Thursday, June 10, 2021

Bad Advice (Sydney Salter)


The most common writing advice that I really hate is to WRITE EVERY DAY. I feel like it is advice for men, not women. Definitely not moms. I can't count the number of times my writing time was crushed by a child's sudden illness, or even a teen's need to talk something out. 

I guess I could have shooed my kids away and done that writing. But now that my daughters are grown I'm glad that I didn't. 

I'm no longer a mom in the trenches (though now I rarely turn away a phone call from an adult daughter). Now I'm a care-giving daughter to aging parents. I can't count the number of times my writing time was crushed by a mom's sudden need, or even an aging mom's need to talk something out. 

I guess I could have ignored my aging parents' needs. But now that my mother-in-law is gone, I'm glad that I didn't. 

I HAVE written every day. I've won National Writing Month five times, writing every day of November. Life cooperated in those Novembers--my kids were thriving, parents doing okay. I had fun making Thanksgiving pies and getting my word counts done. 

The thing about NOT writing every day is the thinking time. I've avoided a lot of writing problems by taking the time between writing sessions to think about what I've already written, what I plan to write. I think about my characters. How to fix weaknesses creeping into my WIP. All that thinking makes writing more efficient, maybe even better. I like giving my writing some breathing room. I like taking the pressure off myself to write every day. 

I CAN write daily. I just think that my writing is better when I don't. Give yourself and your writing breathing room. That's my good advice. 

But only if it works for YOU!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Bad Writing Advice: Get It Here FREE (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines we’re talking about the worst writing advice we’ve ever received.

I’m pretty lucky: most people tend not to offer me unsolicited advice. (When I was pregnant for the first time, those who DID offer me unsolicited advice quickly regretted it. But it gave me hilarious stories to tell others, which I did appreciate!)

Even so, I’ve heard and seen some laughable advice over the years.

6. Don’t use semicolons, because they sound too educated.  Dude, I AM educated. I also use the Oxford comma, you ignorant twit.

5. Dumb it down for readers. An editor once sent me a letter filled with truly horrible advice ... and I promptly called a writer friend to read it to her, and we both shrieked with laughter. One comment by the editor: some readers wouldn’t “get” the fairytale and other “brainy” references I was making (in a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood), and I should strip out everything that ANY reader might not get. Oy. It’s called layering, baby. Everyone will understand my novels, but there will be nuggets in there (also known as Easter Eggs) for bright readers who pay attention. To paraphrase Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, super readers LIVE for that shit.


4. Don’t use adverbs. Yeah, well, I write YA. I totally use adverbs. Like, I use them practically all the unbelievably freaking time.

3. Read, read, read in your genre. Okay, I do read in my genre (which is mostly YA, sometimes romantic comedy), but only enough to know what’s happening in the market. But putting similar books into my head while I’m writing will screw up my writer’s voice. Years ago, when I was reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, my American characters suddenly started talking about shagging. Ooops! I immediately set Bridget aside until I’d finished writing my novel. I now mostly read English historicals set in the Regency period. Pure escape, and if I suddenly mention a rake or ninnyhammer or watering pot in my own novel, I know exactly where it came from.


2. There’s only one way to do this. I avoid proselytizers, just like I try to avoid spelling the word “proselytize.” There are a million ways to do ANYTHING, and writing is no exception. Plotters want me (a pantser) to plot out my books before I start writing. (HA HA HA!) An amazing number of silly people care DEEPLY about whether or not there are two spaces after a period. (It’s called “global replace,” kid. End of issue.) And on and on. Do whatever you want. Write however you want. And then, if an editor wants you to change something (other than asking me to make my novels dumb for readers: HA HA HA!), consider EVERYTHING, then make the decision that works best for the book. Not for you or even for the editor, but for the book.

And finally:

1. Years ago, when I was getting discouraged about writing novels that weren’t selling, someone told me it was EASY: I should just sell to her erotica publisher. Me: “But I don’t write erotica. Most of my novels don’t even have sex in them.” The answer: “No problem! Just add some random sex scenes to whatever you’ve already written. Throw them in anywhere.”

That has ALWAYS been my favorite piece of bad writing advice.

(This is actually good advice.)


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

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Recurring Themes…the heart of a story


You again?
After writing a dozen books or so, you start to see the recurrent patterns in your work.

 More than those bothersome repetitive “justs,” “smiles,” and “looks” we strive to weed out in our editing process, there are core issues and themes that pop up over and over—the deep connection to which we have a harder time letting go. 

