Sunday, August 18, 2019

All Hail Grandma Honey (Alissa Grosso)

I don't know that I have a favorite among all the protagonists that I've written. I like them all in different ways, but when it comes to the secondary characters I do have a clear favorite, and her name is Grandma Honey.

Honey Armstrong is the grandmother and primary caregiver of Petra Armstrong the protagonist of my YA novel Unnamed Roads. Not unlike her granddaughter, Honey is smart and sassy, but she's so much more than that.

Her primary occupation is entering and winning sweepstakes, which makes her wonderfully eccentric. It's also how she's able to finance her granddaughter's cross-country quest to finally meet her mother.

But like any good character, Grandma Honey has her flaws as well. She's made some mistakes along the way, which is why when her granddaughter seems hellbent on getting some boy she barely knows to drive her from her home in NJ to Omaha, Nebraska, Honey agrees, provided she comes along for the ride as well.

During the road trip Grandma Honey gets to provide comic relief as well as serve as the voice of reason. I hope readers have as much fun getting to know her as I did creating her.

Honey isn't based on anyone I know or have ever met, but like just about every character I've created she does have some things in common with real life folks. I, like Honey Armstrong, have won an orange juice mug and loathe coconut. And that scene where Grandma Honey forgets that the reading glasses she's wearing aren't the ones on a chain? Yeah, that's based on a real-life incident. But for the most part her personality is pure fabrication.

Even though I made her up, she's one of those imaginary people that I think it would be fun to hang out with. I'd love hearing her stories about her latest sweepstakes wins while we enjoy some candy bars that aren't filled with coconut or wander around a thrift shop together looking for things we can resell online.

Alissa Grosso is the author of Unnamed Roads as well as six more books for teens and adults. Find out more about her and her books at

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

All Who Are Terrible at Picking Favorites Say "I" (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’ve been asked to share our favorite (yes, singular) character that we’ve created.

Admittedly, I’m terrible with picking favorites. I cringe when I’m asked to name my favorite book. My favorite song. Even my favorite color changes on an almost daily basis...

What makes this even more difficult is that the characters that live in our books are our babies. We nourish them with our hopes. Our dreams. Our blood, sweat and tears. The gestation period can often be much longer than nine months, sometimes years, before we can dress them up and allow them to take their first steps into the world. 

And now you’re asking me to pick a favorite?

How can I choose between a lovable, mischievous little boy and his larger-than-life Dragon pal (When A Dragon Moves In?) How can I ignore his big sister or his little brother (When A Dragon Moves In Again, I Love My Dragon?)

What about Nelson (of Good News Nelson), who realizes that sometimes it’s not enough to just deliver the news; sometimes you need to do something to change it, and make the world a better, kinder place? And Mrs. Welsh, who runs the animal shelter? And his cranky old neighbor, Mrs. Snodberry, who ignites the passion in Nelson to find homes for all of those abandoned kitties?

What about all of the other characters in my stories that have yet to be published? Like my sweet elephants and my ballet dancers and Admiral Palmetto, the oversized cockroach who serves to protect young hearts that have been broken?

Simply put, I can’t.

What I will say is that characters, like children, all need different types of love at different times. I have one story that’s endured over 100 revisions. My main character, Carmen, is a tiny spider with huge dreams of performing in an opera. None of her peers or family members understand why she can’t be satisfied to weave webs. But she doesn’t allow anything to deter her…not their scoffs, not their warnings, not even her lack of vocal cords.

Maybe it’s because publishing itself is wrought with rejection. Maybe it’s because my husband and I taught our own kids to ignore the “no”-it-alls and pursue their passions. Or maybe it’s because I most relate to my sweet Carmen right now as I continue on my own path to securing agent representation.

But the unstoppable arachnid continues to occupy a corner deep within my heart, and I will continue to revise, re-envision and resubmit her story until she finds her place out in the world.

Because that’s what we do for our kids. And our characters.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Who's Your Favorite? (by Maryanne Fantalis)

Who's my favorite character I've written, you want to know?

Might as well ask which of my children is my favorite.

(And that's funny, because they'd each tell you they think the other one is the favorite, so I think I'm doing my job right...?)

Seriously, though, it is a funny question, and a hard one, especially because I didn't invent these characters that I'm writing. Shakespeare did. But they're mine now and I love them. They spoke to me in their voices and allowed me to bring them to life on the page in a new way.

I always pictured Kate like actress
Isla Fisher
Kate, of The Taming of the Shrew, has the blessing of being my very first published heroine. She is also fiery, fierce, and unapologetic, all things I have never been. In fact, I had a really hard time writing her, because in scenes where the conflict needed to escalate, my instinct was always to dial it down. She'd start a confrontation and another character -- usually Will, my hero -- would respond in a perfectly reasonable way. I'd be typing away, thinking, "Why, yes, Will, you're absolutely right," and the conflict would be resolved. Then I'd shake my head, shriek (quietly), and say, "No no no, she has to fight back!" I think it's appropriate that Kate, the supposed shrew, was really hard to write at times. I adore her for her faults and for how she struggled to overcome them.

