Thursday, August 22, 2019

Betcha Can't Choose Just One! by Patty Blount

August is Favorite Character Month and with six young adult novels published to date, I bet you're probably thinking it's hard to pick just one.

You'd be right.

It's SO hard.

Authors work on novels for a year or two before they're published so those characters we develop start to feel like family. Picking a favorite just isn't possible. I'm incredibly proud of Dan Ellison, the former bully in SEND and of Derek Lawrence in SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, because I think they did the most growing up, the most changing, of all of my characters. But I'm equally proud of Grace Collier and Ashley Lawrence, sexual assault survivors in SOME BOYS and SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, because they fought so hard to challenge assumptions in their respective stories.

Don't even get me started on Jin-Thomas Clarke, the Pulitzer-Prize-Winning journalist in BORDERLINES, a still unpublished novel of mine that launched a decade-long crush I've had on actor Gilles Marini. (Want the steamy details? Click here.)

Main characters already know they're pretty damn special; they got their own books. You know who never gets any love?

The secondary character!

So I've decided to tell you a little bit about my favorite supporting characters.

First up, we have Mr. Russell, Ian's dad in SOME BOYS. Main character Grace may not be what some consider to be a 'nice girl.' She wears a lot of leather and studs, black clothes, heavy makeup. It's an outfit she adopted as something of a protest to annoy her father.

It works. Perhaps a little too well. Because after Grace's assault, he doesn't give her the comfort and the reassurance she so desperately needs. He suggests the crime committed against her may be her fault because of how she dresses.

You know who does provide comfort? Mr. Russell, main character Ian's father. He not only believes Grace, he steps up, advocates for Grace when no one else would. I adore that character. Here's an excerpt from SOME BOYS where Mr. Russell does what should be done.

I knock on the door to the second property Mr. Russell wants me to shoot.
The door's answered by a guy named Don Harding, a short, thinks-he's-a-player guy wearing a t-shirt that's too tight to be anything but sad. He looks me up and down, smirks a Zac kind of smirk and invites me in. In my head, warning bells sound, sirens wail, and forces are mobilizing for a full scale attack. Don The Homeowner looks at me like I'm nuts while I try to convince myself this is safe but it's not safe and I know it, he knows it and he's daring me to do it anyway.
"You live here alone?"
"My wife won't be home for a while yet, sweet thing. You could come in for a while." Another smirk. Yeah, this is definitely not a good idea.
"When's your wife home?"
"Six-thirty or so."
"I'll come back then, Mr. Harding."
"Call me Don, honey."
How about no? "I'll come back." With a bodyguard and maybe a weapon.
I head down the walk, so happy not to be trapped in a room with this creep.
"Aw, come on. We're both here now. Why you gotta be like this?"
Me? — Oh, you douche. I whip around, not surprised to find that he followed me down the walk. "You wanna know why I have to be like this? Because you're a slimy asshole, that's why. I came here to do a job but you have to act like a dick and then say it's me. It's my fault. It's my problem."
He holds up his hands in surrender. "Jeez, I was just—"
"Oh, you were just what? Playing around?" I wave my hands. "Oh, oh, you were joking and didn't mean anything? Newsflash, Don, I don't find guys like you even a little bit funny. I'm here to take pictures of your new kitchen. Period. I'll come back when your wife is home so pray I don't tell her what you tried to do." To add more weight to my bluff, I whip my phone out of my pocket and wiggle it in front of his face.
I turn to leave.
"Aw, baby, come on—"
I flip directions, stride right up to him so that we're standing toe to toe, and grab a fistful of his t-shirt. "My name isn't honey, or baby, or sweet thing. I am not here to amuse you until your wife gets home. Last chance — are you gonna get out of my way or do I have to mess you up?"
"Okay! Okay! You on your period or something?"
