Saturday, October 24, 2020

The books that are keeping me sane (Brenda Hiatt)

Like many, during this difficult time I’ve retreated to comfort reads. I’m just not up to being challenged, so books that are amusing or heartwarming are my go-to reads…and rather than risk any unpleasant surprises, I’m RE-reading favorites right now. I’m nearly through yet another rereading of the Harry Potter series. I’ve also been re-enjoying the James Herriot books, which I hadn’t read in probably 25 years. Very cozy, harking back to a simpler time, with plenty of laughs sprinkled in. (If haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them, especially if you love animals. The trials, tribulations and foibles of a young veterinary surgeon in Yorkshire, England in the 1930s.) 

Beyond that, I’ve been nearly killing myself getting a book ready for release this coming Tuesday (October 27th), which is why this post is both late and short. 

I very much hope this book will also touch readers’ hearts and occasionally make them laugh.

Stay safe and happy reading!



Convergent
, the long-awaited next book in Brenda’s Starstruck series, FINALLY releases October 27th!



Thursday, October 22, 2020

Tugs on My Heart Strings (Patty Blount)

 This month's topic is a tough one for me. I am an absolute book glutton. I read several books a week and the problem with reading as fast as I do is that I don't always remember the stories I've read. They begin to blur together after some time. 

But there have been several that have made such a deep impact on me, I've never forgotten them. In fact, I re-read them when I feel sad. Here they are, in no particular order. 

NATURAL BORN CHARMER by Susan Elizabeth Phillips



This novel is a rom-com with depth. It was the first novel I'd read by this author and was a book club selection at the time. It was part of a series but could stand alone. The opening scene features the drop-dead gorgeous quarterback of a football team driving a country road and spotting a headless beaver. 

Not an actual beaver, mind you. 

A person in a beaver costume, minus the head. And she is PISSED OFF. This is the meet-cute for Dean and Blue, the main characters in this hilarious story that soon proves it's far deeper than you think. Make no mistake, Blue and Dean's relationship is one of the funniest things I've ever read but there are additional love stories. Blue and Dean both suffer from abandonment issues and there are some achingly sweet reunions throughout the novel. There's also an element of 'finding yourself' that truly touched me. This book is so special to me that whenever I'm asked to pick a book, this is the one I say first because it's nearly perfect. Here's a review I wrote back in 2011

THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins



This novel is first in a series with small town charm and characters all up in each other's business. The main characters in this story are Faith and Levi and though I first read this novel about 10 years ago, I still have the biggest crush on Levi Cooper. Their love story starts in school, when they're children, and extends all these years later when Levi busts up Faith's wedding to the town doctor. 

There is one scene in this novel when Faith reveals her darkest secret guilt to Levi. No one knows it, not even her own family. You know how some romance novels feature a grand gesture? The hero rents out a billboard or perhaps a horse drawn carriage, things like that? Levi, the police chief, goes to work. He spends almost all night investigating what Faith revealed to him and then, in the middle of the night, knocks on her door to share what he learned. It is by far the most heartfelt and romantic scene I've ever read and there isn't a single flower, chocolate, horse-drawn carriage, or billboard in sight. 

PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry




I was talking to my editor about what would later become my third novel, SOME BOYS, and explaining how I wanted to write the novel in dual points of view. She sent me a link to Pushing the Limits and I became a lifelong Katie McGarry fan before I finished the first chapter. 

Katie writes deep, angsty, heartrending YA novels that gut me and then put me back together in ways like nobody else. This novel features Noah and the unfortunately named Echo, two lost souls dealing with heavy issues no teens their age should ever have to face. Their love story is nothing short of epic with each deciding to do something for the other that is so huge, so full of risk, I had to stop reading to get myself back under control just so I could see the page again. If you're familiar with O. Henry's Gift of the Magi, that's the level of epicness I mean and I can't tell you more without dropping major spoilers. This book is special. 