I mean, Beatrice and Benedick,
am I right?
My soon-to-be-published second novel, Loving Beatrice, is based on Much Ado About Nothing, which is in my top five of Shakespeare's plays. Beatrice is smart and sassy, and she takes no crap from anyone. Unlike Kate, Beatrice grew up in a loving family that enjoyed and encouraged her wit, so for her, there are no real consequences of speaking her mind. In fact, it's Beatrice's wit and openness that make her a perfect match for Benedick, and it's their clever word-play that has made Much Ado an audience favorite for 400 years. Beatrice is the woman I wish I was. She perfectly articulates her thoughts and is always ready with the right words for any situation. How can you not love Beatrice?

Imogen Stubbs as Viola,
dressed as Cesario.
I love it when they give her a mustache

The third in my Shakespeare's Women Speak series will be based on Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare's dressing-up-and-mistaken-identity plays. Viola is the wise, articulate, and heart-on-her-sleeve core of the play. I ache to watch her love for Duke Orsino -- who thinks she's a boy -- which goes unrequited until the very last scene of the play. But she never gives up, never wavers or doubts, no matter the chaos swirling around her. She embodies devotion and patience and self-sacrifice.

Um, yeah. As I write it, I'm seeing it. I identify hard with Viola.

A still from a Royal
Shakespeare Company production.
Does it make you uncomfortable?
It should.
Finally, I've got a full draft manuscript of Measure For Measure waiting to be cleaned up and published. I keep thinking it's too much drama and pain, not enough humor, to be the next marketable novel, and so it will probably be published fifth or sixth, should I get the great fortune to publish so many in this series. If you don't know the play, it is painfully relevant to the current #metoo conversation, involving as it does a novice nun propositioned by a lecherous lord who -- naturally -- blames her for his attraction to her. In fact, a dramaturg at the American Shakespeare Center recently blogged about attending a performance of the play that integrated the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh and pointed out that the audience could not easily tell the difference between Shakespeare's original text and the interpolated lines. I admire Isabella for her deep belief -- in God, in order, in justice, in family, in herself -- and, like all Shakespeare's heroines, for her skill with words. Honestly, she's a better lawyer on her feet than I ever was.
So. Who's my favorite character?

I can't possibly answer that.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A Witchy Favorite by Joy Preble

Well, here I am, running late yet again. I do not know what it is about the 7th of the month that makes it come and go without me noticing until late in the day on the 8th, but there you go. It happens, people. Book deadlines and bookstore job and the rest of my life probably don't help, either!

But to the point. Favorite character of mine. That's our topic and it's a tough one. Hard to pick since I love them all in different ways, even (or maybe especially) the bad guys but always my main characters who I love to put through misery and drama and see what kind of mettle they have. As one does.

If I have to narrow it down though, I'll always come back to Baba Yaga-- the infamous Russian fairy tale witch who drives the plot engine throughout the Dreaming Anastasia trilogy. Three books of my favorite witch means I spent a load of time with her over a number of years and that I still do, actually, because miracle of miracles, the series is still in print, still selling, and still occasionally getting special publisher promotions almost 10 years after book one arrived in the world. (Let me add here that yes, it is entirely possible to have this occur even if you have not yet been a NYTimes bestseller, for a series that received decent but mixed reviews with no trade stars, and that wasn't initially on the publisher's front list, but broke out anyway.)

So Baba Yaga. I love her so many reasons, not the least because I was able to write back story for an iconic character and come up with my own reasons as to why she is who she is. I love that she has this amazing duality: She can do good or do evil and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you deserve to be helped or to be chomped into smithereens by her fierce iron teeth.  I love that she has removable hands that scuttle about to do her bidding. I love that she lives in a house on chicken legs with a fence topped by skulls. I love the power of her and her brutal ugliness.

Making her my own meant that I got play with all sides of her including the 'reclaiming the crone' side. Older women still struggle in our culture to be seen as beautiful, as powerful, as smart and worthy and wise. Ageism is rampant in every corner of our professional lives -- and yes in publishing where, like much of the entertainment world, youth is crowed about as though there is a special wisdom there that disappears after 30. Perhaps there is, but there is something to be said for all ages. Picture books even, with their frequent illustrations of grandparents as looking at least 85 and frail, help muddy those waters.

My Baba Yaga is wise and foolish, beautiful and hideous. She gave away beauty for power and she has mixed feelings about this. She is big and brutal and also kind. She loves, although not in the ways you'd always hope. She is empathetic and also vengeful.  And on like that.

It's a great series. All three books. If you read, let me know what you think of my favorite witch.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Reggie Frye is My Favorite Guy by: Kimberly Sabatini

This month we're talking about our favorite characters we've written. 

I LOVE all my characters. I've written them in YA, MG and picture books--but my favorite has to be Reggie Frye. 

Reginald Hemmingway Frye was once the very first character of my very first and very badly written rhyming picture book. And he keeps popping up, in some shape or form, as a character in a variety of projects I've written. I know who he is from Pre-schooler to teenager andf everything in between.

In general, he is a persistent and lovable fellow with a vivid imagination and an internal compass stearing him to be his most authentic self. I can't wait until the day he's on your bookshelf and stolen your heart like he has mine.

