Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Never meant to be...

Hey, it's leap day! Everyone still gets to here my pearls this month.

Okay, love. You wanna know what love was like for me all my life? Read Playing With Matches. I am Leon Sanders. Funny, smart, and terrified of girls. It was cute when I was fifteen, not so much at twenty-five. I kinda figured I'd turn into one of those paunchy, bald fifty-year-old guys who hang out in bars and hit on the single mothers half their age. And I was okay with that.

And yeah, maybe I complained at work that it was hard to meet a nice girl in this wretched, central Missouri town. But I never expected for someone to set me up. Sheesh. Not that desperate.

"But she's a lovely girl"

Yes, I'm sure her twenty cats think the world of her. Sorry, I don't do blind dates. I tossed her number into a drawer.

But two weeks later, we get hit by a massive blizzard. It was the weekend and I wanted to get out of town. Maybe head to the local university city, go to a coffee shop and work on my novel (see, I had this pipe dream of becoming a YA author back then). Well, I didn't want to drive thirty miles in the snow, so I thought I might as well call that chick, see if she's bored. Sandy, is it?

Well, I call her up and she agrees to meet for a drink. Then, in a mistake that I will hear about for the rest of my life, I give her the wrong name of the restaurant. We drive in circles trying to find each other. Luckily, there is only one restaurant in town (it's since become an eye doctor's), so we found each other. After deciding whether I really wanted to meet someone who drives an '86 Oldsmobile, we go in. I'm bracing myself for an evening of hearing about why all Muslims and homosexuals should be deported as she blows cigarette smoke in my face.

It turned out to be the greatest date I'd ever had. And she didn't even like coffee.

So we keep going out. And then she drops the bombshell. She's moving two hundred miles away in a month to go to school (and to take a job that would require traveling on many weekends).

Now I'd just returned from three years in Mexico, and I'd learned two things: You can always fit another person into a car, and long distance relationships suck.

So I told her this wasn't going to work out. We should just enjoy the time we had. She agreed.

The day before she left, I told her I loved her and would wait as long as it took (which turned out to be a year and a half).

So despite all the odds against us, we found each other. Friday will be the tenth anniversary of that first date. We've been married over seven years. We have a wonderful daughter, Sophie.

I love ya, Sandy. And I could have sworn that place was called 'Rob's.'

Our first trip together. Left to right: giant hissing cockroach, Sandy, me, my epic mustache. Not pictured: someone breaking into my car.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Silly, Silly Love

I get impatient with love stories.

Again, I’m being honest in my post for YAOTL, maybe even too much so. (Though I’ve gotten patient feedback so far. Thank you, patient ones.)

Here’s the damn truth.

I’m not impatient with love. Ever. Love is the only force in the Universe that I truly believe in. That job promotion we think we want, the toys we think we need, the money worries…I think it’s all a type of illusion. I think there will come a time, at the end of this life, when I’ll realize none of that meant anything like what I thought it meant anyway. But real love is always important.

So why do I get impatient with love stories? Well, I don’t with all of them. Just most of them.

It’s because I feel that a lot of what our society promotes as love…isn’t. Really. Not the kind of love that will still feel important when all is said and done.

I love to read YA, but I notice that in (nearly) every book, there has to be a crush. A lot of YA books are about little else besides a crush, but I avoid those.

I was a teen, though God knows it was long ago, and I know those early romantic posturings feel incredibly important. My problem was that I kept posturing long into my adulthood. Long. Into. And now I look back on that and shake my head. And now I feel so done with all the silliness.

Silliness? Did she just call love silly?

No. I did not.

What’s silly is the feeling that we’re only okay if he/she wants us. What’s silly is when we guess what’s going on in his/her head, but don’t really communicate. When we have wants and needs but can’t express them, and end up getting angry because we think the other person should know. Without being told. Like magic. Like osmosis. Or worse yet, when we assume we have no right to our wants and needs. It’s silly to let other people treat us as anything less that valuable, maybe because we don’t get that it’s okay to want better. Well. For any reason.

It’s sometimes unavoidable to feel incomplete, but it’s silly to believe someone else can fill that big hole in our hearts.

And yet there’s no doubt that as a teen—hell, as a 40-year-old—I had no idea how to do better, either. And yet I find myself wanting to read about something better. Maybe that’s nor fair. But that’s where I am.