My vision tunnels and I want to tie this guy's tongue in a knot. Before I can do something I'll have to be bailed out for, I turn on my heel and leave. Don Harding's new kitchen is not going to make it into Mr. Russell's new brochures and I really don't give a shit.
When I reach the corner, it hits me I'm not scared anymore. Guess I'm too mad to be scared. I call Mr. Russell, tell him word for word what just happened, and apologize.
"Grace, what did Ian do when Mr. Harding got fresh with you?"
"Oh, he's not here."
"I see."
Crap. I think I just got Ian in big trouble. "He got a ride home from one of his friends. I decided to visit the properties near the school after he left."
"I see."
"Mr. Russell, please. It's not his fault, really. Zac was causing trouble, so Ian got him away from me."
"Well, that's something. Where are you now?"
"Um, walking to the Miller's house up on College Drive."
"I'll meet you there."
He ends the call before I can protest. It takes no more than ten minutes to find the third address on Mr. Russell's list. When I turn up the walk and knock on the door, the homeowner holds up his finger. "Yeah, she's here right now. Okay. Bye."
"Are you Grace?"
I nod. 
"Come on in. That was Steve Russell on the phone."
I hesitate. "Are you Mr. Miller?" The man is tall, with a ton of gray hair streaking the sides of his head. He's wearing a pair of wire-rim glasses and has a tiny gut hanging over the waistline of his Dockers. When he smiles, he seems friendly, not slimy.
"Yeah, Brett Miller. My wife is outside with our kids." He holds out a hand to me but I still hesitate. After a moment, he lowers his hand and loses his smile. "Grace, Steve told me what just happened."
I shut my eyes with a groan.
"It's okay. Why don't you walk around the house to the yard and I'll stay in the kitchen, okay?"
I look at him sideways. "Really?"
"Really." He grins again.
I nod and walk around the house. Mrs. Miller is pushing a toddler on a swing set. An older boy is running around with a soccer ball. A door slides open and Mr. Miller calls out. Mrs. Miller picks up the baby and heads indoors. A few minutes later, the little boy follows. The yard is like a park with tons of perfectly clipped grass and curvy flower beds. Mr. Russell designed custom tile that resemble scales for a large fish at the bottom of the pool. The sun's at the perfect angle to show off those colors. There's something about framing the perfect shot, something soothing, maybe even cathartic. It's like your whole world gets reduced to just light and shadow, to whatever fits in the viewfinder. Mr. Russell does beautiful work. The pictures I'm taking will make people want to touch this fish, see if those scales are real.
With a happy sigh, I carefully pack the camera away and turn to wave at the Millers, watching from their kitchen. I wind my way around the house and find Mr. Russell leaning against the white Camry. "How'd it go?"
"Mr. Russell? What are you doing here?"
"Making sure nobody else gives you any trouble."
I blink. My dad told me the same thing once. It was after my first day of kindergarten. I walked out of the huge steel doors and found him leaning against our car. I ran over to him and he scooped me up into his arms and asked me if anybody was mean to me. Nobody was until a few weeks later when a little witch named Samantha got me sent to the principal's office. Strange how after Zac assaults me and everybody's mean to me, now his response is "What do you expect me to do when you—"
He never finishes that sentence. I guess he didn't really need to.
I swallow hard. "Thanks, Mr. Russell. Really."
"So, can I see what you've got so far?"
 "Yeah. Sure." I unpack the camera, switch to scroll and hand it to him.
"Grace, these are amazing. Thank you so much. Wait, what's this?"
I snatch the camera from him when he scrolls too far and sees one of the Zac shots I'd taken. "Nothing. I should go. It's getting dark."
"I'll drop you off."
"No! I can walk."
Mr. Russell's eyes, so much like Ian's, go hot for a moment. Then he sighs. "Grace, I know you don't know me, but I promise you this — you're safe with me. I am so, so sorry about what happened to you."
My throat closes and I nod once, then take off. He drives slowly behind me as I walk all the way home. I hate that he knows what happened. I hate that he thinks I'm afraid of him, that I can't handle myself.