Here's an exerpt from my young middle grade novel--REGGIE FRYE: THE UNDERWEAR ESCAPADE

“Reggie! What are you doing out of bed? You start school tomorrow morning.” Mom pinched the skin between her eyes, smearing some nut butter on the bridge of her nose. She was doing that thing she always does when she gets a headache. 
Reggie nodded. He was a headache-making machine. He didn’t even have to try. He was just good at it.
“Sorry, Mom. I’m going right back to bed. All I need to know is where you put my Galactic Hero underwear. I’m going to wear that kind to school tomorrow.”
“Oh, Reggie. You can’t have your Galactic Hero underwear back.”
“I can’t?”
“It looked like you were pretty happy with your new boxers, so I used the old ones.”
Reggie’s eyes grew to three times their size. It wasn’t a pretty sight picturing your mom wearing your teeny-weeny Galactic Hero undies. 
“Oh, for goodness sake, Reggie.” Mrs. Frye had the unusually amazing ability to read his mind. “I wasn’t wearing them. I love Galactic Heroes as much as the next mom, but do you really think I could fit into those little pants?”
Reggie snort-laughed thinking about his Mom trying to stuff herself in. “I guess not.” He giggled. 
She giggled, too.
“So, what did you do with them?” Reggie asked, dipping his finger into the nut butter jar when his mom turned her head.
“I used them to wash the windows. They fit on my hand perfectly.” Mrs. Frye wiggled her fingers. “But I threw them out when they got too dirty. I’m sorry. I didn’t think you wanted them anymore.”
Reggie nodded. “I didn’t, until now, but that’s okay. I’ll figure something else out.”
Mrs. Frye bit her lip and called out, “Figure something else out?”
But Reggie had already dashed back upstairs. Just like Captain Rador, he was a man with a plan. He’d solve his own problems, make himself snake proof for tomorrow and find a way to convince Mr. Boomba he was born to be the very first Galactic Heroes Fourth Grade Battalion Commander. 

And here is your teaser...

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Choosing Favorites (Mary Strand)

This month, we’re blogging about our favorite character ... in a book we wrote.

I hate choosing favorites, whether it’s in characters I’ve written or friends of mine or music (Eagles, Eagles, Eagles) or books or movies or whatever.

But I will.

My characters usually feature pieces of me scattered through them in random combinations.  For instance, almost all of my protagonists are athletes, although very few of them play my favorite sport: basketball.  The heroine of the series I’m currently writing plays basketball, though, and shares so MANY pieces of me that my husband laughed when he read the first manuscript in the series and said he couldn’t tell the two of us apart.

Even though one of us is only 15.

My Bennet Sisters YA series involves a modern collision between Pride and Prejudice and five Minnesota sisters who have the bad luck to be named Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia Bennet.

I’ve always thought, since I first read Pride and Prejudice at age 15, that Elizabeth Bennet was basically me.  Hey, my middle name is even Elizabeth.  The fact that thousands if not millions of other women have ALSO thought that Jane Austen created Elizabeth Bennet with THEM in mind is entirely irrelevant.  ha ha.

But, um, really.  Lizzie Bennet = Mary Strand.  End of equation.

When I wrote my modern-day Liz Bennet, in Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras, it only cemented my opinion.  To make it even more clear, my Liz is a tomboy who plays sports, loves classic rock and cherry Dilly bars, and often dresses like a slob.

Me, me, me.

In the original Pride and Prejudice, and in all of the P&P movies, I never liked Lydia.  Who did, right?  She was a spoiled brat and pretty much got what she deserved.  (Which is what should’ve happened to Amy March in Little Women, and didn’t, but I digress.)

I had the same opinion about my own Lydia Bennet when I wrote Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras, and it didn’t change when I wrote Mary’s and Cat’s respective books.  In fact, my bad-to-the-bone Lydia makes Jane Austen’s Lydia look like a rookie.

The problem: I knew that the last book of my Bennet Sisters series would be Lydia’s book, Livin’ La Vida Bennet.  Which meant I had to identify with Lydia, the protagonist, and make readers identify with her and hopefully love her, AND give Lydia a YA version of a happily-ever-after.

I shared the truth with a good friend: I really wasn’t sure I could write a book about a heroine who’s bad to the bone.

My friend laughed.

She then reminded me that I’ve developed a Facebook persona in which I’m (mildly) bad to the bone and suggested I knew a thing or two about it.  Or, say, a million things about it.


And so it was that Lydia was born.  My Lydia.  She wound up sharing parts of my personality that don’t often appear in public, or at least not since I practiced law.  She’s tough as nails.  She’s fierce but funny.  She’s smart.  I even gave her a sport so she could truly be like me.  Ultimately, I both respected her and got a real kick out of her.  In Livin’ La Vida Bennet (but not a moment sooner), she became my favorite character in the series.

And, you know, bad girls (and guys) deserve happy endings, too.  Maybe because, deep inside, bad and good and sweet and salty and everything else that makes each of us unique is worth taking a closer look at.  Or maybe we simply all deserve to be happy.

No matter what.

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

Monday, August 5, 2019

My Favorite Character? The One I'm Writing Now...

by Fae Rowen

I'm deep in the final edits of the second book in my YA series P.R.I.S.M: Prisoner Relocation Internment System Management.

Since you're kind enough to read this blog, I'll share a preview of the cover (to the left) with you. (It hasn't been released yet!)

The main character is a teen named O'Neill. She's self-sufficient, a pilot, a trained soldier, and lives on a prison world for exiles who lost the global civil war on Earth twenty-five years ago. Prism is the only home she's ever known, or will know, because to try to leave it would mean her execution.

