Saturday, February 27, 2021

Blah (Brian Katcher)


I have to say, the previous year took ten years off my life. It has been almost exactly a year since anyone in my family ate in a restaurant or stayed in a hotel. I've had zero speaking engagements, it's a crap shoot weather my school will be in session on any given week, and I haven't sold a book in a while.

But we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Attempts to overthrow the US government were unsuccessful, we're digging out from the polar vortex, and best of all, my wife, myself, and our parents all were vaccinated. Things are looking up. 2021 is going to be our year.

I said that about 2020, though...

Friday, February 26, 2021

New Beginnings

In staying with this month's theme of new beginnings:

I’ve long held the belief that every new day is a fresh start. A chance to do good in the world, to make a difference, an opportunity to explore life and all that each day has to offer. I’m especially drawn to this notion as a new year dawns, the month of February bringing us one step closer to Spring and its sprouting signs of new growth. 

February is also the month of my birth, which gives me yet one more reason to celebrate the start of another year's journey on this twisted path of life. I’ve had my share of left turns, missteps, and stumbles, but the one thing that has always brought me back to center and given me the strength to take the next right step, has been the understanding that tomorrow is indeed a new day. Like Tom Hanks says in the movie Cast Away, "The sun will rise."

Meaning, that if I just keep forging the path forward, eyes on the prize, I'll be okay. That there are fresh opportunities around the corner, and another chance to make the world a better place for my children and grandchildren if I just persevere and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It doesn't mean I don't have dark days when I'd like to pull the covers over my head, or surprise catastrophes I'd love to avert, but I'm a firm believer in making lemonade from lemons and spotting the silver lining before I cast off a hard lesson. Call it being Pollyanna-ish, my husband might say it's my "dogged optimism", lol... 

I call it faith.


 

Whatever has given me this stubborn adherence to seeing the bright side, I'll take it, knowing to do otherwise only gets in the way of appreciating the little miracles life has to offer. 

Speaking of new beginnings; as reward for being open to such miracles, the Universe sent me a wonderful gift for Christmas this year. 

A new brother! 

I know, CRAZY, right? 

As you might recall from a previous post, I grew up the youngest of seven children. But there was common knowledge in the whispers of family gossip that my mother had become pregnant at the age of 19 while in her first year of college. Being 1949, like many good Catholic girls who found themselves pregnant and unwed at the time, she was sent to New York to stay with a family friend, and the baby was given up to Catholic Charities for adoption. My mother returned to school and went on to marry and have a family, but I think that crushing loss was always a wound in her heart that never quite healed. 

Long after her death, my siblings and I wondered about the boy she had given up. Who, and where he was. Did he have a good life? What would he be like today? But with so little information, we didn’t know where to start looking. A few of us joined those DNA sites and I’d done as much research as I could, but most of the family who were around to know the history were long gone, and adoptions weren’t open then, making it nearly impossible to access records.

Turns out, he found us! At 71, with the help and encouragement of his daughter-in-law, our long-lost brother connected with one of my sisters through Ancestry. We’ve since e-mailed daily, spent countless hours on the phone, and are planning a small reunion this summer after we're all vaccinated. Our family has embraced him wholeheartedly, and we’re having a great time getting to know our “Hillbilly Brother” (a nickname he proudly signs on all of his emails). Having been an only child, and knowing he was adopted, he is over-the-moon happy to have hit the “motherload” of siblings. He says he has had a good life, and though his adoptive parents have been gone for some time, and he's currently living alone, he is fortunate to be blessed with two sons with whom he is close. According to him, having all of us embrace him so kindly has given him a new lease on life.

We feel the same about him and are enjoying getting to know him. He’s a wonderful storyteller, sharing his lifelong love of tractors and farming in little vignettes of country life in the Catskills, each e-mail a treasure trove of humorous anecdotes. Stories about crazy chickens and ruthless barn cats, and a pet raccoon named Rocky that used to climb up and sit on his shoulder while he leaned over the engine of an old Studebaker. We’ve exchanged pictures and genealogy charts, information I’ve been compiling for years. He has many of the Starr (my mother's maiden name) family traits, and I can see our mother in his full lips and thick dark hair in photos of him when he was young. His precise, drawling intonation and the folksy turn of phrase that comes so naturally to him reminds me of my other Hillbilly brother, (who lives in Vermont and is as countrified as they come). The two have really hit it off and have enjoyed lengthy conversations about farm life and the mundane and sometimes profound things brothers talk about, happy to have found a kindred spirit.

The newest addition to our family is a welcome blessing and interesting character to be sure, and I look forward to knowing him more. After a few of his off-the-cuff comments about missing by-gone times and fear of socialists coming for his guns, I'm certain we have very few political views in common, but we’ve agreed to not discuss such matters when there are so many other things to talk about and so many years to catch up on. I take this as a bonus gift—the ability for two near-strangers to overlook their differences, find what we have in common, and focus on what we can appreciate about one another. 