Despite how completely wrecked I was reading this book, Katie finds ways to end her novels on hopeful and high notes that are like promises I can trust whenever I buy one of her books. I may have to hold on tight and close my eyes for a minute or two, but the end will be oh-so-sweet and worth the tears. 

What books touched your heart? I'm always looking for new ones to read. Hit me up in the comments! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Moments in Books That Stay With You (Holly Schindler)

When I started drafting my first YA manuscripts, I completely immersed myself in the latest YA books. My earliest favorites included Gabrielle Zevin’s gem ELSEWHERE.

There were just so many parts of the book I found so clever. The idea that we age backward in heaven (don’t we all say it would be heaven if we could start old and get young?), the idea that we specialize in learning a new task in heaven (accounting for inexplicable talent when we’re reborn), etc. 

 

One of my favorite inclusions in the book was a tattoo. (I’m not returning to the book to write about this aspect. I’m writing from memory. And I originally read this book soon after it released in 2005.) The main character becomes involved in heaven with a man who has a tattoo for his love. As they age backward, the tattoo gets brighter and brighter, looking newer and newer. The main character grows closer and closer to her love interest. At the point at which they fall in love, the tattoo disappears. 

 

Really, ELSEWHERE isn’t a silly, funny, laugh-out-loud book. But it’s the first YA I thought of when I thought of writing a post about books that made me smile. A full fifteen years after reading it, I still remember those passages fondly. Probably imperfectly. But definitely fondly. A book doesn’t need to be a comedy to have light moments. It doesn’t need to be fluff to make a reader smile. 

 

And maybe, if the book is a more serious read, those moments of levity have more of an impact. Maybe, if readers’ heartstrings are already being tugged, the sweeter passages land in a deeper place in their hearts too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The NOW of Pooh (Jodi Moore)

 This month, I was asked to suggest a book that has perhaps made me laugh, filled my heart, or lifted my spirits. At any other time in my life, this would have been an impossible task. My brain would have been spinning. There are so many amazing reads by brilliant authors out there – both old and new.

 

But this is now, so my heart led me back to the classic it craved: The Tao of Pooh.

 


 

 

Personality-wise, I’ve always considered myself to be a 50/50 split between Tigger and Eeyore.

 

Yet recently, one of our sons pointed out to me that I do tend to worry, overthink and hesitate an awful lot like Piglet.

 

Which got me thinking. While I believe it’s admirable to adopt a lifelong love of learning, I do step up onto my soapbox every once in a while like Owl. I’ll readily admit I’m a fiercely protective mom (like Kanga) and while I try not to be persnickety like Rabbit, I do become rather frustrated by foiled plans. 

 

Finally, there may or may not be a host of stuffed animals on my bed that I tend to talk to like Christopher Robin sometimes (okay, a lot...don’t judge. They’re good listeners.)

 

 

 

So, I thought, I’m pretty much a hybrid of all...

 

Oh... Bother.

 

That’s when I decided to reread The Tao of Pooh, where author Benjamin Hoff invites one of our favorite bears – Winnie the Pooh – and all of his loveable friends to help explain the wisdom of the Taoists.

 

Written using examples from A.A. Milne’s classic tales, Hoff explains a complex philosophy in a simple, yet powerful manner, illustrating how a ‘Bear of Little Brain’ has reached that which eludes so many: the state of true enlightenment.

 

“While Eeyore frets

and Piglet hesitates

and Rabbit calculates

and Owl pontificates...

Pooh just is.”  

- Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

 

The book is both comforting and empowering, and it offers just the perfect little ‘smackerel of something’ my heart and soul needed.

 

It may be just what you need too.

 

 

 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Knockout of a Good Read by Sydney Salter

One of the best books I've read lately that touches the heart, gives a few laughs, along with some heartache is The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe. The book celebrates friendship while being different and trying to survive high school. 

Lots of surprises in this one! Lots to think about too! 

The Knockout Queen is not marketed as YA, so I guess that makes it a crossover novel. But it's one that teens would love and think about long after finishing the last page. Great discussion book too! 


