Saturday, June 29, 2013

Class of '93...twenty years later

Hard to believe twenty years have passed since I graduated from Ft. Zumwalt South High School. My, how things have changed.

Job then:

Those pants had no pockets so we couldn't steal. Great to be part of the McDonald's team.

 Job now: 

YA author

Job I wanted back then:

President of the United States (2012 was the first year I was old enough to legally run)


Maybe 2016

Dream girl then:

Dream girls now:

   Attitude toward high school then:



 Buddies then:

Buddies now:

In short, I've learned nothing in twenty years. But it's been a hell of a ride.

Supporting role in 'The Music Man'. And I wondered why I had a hard time getting dates.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Choosing Both (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I was a member of the Class of 1984.

We were the ones measuring our world against that of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, wondering whether it would come true.

This edition of 1984 was EVERYWHERE when I was in high school.
Our parents were the Baby Boomers, the children of Camelot, the people who were going to change the world. We were Generation X. The generation with a name that wasn’t even really a name. (But at least it was better than what they called us before they came up with “Generation X,” which was, “the generation following the Baby Boomers.”)

Our parents had free love; we had the specter of AIDS hanging over us, a disease that was only beginning to be understood. Our parents had protested a war in southeast Asia; we grappled with the eerie Cold War, an invisible battle with its aura of spying eyes and ominous shadow of nuclear annihilation.

Above all else, we worried about finding jobs. We started retirement accounts while we were still in our 20s. We saw the beginnings of the disintegration of the social safety net. (During the late ‘80s, I witnessed the street population in Philadelphia swell from a few individuals to legions of homeless people camping on the steps of public buildings, laying out their blankets dormitory-style at the subway stations.)

At 17—my age when I finished high school—I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t believe I could support myself that way. My anxiety was poorly suited to the capriciousness, irregular paychecks, and high rejection rate of a writing career. I’d also heard this advice: “Don’t be a writer if you can be anything else.”

I could be something else. I was good at science, and interested in it. And I thought that if I made that my major, if I found a career in the sciences, I could still write on my own time.

Which is exactly what happened. All the while I pursued a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s Degree in science, while I studied environmental science and found a job helping clean up pollution, I kept writing. I kept sending out stories to literary magazines, and occasionally getting one in print. After years of that, I took a second look at the YA novels on my shelves. The ones I’d lugged with me through move after move: from the cinder-block dorm rooms of college; to the room in Atlanta where I used a cardboard box as a dresser; to the place in Philadelphia with burglar bars on the windows and mice in the kitchen; to the much nicer apartment in Philadelphia with a doorman and no roaches (at last, the fruits of a stable profession!). And I asked myself: why don’t I try to write a YA novel instead of just reading them all the time?

I’m glad for my experience in the sciences—not just because it’s been a good “day job,” but because it gives my life a whole other dimension, another way to look at the world, another base of knowledge, another way to contribute and have a meaningful life. But I could never stop writing.

At the end of high school, when I had that choice between writing and science, it may have seemed to the outside world that I picked science. But in my mind, I was choosing both.

My third novel, Until It Hurts to Stop, is coming out this fall. It features a main character who likes nature and the environment.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


In high school, it was all about obsessions. I fell in love with movies and books as if they were friends. Blasted the same mixtapes over and over. Scribbled pages of graphic novels that never really ended. Typed out pages on a dusty computer at school. Ever since I was little, I wanted to write.


When I'm working on a new book....I need to be obsessed. I fill my brain with songs. Create playlists for chapters and scenes. I spend a lot of time thinking about my character's wishes and fears. They become part of my world...sinking into my dreams when I'm asleep.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Past/Present/Future by Patty Blount

Last year, I lost my mom to breast cancer. In one of her last lucid moments, she’d cried, “I thought I’d have more time!” She’d just turned seventy. She wanted more children. She wanted to go to college. She wanted to do something with art. She wanted to fall in love again (my parents split when I was nineteen). So many things she never got to do. So many regrets. I asked her why she never did these things and she said life got in the way.

I know exactly what she meant.

I recently attended my thirtieth high school reunion. Thirty. Years. *gulp* How have so many years piled up behind me so quickly? After graduation, I’d planned to go to nursing school and eventually marry my boyfriend. I also liked computers and writing, but my mother talked me out of pursuing either interest as a career track. She worried my math skills – or lack thereof – would prevent me from being good at computer programming and obsessed I’d starve as a writer. So I did the practical thing.

And hated it.

Oh, not school. I loved school. I hated people dying. School didn’t prepare me for that and as a result, I came home from my clinical classes entirely gutted. The day I decided to quit nursing school was the day two babies in the NICU struggled to live – one born full-term to a drug-addicted mother who abandoned her at the hospital and the other, a tiny preemie who fit in the palm of my hand, born to parents who wanted him so damn badly, they’d have donated their hearts if he’d needed them. I couldn’t do anything but stand over their Isolettes and cry.

I left school in my second year and drifted around aimlessly for years. I got married. I worked in a series of dead-end, low-paying jobs. I had a baby. I finally noticed that I was almost thirty years old and had nothing in my life that was truly mine. I eventually returned to college, finished first an AS degree and then a BS degree in computer science. It wasn’t easy completing degree requirements while working full time. I had to plan meticulously when I’d do homework, housework, and of course, day job work. I knew it was going to take me at least six years to complete the undergrad requirements and though that sounds daunting, I kept reminding myself that those six years were going to pass by no matter what – why can’t I hold a degree in my hands when they do?
Mom and me on the day I graduated with my A.S degree.

