Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Lone Ranger, Ed Sullivan and Stories That Slide Away


John Clark posting from Cody, Wyoming during a long delayed tour of the National Parks in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and Utah.

When the topic of what we fear was chosen, my first thought was of a couple events from more than 60 years ago that scared the hell out of me then and that I still remember quite vividly. The first was a radio episode of The Lone Ranger where he and Tonto were fighting ghosts. I was supposed to be in bed asleep, but my parents were listening in the next room and the program was so realistic, I had nightmares afterward. The other was at about the same time. It was a short animated feature shown on the Ed Sullivan Show. Talk about setting up an audience—He cautioned viewers that they might want to have their children leave the room. Now what kid, hearing that is going to want to miss what’s coming next? It was A Short Vision, a British animated film by Joan and Peter Foldes released in 1956. The film, inspired by one of Peter's poems, depicts the destruction of the world, including mankind. The film's music was composed by Matyas Seiber, who composed music for Animal Farm two years earlier. That too, gave me nightmares.

Fortunately, one benefit of age is the ability to remember all the times you worried and fretted about bad stuff happening. Well 98% never does and you deal with the other 2%. However, there are a couple things that really scare me. The first is losing my sense of humor and quick wit. I’m the unofficial humorist and punster for the folks I swim with five mornings a week. If I’m not cracking a new joke, or creating a new pun within five minutes of getting in the water, someone will call me out.


It’s worth noting that the heated pool is also my ‘Place of Power,’ a location where ideas and plot twists come to me in a seemingly effortless way. That brings me to my second fear—losing the ability to come up with new story ideas. Even if I couldn’t write them, the thought of not being able to have a story appear in my head and start writing itself is terrifying.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Crissa-Jean Chappell - Authors and Animals

It's such a delight to catch up with Crissa-Jean Chappell. In addition to being a YA author, she's also an artist. (I love and am fascinated by her process of sketching her characters as she writes.) I also confess her videos of her sweet cats are often one of my guilty pleasures. Here, she weighs in on the relationship between artists and animals:



cats and writers from crissachappell on Vimeo.


Be sure to check in with Crissa yourself:

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Fear by Sydney Salter

I'm afraid of not getting another chance at publishing success--

I have spent the weekend at the Women Writing The West conference virtually from Portland, Oregon. No Powell's book buying spree 😢 I love this congenial group of ladies (and a few men) who tell stories about women who live west of the Mississippi. 

After so many great craft sessions, I am feeling so inspired about my stories. I have notes for a BIG revision on one project, thanks to a roundtable critique and a comment made by a speaker that made me realize that I was forcing a plot point that simply needs to go. I took notes about the NaNoWriMo story that I am planning for next month. I thought about the messy novel that is currently resting--and made some notes for the character swap I'm planning in that story. 

I am ready to write!!!! I am super excited about my stories. 

But I also heard that it's tough out there right now to get published--for all kinds of reasons. And I suck at social media. Really, I suck at enjoying social media. I feel really conflicted about what all that time scrolling through feeds does to people, especially my audience (who isn't all that interested in people my age, anyway). I worry that not having a huge following affects my submissions.  

I am a writer who needs to write, and would have stopped long ago if that were possible. I have so many stories that I'm excited to tell. And it's the only thing I want to do. Right now I work as a Small Claims Court Mediator--because all the people feed my storytelling. Everything I do seems to end with "so I can write about it."

Is that enough? Loving the writing. 

That's my super honest fear: that the novels I've already had published will be the only novels published in spite of writing many many more. 

In the meantime, I am going to shove my fears aside and keep working on my craft. Writing and writing and writing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Eeeeeeeek! (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines, in honor of Halloween, we’re talking about what scares us.

If we’re supposed to talk about what scares us in the context of writing, I’m going to fail this assignment. My bad!

People tend to think of me as fearless. Being considerate and all, I tend to let people think whatever they want to think of me, even (or especially) when they’re wildly wrong and I’m secretly laughing at them.