Since our writing (and our unique writer's voice) is always a reflection of who we are as humans, and informed by our life experiences and world view, this isn’t surprising. The funny part is that it took me years to even notice that all my books, at their heart, had a redemptive quality—a search for forgiveness and a second chance.

In Savage Cinderella, the main character, Brinn, was a kidnap victim who escaped her captor of two years as a child. But fearing the man would find her, believing her parents were dead, and feeling abandoned by the world,  she remains hidden and isolated in the mountains of North Georgia for the next eight years, surviving more or less on her own. When she’s discovered by a young nature photographer, they form a connection, and she must decide if taking a risk will lead to a second chance at the life that had been stolen from her.

On Thin Ice tells the story of Penny, a seventeen-year-old figure skater whose mom is dying of cancer. In her efforts to escape the pain and deny this reality, Penny lies about her age to an older boy and the consequences are life changing. Following the death of her mother, Penny finds out a family secret that sends her reeling, and holds a secret of her own that nearly ruins her life. But after losing everything, Penny comes away with a gift of new hope and a second chance to do the right thing.

Heaven is for Heroes is full of redemptive themes, as are every one of my other novels and novellas. I laugh about it as I write this post, because I suspect every story I write will possess that theme in some form. It’s who I am at my core. Someone who believes deeply that no matter our imperfections, errors in judgement, dumb mistakes, and bad choices, there is always an opportunity to do better and be better by choosing that next right action.

Ultimately, that’s what drew me to writing YA lit. I had a message for my seventeen-year-old self, burning in my heart. My stories are about healing the wounded hearts of every teenaged girl facing abuse, trauma, teen pregnancy, eating disorders or addictions. Whatever the problem, there is a solution, and you will find it by taking that next right step. By reaching out to those who care, and asking for help. By doing the hard work of learning and growing. Eventually, you will get to a place where you’ll know who you are and who you want to be. That's the road to happily ever after. 

...a message I would have loved to have heard at that tender age when my life was spinning out of control, and a message I have come to fully embrace forty years later.

Having read several of my fellow author's posts this month, and reflecting on my own writing and its recurrent themes, I'm spurred to wonder if the reason we as writers sometimes hit a "dry spell" where we feel we've "written our best work", or feel we're "in a rut" with our stories, is because we're ready to move on to a new theme, a new message, or even a completely different genre. I know I'm not the same person I was fifteen years ago when I began this process. I have certainly evolved as a person, and I've done a lot of work healing from those old wounds of my youth, so why should it be a surprise if I need to find new avenues of self-expression that better reflect who I am today? 

Now, all I have to figure out is exactly who I am, and what stories I still need to tell...

Someone needs a new pot!

Have you felt like this? What did you do about it?



Saturday, May 29, 2021

Why Mess With Perfection? (Brian Katcher)


When DEACON LOCKE came out, an author friend commented that it was another Brian Katcher plot: awkward guy falls for flawed girl. I took umbrage with that, especially because I think he may have been right.

Book 1: Nerdy guy falls for girl with disfigured face

Book 2: Awkward athlete falls for transgender girl.

Book 3: Nerdy guy falls for overweight girl.

Book 4: Nerdy guy and nerdy girl fall for each other.

Book 5: Awkward guy falls for Muslim girl.

Personally, I don't find any of those girls to be 'flawed,' especially that last one. But maybe society does. When it comes down to it, my male heroes are always either nerds (Leon, Sherman, and Zak) or have crippling self-esteem problems (Logan and Deacon).

I guess if you had to do a list of Brian Katcher tropes they would be as follow:

*The main character is handsome, but comically unaware of this.

*The female love interest is either not conventionally attractive (Melody and Charlie) or does not fit society's version of what an alluring woman should be (Sage, Ana, and Soraya).

Also, the main character ends up visiting someone in a mental hospital, and my charming leading man gets pistol whipped. Ive lost count of the number of teen romances I've written where my hero gets clubbed with the butt of a revolver. 

So maybe I am in a rut. Fortunately, My newest (and unpublished) books have completely different romantic situations:

*Disabled guy falls for insane girl.

*Awkward guy falls for handsome guy, awkward girl falls for attractive girl.

*Awkward guy falls for attractive girl.

*Awkward guy falls for transgender girl (but totally different from the other book!).

*Handsome guy falls for awkward girl, while his awkward cousin falls for attractive girl.