Many years ago, long before I stopped being so silly in my own life, I began writing about non-romantic love. I wrote my first novel, Funerals For Horses, about a sibling bond. I wrote Becoming Chloe about the bond between an emotionally handicapped teen girl and a gay teen boy. In Love in the Present Tense, Mitch had a romantic entanglement (with the wife of his biggest client), but Leonard saw right through it and pronounced it silly. (Though not in so many words.) In some of my novels, like Jumpstart the World, my main characters do fall in love, but with somebody they know right off the bat they’re never going to get. That they can never be with (Frank is older and in a long-term relationship). Somehow that cuts down on the posturing and pulls out the pure emotion underneath, completely detached from any promise of gain. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

In Chasing Windmills, I did explore the feelings of first love. In fact, it was a bit of a retake (though only in a limited way) on the Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story drama arc. And I think that made people assume I would end it a certain way. As in, happy ending. Which is funny, because Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story did not have happy endings. Some people liked my ending, some did not. (Spoiler: nobody died. I didn’t carry the comparison through.) But I felt at least it wasn’t silly.

For those who object to my use of the word silly, please just consider that I use it to mean "that which takes us to a place we never really meant to go."

I guess what I’m saying is that I wish we could do love better. In real life, and in books. I wish we could focus more on what’s real, what touches our souls rather than our egos.

A great big wish that might never come true. And a lousy Valentine’s Day sentiment if there ever was one. But I throw it out there to hear what people think.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Our February theme is amour and its influence on our YA projects. I am an avowed sucker for a good love story. All my novels, adult books included, contain a romance element. As a reader, it’s a delicious thrill to fall in love vicariously. As a writer, I consider capturing the emotional journey of love a great challenge. When done right, it’s pretty darn close to the real thing. Sigh.

Although it seems a tad too clinical for something as unique and individual as love, I give the phases or components of a relationship a lot of thought. It’s no coincidence that a love story has the same three stages as any story: the beginning, the middle, and the end. To tweak the terminology a little for the romance purpose, I might say: they meet, they flirt, they get together.

For me, it’s the second stage—the courtship dance—that is the trickiest to bottle. There has to be the right emotional buildup, conflicts or constraints working against the pair, and sufficient character development to convey likeability, vulnerability, and empathy.

It’s apparent that your protagonist and his or her love interest need to spend sufficient page time together so that all of the above is given room to grow. I’ve also come to consider and develop the separation. Shakespeare nails it with his “sweet sorrow” description. Conjure quickly your all-time favorite love story. Did the writer build a divide of time and space into the relationship? I bet they did, and I bet it heightened the tension and strengthened the payoff. For the record, my favorite book is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. And, yes, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have extended separations.

So here’s to your favorite literary couples. Enjoy their journeys, partings included.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who loves you, baby? (by Rosemary Clement-Moore)

I used to love a lot of things. But then came this conversation: 
Me: I love chocolate. 
Playground wise-ass: Then why don’t you marry it? (hur hur hur)
Not to give too much credit to a catchphrase from the Pee-Wee Herman Show, isn’t it weird that we don’t have a more nuanced vocabulary for an emotion that has so many nuances? I love my parents and my dogs and the guy I married, but not all in the same way. 
Pulling up the thesaurus gives us some options: affection, adoration, lust, infatuation. So, okay, maybe I didn’t really LOVE John Roberts in the seventh grade, given that I never actually exchanged more than math papers with him. But it sort of belittles what I felt for my first college boyfriend if I call it lust or infatuation just because the relationship only lasted six months. For those six months, I loved him, and even now I think about him with... well, affection. 
I think the fact that I love writing (ha!) about a lot of different types of love relationships is one reason I’m drawn to YA books. Young adults are in the middle of figuring out all those nuances of relationships and though reviews and book jackets tend to focus on the love story (which, not going to lie, is my favorite part to write AND to read), the other relationships are just as important. 
C.S. Lewis wrote a whole book defining four types of love, and Plato and Aristotle both devoted brain power to the distinctions between unconditional love, romantic love, the love between friends and family. Funny (or maybe not) that, like, 99% of our media (TV shows, books, movies, country and western songs) are about romantic love, when the big thinkers kind of agree that philia, the love between friends, is one of the most virtuous, because there’s no selfish reason to be friends with someone. 
Think about it. You’ve got a sort of built in love for your parents, because they take care of you when you’re helpless, and (hopefully) love you no matter what. If you’re infatuated with someone, it FEELS good, and you’re kind of in love with love as much as you are with the person. And if you have kids, you love them, and would likely defend them with your life--but you could argue that you’re also insuring the continuance of your DNA. Same with sexual love, if it comes down to it. 
I don’t really believe those last two things, mostly because I don’t think the different kinds of love can be so neatly divided.  I think they overlap, and you can more than one sort in one relationship. But one thing I do agree with: the best relationships, whether they’re romantic, platonic, family or friends, have a core of friendship-love. Why? Because friendship-love is built on respect. 
Take my brother, for instance. When we were teens, we fought like weasels in a sack.  But I loved him, and I’d beat up anyone who said anything bad about him. (Even if I’d said the same thing myself.) But on both sides of those years, when we were kids, and now, as adults, I respect and admire him, and I would be his friend, even if we weren’t related. 
That came into play in Texas Gothic. My main character, Amy, comes from a family who drives her crazy. At the beginning, she loves them unconditionally, especially her sister Phin, who’s idiosyncrasies are particularly annoying and intrusive. But friendship-love? That’s a stretch. A big stretch in the beginning of the book, and a little stretch by the end. 
It was kind of fun to write a sibling relationship like that--Amy Goodnight is the first of my heroines to have a sibling--and fun to have a character grow to LIKE someone she already loved. 
And speaking of love... I love a love story as much as anyone else. But unlike the hopeless crushes of my teen years, one of my goals in my books is to show relationships that have more than just romantic love going for it. The girl and the guy should respect each other; it can be a balancing act when you’re showing the rocky road to romance. They can fight and claw and piss each other off--but they have to have some reason to respect each other, even if it takes awhile for them to see it in each other. 
In the end it comes down to one of my favorite examples of a relationship: Ripley and Hicks in Aliens.  Friend or boy-friend or comrade in arms, when the gut-busting, acid-dripping aliens come at you, you want someone who you can trust to fight back to back, and who trusts you to do the same. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Obsessed with the bad boys?--please vote (Lauren Bjorkman)