In talking about our lives, I find he and I are not so different. 

We both love nature and value it to our core—a trait that runs deep throughout my family. And we are both innate storytellers—a gift we share with our mother. He is excited about my writing and is already proud of my accomplishments, giving me a warm, unexpected feeling of pride. And as brother's so naturally do, he likes to rib me by calling me his "little sis" or "kid" each time we speak, an endearment I gratefully accept from my new big brother, even at 57 years old. 

In my "dogged optimism", I see the opportunity to grow this new relationship as a hopeful step toward healing the country at large, and bridging the distance that so greatly divides us, even if it must be done one relationship at a time. At our core, we are people of one land, and we must learn to live in peace again if there is any hope for our collective survival. This is a truth none of us can escape.

All this to say…each day is a fresh start, an opportunity to do good, make a positive difference, explore life with an open mind and a compassionate heart—another chance to build a bridge. So, I wake up daily, filled with gratitude for the gifts and blessings I have in my life, and pray the same for others, trusting there is something good around the corner for all of us...

because it’s never too late for new beginnings.


Peace,

PJ

Thursday, February 25, 2021

New Beginnings

When I consider the topic of new beginnings, I think back to several years ago as I was trying my hardest (and failing miserably) at getting my next book deal. I’d already published sixteen novels at that point. But that didn’t make things any easier. I think, in some way, it actually made it harder, because I had that pressure behind me. (Was I never going to do this again? Was I done in the business? Was no one wanting to read my work anymore?) In a way, it felt as though I’d been fired from a job I’d had for sixteen years. 

Over the course of a year, I ended up starting and stopping several projects, feeling frustrated and defeated, and meeting rejection at every corner. And so, I ended up taking a break, stopping myself from chasing trends, from trying to predict what editors wanted. Instead, I tried to think about the story that I really wanted to tell. What was my intention in telling my next story? Why was I doing this? What was the point? 

It took me a while to find that intention. During that time, I read a lot, spent time with friends, worked out, went for long walks, took on other work, baked too many cookies… And, all the while, I kept reminding myself to be kinder to myself – to stop beating myself up, to give myself the time I needed. It was only then, after about a year off from writing, that an idea stuck. I knew exactly the book I wanted to write. My intention was set. 

The main character in Jane Anonymous hides her identity under the guise of “Jane Anonymous” as she writes about the seven months she spent in captivity, having been taken by someone she refers to as “the monster” and locked in a room with a bed and adjoining bathroom. “Jane” received meals and toiletries through a cat door, never knowing if it was day or night. The story is told on two timelines – then (during her time in captivity) and now (after she gets back). We see how the traumatic experience (and the losses incurred from it) changes her. Not only does Jane lose seven months of her life, but she also loses friends, relationships, and a sense of self.

When trauma strikes, we’re typically given an “acceptable” amount of time to heal and “move on,” but what happens when that allotted window of grieving time closes and the individual simply can’t move on? What happens when one feels as though she’s disappointing those around her for not being able to readjust quickly or radically enough, and so the trauma deepens, while emotions of guilt, anger, and alienation grow?

I was so motivated by that intention, I was able to write the novel fairly quickly. As I was trying to sell it, I had someone in the business telling me to take it in another direction. I considered the idea. I even toyed with it a bit. But in the end, I said no, because I felt straying from my intention would be betraying the story I wanted to tell. Happily, I ended up finding an editor who shared my vision. 

I’m not sure I’ll ever approach a novel differently; from now on, I think I’ll always be solid on my intention before I begin. But more importantly, I learned that sometimes one needs to start anew, even sixteen books, sixteen years, and a million copies sold later – and that that’s okay. It doesn’t make one any less talented or worthy. And, as an added bonus, I perfected my vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe and re-learned what I love most about writing.
 
Please check out Jane Anonymous here: https://lauriestolarz.com/book/jane-anonymous/
 
Also, I’m doing a virtual event for the companion novel to Jane Anonymous and I’d love it if you’d attend. The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep comes out 3/16. The event is at 7PM ET with fellow author Stacey Kade. Please register here:  https://www.crowdcast.io/e/laurie-faria-stolarz?fbclid=IwAR2RIaU6vkXuo8XVm_dssqVxZtYxOIF36Sz5rn0Yy57IIpyB78k7NH60jxY

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Better late than never! (Brenda Hiatt)

 January is usually when people talk about fresh starts and new beginnings, but most of us here weren’t quite ready for that last month, So, we put it off until February. Last month, things still felt rather dark, rather…2020. As for me, I hadn’t yet managed to write a single word on my next book. This month, though, I finally feel like the logjam of the past year may be breaking. (I even took down my Christmas tree, finally, after keeping it up—and lit—for a solid month-plus after Christmas.) 