Wow. I am in a rut. Time to bring in the sexy vampires.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Painting Sunsets: Hopeful Stories of Loss by Dean Gloster


               When I was twenty, my mother finally finished her decade-long quest to drink herself to death.  I’m not completely over it. I’ve even written about it here before.

               My mom raised me to believe I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. That complicated things, because—as part of the mysterious way roles and tasks are handed out in dysfunctional families—I’d decided in adolescence that it was my job, as a parentified child, to keep Mom from dying from her beverage of choice. Spoiler alert: That’s not actually how alcoholism works: The alcoholic has to decide to stop drinking. It’s not up for a group vote.

               So the theme I return to, in my stories, is death, and whether it’s possible to save someone. Sometimes it isn’t. My debut YA novel, Dessert First, is a voice-driven tear-jerker about smart, funny 16-year-old Kat Monroe, who donates her bone marrow to save her younger brother from his leukemia relapse, and what it does to her when the transplant doesn’t seem to be working.

               My current YA novel in revisions, Just Deal, is about a boy dealing with grief after his mother’s death and then finding out that he and his friends must try to save the world.

               I have a YA short story coming out in the next Spoon Knife anthology, “Death’s Adopted Daughter” about the meeting between a teenage girl and Death at the shore of the river Lethe. (And whether she can save herself. Or, it turns out, save Death.)

               I’ve got another novel and a novella going and they’re also both in some way—surprise—about death and whether it’s possible to save someone.

               As writers, we’re not completely in charge of what story ideas show up. My muse, I suppose, favors melodies in the Aeolian mode—with a hint of haunting loss. But I believe if there’s a core of personal emotion in the story, the writer who clutches the raw power of that emotional third rail can transmit some of the energy to readers and move them.

               These aren’t easy stories to tell, about flawed, sometimes dying people and how love and hope and limited skills can’t always make things okay. I used to be a stand-up comic, but even including lots of humor—which I do—doesn’t make those stories go down easily.

               That’s one reason I work so hard at craft. I believe the mantra of trust the reader in the sense of trusting them to get it and in resisting—mostly—the urge to over-explain. But we shouldn't trust readers to keep reading, if we haven’t done our part, by including lots of reasons to keep turning the page. So I try to beguile with voice, humor, suspense, mysteries, vulnerability, inviting opening sentences, compelling end-of-chapter page turns, high stakes, careful scene construction, and everything else I can think of. (Including, you know, too many subplots.)

               I’m a craft geek. Something of a desperate craft geek, because I love my characters and their voices and want them to get out into the world.

               My mother always wanted to be a writer, but the relentless self-critical aspect (this isn’t good enough yet—how do I make it better?) was too debilitating.

               But now I’m putting in the time. I work hard at writing, because I want to honor my characters’ stories, not have them die voiceless like my mother.

               Which is a theme I find worth writing about.

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.  School Library Journal called his YA novel DESSERT FIRST “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 his usual story novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and an off-kilter sensibility, including a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 54 percent of his soul.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Getting to the core of stories (or self-help via writing:)

    This month’s theme is returning to the core of stories - again and again - through our work. I do this. I know I do. I return to themes I’m still trying to understand or process. Good writing, I think, explores questions, rather than providing answers. As writers, we come to the table with a whole array of experiences. We’ve all lived through so much, regardless of our journeys, just surviving until this point. We've seen and/or experienced loss, pain, injustice, disappointment, victory, defeat, fairness, and unfairness... 

    Writing provides an outlet to explore those nagging questions and/or unhealed parts of ourselves, and we can do that by giving such burdens to fictitious people.

    Often in my work, my core themes provide the groundwork for stories that seem bigger or more sensational than the themes themselves, i.e. getting trapped inside an abandoned amusement park and having to relive one's nightmare in order to get out (the Enter the Dark House series). The theme in those two books, for me, is really about reliving a real-life nightmare. At what point does the horror we inflict upon ourselves (by not being able to let go of or process whatever plagues us) become bigger than make-believe horror?

    Similarly, in Jane Anonymous, one might think the core of the story is a young woman’s experience of being abducted and held captive, but for me the story is really about a loss of innocence: believing that all is well and wonderful in the world, and then finding out that it isn’t. The rug is pulled out from under her, so to speak. 

    The core themes in my books explore guilt, loss, abandonment, chance and coincidence, the kindness of strangers, and one’s believability and likeability having lived through trauma (The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep). I stage these themes at “haunted houses” and dress them up in creepy costumes, using mood lighting and eerie sound effects. But at the stories’ core, there’s just me, at my computer, trying to figure stuff out.   