One day, I was eavesdropping in the courtyard of a little hotel in Bangkok where I stayed for a month while my sexy-geek husband studied parasites at a local hospital.

girl 1: He's not too nice if you know what I mean.
girl 2: That's the way I like them. Bad boys. Ha ha.
me: ????

Which brings me to confession--as usual, I feel out of step with popular culture. I actually like nice guys. And I'd rather not save my man from himself.

Sure, like Stephanie Kuehnert, I found Jordan in My-So-Called Life swoon-worthy. But his behavior eventually wore on my one last nerve. In the last episode, I got furious with Angela for jumping in his car after Brian admitted writing the love letter, the most beautiful love letter of all time, imo.

But I can't write a love interest that doesn't appeal to me, leaving me only one option. Roll with it. That's why Roz's love interest in My Invented Life has bangs half covering his face, stammers, and flirts by throwing pillows. But he also cut a picture of Roz from the newspaper and tacked it up in his room. Romantic? I think so.

I adore geeks, and one of the two love interests in my latest novel Miss Fortune Cookie (fall 2012) totally fits into the category. When I describe him as a Filipino-American Legolas, the copy-editor wrote a note in the margin, "Is he supposed to be attractive?"

Um. Yes?

In my current WIP, I am experimenting with a bad boy love interest. He shop-lifts, cuts school, and has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas because of his dead-beat dad. But guess what? he's turning out to be NICE underneath. Arrrgh!

So I need to know if there is a fervent minority like me.


Or him?

Please vote in the comments.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Love Big

I like being in love. I like it when my characters find people to be in love with. In my real life, I’ve always been attracted to extreme girls (when I was a boy) and women (now that I am a man with glasses and the ability to grow a fine mustache).

My first love was my high school class’s student council president. She was extremely Irish (both name-wise and visually). She made me laugh. So quick witted. She exploded this crackling humor that would rip your chest open and stab you in the lungs. She’d zing me in American History and I’d be done for the day. Also, she could make me cry simply by crinkling her eyes and pursing her lips (I knew the terrible words she was thinking). I loved her so hard, my stomach still aches. Eventually I rebelled. We had a screaming match early in college, while visiting Dublin, Ireland, her home turf. The argument took place around midnight, outside a pub, and it was so loud and violent, the people of Ireland asked us to go home (true story). We took off running in opposite directions. We never quite got back together. Beautiful! Maureen was a verbal virtuoso. An emotional nail gun. I smile when I think of her, even though my stomach still aches.

My wife, Steph, is 6’1”. I am not nearly so tall. She laughs louder than any human being on the face of the planet. Our house is loud (we often have our four kids here). The windows shake from the noise. And I am seriously in love. One time, our friends’ house burned down (their tenant fell asleep while smoking). This tragedy was compounded by the birth of our friends’ first child, a week before their house burned down. When it happened, Steph drove her Pontiac to Target. She bought hundreds of dollars in diapers, wipes, and toys (totally filled the Pontiac). She quietly (not easy for her) dropped the goods at the apartment where our friends were staying. I got butterflies in my belly and goose bumps on my arms. She’s so good. I am really in love. The kicker, she's an absurdist. For no apparent reason, Steph recently dyed her hair almost black, got a severe wedge cut, and began taking what she calls Goth Mom photos (often with kids in the background doing normal kid stuff). She writes captions that make me snort and choke on my coffee. Her giant-ness makes me glad to be on earth.