All that would seem like enough problems, but in the first book, her father went missing during an exploration of the planet and her status is about to change because of the First Law of Prism. She will have to declare a male protector who will have the authority to control the smallest detail of her life.

She refuses to declare a protector and her life changes, though she doesn't land in the brig for life.

In the first book she fell in love with an Earther, no small task since she hates all things from Earth. But Jericho Montgomery, sole heir to the richest conglomerate owner on Earth, travels to Prism and they both start imagining a life they'd never contemplated before. Jericho returns to Earth with the promise of coming back to Prism to marry O'Neill, who is still conflicted about marriage.

Oh, did I mention that Earth is sending mercenaries to enslave the exiles and make them work in the deadly translithium mines that her father found on Prism?

So, why is O'Neill my favorite character? 

During these edits, I'm deep inside her skull and I love her determination, her fighting spirit, her dedication to doing the right thing. She loves her family and friends without reservation, but she worries about marriage and losing her independence. Her fight for independence has sparked a rebellion against the First Law of Prism, which happens to be the only law on the prison world.

She didn't think anyone would notice when she took on the planet's Joint Committee, but her fierce struggle for liberty has awakened the long dormant or deep-suppressed feelings of the females who were originally exiled to Prism and had agreed to the First Law for their survival. Those not in favor of throwing out the law that says every female must be protected by at least one male, who has the power to dictate what she can and cannot do to maintain her safety, focus their anger on O'Neill.

But she trains for the coming war, drills with other pilots, first-and second-gens, to protect the lives of the people of Prism. That is the battle she focuses on now...while she deals with an ex-boyfriend who thought she'd be his fiancee, her stepfather who wants to sell her tiger for tiger steaks, and Jericho, who acts like he's not sure he still wants to marry her. And her father who's become a hybrid between an energy being and a human. And her grandfather, who is the leader of the military forces on Prism.

Amid all this, she maintains a wicked sense of humor, her duty-filled schedule, and hope.

When I started writing O'Neill's story, I didn't know she was such a fiercely independent teen. The more I wrote, the more I liked her. The more I realized she was like me during those years (though I had a much easier life) the deeper I was pulled into her story.

And that's what happens with all my characters. I fall in love with my heroes as I write them. And I grow to love my heroines as I discover the layers to their character. Once this book "goes live" at the end of October, I'll start work on the final revision of Keeping Athena, a science fiction book about a fighter pilot in a war against a superior force for four years. I fell in love with Drake, who fights on the side of her enemy. And I love Athena's character for her tenacity to escape the enemy world and to do the right thing by Drake, who protected her there. If you ask my favorite characters after Halloween, I'll probably answer Athena and Drake.

After the first of the year, ask me the same question, and the answer will be the characters from the book I'll be working on then.

I am so predictable.

About Fae

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.Fae's second book in the series will be available for pre-order October 1, 2019.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Strong Enough for a Man, But Made for a Woman (Brian Katcher)

So when I was in high school, the whole backmasking paranoia was rampant. According to legend, if you were to play certain rock songs backward, you could hear Satanic voices telling you to do awful things. According to rumor, if you played Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust' in reverse, you could hear the message SMOKE MARIJUANA. Once, during a quiz bowl tournament, a friend had rigged his Walkman to play cassettes backwards, and we were eager to see if the legend was true. Though he might have heard what he wanted to hear, my friend swore the words were there, and he began to repeat it: Yeah! Smoke marijuana! Smoke marijuana! Yeah!

He was unaware, due to his headphones, how loud he was being, and that he was screaming this loudly to a room full of nerds.

So are there secrets in books? Messages that the author inserted as inside jokes? There is historical evidence for this. For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterwork, The Great Gatsby, was originally titled The Cheap Bastards at the Power Company Can Suck My West Egg. Likewise, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment was originally called Still Too Good to Go to the Dance With Me Now, Maria Yupov? Who's a Loser Weirdo Now, Huh?

Fortunately, we have editors to prevent this sort of thing. But the more subtle jokes get through. For instance, in all my novels I include an author cameo. Nothing blindingly obvious, but like Hitchcock, I do like to wave at the audience. See if you can find me.

Also, I include a reference to the Holy Father Church, as part of my Faustian bargain to get published in the first place. 

Finally, and I never noticed this until a friend pointed it out, most of my major male characters have two syllable names than end with N: Leon, Logan, Sherman, Clayton, Deacon, (and unpublished) Darren, Justin, Griffon, Brenden, Gordon, Deon, and Shannon.

Friend: Why do you supposed that is, Brian?

Also, every one of my novels is a metaphor for the Franco-Prussian War. I feel silly for pointing out something so obvious, but some people miss that.

I buried Paul.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hidden Messages and Messaging the Hidden by Dean Gloster

            When I was a young lawyer, I regularly used office equipment to talk to God.

            Which isn’t as weird as it sounds. I was a starting associate at a San Francisco firm full of super-smart lawyers, Farella, Braun & Martel. In those days—decades ago—the only people who had email were in academia or the military. So the business lawyers used, instead, an array of “current network” machines to send each other in-house messages through variations in the building’s electrical system—the alternating current in the walls. (This is, actually, true.) Each of us had a three-initial name—DMG for Dean M Gloster, DEC for Daniel E Cohn, MJL for Matt J Lewis, etc. To send a message, you’d type the three-letter address and then your message, and through the magic of electrons and those obsolete appliances, it would dot-matrix print out on a ticker tape, in all caps, from a little terminal on the recipient’s desk ten floors above. If you typed the three-letters wrong and there was no matching user—say, to XYZ—then instead your own terminal would spit out a curt ticker-tape error message “XYZ DOES NOT EXIST.”

