like a bad experience at the time can turn out to be a really good life lesson.

I disliked my ninth grade English teacher immensely. I don't think any of us liked her. She was a gruff, harsh person with a difficult personality and she wasn't a particularly good teacher, as I recall (of course, what does a ninth grader know about what makes a good teacher? but I think I'm right on this one)

She gave us a simple assignment: write a book report on a book of our choice by answering questions she gave us on a sheet of paper (fondly remembered by Gen Xers like me as a ditto sheet). No essay, no intro and conclusion, no transitions. Easy peasy.

Except this is me. I'm a writer, even then, and a voracious reader. The book I chose to write about was Watership Down by Richard Adams, a tome of more than 400 pages. I had read the book more than  four times by then. And what's this about short answers? A handful of lines, to answer questions about this amazing, complex, magnificent book? Ha! I've already written an entire TV series in my spare time, lady. You have no idea!

I did the report. But I was going to show her. I was not going to be limited by a miserable handful of lines when there was a whole book to write about. Surely, she must see that. Short answers were for little minds and small books. So I wrote in between the lines, and up the sides of the page, and on the back of the page. Because I HAD TO!

You see where this is going, right?

I got a 77.

The fact that I still remember that number should give you an idea of how infrequently I saw such grades. 

I was horrified. How dare she? I had written a great report about a great book. In fact, I had done more than she asked for! If there were any flaws, it was because of the stupid format of the stupid assignment!

I was not then a confrontational person -- I still am not, though I have a lot more confidence now -- but this grade could not stand. I went up to her desk after class and asked her about it.

As I remember it, she roared and snapped and breathed fire, dragon-lady that she was, but what I walked away with was this message: Following the instructions was part of the assignment, and you didn't follow the instructions.

I think she let me redo it. I don't know, I don't remember, and I have no idea what my new grade was, if there was one.

But the fact that I still remember this one assignment from *mumble* years ago when I was fourteen tells you how important that lesson was.

Follow the damn rules. Get it right. When an agent says "one page synopsis" or "attach ten pages" or "submit no more than 1000 words," I know I'd damn well better comply.

I am grateful to the dragon-lady for teaching me, quite vividly, that the rules do matter.

And also that I can have more of an ego when it comes to my writing than I like to think.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Grateful... to turn back the clock

No, I don't mean daylight savings, I mean turning back the clock to last month! Because I was traveling and didn't get to post my blog for October. So I'm going to do it now.

Last month we were asked to answer the question: fact or fiction? When writing our books, how much is based upon reality vs. how much is a figment of our imagination? Here's my take.

Readers often ask, "How much of your books is real, and how much is made up?" In the sequel to The Book of Luke, The Next Chapter of Luke, much is made up, but there is also lots of real life on the pages.
This is the inspiration for the marina that Emily works at for the summer. The inside of this marina office is exactly where I pictured Emily working - the same wood paneled walls, the simple desk and freezer of bait. Even the refrigerator with bottled water and drinks. It's located on the South Shore of MA.

And this is the whale tail sculpture that Emily and Luke are sitting in front of when Josie takes their picture. It's in Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard, right where Emily, Josie and Lucy get off the ferry from Falmouth.

The pepper farm that Emily visits with Nolan? Also real. It's based on Nobska Farm in Woods Hole. Like Emily, though, I have zero tolerance for spicy things, so I've never actually tasted any of their crazy pepper products.

Image result for nobska farm
What isn't real? The Scoop Shack where Josie and Lucy work. The Edgewater Marina where Emily works (although it was also inspired by a real place in Falmouth). Josie's house in Falmouth is also a figment of my imagination.

Now that I think about it, most of the time I'm actually thinking of real places and things when I write. I do a lot of research to make sure details are accurate and plausible (which means I spent a lot of time reading ferry schedules to make sure the length of time the ferry from Woods Hole or Falmouth took was correct, etc.).

So lots of places are real and exist. The characters? Are they based on real people? I'll leave that answer to the reader's imagination.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Gratitude Is An Attitude: By Kimberly Sabatini

Gratitude is an attitude.
A perspective.
It's our glass half-full.
An opportunity to take the worst of times and turn them upside down to find...
an answer we never would have seen if we'd stayed upright.
Gratitude is a choice. 

In my world of YA, there is so much to be thankful for. Here is just the tip of my mountain of gratitude...

My fabulous agent Michelle Wolfson.
My former editor turned amazing author, Anica Rissi.
The heart of my tribe--the SCBWI.
My local friends and writers--The Hudson Valley Shop Talk.
My local Indie Books Stores...Split Rock Books, Oblong Books, and Meritt Books.
And last but never least, my supportive family, friends, peers, and readers who always show up. 

I often see myself through your eyes and I am grateful for what is reflected back at me. You have my gratitude.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Whole Lotta Gratitude by Joy Preble

One of the first things I say in almost  every workshop I conduct for aspiring writers and those new to this crazy business is to say THANK YOU. Often I quote Mark Twain, who once observed that the world owes us nothing.