I love extreme. I feel love when my characters are in love. In Stupid Fast, Felton’s love interest is a new girl in town named Aleah. The reason he meets her is she’s awake when he delivers a paper at 5 a.m. She’s practicing piano. Turns out she practices all night long, every night during the summer. Even at 16, she’s well-known in the music world. But asked if she wants to be the best, she's confused. She plays piano all night because it rocks her world to play piano. That’s all. Felton can’t help but see truth in her, even though he finds her completely weird (and also very hot).

I think we love what we want out of life. I’m afraid of being asleep too long. I’m afraid that crap will pass me by and I won’t notice. I’m in love with beings that fire energy and say crazy things and make giant things. I'm not sure why, but that seems like truth to me, seems like that's what life's about.

Geoff Herbach

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Affected (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

Every relationship I've ever had influences my writing -- in both intentional and unintentional ways. That's just how I am -- affected.

Last week I was called for jury duty. The defendant was charged with drunk driving. Last spring my sister was in a horrible accident on the Golden Gate Bridge in which she was hit by a drunk driver. She could easily have been killed. Of the sixty-some people in the court room last week, I was among the fifteen or so selected for the jury. I told the judge about my sister's accident. I said I didn't think I could be an impartial voice on the jury. He said the law says I have to leave my own feelings and experiences at the door and make an impartial decision. He said there might be evidence brought forth that is inadmissible and that if that were to happen, we should "unring the bell" and forget what we'd just heard. I said I didn't think I could do that. He looked at me as if I were an annoying and unruly child. I was not saying I would consider the defendant guilty based on my sister's accident, but if there was any evidence that he was guilty, I'd want him to have to face justice. I've been made aware of how real the consequences of drunk driving can be. After more questioning by the defense attorney, I was finally let go.

I walked out of there thinking, Is there something wrong with me? Is it normal to be able to completely set aside one's own feelings, impressions, and experiences? Maybe that's normal for some people. It isn't normal for me. I'm affected, influenced by my feelings, my thoughts, my imaginings, my relationships. And, so yes, they would impact my decision-making on a jury and of course, they infiltrate my writing.

The good guys in my fiction are in some part always based on my husband because he's a good guy. The not-so-good guys are in part based on experiences I've had with not-so-good guys. That's not to say that every relationship is a reflection of my own. Some of them come from being a people watcher, from being the kind of person who strives to understand how people interact. And much of the time, I might base the idea of a character on someone, but then the character comes alive and takes on his/her own life and becomes someone very different than whom I'd first imagined. It's a complicated business. Sometimes a character needs to be a kind of person I've had no experience with, and then in fiction or in the real world, I might seek out people like this character in order to understand them better. But always, always I'm influenced by the real relationships in my life.

Here's a little clip of an interview I did about the inspiration for the character of Jackson (Savannah's love interest) in Breathing:

I like for there to be hope in my stories and I feel very lucky that I've experienced the kind of relationship that allows me to feel and share that hopefulness.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I'll Leave Kissing to the Pros (Anna Staniszewski)

When it comes to writing about romance, my inner ten-year-old emerges. I get giggly when my characters hold hands, and when it comes to kissing, forget it! That might explain why the relationships in my books tend to be pretty platonic.

After my debut novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, came out this past November, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how much readers (and parents) appreciated the fact that the story didn't have romance in it. Some middle grade readers want a more challenging story but aren't really interested in romance.

The way I look at it: there are plenty of other authors out there who write amazing romances between their characters. I bet they don't giggle when they write kissing scenes. I guess they might be a little more grown-up than I am, and that's fine by me.

Maybe one day I'll write a story that brings out my inner teenager, but for now, I'll leave the romance to the pros and continue having fun with my characters' G-rated relationships.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Strong Girls--Jan Blazanin

So we’ve finally made it to February (In case you didn’t notice, January was about 60 days too long.) and talking about relationships. February plus relationships seems to naturally lead to romance. But not always.

Although my second book, A & L DO SUMMER, features a romance between main character Aspen and hunky farmer Clay, my stories are not about romance. My first novel FAIREST OF THEM ALL, as one teen reviewer put it, didn’t have “a smidge of romance.” Ori was learning to cope with alopecia, working out her relationship with her mother, and figuring out how to be a friend. Throwing a love interest on top of that would have been too much.

I grew up reading and buying into fairy tales with all the damsel-who-has-to-be-rescued elements. Thanks to my obsession with romance, I wasted too much valuable time waiting for the phone to ring. (It rarely did.) That’s not to say I spent every second languishing by the telephone. But when I was with my girlfriends or going over my lines for a play, I wasn’t completely in the moment. Some boy was always lurking in the back of my mind.