            So I periodically messaged GOD.

Things like “why is there human suffering?” or “why do bad things happen to good people?” or even “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” But instead of getting some kind of comforting answer, I just got the same machine-barked Nietzschean pronouncement: “GOD DOES NOT EXIST.”

I kept expecting that to change, because if I’d set up the network, I damn-well would have created an administrative account, and what better set of initials for an omnipresent administrator than G-O-D? Besides, it was some thoroughly weird communication technology for reaching those with three-letter names, so why not periodically use it to reach God?
            That was perhaps one of several places where the world of commercial law firms did not entirely match my sensibilities. 

           But one of the things the current network enabled was spoofing, because every message also included the three-letter initials of whose terminal it came from. So if you wanted to prank someone, you could wander into someone else’s empty office and type them a message from the terminal there, and the recipient would think the message came from that person.

            Mild hilarity ensued. Four of us relatively-new associates started at about the same time, and they put us in a row of small offices on the 19th floor. Like me, Matt Lewis was not a morning person, but along with coffee, when he stumbled in, he always brought some monstrous pastry. As soon as he left his office for any reason, one of us three remaining associates—Tiela, Dan or I—would steal that pastry and hide it somewhere, usually in someone else’s office. So if Matt and I had early meetings elsewhere, for example, Tiela would steal Matt’s pastry, then put it in a cabinet in my office, then type a message to Matt from Dan’s office: “MJL—I saw Dean take your pastry and put it in his office cabinet on the right.”

            Later that morning, when I was on a conference call and Matt had returned from his meeting to find a missing morning bun and that message, Matt would quietly barge into my office, give me an accusing glare, and then take his pastry out of my cabinet, where it was hiding, while I tried to pantomime “I-didn’t-take-it-I-had-no-idea-it-was-there.”

            Good times.

            One morning, when Matt came to my office searching for the missing pastry, I said I didn’t know where it was, but I could send a message to someone who surely did. “Where is Matt’s pastry?” I typed—to GOD.

            Matt was remarkably good natured about all of this, but he not amused by the DOES NOT EXIST reply.

I still remember those first couple of years at the firm as some of the most fun I had as a lawyer, which probably explains why I now write novels instead.

But today’s post is supposed to be about hiding things in novels.

In my debut novel, Dessert First, I hid a bunch of things: The real number of the U.S. suicide prevention hotline—three times. (Which is, 800-273-8255, or 800-273-TALK) A bunch of short poetry. (“If you distilled human despair and drank it in the dark while emo bands played funeral music, the result would be more cheerful than Drowningirl’s poetry… If her high school has a literary magazine, the editors are probably organizing an intervention.”—Kat Monroe, on p. 110.) Also practical advice for teens on a bunch of things: How to communicate scary information in the specialized language of Mom Calmese. (p. 33) How to pretend to be asleep in the back of your parents’ car so you can overhear their private conversations. (The secret is dead-goldfishing: “Flop over, relax your face, and open your mouth into a big vacant O, like a dead goldfish. The dead goldfish face was key. It made me look like a kid, instead of a teenager who cared how she looked. It triggered parent suspicion-reducing aww-memories of when I was too little to back talk, and mouth-open drooling was normal.”—Kat Monroe, on p. 262.) Even how to deal with adults who are blaming you for something, through the technique of Ultimate Frisbee Blame-Toss. (p. 250.)

But the most interesting thing I hid in the novel was the actual email address of my first-person protagonist, snarky, funny, hurting 16-year-old Kat Monroe. She had an online identity, Ciphergirl, and sent and received email from her gmail address listed at the top of p. 205.

I figured that someone who read the book would—like me, checking the GOD address on the current network—send Kat an email at the address just to see what would happen. And then I could respond in the persona of Kat. (I had a lot of fun writing in her voice.)

It never happened.

Not in the first two years after the novel came out, even though I regularly checked.

Then, a few months ago, my laptop that automatically knew the password to Kat’s email address died an inconvenient and disruptive death. Last night, preparing to write this post, I tried to get into the account with a dozen attempts at the half-remembered password. And failed.

So I guess that ship has sailed, and no one will be communicating with my novel’s protagonist by email. It leaves me a little sad, because one of the reasons I write stories is that I like living in a world that has a little unexpected magic and weirdness in it.

But, in a way, it’s fitting: Dessert First was about a lot of things, and some of those things were forgiveness, saying good-bye, and the tenuous connection between people and how to carry on and deal with the pain of the loss of connection.

Kat will be fine. As she says, near the end of the novel, “I get a strange feeling I haven’t had for about three years. It’s weird, but nice. I think it’s happiness.”

Good luck, all, with your laptop computers and connections. 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.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul.

When he’s not busy hiding things in novels, Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Secrets of the author's own brain (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Secrets are one of the best ways to introduce a driving force into the plotline of a book, because people are naturally curious. We want to know. We want to understand. There are entire genres of books and TV shows and podcasts and movies built around solving mysteries, unraveling historical puzzles, uncovering family secrets. Investigative journalism is about uncovering the truths that powerful entities seek to hide.