Monday, May 24, 2021

The Stories That Speak To Us (Brenda Hiatt)

 This month we’re blogging about our “core stories” — those themes or tropes that particularly resonate with us, and that we return to time and time again in our writing. Some writers continually revisit such themes as, “There’s no place like home,” or “Broken families can be healed,” or tropes like “Amnesia,” or “Twins” or “Reunions/Second chance at love.” Of course, before I could write about this topic, I was forced to examine what recurring themes or tropes have turned up in my own books over the years. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. As is probably true for many of us, the same sorts of stories I tend to seek out as a reader also call to me as a writer. 

And what might those be? I’d have to say that the one overriding theme in all of my books is: “Love conquers all.” Or at least, “Love makes everything better.” As for story tropes I go back to again and again, my biggie has got to be “Secrets” and especially “Secret Identities.” 

As both reader and writer, I just love that rising tension as we (the reader and story characters) make their way closer and closer to The Big Reveal. When I think back to my favorite moments in my favorite books over my lifetime as a reader, nearly all of them involve some huge revelation that takes the characters (and often the reader) completely by surprise. Because I enjoy that so much, I almost always build moments like that into my own books. In fact, I wrote an entire historical romance series around the idea of secret identities (The Saint of Seven Dials series) and had
great fun doing it. Similarly, every single book in my Starstruck series has at least one and often several Big Reveal moments. 

Now that I’m past the halfway point of the book I’m currently writing in that series, I’m eagerly looking forward to writing that moment for my latest two main characters. Hee hee! 

What do you, as a reader (or a writer) gravitate to in the stories you read and/or tell? Let me know in the comments! 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

What's Your Story? By Christine Gunderson

This month we’re talking about “core stories,” and this concept applies not just to writers, but to everyone who loves stories, whether you’re an avid reader, or a compulsive Netflix binger.


In essence, a “core story” is the story you come back to, over and over again, in the books you choose to read, the books you choose to write, the tv shows and movies you choose to watch, or all three.


I first learned about this concept at a writer’s workshop. The presenter was both psychologist and a best-selling author and she pointed out that some topics are interesting because they are hard wired into the human psyche. 


The list of topics will be familiar to anyone who’s ever binged a TV series or stayed up way past their bedtime reading a book. As a species, we cannot resist the following subjects: gossip, secrets, wealth, status, war, relationships, love, sex, murder, fame, power and survival. 


These topics have been around since humans started living together in caves thousands of years ago. While gnawing on a mastodon bone, a caveman leaned forward, lowered his voice and said, “You didn’t hear it from me, but the guy who lives in that really big cave next to the antelope trail discovered something he calls ‘fire.’”


Paying attention to these things helped us survive and thrive in human societies. Thousands of years later, we still choose stories that cater to our favorite human topics. 


If you find wealth, status, love and relationships interesting, you might be reading regency romances or watching Bridgerton. If murder and secrets are your thing, you might be reading Steig Larsson or watching a lot of Law and Order: SVU.


The next question is why do you like these topics? That’s harder to answer.


In the writing workshop I mentioned earlier, we each made a list of the books and movies we love most. Then we identified some common elements. 


I learned that while I may look like a suburban mother of three with a purse filled with orthodontist appointment cards and a wardrobe from Talbots, in my heart I am actually Michonne from The Walking Dead. Or possibly a Shield Maiden. Or maybe both, depending on the severity of the enemy threat. Post-apocalyptic landscapes are my happy place. Promise me the breakdown of civilization and I will buy the book and see the movie. 


But when it comes to writing, my core story is different. An editor friend pointed out that every book I’ve written is about freedom.


This was news to me, but I eventually realized she was right. My message is always somehow the same: we cannot be happy unless we have the freedom to be who we really are. 


I still don’t know why I write about this. And maybe that’s why I keep writing about it. Maybe that’s why we go back to the same books and movies over and over again. We’re looking for the answer to a question that only we can ask. And like our primordial ancestors, we’re pretty sure that answer is hidden somewhere in a story.




Christine Gunderson is 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


Friday, May 21, 2021

Love Again, Again (Holly Schindler)

I'm a sucker for a good love story. I'm especially a sucker for second-time-around love stories. I recently released Play It Again, the sequel to my YA Playing Hurt--a story that sees the main characters coming back into each other's lives four years after their initial summer romance. 