Here's an interview with the author: The Nerd Daily

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

I Love You, Georgette Heyer (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging at YA Outside the Lines about books that touch us, or make us laugh, or lift our spirits. They’re crucial, I think, in these pandemic days.

I’ve been doing almost exclusively comfort reads since March. Okay, there’s always an exception. The exception, of course, would be books for work: research or craft books, or YA novels that help keep my writer’s voice in the mind of a 17-year-old girl.

(For better or worse, though, my mind usually IS that of a 17-year-old girl.)

I’m currently working on a series about a high school for psychics, so I’ve been rereading Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Oh. My. Gods. novels by Tera Lynn Childs. (Brutal work, but someone’s gotta do it.) And Save the Cat by the brilliant and way-too-short-lived Blake Snyder.

But just for me? I’ve been reading historical romance: my ultimate comfort reads. 


The tricky thing for me as a writer is that whatever I read can unconsciously affect my own novels. Years ago, I was reading Bridget Jones’s Diary when I suddenly caught my own characters talking about “shagging,” and that was it for Bridget until I finished writing that particular novel.

The language in historical novels is so utterly different from my own that, even if it pops up in my writing, I immediately recognize it. A couple of examples: “ninnyhammer” and “watering pot.” THOSE aren’t happening in a modern novel, YA or otherwise.

Historical novels are also filled with ballrooms, debutantes (a few of whom, including the heroine in almost every story, are quite clever), and English dukes, earls, viscounts, etc., some of whom are delicious rakes. Totally not part of my life or general way of thinking. I love that.

Historicals are an escape. In 2020, escape is the ultimate quest.


And since 2020 makes me crave a GUARANTEED escape, I’ve been rereading a lot of historicals. One series I love is the Westcott series by Mary Balogh. It starts with Someone to Love, featuring poor-orphan-turned-major-heiress Anna Snow and Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby. Avery is the closest competition I’ve seen to my ultimate historical romance hero, Jo Beverley’s Lord Rothgar, who first appeared in My Lady Notorious and who makes Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy look ... well, yawn. Anyway, I just reread Someone to Love last week. Swoon!

But there are escapes, and there are ESCAPES. So now, at the end of this blog, I finally get to its subject line.

I LOVE YOU, GEORGETTE HEYER.

When I was a young pup of a writer and still practicing law, my then-secretary gave me Georgette Heyer’s Frederica and basically told me that I would never amount to anything as a novelist until I read Georgette Heyer’s novels.


Barb Miller, you were so right. Thank you. And I still love Frederica to death.

Georgette Heyer died in 1974. Before her death she produced an amazing number of historical romances and other novels, filled to the brim with humor and extremely lowbrow slang and twists and turns and, yes, romance. She’s often called the next best thing to Jane Austen, but she’s really nothing like Jane Austen. I love them both, but Jane completed a mere six novels in her lifetime and Georgette (who clearly KNEW I would be desperate for comfort reads in 2020) wrote more than 50.

Aside from Frederica, which will always have my heart (yikes, there goes my YA voice!), I can’t possibly recommend one or three or five of her novels, because my favorites are usually the ones I’ve just read. But I WILL note that in These Old Shades, the Duke of Avon is Georgette Heyer’s entry in the “Who Can Possibly Compete with Jo Beverley’s Lord Rothgar” contest. Heh heh.



So go read some Georgette Heyer already!

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, September 30, 2020

On (Not) Getting Back to "Normal" by Dean Gloster

 

            Beware messengers with interesting news.

            We arrive at your gates, bringing a whiff of those two exotic spices, change and uncertainty, and you can hear us announced by the creak of your walls as the ground shifts and your foundations become less certain.



            Beware.

I bring interesting news.

I’m supposed to go on, this month, about getting back to normal life, but I’m a writer. Years ago I climbed into this unwieldy kayak of dreams and pushed off that shore for good.

And, really, what is “normal” except a setting on the washing machine, with the arbitrary choice of a 50-minute wash cycle?