The whole idea of “new beginnings” is resonating particularly strongly for me just now, because I’ve written at least four different openings for the next book in my Starstruck series so far, as I try to figure out the most engaging place to start the story. LOL! I’m sure I’ll settle on one soon…either one of the ones I’ve already written or yet another, better one. 


At the same time, a fair chunk of my creative brain space has been devoted to a totally different “fresh start”: an all-new, basically complete Starstruck Musical! This is a complete first for me, and very exciting. I may have mentioned last year that my singer/musician daughter and a composer friend of hers were working on creating a musical out of Starstruck, the first book in that series. Now, as of this month, all the music is written, the script and lyrics have been polished several times, and the show just had its very first read-through/sing-through by a cast of VERY talented musical theater actors. I had the privilege of sitting in on that and it was mind-blowing to see my own book brought to life that way! 





The above screen shot is from that reading, and the pic below links to a lyric video my daughter produced of Palace in the Starsthe second song in the show. (This is Marsha’s “I Want” number, her equivalent of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”) I’d love to hear what you think of it! 





I hope February finds you in a more positive, hopeful place, too. Surely, things will only get better from here on out! 


Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-five novels (so far). The most recent, Convergent, released October 27, 2020.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Re-Do by Patty Blount

 All this month, we at YA Outside the Lines are talking about fresh starts. While we typically draw some parallel to our writing journeys or to our work, this month, I'm going to drop the curtain and get real and talk to you about my experiences with therapy and why I decided to give it a go. 

It started in 2015, and it started off horribly. I'd lost my job after 13 years of employment and a few days later, my god-father passed away. Reeling from all of that pain, I began experiencing some severe and new physical pain. An elbow. A knee. A few fingers. 

My author career was at its high point. My third novel, SOME BOYS, had been published the year before and was now racking up the honors. It was named a finalist in the CLMP Firecracker Award, the Greater Detroit Booksellers' Best Award, the RWA Rita Award, and several others. I'd also found a new day job. These achievements took my mind off my pain, but only temporarily. Always temporarily. 

By May, I couldn't ignore things any longer. My left hand was almost useless, with radiating pain so acute, I could feel a tap on a keyboard straight up to my ear. 

It took a few doctors and one emergency room visit to diagnose psoriatic arthritis, which is much like rheumatoid arthritis with the fun bonus of an itchy skin rash to complement the pain. My new rheumatologist immediately started me on prednisone, methotrexate, and Humira injections. Prednisone is a steroid, methotrexate is a low-dose chemotherapy, and Humira is a disease-modifying drug. I packed on 20 pounds within weeks, stopped sleeping, and couldn't seem to focus on the work. Meanwhile, I was supposed to be finishing my fourth YA novel, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. 

I existed in this state for the next few YEARS...trying to fight a disease that had latched on to me, trying to write through the pain, trying to lose the weight I kept gaining with each round of prednisone. (Since 2015, I've gained over 40 pounds.) When you're in near constant pain, most people notice, but few people actually care. I'd had friends and family try to out-hurt me with things like "You think that's bad, try this..." or "I had my leg in a cast and still cleaned the house." As if I were in some contest... Friends didn't care all that much and my family just figured I was exaggerating. For the rest of 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, it was up to me and me alone to deal with all the flares, the medications, the side effects, the appointments, and the comorbidities. At one point, I had toxic levels of methotrexate in my blood so had to discontinue that and then, manage the resulting flare (this time, in my collar bone) with over-the-counter meds, which do not work on this disease. So, another round of prednisone and more pounds later, I started asking myself questions like, "How am I going to do this for the rest of my life?" 

I hated the pain, hated the condition of my body, hated all the extra weight, hated myself. 

For my birthday, a friend handed me a gratitude journal. It had space to write down 3 things for which I was grateful for every day. 

I couldn't think of one. 

There wasn't a single thing I felt grateful for. My life? Pfffft. It was consumed by pain and meds and when I could keep my eyes open long enough, a few paragraphs of writing. My family? So they could shrug off my situation as "no big deal"? My friends? They had their own problems and had no room for mine. 

It was up to me and me alone. 

I found a therapist nearby and during my first visit, I told her my goal was to learn to love myself, to become my own best friend. My therapist taught me the power in living deliberately. Many of our responses to the world around us are unconscious -- part of the inate fight-or-flight response our bodies produce in response to danger. Fear is part of that response. Avoidance is part of that response. 

When something causes you pain, your natural in-born response is to avoid it. Because much of my pain was in my hands, I was avoiding writing, which created a different pain for me, one that made me feel like I wasn't ME anymore. 

But we are also rational beings. We have the power to reason and can wield that power when we know we're safe and in no danger. We can short-circuit the fight-or-flight response but it takes work. Deliberate work. 