Play It Again asks if the heat of first love can be found again--and made into something permanent, something that can last through every season of the year. 

Second-time-around love stories also show up in my adult work, primarily in some of my Christmas stuff. The romantic in me has no problem being swept away by the idea that love once--deep, true love--is love always. 

It is, in many ways, something of a naive idea, really. 

Maybe it's the temporary nature of the world--we throw away appliances and electronics rather than fix them. We buy furniture with the idea that it will be tossed rather than passed down. Maybe I gravitate toward the notion that love is something that can't be taken out in a black plastic bag, dragged to the curb. I like the idea that love is the one thing that isn't transitory, ephemeral.

I like the idea that love once is love always.  

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Of Core Values, Seeds & Cycles (Jodi Moore)

Last week, I met with one of my critique groups through Zoom. As always, they offered fantastic suggestions and encouragement to launch me into the revision process on a new manuscript. One of the group members started off by saying, “This is such a Jodi story.”


Of course, this made me smile. Every creative seeks to find their ‘voice’. Something that distinguishes it from other voices. Even if I’m not familiar with a specific song, I can always recognize the unique brilliance of David Bowie.


Since I’m no David Bowie, it also gave me pause. What is a 'Jodi story'? I’d like to think every story I write is from my heart. From my ‘core’. But what does that mean?


I’ve written both funny and poignant stories. Tales filled with long, lyrical sentences, others with short, choppy ones. Some rhyming, some prose. What one thing was central to all of these?


It hit me as I carved up an apple for lunch. The core was filled with seeds. Powerful little nuggets that develop into trees, that in turn, produce more fruit and more seeds. Tiny grains promoting existence. Growth. Hope. The cycle of life.


“That’s it!” my brain yelled in its best Charlie Brown impression.


My ‘core’ is also made up of the seeds I want to spread into the world. My mission is to use my voice to empower others to find, value and use their own.


A few years ago, I received this lovely letter after a school visit:



In a very literal sense, I inspired this young lady to believe in her own voice. Her words brought tears to my eyes. They still do.


What’s more, her voice inspired me to continue to use my voice to spread the seeds of empowerment. See how this works?


It’s like a life cycle, and when cycles connect, amazing things blossom. Which actually circles back to the theme of my new picture book manuscript. You know, the one my critique partner said was a 'Jodi story.'


Mind blown.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Core Incident by Sydney Salter

In high school I worked very briefly as a delivery driver for the Cake & Flower Shoppe in Reno, Nevada. In the morning I delivered pies to casino cafes. In the afternoon I backed the van into a thick metal post, rendering the sliding door useless only minutes before a wedding delivery.

We packed all the flowers and the large tiered cake into the van through the front doors and drove to the outdoor wedding venue. I felt terrible about denting the van door, and wanted to be helpful, so I finished setting up the cake by myself, placing the layers onto the plastic columns. I ran off to help carry flowers.

We returned to find the cake on the ground: balls of frosting and grass. 

I was immediately fired. 

All these years later, I still feel terrible about ruining that wedding cake. The scene showed up in My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, and I wrecked another wedding cake in Not A Doctor Logan's Divorce Book. I visited my old boss after My Big Nose came out. We were both a little surprised about how young we'd been back then--she'd been in her early 20s and maybe that's why she hired a 17-year-old delivery driver. She sure remembered me though, even though I had only been employed for a few hours! 

Writing helps us work through various traumas, right? 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Déjà Vu All Over Again (Mary Strand)

I’ve always loved baseball great Yogi Berra’s many not-quite-malapropisms (and who ever gets to use that word, right?), and my title for this blog is one of my favorites of his. It’s also the name of a song by John Fogerty, but Yogi was there first.

This month at YA Outside the Lines we’re all about our core stories, or themes we return to as writers over and over in our novels.

I would rather blog about Yogi Berra. Or baseball. Or, even better, basketball. Or music. Or the new guitar I totally deserve. Or WHATEVER.

For someone who analyzes the bejeezus out of pretty much everything, I’m actually not a fan of analyzing my writing. I’m good with writing, good with revising, even better with HAVING written or revised. But analyze it?

Could we talk Yogi Berra? Or maybe, MUCH better yet, Chris Hemsworth?

In an online (writers’) voice class I took 15 years ago, we had to pour our little hearts out in front of eight or 10 other writers about every detail of our lives, practically since birth. At the end of the six-week class, we analyzed what made us tick. More precisely, what made our books tick.