As you read this, you’re on a gorgeous blue ball rotating on its axis at what would be supersonic speeds if it wasn’t dragging the atmosphere with it, hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, part of a vast spiral of stars spinning toward a collision with the Andromeda galaxy.



            You might call it normal, but it sounds to me like an adventurous, epic journey.

            Let’s carry that enthusiasm, please, into what comes next. Because it’s going to be…interesting.

            We’re not going back to our prior normal after this pandemic. Sorry. Especially here in the U.S. We’ve gotten a glimpse of something we can’t un-see. Like our protagonists, we’ll be changed by our difficult experience.

            The next part of this is hard to write, and maybe to read, because I’m going to be honest, which isn’t pretty, but I promise I’ll try to leave us in a better place at the end.

            The U.S., with just over 4% of the world’s population, has over 20% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths.

Our alleged president assured us that it was “only 15 cases and it will soon go down to zero” but now over 7 million Americans have contracted Covid-19, and over 205,000 of us have died. Our alleged president assured us it was “just like the flu” but it’s between 50 and 500 times as deadly as the 2006 H1N1 influenza. And now we’ve learned that when he was reassuring us, our alleged president was telling a journalist that he was just “always playing it down” and that he knew it would be spectacularly deadly. That he knew it was airborne.


Now we know. The CDC director says the most important ways to stop Covid-19 are not the coming possible vaccines, but rather masking and social distancing—at a time when the alleged president is promoting mass rallies without masks or social distancing.


What’s the response of this administration? Like lots of writers, I don’t have a formal employer, so I get my health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, despite my age and pre-existing conditions. In November, this administration is seeking to terminate my insurance—along with 30 million other Americans—in a case argued in the Supreme Court. With no replacement program in place.

Heart-breakingly, the coronavirus has disproportionately affected black people, brown people, old people, previously sick people. The vulnerable. Those who count the least in a culture that fetishizes luck and birth and privilege. In a country whose ethical spine is partially bent by the Calvinistic notion that people lucky at birth are favored by God, we have some additional difficulties in responding appropriately to a public health crisis that disproportionately effects the vulnerable.

I hope—I pray—that we will not go back to normal. Because the lightning flash of this pandemic has illuminated some horrible things about our country that need to be fixed and that need not to be forgotten.

Racism. Inequality. Divisions. Lack of health insurance provided other than through an employer—a particular weakness as jobs contract. At least one political party completely out of touch with the needs of almost all Americans.

It’s hard. I struggle with depression, so I try to be especially careful around things that lead to depressive cognitions, and this is one of those.

I love this country. I love what’s best about it. A country hatched in the toxic racism of a founding document that counted black slaves at 3/5ths of a person, which still found its way to the soaring aspiration of the Fourteenth Amendment, which demands that we give all people equal protection of the law.



But yesterday, five GOP Representatives—Gaetz (FL) Gohmert (TX) Higgins (LA) Steve King (IA) and Massie (KY) voted against a House resolution calling for a peaceful and orderly transition of power to whoever wins the next election, as called for by the Constitution. And last night, when asked to condemn white supremacist armed militias our alleged president did not, and instead asked the Proud Boys to “stand by.”

So when Trump and his regime are voted out in November—and they will be, if we turn out the vote—please: Make this glimpse of deadly racism, ageism, and dysfunctional authoritarian white supremacy mean something.

Make it a call to change, to fix, to reshape, and to heal. Don’t go back to normal. Let’s all move forward instead—into fairer, safer, healthier, more decent.

That would be interesting.



 Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 57 percent of his soul.

 

When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing—and, let’s face it, there’s less of that now—he’s on Twitter: @deangloster



Tuesday, September 29, 2020

I Have Reverted to a Caveman Like Existence (Brian Katcher)

 Looking back on my old posts here, I am amazed at how optimistic I was. Back in April I was annoyed at our idiot governor ending the quarantine so early, and mentioned my family would continue to avoid public gatherings 'for a few more weeks.' I was so young and impressionable...

I have not eaten in a restaurant in over half a year. I've visited friends exactly once since March. I've stopped bathing and shaving (though that is for other reasons).