I hate that he's right. 

Another favorite secondary character of mine is Etta in THE WAY IT HURTS. Etta is main character Kristen Cartwright's grandmother. She's this larger-than-life former stage actress who coaches Kristen through a seriously humiliating event with a "don't get mad, get even" philosophy. Etta has a string of ex-husbands who all still adore her and are still part of her extended family. She knows what she wants and doesn't just expect it; she demands it in ways that have people tripping over themselves to provide it. Etta has a health crisis in this novel and it's Kristen who propels Etta out of her hospital bed in a gratifying role reversal.

Last month, our theme was secrets in our novels. Here's a secret for you: I adore writing secondary characters' relationships with main characters. I love revealing different aspects to love, to grief, to disappointment, to pride. These supporting characters reveal those aspects to perfection. Here's a scene from THE WAY IT HURTS starring Etta.

"How could he do that, Etta?" I sobbed.
"Hush, darling, hush." She stroked my hair. "Are you absolutely certain he  -- what is it again?"
"Twitter. And yes. I am. He posted a picture of me." I lifted my head from her shoulder and curled my legs under me. Etta handed me the box of tissues from the table beside the sofa, where a framed photo of Etta and Dad sat. I blew my nose loudly and sniffled a few times. "I thought he liked me, Etta. Really liked me."
"He does, darling. I saw the boy's face and I'm an excellent judge of character, remember?"
Despite the knife twisting deep in my soul, I laughed. I couldn't help it. Etta could always make me laugh no matter how crappy I felt. That was why I came straight here, instead of running up to my room and hiding under the covers. "Maybe he's just a good actor."
Etta raised both eyebrows over her tea cup at that. "Nobody's that good, darling." She studied me for a long moment. She wasn't fully dressed today -- no red lips or outlandish eye makeup, but she still looked amazing to me. "Come with me. I have just the thing to cheer you up."
I followed her into the kitchen -- a tiny room at the back of the apartment my parents built for her. The apartment was just large enough for Etta's acting souvenirs and her. She had a tiny sofa, a flat screen TV on the wall. Every spot of wall space boasted autographed pictures of Etta and her leading men, or Playbills, or reviews of her performances -- the good ones, that is. Knowing Etta as well as he did, Dad provided only a basic kitchen. Etta didn't cook. Not even a little. Her refrigerator held leftovers from the meals Mom cooked or the meals Etta ordered in. I watched while she opened the door to the tiny fridge, rooted around inside for a moment and surfaced bearing a foil-wrapped package.
"Sit, sit." She waved me over to the small bistro table in the corner. I sat on a high stool while she opened the cabinet in the hall, took out one of her fancy plates, the kind rimmed in gold, and brought it to the counter near the fridge. A moment later, she put it down in front of me.
I gasped.
Six chocolate-covered strawberries circled the plate, on top of a lace doily. Fresh tears choked me. Etta wrapped her arms around me and squeezed. "Oh, hush now. No boy is ever worth your tears, darling. I should know. I married four."
"You never cried over a boy, Etta?"
She pulled out a chair and sat opposite me, studied the plate, and chose a strawberry. She bit into it, closing her eyes with a moan. "Not since I was thirteen years old and Harold Fine decided that Rose DeLuro had nicer...assets... than I did." She looked pointedly at her chest -- noticeably flatter than mine.
I took after Mom's side of the family in that department.
"What about The Four? Didn't you love them?"
She slowly chewed her berry, licked her fingers and shrugged. "I certainly thought I did at the time."
"And now?"
She smiled brightly. "And now I know I am far too self-absorbed to love any man more than I love myself."
"Uh." I blinked. I had no idea how to respond to that. I grabbed a strawberry of my own, took a bite and felt immediately better. "Where did you get these? They're amazing."
"The chocolate shop off Main Street, near the theater. Wonderful, aren't they?"
Wonderful didn't come close.
"If you were a tad bit older, I'd pour you a shot of whiskey in that tea."
I stared at her. "I won't tell if you won't."
She smiled and gave me the nice-try look. "Now then. Tell me from the beginning everything that happened."
So I did. We drank our tea, finished the strawberries, and I told her everything... the band and The Beat and all the crappy insults and put-downs I'd had to deal with just because I posted my opinions.
"And these insults... you're certain they were from Elijah?"
"Um, well, no. Only the one about making me scream. Oh, Etta!" I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. "I really thought he was great. But he's just -- he's just-- "
"A man. The question is, how will you use this information?"
I lifted my head and stared at her through my tears. "I don't know what you mean."
"Kristen, my darling, whether this Elijah is great or not is not the question you should be asking. You now know something about him -- how can that something help you get what you need?"
"I don't know what I need!"
"Of course you do." She repeated with a subtle eye roll. "You were heartbroken about your summer program rejection. What if you created your own summer program? What if you accepted Mr. Hamilton's indecent proposal?" She leaned in closer. "And what if screaming in his rock band is just the sort of unexpected something extra that you need on your conservatory applications?"
I rocked back in my seat. Could I do that? Could I hide the crack in my heart and pretend this is just my next role? Yeah. Yeah, I decided, I could. "I guess I could call him."
Etta gasped. "Oh, no, you will not. You will wait for young Mr. Hamilton to come to you, begging. When he does, and he will, you'll agree to sing in his band and then you will capture all of his fans with one simple technique that has endured through the ages. It's called sexual competition, darling."
I choked and then quickly looked around to make sure Mom and Dad hadn't possibly heard that.
 Etta patted my back. "It's not what you think," she said, waving a hand. "The concept is quite simple, really. Despite it being the twenty-first century and all, it's just that people -- especially men, cannot believe women can do anything as well or heaven forbid, better than they can. You turn this into a competition like that and people who don't even like this sort of music will fill seats just to see who wins."
My eyes widened. If I did this, I could really give Elijah Hamilton's fans something to talk about -- and maybe, with a little luck, that something might involve revenge of all sorts of unspeakable agony.

A slow grin spread across my face. I raised my teacup and Etta clinked it, a matching grin on her face. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

All Hail Grandma Honey (Alissa Grosso)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simply put, I can’t.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Who's Your Favorite? (by Maryanne Fantalis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can't possibly answer that.

Friday, August 9, 2019

A Witchy Favorite by Joy Preble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Reggie Frye is My Favorite Guy by: Kimberly Sabatini

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here is your teaser...

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Choosing Favorites (Mary Strand)

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

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

But I will.

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

Even though one of us is only 15.

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

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

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

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

Me, me, me.

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

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

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

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

My friend laughed.

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


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

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

No matter what.

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

Monday, August 5, 2019

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

by Fae Rowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, why is O'Neill my favorite character? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am so predictable.

About Fae

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

  P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.Fae's second book in the series will be available for pre-order October 1, 2019.

Monday, July 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend: Why do you supposed that is, Brian?

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

I buried Paul.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hidden Messages and Messaging the Hidden by Dean Gloster

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

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

            So I periodically messaged GOD.

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

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

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

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

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

            Good times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never happened.

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck, all, with your laptop computers and connections. Be well.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul.

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