I tell that last part to students, too, when I visit schools and classrooms. It tends to be the scariest, most annoying thing I say, mostly because we want so strongly to believe otherwise. I love a good meritocracy as much as the next girl, but the truth is, it doesn't always work out that way.

You write the novel of your heart and it doesn't get front listed. You give your all to a job and then company politics change and out you go. You are the most qualified candidate but the other guy gets more votes. Someone else lies and cheats and panders and beats you to the finish line. And on like that.

That's how it goes. But to quote my late Uncle Harry who was given to abrupt turns of phrase, "So what?" Uncle Harry had come to America after WW2 with absolutely nothing. He'd grown up privileged, lost it all and much of his family to the Nazis. He built back a comfortable life here, and despite his gruffness (that's a nice way of saying it) he was generous with family and friends. He knew that anything could be taken from anyone at any moment and it made him this fascinating mixture of angry and kind. As I type this, I think he is part of why in my writing I am so interested in what happens to people when the rug gets pulled out from under them, when they lose everything, or at least the important stuff.

And so. I'm grateful for so many things. For family that makes me laugh and love. For my tribe of creatives who keep me pushing to the next story. How lucky am I to have done a different job (teaching) and now have this other life of writing and books on shelves that at some points in time I only dreamed of. If you are reading this and you came to your dream job early in life,  bravo! If like me, you wandered for a while, bravo to you, too! I am beyond grateful for my even newer job as a bookseller and programming director at a lovely indie bookstore. Thankful for colleagues there who are all thoughtful and funny and clever and hardworking and generous and goofy. Thankful for the smarty-pants doctors who got rid of my thyroid cancer eight years ago and who nipped it in the bud last year when it tried to sneak back.

I'm grateful to have seven (7!!) books on shelves and to finally have figured out how to write this current one that I've been struggling with. Thankful to editors and agents and all those people behind the scenes. And to every critique partner who tells me when I'm writing crappy stuff. Everyone needs people who tell them when they're doing it wrong. Yeah, really.

Keep at it, my friends.
Til next time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

You Like Me! You Really Like Me! (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is about moments of triumph we’re grateful for.  This has been a really tough year for me, emphasis on knee surgery that (so far) hasn’t worked, so we’ll see how this goes!

Authors have voices in their head.  For some, it’s 24/7.  Out of necessity, mine are mostly limited to when I’m writing, but there are always exceptions.  The bad news: the exceptions tend to be negative voices, telling me what a dumb schmuck I am.

So praise, when it happens, is pretty sweet.

The absolute best praise comes in reader reviews, especially on Amazon.  Why?  The cold, hard truth is that Amazon uses algorithms in choosing which books to put in front of readers, and they’re greatly affected by the number of reviews a book has.  Honestly, a review is one of the best gifts you can give an author.  One of my faves, written about my YA novel Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras:  “...will keep you turning pages, laughing until the very end.  It starts out with humor and ends with love.”  Huge thanks!

(If you’ve never posted a review on Amazon, it’s easy.  And it can be as short as “Great book!”  Amazon mostly cares about the number of reviews, not what you say.)
But I’m grateful for all good news.  I’m frequently mired in quicksand when writing or revising a booklike, say, right at the momentso kind words are a lifesaver.

A few examples:

- A friend who told me that her daughter considers me her favorite author OF ALL.  Wow.  Day made!
- A teenage girl at a booksigning who drew a picture of me and made me look really good.  (I wish!)  She said it was simply how she saw me.

- Editors who’ve told me I write really, really funny stuff.

- The “big” authors at my very first RWA conference who chatted with and praised me because I was a Golden Heart finalist.  All these years later, I’m still grateful for those moments in the sun.
I’m also a musician, and I recently started writing songs.  At songwriting camp this summer, my songwriting hero Rodney Crowell told me, “Your first song is better than my first song was.”  (LIFE made!)  And an utterly amazing guitarist at camp, Joe Robinson, told me, “You have a real feel for music and can do this.  You’ll go far.”  Yes, I wrote down his words the INSTANT I walked away.  They still encourage me every day.

And on and on.  So many friends and strangers have offered praise when I really needed it.  Or maybe, more accurately, we ALWAYS need it, because the negative voices in our heads need to be shouted down on a daily basis.  And I’m not just talking about writers.  We ALL need kind words.

So, if you possibly can, go out of your way to compliment someone today.  A friend, a stranger.  Trust me: they need it more than you know.  Life is hard; make it easier for the people you meet.

Oh, and since today is November 6 ... GO VOTE!

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Moments of Triumph, with a Side of Gratitude
Make That a Double Side

by Fae Rowen

All of us have overcome a boatload of stuff. That's what life is. Everything goes along like a leafing floating along a gentle stream, then Wham! You're in the rapids, paddling like crazy, spinning around and around in the current, hoping your tiny boat doesn't get swamped or turn over.

There is never a good time to be blind-sided with loss, obstacles, or sudden physical or mental adversity, but it can be worse when you don't realize how hard you've been hit. Remember those old movies about Genghis Khan burying his enemies up to their necks in the sands of the Gobi desert, then releasing his warriors to ride through and lop off heads? Yes, I'm thinking that bad.