My female characters aren't above making an effort to catch the attention of that certain guy. After all, they are teens and there's some strong biology at work. Who wants to resist guys, anyway? But my protagonists are too busy saving the world, or at least herding pigs out of the high school, to wait for the phone to ring. And I say, "Good for them!"

Running Into My Fictional Characters--In My Real Life (Sydney Salter)

I create wholly fictional love interests that meet my character's needs, or not. But I have a description problem. If we were to have lunch today, I wouldn't remember what you were wearing, or even how your hair looked.

Readers, however, do want to "see" our characters. I compensate for my weakness by borrowing images of people. Most of the time, I clip photos from my magazine collection. Here's the character collage I made for My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters.

But I did something different for my next WIP.

Rushing along with the heady joy of NaNoWriMo, I'd crafted a rather bland love interest. I guess he was kind of blond-ish, tall-ish, his eyes switching green or blue every few pages... And then I went grocery shopping.

The quirky new checker with his spiky dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, and crooked smile, well, he practically begged to become my new love interest. I suddenly saw everything about him: Japanese mother, drive to succeed, inability to dance. My NaNo draft zipped along with ease. Until the day I wrote a rather steamy love scene. Right before grocery shopping. When he asked, "did you find everything you needed?" I blushed and stammered like an idiot. I wanted to do this:

But I didn't learn my lesson.

Fast forward to my next Work-In-Progress. My story idea actually started with the love interest. All spring, I'd woken to the intriguing sound of pavement opening like a zipper as a cute neighborhood teen skateboarded to school. Feeling more like a creepy old lady than a hip YA writer, I'd peek out my window and watch this willowy teen weave down our hill with absolute grace. The day I knew that he just HAD to be my next fictional love interest:  he'd tucked his shirt into his back pocket, showing off his muscles, while zigzagging down the street talking on the phone and holding a cup of coffee. Wow. Readers of Swoon At Your Own Risk fell in love with Xander Cooper.

But I hadn't counted on this.

Turns out that my fictional skateboarding hottie has real life siblings. His little sister and my daughter now play on the same soccer team. About 943,000 games a week. Our families now carpool to obscure soccer fields all over the state. And during every college break, I run into Xander Cooper, once again blushing and stammering.

How do you tell a real life guy that he's your most popular fictional love interest?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Of Guys, Love and Writing

It's almost Valentine's Day so it seems like the right time to talk about relationships, particularly those we write about and why we write about the relationships and people in our books.

I love all the guys in my books. They're my "ideal" type of guy. I basically write about guys I'd want to date. They're never the overtly nice guy, or the really good guy, but they are very appealing.

I've got to say, I never went for nice guys. I went for fun guys. The ones who could make me laugh and were always up for a good time, even if it wasn't always something that was exactly legal. They were a little dangerous, not because they were bad but because they weren't afraid try anything if they thought they could get away with it. And they had to be cute, not pretty-boy beautiful, but goodlooking in an all-American way. They weren't trendy because they were absolutely confident in themselves. They didn't need to follow what anyone else did. But they're not insensitive. In fact, they were quite thoughtful, even if they did dumb things every now and then.

And I've never had a thing for blondes, so my guy characters have never been blonde.
So I definitely use my "type" of guy when writing a lead male character. They look and act like a guy I would have wanted when I was in high school. And I actually have just a little bit more fun writing guy characters than girl characters. Even though, all these years later, I can't claim to understand guys any more now than I did when I was 17.

I received an email the other day from a reader who said she's read THE BOOK OF LUKE so many times she's lost count. And she loves Luke (I hear that alot). In fact, she said, she's still looking for her very own Luke in real life. So here's my Luke (although his real name is John). I picture what he was like in high school when I'm writing romantic scenes between my characters. Because my Luke is all grown-up, and he's my husband (and, yes, I'm a sucker for a guy who can play a guitar).

Me and the Crowd

This is my inaugural post on YA Outside the Lines, so I should probably introduce myself before I dive right in. My name is Kimberly Sabatini and I’m the debut author of TOUCHING THE SURFACE, which is out this fall.  

This is me--in case you'd like to know who you're talking too.  

Our topic for the month is relationships and how they influence our writing. Hmmmm...

I recently received my very first ARC evah!!! Sorry about the picture--I'd just come home from a run and found my book on my doorstep--which explains the stinky look I'm sporting. I was so excited, I didn't care that I was going to plaster my sweaty mug all over the world wide web. I was holding my book for the very first time.

Now I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with relationships and writing.  Well, once the novelty of holding my book wore off.  (okay--I lied--it hasn't worn off yet.) But once I stopped jumping up and down and petting it all the time, I started to realize what this would mean.  