And she started by forcing me to face the good in my life, the things I hadn't been able to see through the pain. It wasn't easy, but once I caught on, I could fill that little gratitude journal in minutes a day. I learned how to spot the baby steps of progress. She also encouraged me to stop using words like "fight" this disease. At first, that sounded counter-intuitive to me. But because PsA is not curable, she explained that words like "battle" and "fight" are setting me up for those moments of crushing disappointment. There will always be flares. There will always be pain. So instead, she encouraged me to think in terms of "acceptance" and "living with" and "listening to my body." While my PsA and I will never be BFFs, that shift in thinking has made a big difference in my outlook, in my planning. I know when to say no, and that it's okay when I do. I know when I can push through pain and when it's better if I don't. I know what it means when I can't sleep and I know what foods to avoid. 

Part of this reset involves journaling. I'd been tracking my meds and symptoms since 2015. Now, I take it a step further. I track everything. My goals for the day, and for my fiction. My eating plan. My exercise progress, anything that matters at the time. I can even get creative, similar to the photo below. (Don't judge :) )

And yes, I still track 3 things to be grateful for each day. They are specific things that matter to me on that day, in that moment. Sometimes, I'm grateful to be able to get off the floor without groaning, or open a jar by myself. Other days, they're more general like being grateful for my ability to learn new things, even at the age of 55. And still other days, they might be filled with little love notes to myself like "Great job staying patient even when your boss was clearly wrong." 

I've taught myself to provide the kind of support I would get from a best friend. A best friend would never tell you, "Oh my God, you're so fat now, you may as well eat all of the cake anyway. It's not going to matter." A best friend should remind you that you've worked so hard to lose two pounds and even though that cake may be delicious, it will likely start a flare up, which means another round of prednisone, pain, and gain. Is that moment of deliciousness worth that price? 

As for my writing, I've learned how to use dictation software when the pain is really bad and to hit the keyboard running when it's not. I leave notes to myself where I want to pick up a scene in my next writing session, what emotion I'm looking for. I know I work better in the mornings, so I shove myself out of bed for that time. I know a little exercise, even just 10 minutes before work means I will be able to stand up without assistance later in the day. I know how to show my body the love it needs to feel good again. 

You've probably noticed I have not had a new novel drop since 2018. I changed agents and changed genres. I wrote a romantic suspense that is now in my new agent's hands. And I'm currently working on a YA Christmas novel. I write about 300 words a day now and no longer curse my body for NOT writing 1000 or 2000 but instead, thank myself for those 300. 

It's all in how you look at things. In 2015, I wasn't sure I'd ever be happy again. In 2021, I have done the work needed to convince myself that happiness is a deliberate action I have to take every day. 







Sunday, February 21, 2021

New Start, Old Fave (Holly Schindler)

I published Playing Hurt, my second YA in 2011. Which really makes my head spin. Ten years ago, man. 

As it goes in the publishing world, the rights to that book reverted to me, and I re-released it last year. This year, I'm tackling the sequel...again.

Play It Again was the second independently published book I released, in 2015...which also makes my head spin. Six years ago, man. 

When my Playing Hurt re-release, uh, released, I sent it out to the Bookstagrammers to get fresh takes. The reviews made me think about that sequel in a new way. Such a new way, in fact, that instead of putting it out there as-is, I gave it a complete overhaul. I must've written and rewritten and cut out about a hundred thousand words. Words that aren't here, on any of these final pages, which I'm in the midst of copyediting:


 

One of the things I love most about indie publishing is the ability to dust off the old. To revise and update and make new again. To give an old project its own fresh start. 

In fact, this rewrite of Play It Again makes me see a way to turn this story into something far bigger than I'd once imagined. To allow it to be a continuing series, with a virtually unlimited number of books...

 I'm so glad I got those Bookstagrammers' fresh eyes. I'm so glad I gave that sequel a new, fresh start...because now, I might be on track for a fresh start with a whole new series.  

Play It Again will release super-soon. You can follow me on Instagram or check out HollySchindler.com for the latest.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Reclaiming My Heart by Jodi Moore

Last week, I wrote a dialogue between two characters in a middle-grade novel I’ve been working on for quite some time:

 

            “Where have you been hiding?” she whispered.

            Where have you? it seemed to question in return.

 

It stopped me cold. Because I realized my main character was talking to me.

 

You see, I’ve been writing this novel from a perspective not simply in third person, but as much removed from a personal tragedy as I could possibly manage. I altered the event. I changed the challenge. I told myself I needed to protect those I love.

 

And yet I continued to believe I could somehow help others face their own truth while hiding the truth from myself. (Spoiler alert: you can’t.)

 

If there’s anything I’ve learned in this past year, it’s this: we cannot deny the devastating consequences of deception and lies.

 

Admittedly, it’s taken some time, but I’m finally coaxing my innocent adolescent heart out of hiding. She wasn’t easy to find. You see, she’s been silent, frozen under layers of ice, but I’m giving her back her voice. 