I just dug out those emails and writings. Yeah, I tended to dodge the questions asked of us. Here’s a favorite:

            Q: If you could only write ONE book in your life, what book would it be?

            A: The one that wins the Pulitzer. I don’t care what it is.

Imagine having someone like me in your class. 😊

At the time I was writing adult fiction, but I switched to YA as a result of that voice class. (The ENTIRE class said I talked and acted like a 17-year-old. As if!) But I ultimately said that I wrote about real-life situations that people can identify with, and that I tended to write about smart, successful women (or, now, teenage girls) who have problems, but they face them. Eventually.

I think that’s still true. It’s my core story. I don’t like to write about whiny people, especially as protagonists. (At a recent writers’ conference I attended, an agent asked why my 15-year-old heroine wasn’t whiny or sarcastic or even obnoxious to her parents, “the way 15-year-olds all are.” Yeah, no. At age 15, I wasn’t. My heroines aren’t, either.)

Even people who have problems (and we all do) can be smart, strong, and tough, which often makes them APPEAR invincible and fearless to those around them, even their best friends. As a result they’re pretty hard to get to know. In my books, they’re also athletic (almost without exception) and they’re probably funny, because humor helps you get through hard times even more than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s does. But I will note that many pints of Ben & Jerry’s have been consumed in the pages of my books. Cool cars often appear, too, because girls like me love cars.

In short, I write novels about myself. Over and over and over again. And yep: my characters and I are pretty hard to get to know. But we deserve happy endings, too.

And now it is.

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

Friday, April 30, 2021

 In keeping with this month’s theme of “random recommendations”, I thought I would extend my “Every Day is Earth Day” campaign and share a few ideas for the eco-minded. Together, we can make a difference in the global fight against climate change.

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” Max Lucado

Here are just a few of my recommendations...

1)     1)  If you love David Attenborough’s work, this incredible documentary won’t disappoint! Unfortunately, it’s currently only available on Apple+, but even the trailer is worth a watch. The description for The Year Earth Changed reads:this timely documentary special takes a look at nature’s extraordinary response to a year of global lockdown. This love letter to planet Earth will take you from hearing birdsong in deserted cities for the first time in decades, to witnessing whales communicating in ways never before seen. Find out how changes in human behavior—reducing cruise ship traffic, closing beaches a few days a year, identifying more harmonious ways for humans and wildlife to co-exist—can have a profound impact on nature and give us hope for the future.”

View the trailer here.

2    2)  Dr. Katherine Hayhoe is a world-renowned climate scientist. Her common-sense approach to communicating with people about climate change issues is simple, insightful, and inspiring. She uses our shared experiences of how climate change affects us locally to find common ground with others on what shouldn’t be a controversial topic, but is in today’s polarized world. She is wonderful to listen to in any of her YouTube videos, TED talks, and interviews, but this five-minute introduction gives you an idea of who she is, why she does what she does, and why we all need to respond to her powerful call to action. See her interview here.

3)    3)  If you are struggling, as I am, with anxiety over the current climate crisis, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, check out this extremely helpful NPR podcast and browse this helpful and empowering list of resources for “existing—and resisting—in the face of impending climate disruption”. I highly recommend this list for parents trying to help their children navigate the worries around a changing climate.

Visit the website here. 


4)     4)  And for my data-minded, extra geeky science friends who want just the facts (and are brave enough to handle them), there is always NASA’s Global Climate Change website, Vital Signs of the Planet. You’ll find out how scientists are using the International Space Station to study Earth’s climate, an educational website for kids, incredible images of our changing planet, and even Climate Mobile Apps to help you make a difference in your daily life. There is also a Climate Resource Center that hosts an extensive collection of global warming resources for media, educators, weather casters and public speakers.

5)     5)  For our teen readers, here’s a list of the Top 10Climate Change books recommended by Teen Vogue. Pick one and dig in!

There are so many more environmental organizations and plenty of worthy eco-centric causes to support, but since most of us do better with small, measurable, and achievable goals, it’s best to start with our own carbon footprint and the dozens of small changes we can make to reduce, reuse, recycle, and minimize our personal impact on the planet. 

Like eating the elephant (which of course, we would never do!), we must meet the challenge with a one-bite-at-a-time philosophy.

Here's to loving the planet, doing our part by treating it with respect, and spreading the word that every day should be Earth Day.