Now I'm back to work teaching. Last year, I wrote a whole new STEM curriculum and spent my budget on equipment that the kids could use to conduct science experiments. I can't use any of that for now, due to social distancing. We are still checking out books in the library, but are restricting them to classroom use to avoid cross contamination. Students eat in their classroom. I eat in my classroom.

This is my 24th year as a teacher and I haven't been so out of sorts and confused since my first year. And for my kindergartners, this is their first year. They don't realize this isn't normal.

But we are going to get through this. There is no profession that can improvise like a teacher. The kids are just happy to be here. And maybe in a few months we can start getting back to normal.

Also, I made the ALA's list of most challenged books in the past decade, which makes me happy. Thanks, Florida Tea Party!


Friday, September 25, 2020

Starting My Own New Chapter (Holly Schindler)

 The pandemic has stolen from us all. It's stolen our time together. It's stolen our ability to get out in the world. It's stolen graduation ceremonies and proms. In the worst of all cases, it's stolen our health. It's stolen money and jobs. It's stolen our loved ones. 

It's also stolen our feeling of having any control over our lives. 

And so, after finishing my latest book (the last of my Ruby's Place Christmas series), I decided to start my own new chapter. Out with the old, the held onto for far too long. 

I'm in the midst of carving out a new workspace. Right now, it looks, well...


 

In a way, it's nothing. A space. A clean-out. What is that, in light of everything that's going on outside my door?

Only, it's also my workspace. A place of creation and dreaming. 

And right now, I think we all know just how important those two things really are... 

It's also--small as it is--giving me some feeling over control over something. Over my domain. Over some sort of space around me. 

...really, though. I wasn't kidding about that dump truck. I honestly think I'm gonna need one.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Getting back to life...if it's still out there (Brenda Hiatt)

 I don’t know about you, but to me September has always felt like a time of new beginnings. Maybe because I spent so many years in school? The air seems to hold a new freshness after the dog days of summer, the sky looks a little bluer and the leaves are just beginning to hint at turning color. This fall is a little different, of course, just like everything else is different this year. But it’s nice to know the seasons will keep on changing year after year, regardless of what we flawed humans do. 

September usually gives me a sense of anticipation, and this year is no different in that sense. If anything, that’s even stronger, since I have a brand new book releasing next month! It’s up for pre-order as of a couple of days ago, and my sense of relief is enormous. This book took me a LOT longer to write (and revise) than normal, but it’s finally finished. With my editor’s & beta readers’ notes in hand, I’m doing one last edit/polish and then…

Back to life? Here’s hoping!

At the very least, I want to get back to taking evenings and at least partial weekends OFF, catching up on reading, TV/movie watching, etc. Okay, yes, the pandemic is still here, but I’m looking for more ways to connect virtually with readers, other writers & friends/family. Holiday planning, birthday planning, house stuff—lots of projects were put off, but I feel like it’s time to start making those happen…carefully. 

And though I may start THINKING about my next book, I currently have no plans to actually start writing it until 2020 is in my rear-view mirror. I know I’m not the only one looking forward to that! 



Convergent, the next book in Brenda’s Starstruck series, releases October 27th and is currently available for pre-order!



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Silver Lining


By Christine Gunderson

 

Our topic this month is fall, and getting back into a routine, going back to ‘normal life.’

 

I’m still not living anything resembling a normal life and you probably aren’t either. I have a reoccurring dream where I’m standing in the middle of a shopping mall surrounded by people and suddenly realize I’m not wearing a mask. 

 

This is the 2020 equivalent of the dream where you suddenly realize you aren’t wearing clothes, or the dream where you show up to take a test, the test you need to graduate, and realize that not only did you fail to attend a single class, but that you didn’t even know you were in the class.

 

When August rolled around this year, it came without its usual accoutrements. No annual trip to Target with the school supply list. No expedition to Costco for pretzels and Goldfish for the lunch boxes. No first day of school picture in front of the iconic red brick building. Instead, we logged into Zoom.