I am about to embark on a relationship like no other. An intimate/not-so-intimate date with a crowd. My book will no longer be my own and my future books will never again be written with the same innocence and anonymity that occurred with my first.  Thinking about it makes me tingly with excitement, while simultaneously wanting to barf into a paper bag. Do you know how hard it is to write the second book when you're as excited as a five year old the night before Christmas and as nervous as a kid who hears a thump in a dark room and doesn't have a nightlight? Yeah, it's intimidating.

I can still count on my toes the number of people who have read SURFACE in ARC form, but already I have what feels like a stadium full of readers watching my fingers pound against the keys as I write my work-in progress. 

I'm struggling to keep my inner compass pointed in the "write" direction. I'm attempting to think of these "Peeping Tom's" as cheerleaders rather than my judge and jury. I try to stay focused on that future teen who will read my words and finds something of themselves tucked between the pages.  And I'm constantly reminding myself that it's okay if there are people who don't like what I've written.  Heck, I don't like everything that other people have written--even people I like. *head thunk*

As I'm exploring this new relationship that influences my writing, I know I'll have days where I navigate it well, but I'm also aware that sometimes I'll be a puddle on the floor and the only cure will be a big bowl of chocolate ice cream with whipped cream, Hershey's syrup, walnuts AND a voodoo doll.  

But like all new endeavors, I'm optimistic. I'm a glass-half-full kind of a girl. Besides, I've already discovered the most important thing I need to know about having a relationship with my readers and I learned it from the very first reader I ever had--me. 

In order to be able to have relationships that weather all opinions, I must write with honesty--soul exposing honesty. When I did that with Surface, I learned to love myself--all of myself--the good parts and the bad parts. This is bigger, scarier than my own personal growth, and knowing what to do and doing it are two very different things, but when I ask myself if I'd go back--return to the days when my writing was private--I know I never would. You can't change the world by talking to yourself. And I'll admit it--I want to change the world. It's on my bucket list.

So, I'd like to welcome you into my office, my head, my heart, my soul--bring a friend.  I'm learning to say, "Go Big or Go Home."  We don't have to always agree--relationships can weather differences--but if you could tread lightly, I sure would appreciate it because I haven't found the perfect voodoo doll just yet. 

What's your vice for handling heart thumping, hand sweating, exciting, scary relationships?   

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Working for the Happily Ever After (Joy Preble)

I come from a long line of unhappy but strong women. My maternal grandmother, Lena, immigrated from somewhere near Belarus to America when she was still a teenager. She came to America alone, in love with a man she—for reasons I’m not sure of—did not marry. Instead, she married my grandfather, a man I don’t think she ever loved. Eventually, he ran off, leaving her with four children. Some time after that, he took his own life at his sister’s house in Atlanta. My mother and her twin sister were the youngest of Lena’s children. It was a later–in-life pregnancy; my aunt Sylvia was twelve years older, my uncle older than that. The story goes that Lena was so depressed about having not only another child but twins, that she let the nurses at the hospital name them. My mother came out first, red-cheeked and crying. They named her Rose. Her twin was quieter and born second. They named her Lily. It was not an easy childhood. Or beyond that. My grandmother self-medicated with whiskey and a variety of other things. She lived, unhappily, until she was 97.

There’s more I could write about this, but I’ll leave it here. I’ve just finished the final book of the Dreaming Anastasia trilogy, Anastasia Forever, which will be out from Sourcebooks in August of this year. As I look back on the series, I know that my grandmother’s life influenced these characters, who like my Grandma Lena, have Russian lines of descent, even the fairy tale ones. I see her in Anne’s mother Laura. In the rusalka, Lily, who I did name after my aunt. I see her mostly in Baba Yaga, whose story gets a final unfolding in book 3. Baba Yaga who wants to mother, but can’t because of choices and destiny.

Russian fairy tales do not end like Disney-ized ones. The narrator often says something like, “And they lived as happily as they could.”

I wanted Anne, the hero of the DA series, to be strong enough to break that mold. And when you get to the end—and I am so darn excited for the last book to come out so you can see how it all turns out!!—I think you’ll see that Anne has decided that destiny is only part of what molds a life.

I think now that maybe I was trying to rewrite Lena’s unhappy history. Give her the Happily Ever After that everyone deserves.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Saving troubled boys

by April Henry

When I was in college, I dated a whole string of troubled boys.

J. could drink an amazing amount and still appear sober. When he was in high school, his dad was cheating on his mom - with a girl J. went to school with.

C., I’m pretty sure now, was a sociopath.