Peace and blessings,



Wear Sunscreen (Brian Katcher)

 No, that's not my advice, that's a line from 'Advice, like youth, probably wasted on the young', by journalist Mary Schmich. It was a speech she wrote for the graduating class of 1997, and you should go read it right now.

Ah, hell, there's nothing I can add to it. Here's the transcript, copyright the author:

Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who'd rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there's no reason we can't entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.

I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

(Not) Random Book Recommendations by Dean Gloster

               Our topic this month is “random recommendations,” but my recommendations aren’t random, they’re tied together with much in common: I'm recommending YA books with fierce, funny (or at least fun) protagonists and, well, death. It’s my birthday today, and time weighs on me like a slightly heavier jacket, so I get to do what I want. (Actually, since I write full time now, I pretty much always get to do what I want.) 

               Martine Leavitt’s National Book Award finalist Keturah and Lord Death is beautiful, charming, and difficult to describe. It’s got a feisty female protagonist, Keturah Reeves, who wants to help the other people in her medieval village. It also has a quest for true love, and Death (Lord Death) as a major character. This book is so much my jam, if I read it three more times, I’ll probably develop diabetes. Everyone I’ve ever given a copy to (a long list) has loved it. Hemingway once said all true stories end in death, but in this case, there’s a happy ever after version of that. Five stars and several planets.

               Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere has laugh-out-loud observations from narrator-protagonist Lennie, achingly beautiful poetry, and a journey from grief through mistakes to love. I once wrote a really good sibling loss grief novel with little bits of poetry in it, Dessert First, and Jandy Nelson’s is way better. Five stars and the glow of countless distant galaxies.

               I have still never recovered from reading A.S. King’s breakout novel (and Printz Award finalist) Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Vera grieves for her dead friend Charlie, and for his shattering of their friendship before he died, and she holds a terrible secret about an arson blamed on Charlie, which was actually committed by another girl. It’s beautiful, breathtaking, and delightfully weird in the way that Amy King’s surrealistic novels are. Five stars, a dancing chorus of weirdly shaped nebulae, and several chapters narrated by a pagoda. 

            Anyway, happy my birthday to you all. There's a certain randomness in all our lives, but sometimes we can surf the chaos. Enjoy the wonder of the stars (or something) while you're still alive. And read good books. Be well. 


Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. It is actually his birthday today, as he's mastered the art of (very slow) time travel from the distant past. 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 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 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 an off-kilter sensibility, including a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 54 percent of his soul.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Random Recommendations

Random Recommendations (in no particular order):


The topic this month for YA Outside the Lines is giving advice and/or providing some random recommendations. I have many recommendations, of all varieties, in an array of subject areas. I will list some of my most random ones below. I hope some of you find them helpful.


1.     Be kind to yourself. Yes, this sounds pretty obvious. And maybe you did an eyeroll when you read that, but it’s true. Be kind. No matter where you are on your journey, practice compassion for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not having done “a” or spending too much time on “b” or saying the wrong thing about “c.”  Resist the temptation to bully yourself with negative thoughts that, most often, simply aren’t true. And, please stop comparing yourself/your career/your house/your car/your fill-in-the-blank-here with anyone else’s life/career/house/car/fill-in-the-blank. It isn’t healthy and it lacks perspective. Ask yourself: Would I treat someone else the way I’m treating myself? More often than not, you wouldn’t. You’re human and flawed and learning... We are all works in progress.


2.     Bananas mashed in a bowl with chunky peanut butter. You’re welcome.


3.     If you’re a writer, consider joining a writers’ group. There’s nothing like meeting regularly with a group of fellow writers to find support and get feedback on your work whenever you need it and wherever you are in the process. Sometimes you may need to shop around a bit for the right group, but it’s well worth the effort. And, don’t use this pandemic as an excuse not to meet. Zoom works well enough.


4.     Treat yourself at least once a day. This could be five minutes of alone-time in a quiet place (free), a twenty-minute nap (also free), a hike through the woods (free, free, free), a piece of chocolate, a cup of coffee from your favorite shop, a facial, an episode of your favorite TV show, thirty minutes to read or journal during a hectic day… You get the picture. Treat yourself. You deserve it.


5.     Some products/random items I swear by… Frownies. They work. I also love my jade face roller, castor oil (for lash health/growth), DIY sugar scrubs, anything by Caudalie, Supergoop (for SPF, also paraben-free, protect the skin!), Instantly Ageless (a temporary but effective eye-bag remover for a 4-5-hour fix), Virtue haircare products (a bit pricey, but worth it in my opinion, especially if you’re hair isn’t naturally thick-bouncy-flowy-shampoo-commercial worthy), Stumptown Coffee (forget the fancy maker; it’s all about the beans), a silk pillowcase, a portable essential oil diffuser, and a list of books to be read.