On a macro level, I guess I am pretty fearless, because I’m never afraid to do what I want to do, and I’m never afraid to stand up for myself and what I want. Too many women in particular say they’re afraid to make waves or stand up for themselves, especially with their spouses/partners/cabana boys/kids, but that’s a really foreign concept to me. I can probably thank my mom for never letting fears like that even enter my mind.

But on a micro level? A random list of some things that scare me:





Sleeping in a tent (unless the tent is inside a room with deadbolts)

Spiders and really all bugs, especially speedy ones

Reenacting the shower scene in Psycho in real life

The Birds: ditto

Being alone in my house in the middle of the night


You think I'm kidding, but no.

Pretty much all other animals, too

Forgetting lyrics and/or chords while performing onstage

People who put raisins where chocolate chips should go (kidding) (somewhat)

Really, really, really tight spaces

Horror books or movies (so they’re a hard pass)



When I was a kid, I was afraid of tall buildings falling on me. No idea why.

I’ve also had two bouts with agoraphobia (not recently, thank God), in which I struggled to leave the house, which is particularly weird for an extrovert like me, but I came up with clever ways to resolve that, my favorite of which involved Punch Pizza.

I’m not afraid of Punch Pizza. I’m also cool with clowns.

So ... what scares you? (Besides my monthly blog posts, of course.)

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, October 1, 2021

Holly Schindler Interviews Carrie Jones, (Incredible) Writer Person

Confession: Carrie Jones's books were some of the first YAs I feel completely in love with when I first started trying my own hand at the genre. And I am beyond thrilled that she's joining us here today:


HS: You write for all ages, but you started out writing YA. Tell us about some of your YAs.


CJ: Actually, I started writing middle grade, but the first books I published were YA. I know! I know! So wild. 

I am terrible at picking favorite YA novels. It always feels like I’m saying I prefer one friend over another or one dog over another. Not that books are dogs! Although, how cuddly would a book/dog hybrid be? 


HS: What drew you to YA? 


CJ: My natural speaking and writing voice is a YA voice. I love the immediacy of it. I love how brilliant and passionate and exacting teens are. I think it’s the hardest genre to write because you can’t get away with things. 

M.T. Anderson said in his 2009 Printz Honor speech that “teen are conspicuously the opposite of bland and blank: They are incredibly eccentric, deeply impassioned about their interests, fantastically—even exhaustingly—knowledgeable. Their commitment to complexity of thought is, if anything, fiercer than an adult’s—because they have to fight so fiercely to defend it.” 

How can you not be compelled and honored to write for teens? 


HS: As you get farther from your own teen self, do you find it harder to tap into the YA voice? How do you keep it fresh?


CJ: Oh. That’s hard. I don’t contemplate it too much. When the characters come out, they come out as character with attitudes and tweaks and flaws. I almost feel like it’s less about the ‘voice’ and more about the teen mindset, what they care about, that impassioned need to become, to evolve, to be, and to understand that runs through the current of so many young adult novels. It’s more about that than worrying that my narrator ’sounds’ seventeen. 


HS: How do you see the genre having changed since your first YA?


CJ: The text right now feels a bit more densely rich—I’m talking sentence structure. Hopefully becoming more diverse in authors and subject matter and narrative structures. YA was very heavily white, written by middle class (and up) able-bodied women and men who went to college and often graduate school. Any increase in a more heterogeneous assortment of story and writers is such a win because it means that teens get to read difference, find empathy and discover worlds that aren’t homogenous. 


HS: What’s your favorite YA to read? (When I started publishing, vampires were all the rage. I’ve always had a soft spot for contemporary realism.)


CJ: This is a really hard question for me. I like thrillers. A lot. And I also like those quieter, lyrical novels. I’m really all about extremes, apparently. In my editing work, I read a lot of YA fantasy (of all sub-genres), so I think I’m steering a bit away from them in my pleasure reading. 


HS: How has your own YA work changed? Has it changed because of the genre itself? Because of our political climate, etc?


CJ: I’ve always been a bit all over the place when it comes to genre and YA. I’m slowly working on some stories that are a bit more complicated structurally, which are probably going to terrify my poor agent. They are really more call-backs to my first three YA novels (contemporary realism) rather than the YA that allowed me to not live in a car, which was YA fantasy and the NEED series.