 


 

And I’m so looking forward to see what she has to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Journey of My Existence Outside the Line -- By Kimberly Sabatini

 This month on the blog we're talking about fresh starts. 


At some point in my personal journey of trying to figure myself out--

I broke into tears.

I was beyond frustrated.

 Despite all the work I'd been doing on myself--

I appeared to be right back to the same place where I'd started.

I found myself deep in the realization that I hadn't moved forward at all. 


Until someone pointed out that my perception of my progress wasn't exactly accurate.

I was looking at things incorrectly.


If birth is point A.

And death is point B.

And I draw a straight line between the two--

the trail of ink that represents my journey is not the unbending path from point A to point B.

That line is a path of least resistance. 


But, like everyone else who is living fully,

the line of my existence looks more like a spiral staircase.

 It winds upward--dancing, wobbling and orbiting out into the space around my A to B trajectory.


Truthfully, somedays I traveled further from the path than I would like.

And maybe some days I don't go far enough. 

But mostly, when I've wandered for too long--

I manage to come back. 


And it's always on those moments of reentry--

the return to the familiar--

that I realize...

 I've made no progress.


At this point in my personal journey of trying to figure myself out--

I break into tears.

I'm beyond frustrated.

 Despite all the work I'd been doing on myself--

I'm right back in the same place where I'd started.

I KNOW I haven't moved forward at all. 


But it isn't true.


I am at a new spot on my journey from A to B.

And I've forgotten how far I've climbed, 

distracted and disoriented from the side roads more or less traveled.

Even though what I'm facing FEELS like the same old challenge.

It's an evolution.

And the act of facing what is hard--again and again.

Is actually a revolution.

An achievement.


I am not where I started.

And even if I'm not where I always think I should be--

I have new perspective--

about the world and for just a fleeting moment...even about me.

And I'm better for it.

And because of that perspective, 

I remember that the process of growing might go a little smoother

 if I grant myself some absolution, as part of my solution.


And so begins another fresh start...

on the journey of my existence outside the line.



 




                            k, 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

New Year, Nu ... tella (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging about fresh starts, or starting fresh, or how our outlook affects writing (UNFORTUNATELY TRUE), or how to keep (OR SOMEHOW REDISCOVER) the joy in writing.

You might be able to hear my desperation from where you’re sitting.

We’re now eleven months into COVID World, which has been a long, dark winter of my discontent, even last summer when at least the weather was quite lovely. Actually, here in Minneapolis, we also had a gorgeous fall and are now having a relatively mild winter. <knocks on all wood in sight>


Good weather doesn’t make up for quarantines and the inability to hear live music, go to movies, eat at restaurants, and hang out with (and play music with) my friends.


How my 2021 writing is actually going so far.

And so much for “new year, new me”: 2021 has started out pretty lousy, too.

I keep intending a fresh start on writing. Honestly, I keep failing. I made it about 12 days into National Novel Writing Month this past November, writing daily, although not much. But “not much” was way better than zero, so I was happy. And then ... I crashed again.


I even have LOTS to write! A YA series I love that I need to revise, and a romantic comedy that I need to write and which will be released this December. Stuff I love. I have ideas. I’m simply lost in a world I don’t recognize. A world I loathe.


I’ve been writing songs, though. My biggest hope is that the discipline of songwriting will eventually (like, SOON) translate back to my novels. In songwriting, I actually am making fresh starts: I'm trying new things, techniques I'm not yet too good at, and putting myself out there.


I just finished a four-week online songwriting class that produced a new song, and I'm part of a Facebook songwriting group in which we're currently writing (and posting a video of) 10 songs in a row, one every other week. I've written a couple of songs lately in the style of Joan Jett: with hard, driving barre chords, even though it's WAY more comfortable for me to strum chords in the style of the Eagles. I'm trying to shake up my guitar rhythms and sing melodies that aren't as predictable. (Both of my guitar teachers will confirm that my vocal melodies tend to be Extremely Predictable All The Time.) I'm now doing some guitar melodies and guitar picking in the songs I write. (But not much! ha ha.) Bottom line, I'm trying new stuff all the time.


All I need to do is dye my hair black, right? Yeah, I didn't think so.

I “just” have to translate that concept to my novels. Like, NOW. Somehow.

When I started writing this blog, I googled “song titles about starting fresh.” The top pick in one article was, quite perfectly, the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun."


            Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter

            Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here


Sounds like COVID to meeee! And it’s a reminder that the sun IS coming back. Along with it, hopefully, so will creativity and joy and feeling alive again. 


Here Comes the Sun! (I HOPE!)

I know so many writers and other artists who’ve seen their creativity shredded by COVID. I wish I could say that I fought back and won. I haven’t. But soon, I hope, I can indeed start fresh with writing.