6.     And speaking of books to be read… Read a lot. Yes, I know. If you’re a writer this goes without saying. But it’s true. Active reading – asking yourself what works; what the writer is doing with tense, structure, style, characterization, plot, theme etc., etc., will help make you a better writer and reader.


7.     The Minimalist Baker has the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever: (P.S. They’re easy to make even for non-bakers like me, plus they’re vegan. Yum.)


8.     Some of my favorite shows to watch at the moment (from mindless to suspenseful, plus some very recent discoveries; no judgement, please): The Real Housewives of NY and/or Beverly Hills; Big Little Lies; The Good Place; Dead to Me; The Reckoning; Somebody Feed Phil; Street Food; The Queen’s Gambit; Dirty John (Season 1); Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel; The Millionaire Matchmaker; The Affair; Broadchurch; Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy; Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; Best Leftovers Ever; and Alone. 


9.     Make daily and/or weekly lists of things you want to accomplish and cross the items off as you do. 

10. Podcasts. I discovered I love podcasts about two years ago. I play them on walks, in the car, while doing chores, etc., etc. I’ve learned so much and gained perspective. Plus, if you’re a writer, you may just be inspired by the storytelling techniques. There are so many podcasts out there to try. Some of my favorites include Becoming Wise, Dare to Lead with Brené Brown, Beautiful Anonymous, Crime Junkie, Full Body Chills, Nice White Parents, Spooked, Serial, and Where Should We Begin.


11.  Floss daily. 


12.  Dry eyes? From all the time you spend Zooming on screens and working on your manuscript…? I’ve found the magical elixir (at least it works for me). Ready for it? Black currant oil capsules. 


12.  Looking for an agent or editor? Do your homework. Study the agent’s and editor’s lists of authors and titles before sending your work. Would your work be a nice fit? If not, keep looking and researching. Become an expert on who’s who as you search for the perfectly tailored list to send your work. 


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Learn Something New (Brenda Hiatt)

 I see that among other “random recommendations” this month, a couple of people have already suggested stepping out of our comfort zones. I heartily second (or third) that advice, and will add a few specific examples of my own that may help you find new ways to do that. At least, they’ve helped me.

First, since this is primarily a writing/reading blog, I’ll talk about books. When’s the last time you read a book from a totally different genre than your usual favorites? Try it! If you mostly read contemporary fiction, try something historical or speculative. If you mostly read fiction, try nonfiction (or vice-versa…I’m currently finding the book Crucial Conversations enlightening). In your writing, try a setting or style you’ve never attempted, if only as an exercise. First person viewpoint? Present tense? Fourth Dynasty China? Poetry? What haven’t you done yet? 

Then there’s that thing called Life. I’m a big believer in setting Goals, but I think it’s important that those goals be at least marginally within your reach. Stretch goals are fine, but making them TOO hard to achieve can lead to dispair and accomplishing nothing at all. (I speak from experience here.) More than a decade ago, I set myself a goal to learn something new, large or small, each year. Among other things, that led to me studying Taekwondo to the point of becoming a third-degree black belt, learning how to format and publish my own books and my ongoing quest to learn German. (I finally reached Diamond League in Duolingo a few weeks ago, which I consider a huge triumph, and I’m almost up to 700 consecutive days in my current “streak”!) 

This year’s goal is to (finally) learn how to market my books more effectively. Of course, one problem with this system is that some skills take way more than a year to master, so by now I’m simultaneously working on several (see above), which can become overwhelming. This is why I’m also a huge believer in Rewards. When I reach a goal, no matter how small, I try to reward myself somehow. Rewards, like goals, can be big or small, but keeping promises to myself helps me stay motivated. Lately, my favorite reward for meeting my daily writing goal is to spend a few minutes (or half an hour) on a jigsaw puzzle—a recently-rediscovered passion of mine. 

I reward myself for other daily achievements, too, like exercise (I write on a treadmill and swim as often as weather allows) and that day’s German lesson. Sitting down after lunch with a sudoku puzzle and a piece of chocolate (I’m fond of Ghirardelli dark chocolate raspberry squares for this) works for me! 

What haven’t you tried yet? Or lately? Think about how you might expand your life as a reader, writer or human being on this ball of dirt we call Earth and step out!