I think a lot about Audre Lorde’s quote when I think about writing YA and writing for teens. She has a million quotes of brilliance, but the one that I’m referencing is, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and be eaten alive.” 

That’s what’s going on with me and my YA and hopefully the world right now. It’s time for to embrace defining ourselves and leaning into that power of creation both on the page and outside of it.  As writers for young adults and kids, we have a responsibility for our stories to resonate with possibility and authenticity. 


HS: I’m in the midst of revising and republishing my first YA—have you looked at your own first YA recently? What do you think of it? 


CJ: That is so great for you, Holly! I’m so excited that you’re doing that! 

For me? Um, no. I have a panic attack if I look at my old books. I’m a bit like Adam Driver. He can’t watch himself on the screen. I can’t hear my words on the page. 


HS: I’ve been following you for some time on Patreon, where you’ve published new work across genres. Can you talk a bit about your experience there? What it’s been like writing YA in real time?


CJ: Thank you so much for supporting me there. It means so much to me. Every week not the audio part of the Patreon, I start to choke up because it’s so kind for people to be there on that journey with me. 

And the journey itself? IT IS SO TERRIFYING! Yes! That’s in caps. Writing a chapter a week in real time and putting it out there makes me think of my newspaper past and a bit of improv. It’s really vulnerable because you’re showing people how your story develops, warts and all, but it’s also so freeing because you can allow your brain to just produce and produce and produce. If you want to be responsible and get that chapter out, then you have to silence your imposter syndrome or your internal critic or inner editor. 


HS: Where do you feel YA is headed? (I mean, you’ve got a crystal ball, right? 😁)


CJ: Oh my gosh. Hopefully to even bigger and better worlds and stories, where we recognize, celebrate and accept stories that we never imagined before. Stories that challenge. Stories that resonate. Stories that are different. Stories that are unafraid. 

People always seem to think of big change as a one-time event, but industries and art evolves. Revolutions and evolutions simmer and bubble and don’t just happen on one day for five hours. Progress is like that. I think YA is progressing and it’s becoming more and more a genuine journey towards truths. 


HS: Working on any YA stuff now?


CJ: Oh my gosh. Always. I have some paranormals that are pretty straight-forward and a mystery series going on. 

I’m working on a couple novels with slightly more complicated structures. One has some fantastical elements woven throughout and is narrated by Love and the other is a bit more of a treatise about entitlement and violence. 

That was a horrible pitch, wasn’t it? All my currently published YA and the ones that are coming out super soon are on my website,


Thank you so much for having me here, Holly! I hope you’re own writing (and revising) is going well! 


Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Seven Year Itch (PJ Sharon)

Just as the moon has its cycles, we humans are always changing. It has become increasingly clear to me that I suffer from seven-year-itch syndrome

No worries, my husband and I are happily married and way past the seven-year mark, but creatively, I’ve found that I’m good for about seven years of dedicated effort to learning a new skill before my passion wanes, or I find another new endeavor that captures my attention, leaving me no choice but to move on or risk stagnation. 

So far in my life, I've been a figure skater, martial artist, opera singer, Physical Therapist Assistant, massage therapist, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and author. And I've loved all of it! These diverse experiences have offered me endless opportunities for growth. I've met amazing people along the way, forging friendships that will last a lifetime. And challenging myself in new ways keeps life interesting.  

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying I wasn’t one of those writers who had no choice but to write. I had gone to a financial seminar when I was about forty where the presenter spoke about creating passive streams of income for retirement and suggested that writing books was a way to do that. You write the book, put it out there, and collect the royalties in perpetuity. Sounded simple enough. I was a decent writer, loved English class in school, and figured I had enough drive and ambition to make it happen. After all, I had twenty-five years until retirement, so I was sure I could make it work. My kids were pretty much grown, I had moved to the Berkshires with the love of my life, and was just starting my massage practice, so I had time and flexibility to start a new project. Once I made the decision to try, ideas came flooding in.