When I was younger, bad news or roadblocks were a challenge to be overcome. I'd marshal my talents and resources and climb over and through anything that tried to block my path. Because I believed I could. Until my father was in the hospital and I knew he wasn't going to make it. For the first time in my life I tasted the bitterness of ultimate defeat. I didn't know it then, but I'd lost hope.

In the years since that realization, there have been other times I could point to that gave me that same feeling. But there have been more times that I couldn't identify that were stealthy in their defeat, and I ended up in what I call "The Pit." It's difficult to recognize how I've ended up in The Pit, because there's not an "inciting incident" like we find at the beginning of a book.

I know when I'm in The Pit because my friends call. "Are you all right?" "You didn't return my calls." "I'm worried about you." "Did you eat today?" At first I claim busy-ness or forgetfulness. When their concern persists, I begin looking at what's going on. Usually I don't know anything other than I have to admit that I'm not happy—which is far from my usual modus operandi.

Learning how to recognize I'm in The Pit, then pulling myself out, hasn't ever been easy. I still sometimes need those trusted friends to recognize what I can't. But here's the truth: there is always a way out of the pit of despair. The way is rarely easy (or we wouldn't have gotten stuck in the first place!) but if we look, and if we're willing to work at a little progress every day, we'll finally emerge into the sunlight.

I'm grateful to my friends for sticking with me, for caring about me, for helping me. And I'm grateful that I've become stronger and kinder through this process of change. I'm grateful that I've learned how to feel, how to care, how to believe again. I'm grateful to feel loved and seen.

And I'm grateful to be able to share what I've learned through my characters. As writers, I believe we all come to the understanding that our characters carry a part of us within them. Some characters carry more of our baggage than we intended. Those are often the ones readers connect most with, because they are real. In their struggles, in their fears, in their triumphs.

This Thanksgiving in particular, after a year that I wouldn't have believed could be more difficult than the one before, I am grateful to my friends and health workers, to my writing friends and production team, and to my readers for keeping the faith with me. For forgiving my mis-steps. For helping me find hope again.

Thank you.
I love you all.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Thank You Very Much!

Welcome to November at YA Outside the Lines! 

This month we're all about gratitude and the things we are thankful for. As a mom, wife, author, pet-wrangler, and human being (though some would beg to differ), I have an awful lot to be grateful for. So much in fact, it's hard to edit the list down to a pithy few items. But I've taken a stab at it and here is what I've come up with....

The Top Ten Things I'm Grateful For:

10. Tea. Hot tea. As a certified tea-guzzler (black tea, primarily), I am always grateful for tea leaves and boiling water. I start each day with cup of tea, and by “cup” I mean a full pot. Additionally, I’m thankful for decaf tea so I’m not bouncing off the ceiling by 10 a.m. and a bathroom within sprinting distance. 

This opinion may not win me any friends among the coffee crowd, but seriously, you can have your French roasts and lattes and skinny half-caf thingamajigs, I’ll take my tea.  

9. Words like thingamajig. Where would we all be if we couldn’t use words like whatchamacallit and whosamading when we totally forget what something or someone is called? We need more nonsense words in this world, not less.

8.  Grammar nerds. Specifically, those who keep their counsel and don’t feel the need to point out my grammar faux pas, like my use of “less” above when the word should be “fewer.” Thank you!
7.  The TV shows The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek. How could I not be thankful for these shows, both of which make me so happy! Smart, fun and funny, great writing, surprising plot lines, and awesome characters who are far from stagnant. Plus, on The Good Place, there’s an all-knowing, powerful, sassy being named Janet.

6.  Other writers. Writers need other writers, as the saying goes, and I’m beyond grateful for my writer friends who help me, challenge me, and make me a better writer every day.

5.  My family. Haha, figured I better give them a shout-out here, unless I want to get stuck with the cold, end-piece of the tofurkey at Thanksgiving.

My family, for whom I'm most grateful
(even Aunt Linda, despite her fondness for giant hats)
4.  Writers who write young adult fiction. I’m thankful for all the stories you give us, crossing a wide spectrum of experiences--writers who confront head-on the tough and sometimes brutal experiences of teens and young adults, writers who explore the emotional and often turbulent teen and young adult psyche, and writers who write light-hearted just-for-fun teen adventures.

3.  Readers. ’Nuff said.

2.  Planet Earth. Some might say this should be #1 on my list, seeing as how we don’t really appreciate our Mother Earth and haven’t for a long, long time. 

We never call, never write, and never, ever clean up our mess and she’s getting mighty fed up about it. 

It’s going to take a lot to get back in her good graces, but one way to start is to maybe thank her for letting us crash with her rent free all this time.

1.  People. Kind people, respectful people, thankful people. People who need people. People who listen to others and people who reject the plethora of “isms” that plague our society. People who vote and people who help. Good people who’ll surely go to The Good Place. 

Happy Thanksgiving to my YAOTL family—thank you and much gratitude for showing up every month!

- Janet Raye Stevens