A secret in a book is like the gun that must go off. Whether or not all the characters in the book learn the secret, the reader must find out the answer. (There’s an exception for nonfiction in which nobody knows the answer—but the author has to offer something, some reason for the reader to tolerate the dissatisfaction of an unanswered question.)

Although my first book was called The Secret Year, the reader was in on the main character’s secrets from the beginning (however, the secondary characters had some surprises for him along the way). The tension was around how long he could keep his secret, and what would happen if it came out.

But in my second novel, Try Not to Breathe, a character’s secret played a huge role in the climax of the book. I wrote the first draft not even realizing that a major character was keeping a secret from the main character—and even from me, the author! When I realized this person hadn’t told the truth about a pivotal event, it opened up the path to the final conflict, and it explained a lot about this character’s motivations. Everything fell into place so smoothly that it was clear that one part of my brain had been keeping a secret from the other.

Which was fine with me, as long as that part revealed its plan in time to make it into the book. It’s one of the delights of writing: the things we discover as we write, the things we’ve known without knowing.

Friday, July 26, 2019

I Did Not Make This Up (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

*Or her.

I've struggled with this month's topic. If I had hidden a secret in my work, why on earth would I tell it in a blog post?

Once you've told a secret, it's not really a secret anymore.

And anyway, I doubt very much that the details of my life are interesting enough to hold a reader's attention for 80,000 or so words. I don't know if I agree with Virginia Woolf, at least not entirely.

But I do think that we can't help bringing our whole selves to the work, all our emotions and experiences, and everything we've learned along the way. I really think we should, in order to create pieces that are as unique as our individual selves. I began my career in academia, where the questions we ask before we begin a work ask us to think about what we're adding to the conversation. (For years, I taught out of a textbook called Joining the Conversation.)
  •   What has already been written about this topic?
  • ·         How is my work different?
  • ·         How can/should I respond to that?
  • ·         What can I bring to the conversation that is unique?
  • ·         Why am I the best person to write this piece?

I bring this training with me into writing fiction, and because I write historical fiction, I bring my training as a historian in, too, and I tend not to gloss over the messy realities of the past.

This has led several people to confront me about the supposed darkness in my soul that would bring me to write about the near-constant violence of the early American frontier.

If the thought of all these terrible things intrigues you, click here.

The Last Sister is set in a barely remembered sub-conflict of the Seven Years War known as the Anglo-Cherokee War. Occasionally, I'll have people say (awkwardly): "Um, I read your book. How did you think up all those terrible things?"


I did not make up all those terrible things. They happened, and I put them in a book.

My whole life, people have been saying to me, "I hear you love history," and I've been saying, "Love is a strong word."

A secret is just anything we don't talk about, and there's a lot in history that we just don't talk about, a lot of reality buried under layers of myth and legend and digestible chunks unmoored from their larger context.

So I guess there are secrets in my work, and the ones that are historical I'll gladly bring to light.

My own, though, I'll never tell.

If you'd like to learn more secrets, historical and otherwise, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or visit my website.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Secrets? Bring 'em on! (Brenda Hiatt)

I’ll confess right up front that I ADORE secrets in books, as both a reader and a writer. Nothing keeps me reading…or writing…like waiting for a secret to be revealed. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever written a book without at least one big secret in it. Often, the whole premise will be built around a secret. Obviously, secrets are one of my favorite “buttons” and I love pushing it! 

For me (again as both reader and writer), some of the BEST secrets are the ones where the reader finds out the secret before one or more of the characters do. Think about Superman’s secret identity as Clark Kent and how many iterations of that story you’ve seen (movies and especially TV shows) where half the drama and anticipation is in wondering when or if Lois Lane will figure it out. (In my opinion, most of the “juice” leaked out of the ’90s show “Lois & Clark” after she learned his secret.) Characters with big secrets are just plain fun—for me, anyway. 
Then there are the secrets the author keeps from the reader—and some, if not all, of the characters—until the time is ripe. Those are a little trickier, because in order not to “cheat,” I think it’s important to give the reader at least a FEW clues. Not so many they’ll for-sure figure it out ahead of time, but just enough that they might suspect and feel vindicated if they discover they guessed right. I’ve definitely used both kinds of secrets, though not necessarily in every single book. 

Weirdly, it took writing and publishing more than half a dozen books where either one or both main characters had a secret for much of the story before I figured out secrets are one of my “pet” themes. At which point I deliberately set out to write a whole series based around secret identities! That turned into my popular Saint of Seven Dials series of Regency-set historical romances, which follow a series of Regency “Robin Hoods.” In each of those books, much of the dramatic and romantic tension flows from the current Saint’s secret identity and whether/how the heroine (or, in one case, the hero) will discover it. So much fun!

Not surprisingly, when I began writing teen fiction I absolutely brought my love of secrets and secret identities with me. (Hey, there’s a reason “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was one of my fave shows!) In the first book of my Starstruck series, the heroine learns about a whole series of secrets, each one more mind-blowing than the last. And throughout the series, there’s a whole secret “world” coexisting with the mundane goings-on of high school and small town Indiana. Fun, fun, fun! 