K. had a rocky relationship with his parents and had started partying hard in middle school.

D. borderline stalked me.

T. had been terribly abused by his dad and step-mom.

When I was in college, my ideal love interest was smart, troubled, and used drugs or alcohol to excess. Even better if he could tell me that he wanted to love me, he was just finding it difficult.

Most of these guys didn’t want to be saved, or weren’t capable of being saved. But I was sure I would be the one who who hung in there, who proved herself worthy. With many of them, I hung on far too long, sure I was seeing the diamond in the rough.

There’s a book, long out of print, called Give Sorrow Words. It is made of essays written by a woman who travelled to Mexico. She took up with various men, and wound herself into knots about whether they loved her.  Reading about them, you could tell these guys were losers, that she was building a relationship on sand, but she persisted.

The author was murdered by one of those men.

Through some combination of luck and God watching out for me and me coming to my senses, I ended up with a great guy who didn’t have any substance abuse issues, had a pretty normal childhood, and who liked me as I was.  And I liked him as he was.

Reader, I married him.

But I think I might still be working through some issues in my books.  My editor has pointed out that the boys in Girl, Stolen; The Night She Disappeared (out next month) and Finish Her Off (out next year) all come from the wrong side of the tracks and have a fairly hefty amount of baggage.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thank God for Mr. Wrong - CJ Omololu

My first first kiss was in 6th grade. Frank Perry, on a summer Tuesday, after piano lessons at the elementary school playground. My last first kiss was almost 18 years ago, on the steps of my apartment building in San Francisco on the first date with my now-husband. Lets just say the 16 years between the two events provided lots of material for the job I have now.

There was the 6 foot 4 senior that I went out with when I was a freshman, until my mom met him, declared that he was a man, not a boy, and forbid me to see him ever again. There was my first real boyfriend (sorry Frank, our ten minutes on the swings didn't really count), an Australian guy who I followed halfway around the world before we both figured out that it wasn't going to work. There was more than one boy-in-a-band who I went to shows with as the eternal plus-one, only realizing later that I wasn't the only girl he was playing his guitar for. I dated more than a few guys in my teens and twenties and although every one of them was completely wrong for me, at the time, I was convinced that each of them was Mr. Right. That when we were together, our love was the only thing that mattered. The rest of the world could fall away and all we needed was food, shelter and each other. When we broke up (and we always broke up) my world was shattered. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I could barely function because my entire future had just been erased.

As adrenalin-filled and subsequently painful as these memories are, I'm grateful to have them, because these are the emotions that I tap into whenever I'm writing about love relationships in my books. When you're young, it's all or nothing - there's never a shade of grey. My family can always tell when I'm deep into a book because I'm moody and have the emotional stability of a sixteen year old girl. I carry pieces of each of these relationships into every story I write and drop bits of them here and there like tiny breadcrumbs leading out of the forest. I always change the names to protect the (not-so) innocent, and I doubt that any of my former boyfriends would recognize themselves. But I know they're there.

Me and the real Mr. Right on one of our first dates.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Getting in My Characters’ Heads (Holly Schindler)

This is one of my mom’s favorite pictures of me and my brother:

The background: I loved that dress. I mean—love. It was the first long dress I’d ever had, and I felt so grown-up and beautiful. I just had to get Mom to take my picture (with our ultra-high-tech Polaroid)…and my brother, unable to let such a perfect gonna-get-her-now opportunity just slip him by, protested. He wanted in the picture, too.

“Oh, just let him in,” Mom said. At which point, he raced to his room and got the ugliest hat he could. Mucking up my oh-so-beautiful moment with a ratty old red stocking cap.

Sure, we’re wearing smiles in the pic. But before the Polaroid could even develop the picture, I’m pretty sure the boy got pummeled.

Such is life with a sibling.

I’ve never written a novel based on anything that happened to me—never based any of my characters on any person I’ve ever met. (I have no personal experience with mental illness, as does the protagonist of A BLUE SO DARK, and I’m no athlete, as are the main characters of PLAYING HURT.)

Still, tough—bits of yourself just naturally leak out when you’re writing fiction—your humor, observations, beliefs, they all sneak into every character you do build. (Which, I think, is often why a novel feels so personal to a writer. I really think that letting someone read your book allows that person the kind of access into your head that they’d never have, through just day-to-day, face-to-face interactions.)