Maybe even tomorrow. You never know, right?

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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

NEW YEAR, NEW START, FRESH TWIST (Janet Raye Stevens)

Happy February, YAOTLers! A fresh new year is upon us, so no coincidence our theme this month is getting a fresh start. A good theme for me, since I took a little vacation from the blog but now I’m back and…starting fresh.

After the year we’ve just had, seems like a fresh start is in order for us all. Here’s to the new jobs, the moves to a new place far away or just across the hall, the new projects, and the myriad other fresh journeys and adventures you’ll all be taking.


For me, 2021 offers a bright new chance to not only drop pearls of wisdom here on the blog. It gives me an opportunity to embrace a fresh start in my writing too.


First, I’ve got a fresh new manuscript. I’ve been having a ton of fun with this 1976-set coming of age story called My Bicentennial, featuring a plethora of mood rings, pet rocks, tall ships, girls with Dorothy Hamill haircuts, guys in powder blue polyester leisure suits, and 8-track tapes playing a totally 70s soundtrack.


That's my dad on the left;
he never needed to buy a belt in the 70s


Next, I’ve created a fresh new heroine. Deidre Daly, the 17-year-old heroine of My Bicentennial is fresh. I mean fresh, fresh. She just can’t keep the snark in check, but I can’t blame her for dropping the one-liners. Broke, bullied, and obese, she uses humor as both a weapon and a shield.

Deidre *totally* swooned over the Bay City Rollers!


I’ve also taken the first steps on a fresh new journey, not to the 1970s this time, but to 1943 – I’m publishing my WWII-set time travel, Beryl Blue, Time Cop in October. Every step along the way offers fresh challenges, like selecting a cover design that will be fresh enough to catch a reader’s eye, but familiar enough they’ll know in an instant what the book is about.


Yes, people once paid cash money for a rock.
The 70s were weird.

I think that’s enough to keep me busy for a while, but not too busy to wish you all a bright, shiny new year and boatloads of success in whatever fresh endeavors you undertake.


-When she's not donning her 70s disco duds and listening to her 8-track tapes, Janet Raye Stevens writes short stories and novel-length mysteries, romance, and YA.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

If I could be a character in a YA novel…

I would have to choose Lily from my Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Not that there aren’t a ton of awesome YA characters whose shoes I’d love to step into for a brief adventure (Enola Holmes comes to mind), but Lily is near and dear to my heart. 

                  She is the best of me, and hopefully, the best of humanity in the years to come.




Here's a brief synopsis of the trilogy: In the year 2057, in a post-apocalyptic world where three quarters of the population has been wiped out by a global pandemic, and a polar shift threatens the remainder of Earth’s inhabitants with extinction, sixteen-year-old genetically enhanced teen, Lily Carmichael, faces bigger challenges—escape capture by a rogue government agency, save her family, and avoid falling in love.

Reasons to love this character...

Lily is kind, compassionate, and capable. She consistently puts others above herself and has a passion for healing that drives her every decision—regardless of consequences. I especially like that these traits come across as authentic and true to character because of her backstory and life experience. Her parents are dead, she lives in hiding from those who would exploit her abilities for their own ends, and she's responsible for her thirteen-year-old brother who is her polar opposite and who is struggling with his own dark powers. Her resilience is more than the fact she can heal herself and others; it’s a reflection of her spirit and her desire to fight for what is right and care for those she loves.

I enjoy reading about strong young female characters, and Lily is that in spades—without being over the top, too perfect, and without losing her femininity. She fights when she must, but she tries to think and talk her way out of trouble—the mark of an admirable heroine who values intellect over violence. Unfortunately, that also drives her main internal struggle throughout the series…whether there is ever justification for taking a life, and how to reconcile that prospect with the cruel realities of the world. Her innate healing ability is part of her genetic makeup, but it’s also who she is as a person, and for Lily, taking a life is an existential challenge.

This character and her epic story was so much fun to write! I live in a tiny town in the hills where my nearest neighbor is three-quarters of a mile in either direction. “Preppers” abound here, and folks are very much the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of people. They are also the neighbors you want if you break down on the side of the road in a snow storm. After having frequent conversations with some good neighbor friends about what we would do if the crud hit the fan, how it all might go down, and whether we were prepared to survive, Lily came to mind and ideas started to flow! 


As we discussed the details of food growth and storage, water scarcity, on-the fly energy production, dealing with the impending devastation of climate change, and yes…the possibility of a pandemic causing societal collapse, the entire trilogy unfolded in my head (and that was back in 2011)!

I knew it would need to be three parts to tell the whole story, and as I began to plot it out, sure enough, Lily’s character was complex enough and strong enough to lead the way through three full novels. When I self-published WANING MOON in 2012, it was a departure from my contemporary YA romances, and I wasn’t sure how it would be received by readers. I was thrilled when RT called it, “An action-packed read with a strong female lead.” That was the best praise I could get as a new-to-the-genre author. It spurred me to quickly finish WESTERN DESERT and HEALING WATERS, which became Library Journal Self-e Top Picks and won several awards. 