 In that first book, the reader discovers all the secrets along with the heroine, since the whole story is told from her first person point of view. In subsequent ones, though, often there are secrets the reader finds out before one or more characters do, which is even more fun. Shoot, I even titled my most recent book in that series The Handmaid’s Secret! So yeah, I love, love, love secrets. :) 

ps - I’m only just starting to write the next book in that series, and writing this article reminds me that I need to come up with some more secrets—or at least one BIG one—if I’m going to have as much fun writing this book as I have all the others. So thanks, YAOTL, for the extreme timeliness of this month’s topic! 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Worst-Kept Secrets in Fiction Are Yours For the Reading by Patty Blount

Here's a little-known fact -- in addition to writing young adult fiction, I'm also a published romance author. A MATCH MADE AT CHRISTMAS, THE PARAMEDIC'S RESCUE, and NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY are all contemporary romances, a genre that is ridiculously lampooned and insulted.
Critics dismiss romance fiction, labeling it as 'mommy porn' or claiming it gives readers unrealistic expectations of men, love, and relationships. It's clear the people making such claims have never read a romance novel.

Romance fiction contains the KEY to winning at love.  Here's a clue -- it's not bodice-ripping, and it's not owning a helicopter, a yacht, and a red room of pain.

Look deeper.

In today's romance novels, you're likely to find relationships built on foundations of mutual respect. Hereos are strong but that's not all they are. They're flawed. They have problems and issues. Heroines are not weak today. Today's heroines are often independent and steely-spined women who don't need saving, but hope to find a partner, someone willing to share the load for the long haul. In today's romance, you're likely to find same-sex main characters as well as differently-abled main characters.

Twilight and its successor, Fifty Shades of Grey, are two of the most frequently ridiculed pieces of romance fiction.  (Spoiler Alert: Fifty Shades was first written as Twilight fan fiction.) Whatever you may think of the quality of writing, both novels feature deeply flawed heroes. Edward and Christian are both stalkers, both scarred by the lives they've led until they meet their respective love interests. For Edward, his guilt as a prodigal son returning to the Cullen family to endure life as a 'vegetarian' vampire following a decade of murderous hunger has convinced him he's a monster and therefore, unlovable. For Christian, his inability to bear the human touch he so strongly craves but can only be overcome through his BDSM arrangements, convinces him he's incapable of any other sort of relationship. Edward meets Bella, Christian meets Anastasia, (again, both women are the same character), and learn to respect those women as entities separate from themselves. Bella is not merely a food source; not merely another giggling student in high school. Anastasia is not merely a sub to dominate, not merely an object for his fantasies. Once that point of respect is attained, the love blooms.

There are infinite stories arguably better than these in which this truth is further evident. The best romances are ones in which both main characters demonstrate a profound respect for each other. Today's romances are stories of hope, forgiveness, redemption, and yes, love -- the one emotion every  single human being ever born has sought. Why should anyone find reason to dismiss that?

Yet, they do.

Pick up any novel by Nora Roberts, the reigning queen of romance fiction. Nora writes contemporary romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense. In ANY book you choose, find the moment when the respect is shown -- and SPOILER ALERT -- it always is.

In a society where the president pays porn stars for sex and hangs out with unscrupulous sexual predators, books that promote mutual respect should be, IMHO, on every reader's TBR list. I write my young adult novels the same way, showing the respect my characters develop for each other. In SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, older brother Derek Lawrence spends much of the novel figuring out how to fix his relationship with his sister, Ashley, raped by his teammate in a scavenger hunt gone horribly wrong. It's not until Derek learns to STOP framing his sister's assault and subsequent healing in HIS terms and begin recognizing and accepting her as a being separate from him, as fully human in her own right, that we see his growth.

If you want to learn to the secrets to finding love, read a romance. They're all in there. You just have to know where to look.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


I doubt anything can take a book on a wonderfully wind and crazy journey quite like a secret.

I think we can all point to instances in our own lives when we have done or said something completely out of character, all in order to protect a secret. As a teenager, we might have tried to keep a bad test score or a even a romantic relationship hidden from our parents. We might have wanted to keep certain family secrets hidden from friends or classmates.

Often, to accomplish the secret-hiding, we resorted to lying. The lies got bigger. Harder to keep track of. They spiraled outward. Those closest to us began to see through us. Question our motives. Fight ensued. And then...

Well. However secrets were handled in your own personal life, you could begin to feel the tension in that previous paragraph, couldn't you?

A secret can do the same thing for your novel.

The best part is, the entire book doesn't need to completely revolve around the keeping of a secret. You can wedge a secret into a subplot--and it can help add tension throughout the work. Secrets can also spin far enough out of control that they do begin to bleed into the main storyline--and shape the events of the novel. They change how the main character interacts with those closest to him or her. They can even alienate the main character--with no one to call on, they're all on their own to try to resolve the central conflict of the novel.

The next time your WIP starts to sag in the middle, try infusing it with a secret--it might belong to the main character, OR it might belong to someone close to that character. I guarantee a secret will ramp the tension right up.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Finally Sharing my Freaky!