All those relationships in life—family or friends—allow us to experience the range of human emotions. I’ve never directly based any of my characters’ relationships on any relationship I’ve ever had in life, either. But I’ve been there—through those exciting meetings, through losses and disappointments, through love and anger and sweet moments of forgiveness. And when I needed to describe the relationship between Chelsea and her younger brother Brandon in PLAYING HURT, I thought back on instances like the ratty red hat. Having been there before means that I can really get into each of my character’s heads as I write a book, and describe what they’re feeling throughout the pages of my novels.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

BLOG TOUR GUEST POST: The Knife and the Butterfly excerpt and Ashley Hope Pérez on the things Azael carries

I’m psyched to be hanging outside the lines with you today on the official release date of my second YA novel, The Knife and the Butterfly. In a second, I’ll dish up an excerpt and give you the inside scoop. But first, here’s the synopsis to get you all oriented:

Azael Arevalo wishes he could remember how the fight ended. He knows his MS13 boys faced off with some punks from Crazy Crew. He can picture the bats, the bricks, the chains. A knife. But he can’t remember anything between that moment and when he woke behind bars. Azael knows jails, and something isn’t right about this lockup. No phone call. No lawyer. No news about his brother or his homies. The only thing they make him do is watch some white girl in some cell. Watch her and try to remember.

Lexi Allen would love to forget the fight, would love for it to disappear back into the Xanax fog it came from. And her mother and her lawyer hope she chooses not to remember too much about the brawl—at least when it’s time to testify. Lexi knows that there’s more at stake in her trial than her life alone, though. Azael needs the truth. The knife cut, but somehow it also connected.

Now for the excerpt, which comes from Chapter 5 of The Knife and the Butterfly:

I open the file. For now I decide that Eddie and my homies got away on foot, and I go back to reading.

Items Recovered:

- One gray Adidas backpack, marked on the front and back with tags linked to MS-13.

- Three photographs:

- one of a young girl, approximately age 8;

- one of a long-haired Hispanic teen female (“YR Becca Hottie” written on back);

- one of a group of eight boys, aged approximately 13–21, labeled “MIS VATOS” (see enclosure for photocopies).

- One sheet torn from National Geographic with the caption “sunset in the Sierra Madre of El Salvador.”

- One pair of socks.

- One can of Red Devil Delta Blue spray paint, half empty.

- Two small aerosol spray caps.

- One large aerosol spray cap.

- White toothbrush.

- Small Colgate toothpaste.

- Earphones and a hand-held music player marked in black, “AZZ’S SHYT.”

- Three unlabeled CDs.

- A hardbound black sketchbook with stylized letters that spell out “AZZ’S PIECES.”

- A stick of Degree deodorant.

- Traces of marijuana found in bag.

It seems kind of sad all written out, like all you got to do is throw away my backpack and nobody’d know I was ever even around. That’s why I like to can. I tag and work up pieces to represent, but I also do it so that there’s part of me out there for everybody to see. Getting smoked out with my homies and then hitting the street until my cans run out, that’s what I call a day.

The downer is that some fool comes along and messes with your work, covering it up with their shit. Or punks from the city buff it. A couple of times they had a whole little army of volunteers out in the hood painting over and scrubbing out our writing like that’s some good deed. When they could be doing something real, like building a park or something.

Sometimes I work out a really fine piece on a wall somewhere, but when I come back a few days later it’s like I was never there. The fact is that you got to re-can the whole hood practically every week to keep your presence strong. Now that I’m not out there to tag up whatever I can reach, to turn trains into traveling masterpieces, how long before my name disappears?

Ever since I first read “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, I’ve made a point of thinking about what my characters carry, both literally and metaphorically. Usually, though, this is one of those “just for me” writer things I do. But since Azael has been incarcerated in The Knife and the Butterfly, I got my first chance to share the catalog of items with the reader directly.

For Azael, this is a sobering moment as he realizes (1) he doesn’t know where he is exactly or why he’s been arrested, (2) it wouldn’t be hard to make him disappear, and (3) based on his possessions, his existence doesn’t add up to much.

It’s easy to judge Azael, easy to dismiss him as a gangbanger and a good-for-nothing. But the more readers learn about his past, the more they realize that meaningful change is hard to come by in his world. Still, Azael will struggle to discover how he can make a lasting mark on the world around him—one that won’t be scrubbed out.

That’s a challenge that—if we’re honest—we can all relate to, no matter what we carry.

More about using what characters carry to develop your writing here.


Ask for The Knife and the Butterfly from your favorite local bookseller:



More interviews, excerpts, guest posts, and secrets (including two truths and a lie) coming throughout Ashley’s The Knife and the Butterfly blog tour. See the full tour schedule here. Tomorrow, more insights at Actin’ Up with Books, followed by an interview on Friday at The Happy Nappy Bookseller.

Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of two young adult novels, WHAT CAN'T WAIT and THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY. She also is a passionate teacher and student working on her PhD in comparative literature. At the moment, she lives in Paris with her husband and son where they enjoy culture, croissants, and cramped living quarters.

Check out Ashley’s blog, follow her on twitter @ashleyhopeperez, or find her on facebook.