Those early days were exciting. It seemed I had endless story ideas and the focus and discipline to see my projects through to the end. Writing made me happy. I couldn’t wait to get home every day to dive in, sometimes staying up until the wee hours pouring my heart out onto the page (I wrote my first draft of Savage Cinderella in ten days while I was home sick with the flu). It was stimulating, cathartic, and although there were plenty of hair-pulling moments, writing fed my soul.

I began writing young adult fiction for several reasons. Initially, it was because I realized I didn’t want anyone I knew reading my steamy adult romances, lol. Then, in my effort to learn to write in deeper POV through a first-person narrative, I found my voice and style were most suited to the YA genre. But mostly, I knew I had some important stories to share with teen readers. My own young adulthood was mired in drama, conflict, and tragedy—the perfect recipe for writing YA. It turned out my seventeen-year-old self was still working through some old stuff and had a lot to say!

By the fifth year of my writing journey (around 2010), I had written four full-length novels, ~500,000 words, and had the requisite 10,000 hours of practice Malcolm Gladwell says in his book, Outliers, that it takes to become an "expert". After much consideration and research, I decided self-publishing was the way to go. For me, autonomy, control over my creative process, and the success I was seeing for other self-published authors in those early days of the boon was appealing. It was a huge learning curve, and a lot of work, but I didn’t let that stop me. I was determined to bring my stories to readers—and so I did. What I didn’t count on for the next ten years was the demands of the profession or the endless minutia that goes along with the job. I found the marketing, promoting, technical challenges, and ever-changing world of publishing to be a soul-sucking part of the process I had not anticipated. For many of us, the “business” of writing can sap the joy and fun right out of the creative process.

To combat the solitary nature of writing, most creative types need life-affirming experiences to fill their creative well—a return on our investment so to speak. A pat on the back from our editors for a job well done, positive feedback from readers, and even financial compensation for all the endless hours of effort we’ve put into our art. But when so much of the job is “writing to the market” or dealing with the million to-dos’ of selling our books and maintaining an online presence, it can take the wind out of our sails and leave us feeling like our creative well has run dry. Add a global pandemic, divisive politics, and climate chaos to the mix and it’s no wonder so many of us are struggling to get words on the page.

So, what’s a writer to do?

I say, give in to the “itch” and try something new. For some, that might mean switching genres or trying out a new medium like writing a screen play or working with an artist to write graphic novels. I can totally see my Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy or Savage Cinderella series in graphic novel form. But my pragmatic self understands that no matter what I write, I still need to treat my writing as a business to make it worth the time and effort. The mere thought of it makes me squidgy, so I’m going to see if trying something completely unrelated to writing spurs my creative spark. I’ve been toying with the idea of taking art classes, hoping to reclaim some of that joy and excitement of learning a new skill. We’ll see where that leads me. Maybe I can combine my efforts and those graphic novels will take shape!

I still have time before I retire.

Peace and blessings,


A licensed massage therapist by day, PJ Sharon is also an award-winning author of young adult novels, including PIECES of LOVE, HEAVEN is for HEROES, ON THIN ICE, and Holt Medallion-winner SAVAGE CINDERELLA. You can follow Brinn’s story in the Savage Cinderella Novella series which includes FINDING HOPE, LOST BOYS, SACRED GROUND, BROKEN ANGEL, and LIBERTY’S PROMISE.

In addition to her contemporary YA lit, Ms. Sharon’s YA dystopian trilogy, The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, which RT Book Reviews calls “An action-packed read with a strong female lead,” is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure inspired by her fascination with “prepping” and her passion for environmental causes, as much as by her love of romance and the unending “what-if’s” that haunt her imagination.

PJ has two grown sons and several adorable grandchildren, and lives with her brilliant engineer of a husband in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA where she writes, kayaks, and plays in the dirt as often as possible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Genre Bendre (Brian Katcher)

You can always tell when a creative endeavor runs out of ideas. And it always starts with a genre shift. That episode of 'Facts of Life' where all the girls are brutally murdered. That episode of 'Cheers' where everyone was brutally murdered. That episode of 'Punky Brewster' where all the kids were brutally murdered. That episode of 'Mister Roger's Neighborhood' where the puppet was brutally murdered. And while three of those four episodes turned out to just be dreams, you could tell the writers were out of ideas.