I’m proud of the entire trilogy, but I’m most proud of Lily’s evolution through the story and how she never compromises her core beliefs, even though she has to make some tough choices along the way. How cool would it be to have the ability to heal spontaneously and to lay hands on and heal others? Lily doesn't let that power go to her head and she always seems to have the greater good as her guide.

At the end of the day, we can only hope we would do the same if we were in her shoes, right?

Who is your favorite YA character and what makes you wish you could be them? 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Why Mess With Perfection? (Brian Katcher)

 To be quite honest, I never really fantasized about switching places with a literary character. Instead, I'd usually place a version of myself into the novel, just so I could experience the story from my own point of view. And why not? When you truly love a story, you want to experience it yourself. How many times did I imagine myself as one of Captain Yossarian's drunken squad mates; a mental patient with McMurphy and the Chief; a smarmy Slytherin student who helps Harry defeat Voldenmort but never befriends him; Doc Savage's sixth aide; the fifth member of the A-Team, or Larry, Curly, Moe, and Brian. But as for actually replacing a character in a book, I didn't usually imagine that.

Well, rarely.

But as a kid, I do recall one series of books that I did actually imagine myself as an existing character. It was a series of 1960s-80s books about a trio of unoriginally named detectives, The Three Investigators.


Chubby genius Jupiter Jones, athletic everyman Pete Crenshaw, and studious researcher Bob Andrews run a detective agency along the California coast. Together, they team up to fight art smugglers, jewel smugglers, gold smugglers, and counterfieters, who all seem to hide out in haunted mines and castles. Their investigations are secretly backed up by their mentor/publisher Alfred Hitchcock (yes, the director...though when he died in real life, his character was replaced by the ficitonal Hector Sebastian). When they're not solving crimes, they're thwarting the plans of their teenage nemisis "Skinny" Norris, or having a rumble with the Hardy Boys.

I'd often project myself onto Bob, the slightly nerdy, well-read one. He was not much older than me, and I'd always wanted to live in California. My neighbor, who introduced me to the series, and I would have all kinds of backyard adventures, fighting the burglars and terrorists who lurked behind our houses. I think Bob Andrews is the one fictional character I'd considered changing places with.

Well, him and...


 

 

 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Future Me (Holly Schindler)

I was really young when I read Judy Blume's Forever. I mean about nine. Yeah, I know. I was obsessed with everything Blume--Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Are you there God? It's Me, Margaret. The usual elementary-school-aged books. I knew Forever was about first love. But I didn't know it was about a girl's first physical relationship until I started reading. 

Clearly, at that age, I knew nothing about what it was to have a boyfriend. Or romantic feelings for another person. But I knew that someday, I would. I didn't know anything about driving a car or wearing makeup (other than bubblegum flavored lip-gloss). I didn't know what it was to attend school where you had to change classes. But I knew I would.

When I read Blume, I got a chance to imagine a grown-up version of me. As much as I was walking in her character's shoes, I was walking in my own--the someday shoes of a future me. 

Maybe, really, that's one of fiction's greatest powers. Maybe it jumpstarts not only our imagination but our ability to daydream--about where we're going, what we want to do, who we want to be. 


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Why choose? (Brenda Hiatt)

 When I first started thinking about this month’s topic, I quickly became overwhelmed by choice. There are SO MANY book characters I’ve loved, admired and wanted to emulate over the years! Who would I pick to become, if I could? Jo March? Elizabeth Bennett? Harry Potter? Samwise Gamgee? Because there were way too many to choose from, I decided to limit my choice to my own characters—ones I’ve written myself. To narrow my choices further, I would only consider my teen characters, since this is a YA blog (though I’ve had a few Regency-era heroines who were still in their late teens). 



It almost feels like cheating to say I’d switch places with M (Marsha Truitt), the main character of the first five installments of my Starstruck series, since so much of her was already drawn from my own awkward teenaged self. Still, how cool would it have been back then to discover I wasn’t just a geeky, unpopular high school girl, but a long-lost Martian princess…who finds a soul mate in her very own “prince”? Sure, she had to deal with a lot of scary and gut-wrenching challenges over the course of those books, but she rose to meet and overcome each one to (repeatedly) get her happy-ever-after…or at least her happy-for-the-foreseeable future. 

 

  




Then there’s Kira, the heroine of The Girl From Mars, my first “spin-off” Starstruck book. She’s not at all like me, so would be much more interesting to switch with! She’s super-athletic, she grew up on Mars, surrounded by cool, futuristic tech stuff, before unwillingly taking a space ship to Earth. Kira was also a fiercely committed activist, though her chosen cause turned out to be rather…questionable. But then she also gets a happy ending, with a “prince” of her own. Yeah, it would be fun to walk in her shoes for a while, I think. 