 

We could choose between a full-time in-person option and a full-time virtual option. We chose virtual. This means I have regressed backward down the professional ladder and I am now an intern, for my children. 

 

I make photocopies and fetch documents from the printer. I provide tech support when people are inexplicably kicked off Zoom. I’m the lunch lady, heating up the frozen pizza at noon and the janitor, emptying the pencil sharpeners at night. 

 

This is not the career path I outlined for myself when I left college, but here I am. The rhythm of a thousand Septembers has been interrupted, and we’ve entered the academic Twilight Zone, going to school in our bedrooms and sleeping in our classrooms. 

 

But guess what? There are compensations. There’s a grey-ish, faintly metallic lining to our September Covid cloud.

 

First, my kids have three different lunch breaks. They come down to the cafeteria/kitchen and then we have actual conversations, one-on-one. I hear about world history or creative writing or the horrors of cursive. When they’ve decimated the pantry with locust-like efficiency, they go back upstairs to ‘school.’ We all get a break from each other, but we’re still here together. It’s nice. Really nice, actually. 

 

Second, I no longer live in my car.  When my children were in school in person, I had to be in the carpool line every day, come hell, high water, or traffic accidents on the Beltway. Now I don’t have to be anywhere in person. I’m amazed at how relaxed I feel without this daily deadline hanging over my head. 

 

Third, I can do things I never had time to do before. I’ve always wanted to try painting. I guess it’s another way to fulfill my writerly need to get all the pictures inside my head down on paper. It was too daunting to attempt a class before, because of kid activities, driving and finding parking. But last night I did my first Zoom watercolor painting class. It was relaxing to do something with my hands and use a different part of my brain. I sat in my house with my supplies and learned to be creative in a whole new way. 

 

The same silver lining applies to writing workshops. My local RWA chapter used to meet in person in what I’m pretty sure was the single, most inconvenient location in the DC metro area.  Now we’re having workshops and meetings on Zoom and they’re fantastic. I can participate again, because I no longer have to be there in person.

 

Finally, because we are able to do more at home and less in person, we see our activities as things we get to do, instead of things we have to do. My son’s high school is hybrid. In the Before Times he had to go to school in person five days a week. Now he gets to go to school in person three days a week. The very few safe activities we still have are now privileges instead of obligations.

 

I recognize that I can see a silver lining because we are fortunate enough to be healthy and employed when so many others are not. But the loss of a normal school year and a normal fall routine is hard for everyone, especially for our teachers who bear the burden of making it all work, and for kids and their parents. 

 

In addition to my job as an intern and creating very bad watercolor paintings, I’ve been doing re-search for a book set during World War II. Every document I read is a powerful reminder that even the very worst of times eventually ends.

 

Our epoch of suffering will pass into history too, and when it does, I hope I’ll remember these faint streaks of silver etched across it. 

 

###

 

Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor/reporter and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of 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. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

(Re)Claiming the Joy in Writing by Patty Blount

This year has been like running on a treadmill stuck on a high speed. One false step and you're gonna go flying. 

All over my various author communities and indeed, this blog, colleagues are talking about how hard it's been to be creative this year. Feelings persist. We long for normalcy but yet, too few of us are willing to put in the effort to get it back. So...we're stuck. 

We're exhausted. We're losing hope. And we're tired of Zoom! 

Students have it even harder than authors. Trying to concentrate on lessons, missing out on friends, on sports, on SATs -- their futures are in a holding pattern.

I think about them. Just as I need to take my mind off of 2020, I think teens do, too. And that's my job as a YA author. So I made the decision NOT to write about the pandemic. I want teens to be able to lose themselves in my work. 

They can't do that unless I can. 

So I put it away. I know for one hour, one scene, one chapter, I can hop off that treadmill and put the world on hold for a while. I can find joy in the world I've created and hope readers will, too.

That's why I'm working on a YA Chrismas story. Christmas novels, especially romance, have huge readerships. I am certain it's because the holiday season fills us with hope and cheer. What will this year's holiday season look like? 