So where do you go when you're pages away from having your leather jacket wearing hero strap on some water skis and jump over a tank of aquatic carnivores? Do you fully embrace the evolution of your craft, taking your stories in directions you never expected? Or do you force you characters to continually relive your high school days, finding the love, acceptance and revenge that was denied to you? Do you risk getting stale like Johnathan Swift did in the Gulliver series? (And then he sailed to the island where people wore shoes on their heads and hats on their feet...) Do you risk embarrassing yourself like James Clavell did when he stopped writing five thousand pages tomes about the Far East and started writing five thousand pages tomes about Iran?

I dunno. My one attempt at science fiction tanked, and while I long to write a horror story, I still need more practical experience before I tackle that one. 

In short, I completely forgot this article was coming due and it shows.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Branching Out Beyond YA by Dean Gloster


            For a long time, I wrote only young adult (YA) novels. My debut, Dessert First, was a contemporary realistic YA, and the novel I’m revising now, Just Deal, is a YA contemporary fantasy.

Life is short. Enjoy Dessert First

            But it takes me so long to write and revise those YA novels, especially if I get well into a project in the meantime, before finding out it isn’t working. (As has happened with a couple of  manuscripts between those two novels.) 

In this week’s “Clearest Picture Ever” of Mars, for example, it’s clear:

Mars looks disappointed in me because I don’t write faster. 

            I even went through an entire MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts in “Writing for Children and Young Adults” without ever branching out from the young adult part: Every one of the five semesters, my workshop piece was a new YA novel opening or a YA short story, and every creative manuscript I worked on with my many advisors was YA. 

             Then came this month. I’m working on a science fiction story involving only adults with a friend of mine I used to do standup comedy with. And—four years after graduating with that MFA—I went back for a post-graduate semester. So far, I’m writing picture book manuscripts—my first, ever--and a new, spooky middle grade. (Again, my first ever.)

            I get to work with the incomparable Martha Brockenbrough there, who writes everything and does it brilliantly—including her fierce, feminist, fairy-tale-infused YA fantasy Into the Bloodred Woods out on November 2. 

I’m excited about my latest chapter, too—writing something new. It feels like a stretch for me, but stretching is good. 

    This month we're writing about switching up mediums or genres.

Dean Gloster 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, JUST DEAL, 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. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

A few words about change

 For this month, with the ending of summer, and the beginning of fall, our topic is “change.”


As someone who doesn’t particularly like change (generally speaking) but who’s had to adjust to her fair share of it, here are some random thoughts I have on the topic.  


1.     Change is inevitable and it can suck (especially initially) – and especially if the change is not something you wanted. 


2.     When change is perceived as a good thing, it can feel exciting and invigorating and nerve-wracking all at once.


3.     Change can evoke a myriad of emotions, including fear, anger, joy, relief, anxiety, disappointment, resentment, and guilt (and sometimes those emotions are all in response to the same thing, just at different times).


4.     Each change – even welcome ones – accompanies a loss of some sort.   


5.     Each change – even unwelcome ones – provides the opportunity for growth (and therefore a gain of some sort). 


6.     Change can happen in an instant – sometimes in less than an instant – and can alter the whole trajectory of one’s life, as well as the lives of those we touch (in good ways and in challenging ones).


7.     Change can alter our perception, enabling us to see life – or some aspect of it – anew. 


8.     Some things that change: weather, our mood or feelings, prices, fashion, the environment, time, circumstances, friendships, relationships, age, the world, technology, trends, nature, people…


9.     Change can come as a gift, all wrapped up in a bow, just when we need it. It can also feel like we’ve just been sideswiped by a bus.


10.  Some of us welcome change and invite it into their lives. Others fear it.  


11.  Change can offer beauty, like the change in seasons, the colors of fall, the blooms of spring; caterpillars to butterflies; seeds to flowers; night sky to sunrise; daylight to starry night… 


12.  And just as beautiful, change offers us the opportunity to learn, to question, and to initiate our own changes.