Of course, Molly, my next Starstruck heroine, is also unlike me in several ways. She’s way gutsier than me, relentlessly optimistic and an amazingly quick thinker when put on the spot (something I’m definitely not!) Even though, like M, she was adopted, she was raised by a loving family and didn’t have to deal with QUITE as much hardship as the other two before making it to her happy ending. So yeah, maybe Molly would be a good choice. 









But then I wrote Convergent, where over the course of the book, I got to “be” each one of six very different characters (including the three girls mentioned above).















Happily, I really don’t have to choose at all! As a reader—and a writer—every book I immerse myself in allows me to vicariously become another new character or characters. Some I’m eager to escape by the end of the book, while others I revel in and keep as part of me long after finishing the story. After all, that’s the beauty of being an avid reader (or a writer). Any time I get bored just being me, I can always find more characters and lives to experience between the covers of a book.





Happy reading! :)


Saturday, January 23, 2021


Trixie Belden, Girl Detective

By Christine Gunderson

 

This month we’re blogging about our favorite character. Who do we love and admire so much that we’d like to step inside the book and trade places with them?

 

Obviously, the answer to this question is always Elizabeth Bennet, because:

 

1.     Mr. Darcy

2.     Pemberley

3.     A cook. And a maid. And a gardener. And a housekeeper. And you get the idea.

 

But, since Elizabeth Bennet is low hanging fruit, I will write about another immortal heroine from the annals of great literature who I have also loved and wanted to become. That character, my friends, is none other than Trixie Belden.

 

Many voracious readers have never heard of Trixie Belden. This puzzles me, because Trixie is the bravest, smartest, most intrepid girl detective who ever lived.

 

Please do not confuse Trixie Belden with Nancy Drew. Nancy. Nancy. Nancy. Trixie Beldon is no Nancy Drew, let me tell you.

 

Nancy Drew is the Martha Stewart of girl detectives and was way too pulled together for my taste, what with her cardigans and her fancy roadster and her perfect boyfriend, Ned.

 

If Nancy Drew invited you over, she’d give you tea and cucumber sandwiches on the terrace. But Trixie? Trixie would give you Twinkies and orange Kool Aid on the tire swing. To steal a phrase from the millennials, Trixie is authentic.

 

I couldn’t relate to Nancy Drew because she was so perfect. But not Trixie. Trixie was real. She had three irritating brothers. Her mom made her weed the garden and do chores, and best of all, Trixie had trouble with math. This attribute alone was enough to build a six lane super-highway to the center of my heart. 

 

If the Trixie Belden books were written today, she would likely defy gender stereotypes by solving mysteries at the STEM Olympics in anticipation of her future career as a bio-chemical engineering physicist who invents CRISPR while designing rockets for NASA. 

 

But back in the day, girl detectives freely admitted they thought algebra was both very hard and a complete waste of time, time better spent re-reading Pride and Prejudice and Barbara Cartland novels. Trixie wasn’t a character to me. Trixie was a comrade, a fellow traveler, a sister-in-arms bravely bearing the slings and arrows of middle school and the fresh hells of solving for X.

 

Trixie had short blonde hair, like me. She wore jeans and dirty sneakers, like me. She lived on a farm and loved horses, and I did too. Trixie lost her temper and got discouraged and had flaws and felt insecure, also like me and like every other teenaged girl on the planet. Every teenaged girl on the planet except Nancy Drew, that is.

 

Trixie had a wonderful group of friends. They called themselves the Bob Whites of the Glen, and they ran around solving mysteries and doing good deeds while wearing matching jackets. 

 

Trixie had a boyfriend too, named Jim Frayne. Unlike stuffy old Ned from Nancy Drew, Jim came from a broken home. Jim had issues. In other words, he was real, too. 

 

But he was saved by Trixie’s love, the rich neighbors who adopted him, and by the enduring friendship of the Bob Whites of the Glen, who addition to matching jackets, also had a clubhouse AND a secret signal that sound like a bird call!!!

 

It was all so thrilling and perfect, if you were a thirteen-year-old girl, which I was. After it become obvious to me that I couldn’t go to Narnia, I wanted to crawl into Trixie’s world and live there instead.

 

There were 39 Trixie Belden books, and I’m pretty sure I read them all. And now my daughter can read them too, because a Trixie Belden fan grew up and became an editor at Random House. Several years ago, she spearheaded the effort to re-release the Trixie Belden books with updated covers. 

 

Thanks to her, Trixie is back in the world again, reminding thirteen-year-old girls everywhere that being real is always better than being perfect.

 

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Christine Gunderson is a YA writer who lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star the Wonder dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher. You can reach her at  www.christinegunderson.com