Scaled down, lots of masks in red and green, silver and gold, silver and blue, maybe Zoom parties. I don't know. 

What I do know is the feelings persist. And I try to write those feelings. Tell me how you're coping with pandemic-related stress in the comments! 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Finding My Voice...Again (Jodi Moore)

 

Like many writers, I’ve had a hard time creating over the past six months. 

 

 

The dreaded blank screen
                                                        

 

It seemed my heart shattered on a daily basis as I watched the news and perused posts on social media sites. My arms ached with emptiness – not only for the hugs I couldn’t share, but for those who had lost loved ones and would never feel their precious embrace again. My brain couldn’t comprehend the hate and the selfishness of those who ignored the cries for help.

 

(Disclaimer: three of these descriptions still hold true.)

 

On my best days, fog surrounded me. On my worst, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t write. My characters’ voices had disappeared, lost to the negative static.

 

(Yes, I hear voices. I depend on them to write. Many authors do.)

 

But recently, I remembered back to a time long ago when another voice had disappeared. As a teen, I had silenced my own. No, I hadn’t stopped speaking all together, but I learned to carefully measure my words – swallowing those that might upset the delicate balance in a household that had been through trauma. Too often, I heard the – sometimes well-intended, but often patronizing – advice of ‘get over it’ and ‘let it go’.

 

On those rare occasions when I did speak up to let them know their words hurt my feelings, they claimed I was ‘too sensitive’.

 

Those voices eventually took up important real estate, living rent-free in my mind.

 

Needless to say, that repression wasn’t exactly a healthy decision. Thankfully, in my twenties, I had a wonderful therapist who encouraged me to listen closely to the voices – not just what they were saying, but who the voices belonged to. Would I myself say those things to another person going through distress? And if not, why would I allow them to speak to me that way? 

 

Little by little - and with a lot of help - I learned to express myself once again.

 

Over the past few months, those negative voices have crept back in. I didn’t recognize them at first. Oh, sure. I noticed the ones who showed up screaming and foaming at the mouth. They were easy to spot. But others arrived with smiles. Their words coated with sugar. Spouting love and concern...then lashing out when I asked questions or took issue with their positions.

 

They told me I was naïve. Stupid. Wrong. They belittled me. Ridiculed who and what I hold dear. Told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. And when I dared to say they hurt my feelings, they told me I was ‘too sensitive’.

 

That’s when I acknowledged I’d let them move in. Again. And that’s when I decided to evict them.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this poem:

 

 

It

 

By Jodi Moore

 

 

Move past it, She said.

Then She walked away and left me alone.

With It.

 

Get over it, He said.

Then He took the ladder and left me alone.

With It.

 

Let it go, They said.

Then They slammed the door and locked the windows and left me alone.

With It.

 

At first, I pretended It wasn’t there. But It was. Staring at me through the darkness.

Then, I raged at It, screaming for It to leave. But It stayed. Waiting for me in the midst.

Finally, I turned away, cowering in the corner, sure it would devour me. But It didn’t.

 

Through the silence, I heard soft crying.

 

And then I realized that It had been lost, and left, and locked away too.

With me.

 

I took Its hand in mine. Together, we opened the door and left Them.

 

 

 

I can’t say I’ve completely broken from ‘Them’. But I can say that I’m working hard not to let Them break me.

 

In silencing the negative voices, I’ve empowered my own. In piecing my heart back together, I’ve begun to breathe life back into my art. In leaving them, I’ve begun the journey of reuniting with myself.

 

And my characters? They’re back, stronger and more insistent than ever. After all, they’ve got stories to tell, and it’s my job to let their voices be heard.


 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Back to Life: Finding Good News in the Bad News by Kimberly Sabatini

 From what I hear, I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been reading lots of posts about writers struggling to write in 2020--the year that has decided to fight back. That has not been me.

In fact, I've found I'm more productive than usual. *fist pump*

It may be because writing is incompatible with watching the news or being on social media and working helps me find balance.