There is something wonderful about holding onto secret good news. That special time when the news is yours alone before being shared with the world. When my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our daughter we held our happy news to ourselves for weeks and it was wonderful. It just so happened that we were living in England at the time and this was 1999, pre-cellphone constant-availability text-messaging easy-access. We had to actually pick up the phone to relay news, but we waited. Held our exciting news to ourselves. Told a few strangers. Took a breath and a full week before telling the people who were about to become grandparents and aunts and uncles. Kept our happy news just ours for a bit before sharing it with the world.

In publishing we are often forced to hold onto news as we wait for contracts or cover reveals or announcements, sometimes for years! The first time I experienced this I thought I would burst! Thankfully I was able to announce my first book deal within weeks of the sale, but those weeks felt like forever. My most recent secret news has involved the adorable cover for my next book FREAKY IN FRESNO which has been the home screen on my phone for the past six months but only just last week became public. It has so much character and it has been so much fun to get people's reactions to the now-familiar-to-me image. Even one blogger who didn't care for the cover made me smile because she was REACTING to it strongly. My new cover is out there and it belongs to the world (and bloggers) now! That pooch! That pink! It's just perfect and reflects the fun story inside and I couldn't be happier with my new book cover!

And so that's the last of my secret news stash for now. Looking forward to holding onto the next secret... hopefully soon!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Easter Eggs (Alissa Grosso)

Does July seem like a strange time of year to be talking about Easter eggs? Well, what if I told you these aren't the brightly colored eggs you search your front yard for? I'm talking about the metaphorical Easter eggs that astute fans spot in their favorite movies and video games.

Okay, so the term Easter eggs is used to describe some sort of secret or hidden reference tucked away in a movie or creative work. Digital Spy has compiled a nice list of some Easter eggs that you probably haven't spotted in popular movies such as some familiar Star Wars droids hidden in some hieroglyphs in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Yes, but apparently authors have been known to dabble in some Easter egg hiding as well. I enjoyed this list that Mental Floss compiled of some literary Easter eggs. And while I enjoyed learning that F. Scott Fitzgerald included a poem he wrote that he attributed to a character in one of his other novels in The Great Gatsby, my favorite Easter egg from the list was the story of how John Betjeman biographer Bevis Hillier exacted some revenge for a bad review that fellow biographer A. N. Wilson had given him. Hillier created his own Betjeman love letter that just so happened to fall into Wilson's hands. Believing it to be the real deal A. N. Wilson included it in his own John Betjeman biography, which was when reviewers spotted that the first letter of each sentence in the love letter spelled out: A N Wilson is a shit. Good stuff!

Okay, who among us hasn't felt like Michael Scott at some point and wanted to be part of an inside joke? Well, the cool thing about being a writer is that we have the opportunity to create our inside jokes by hiding references and planting secrets in our books.

Um, it has occurred to me that I really haven't been making full use of this magical ability of mine. Looking back on it, I can only think of a few instances of planting Easter eggs in my own works.

So, the first time I decided to toss an Easter egg into something I had created, it wasn't even a
book. It was back when I was editing a "newspaper" aimed at tourists to the Poconos. I put the term newspaper in quotes because though the publication was printed on newsprint our news stories were not pressing matters but things like exciting deals on lift tickets or a tasty new treat added to the offerings of a local candy shop. It was late one evening and I was working on finishing up a story on a local gift shop, but needed a cutline for a picture of some birdhouses they had for sale. On a whim I typed "Make a little birdhouse in your soul." As die-hard fans will recognize this is a reference to the They Might Be Giants Song "Birdhouse in Your Soul." Alas, no diehard fans seemed to be reading the photo cutlines in that issue because I didn't receive a single letter in response to my little homage.

Easter egg side note: I remember reading a story about an unexpected Easter egg planted by the guys from They Might Be Giants. So, there's a pretty trippy picture book out there called The Nightgown of the Sullen Moon by Nancy Willard. Apparently a young fan decided to create their own fan art of the book and then sent it off to They Might Be Giants as fan mail. Unaware that the crayoned masterpiece was not an original idea but an actual published book (the book's about the moon finally getting what she's always wanted, a flannel nightgown so you can understand how one might assume that it was simply something created by an imaginative kid) decided to pen their own song titled of course, "The Nightgown of the Sullen Moon." Only after its release did they learn from fans that it was in fact a published children's book.

Every Easter egg I've hidden in my own books has been a personal reference. In my book Unnamed Roads there's a chapter titled "We Get Lost in Gary, Indiana" a reference to a road trip photo a blogger sent me from back when I was doing some promo for my second book Ferocity Summer. Also in that book one of the prizes that Grandma Honey wins is an orange juice mug, and many years ago I too won an orange juice mug. As it turns out mine was way cooler as it was in the shape of Donald Duck's head. However, like many of the prizes Grandma Honey won I eventually sold that mug on Ebay. I suppose every author has little personal details like that sprinkled throughout their books.

I see now, though, that I really haven't been making full use of my Easter egg hiding abilities. There's just so many opportunities to have some fun and offer up little literary prizes for the most astute of readers. Well, it's something I'm going to have to start paying more attention to.

To all of you who have made it this far into my little post on Easter Eggs, all I'll say is I may have decided to do something about the shortage of Easter eggs in what I write, and as a clue I might have been inspired by that prank Bevis Hillier managed to pull off. So, happy Easter in July!

Alissa Grosso is the author of four young adult novels as well as three books for adults, which she now realizes unlike the article above are sorely lacking in Easter eggs. If you would like to know more about her and her books you can visit her at