It's also reminiscent of when I first started writing when my kids were 2, 4 and 6 years old. Back then, there weren't a lot of ways from me to socially distance myself from the boys. But while writing didn't give me physical distancing from my all consuming role as a Mom--it did give me some mental space. 

Perhaps now, with everyone home and in each other's space so much more than usual, I have unconsciously defaulted to using my writing as a way of giving me a bit of a buffer zone from everyone who is physically and virtually around me. 

Whatever the reason, I'm just very grateful to be feeling creative despite all the insanity going on in the world.

But no matter what "Back to Life" means to you, I think it's hard to deny that there are some headlines popping up in the news that can shock me into a stupor or make me laugh so hard I almost pee my pants. It's a kinda fine line. To keep these eye-popping moments from pushing me towards despair, I've found it helps if I play a little game and ask myself...

If I put this in a novel, would an editor tell me it's too unbelievable and I need to take it out?

The game makes me laugh and occasionally sparks a real story. And we all need to laugh a little more and have our creativity sparked, so let's do this. Please leave your favorite headlines or mind boggling bits in the comments and know you are not just limited to one. 

But before I start, this comedian having a back to the future moment might warm you up...


Here's my Hey, Editor headlines...

*Gender Reveal Party Starts Massive El Dorado Fire in California.

*A $110 million sewage treatment plant will be named after comedian John Oliver.

*Denver is under a winter weather advisory two days after the city hit 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

*A University claims it prevented a coronavirus outbreak before it began--all thanks to poop.


Show me what you've got YA Outside the One-Liners. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Ready, Set ... Uh, Go? (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging at YA Outside the Lines about “back to life,” which is like “back to school,” but even less fun.

That was sort of a joke, but after six months of COVID-19, not really.

So.

I’m not going back to school ... except for my ongoing Zoom guitar lessons, for which my teachers deserve combat pay. As I write this, my daughter is flying back to Boston for her junior year of college, whatever that turns out to be in this pandemic world of ours. Aside from begging her to take a selfie from her in-apartment quarantine tomorrow on her first day of classes, though, back to school is no longer a big deal once your kidlets are off at college, except that you have fewer people complaining that there’s no decent food in the house. Which, okay, there maybe isn’t.

But it’s September 1 (as I write this), and September 1 has always been my true “Happy New Year,” filled with resolutions and plans and hopes and dreams and all that good stuff. (January 1, being winter in Minnesota, doesn’t do much to inspire me.)

This year, the arrival of September means that we’ve been in a pandemic for six months, under quarantine for the first couple of months, and not much better than being under quarantine for the months that followed.

Except for songs, I haven’t written in six months. And writing novels is what I do.

It shouldn’t be a shock, really. I realized last week that I’ve been depressed for six months, and I write funny books. (In my opinion. ha ha.) Being me — which means someone who lives life at full tilt — I’ve been throwing myself into everything I could think of during the last six months (or, actually, the few things still allowed in this pandemic world), figuring that constant activity would fix what ailed me.

Hot tip: it didn’t. As a total extrovert in a world that’s now made almost exclusively for introverts, I’ve been circling the drain.

BUT IT'S SEPTEMBER! 


Seriously, I always give myself a do-over in September. Always, always, always. This year, it means it’s time to go back to living again. Time to reclaim my life. Tra la la.

In other words, it’s time to write. And to quit feeling miserable pretty much every moment that I’m not working out (God bless The Firm in Minneapolis!) or listening to live music (OH WAIT! NO LIVE MUSIC!) or traveling (OH WAIT! NO TRAVELING!) or hanging out with friends (OH WAIT! ALMOST NO ONE HANGS OUT ANYMORE!).

So, yeah. TODAY, despite the fact that nothing has changed, I’ll start writing novels again. TODAY. Because I’m a novelist, and I write novels, and they’re even pretty decent. Yep, I have no game plan except for that: I’m going to start writing again, and I’m going to somehow make it funny. TODAY.

Or certainly sometime this week.

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.