I stuck to my plan and when six years passed, I had a degree to hold. My newly-minted degree opened doors to me but my mom was right; I wasn’t a great computer programmer. I eventually managed to land a job that combined two of my favorite interests – computers and writing – and make good money doing it. I’ve worked as a technical writer since the late nineties and love it. Technical writing is miles off-target compared to nursing school, but I can’t help thinking that nursing school was never what I should have planned in the first place.

More years passed.

I started writing fiction as a way to unwind after a long day dealing with capricious software. I’d always dreamed of being a published author, but Mom insisted I’d never make any money at it. For a long time, I thought she was right because I could never seem to finish a novel. For years, I tried. When my son dared me to finish a novel, I finally decided just winging it wasn’t working. Maybe I could do it if I approached it like every other life goal – I broke it into small achievable chunks. How much time could I spend writing? How many words could I write in those blocks of time? I calculated I could finish the project by Christmas. I stuck to my plan and Penalty Killer made it into a gift-wrapped box in time to go under the tree that year. It was never published, but that’s okay. I’d finally finished a novel. That was my goal.

That goal, in turn, resurrected an older one  – become a published author. I studied my craft. I wrote more novels. I learned how to query and sign with an agent and last year, SEND was released. Seeing that book on a store shelf was as emotional as the day I held my first born child in my arms.

So even though it took longer than I’d planned to get here, this was my plan all along. At my age, I have a lot more years behind me than I do ahead of me. And that’s okay. I won’t die with regrets.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Since so many have already posted brilliantly on the topic, 
I'm changing the assignment to Lauren Bjorkman: Then and Now.

THEN                                                                         NOW                              

Brown hair and eyes, crooked teeth                          Brown hair and eyes
                                                                                    straight teeth

A tendency to crinkle nose when smiling                  Nose wrinkles

A really cute boyfriend (Pelle)                                   Really cute husband (Pelle)

High school diploma + GED                                     Two college degrees
                                                                                    (neither one in writing)

Shrinking violet                                                          Assertive violet

Crazy about libraries                                                  Adores librarians

Weary of baby-sitting and
unsure about having kids                                          Two quirky kids. Yay!

No computer or phone                                              Awesome computer
                                                                                    crappy phone

Starry-eyed                                                                 Well honed happy-dark
                                                                                    sense of humor

Silly laugh                                                                  Silly laugh

Hated writing essays                                                 Still hate writing essays

Wrote furious quantities of poetry                            5 novels, 2 pubbed novels
                                                                                     0 poems :-(

Never revised her work                                             Thinks revising is fun

Daydreamed about life as an author                        Living the life of an author
                                                                                   (less glamorous than
the daydream, but still!!!!)

Loved reading                                                            Love, love, love writing

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Then and Now (Jenny O'Connell)

So, to answer the question: Where are you today compared to where you thought you'd be upon graduation?

I've had three graduations in my life, high school, college and business school. For the most part I knew what would happen after high school (I was headed to Smith College) even if I didn't know what would happen during my four years there. And, I also knew what would happen after I graduated from business school - a job. But in between those two, upon my graduation from college, I had lots of unknowns (even if I tried like hell to convince myself I had it all under my control). I straddled thinking that I knew exactly how my life would work out and thinking how exciting it was that my future held so many possibilities!

Graduating from college was bittersweet:
First of all, I was leaving the best friends I'd ever had in my life. We were all going in separate directions - to cities and jobs and graduate schools where we'd be on our own. I was headed to a program at Radcliffe in Cambridge, MA for three months, but after that... well, I had no idea. Although obviously if I was jumping back into school so quickly, I thought I knew what I wanted to do (move to NYC, work for a big book publisher, become a fabulous uber editor of brilliant books). The second reason that graduation was bittersweet was that I loved college, had the best time of my life. Leaving a place I loved and people I couldn't imagine living without was a little depressing to say the least, even if I thought that a fabulous life was ahead of me.

So what did that fabulous life include? An amazing apartment in NYC (even though a starting salary in publishing would barely get me an apartment, no less something amazing); best friends to hang with; a thrilling social life that would include drinks after work at bars where they'd know my name and cheer when I walked through the door; a super fabulous work wardrobe (to this day I love wearing suits); and, of course, my college boyfriend (who happened to be the love of my life).

I'd still have awesome fabulous best friends from college that I'd see all the time, and my boyfriend and I would walk off into the sunset holding hands. Basically, the people I cared about the most would be close by and in my life forever.

And the reality? After leaving Radcliffe I moved out West - not exactly a mecca of publishing at the time and few industry jobs that would propel me into the stratosphere of uber book editor. I didn't know a soul until my boyfriend moved in with me. We had shitty jobs. We had no money. There was no local bar that I even remotely wanted to know my name. Other than the fact that I did make two new awesome friends, it sucked. He broke up with me. We broke our lease. Phase I of post-graduation life: over. In less than six months everything I'd imagined my life would be was not to be.

And that's when my crystal ball into the future totally shattered. The years that followed were nothing like what I would have predicted that day I wore a cap and gown. I moved to Boston and lived by myself for the first time, and then moved to Chicago without ever having even visited the city, went to business school, traded in dreams of being an editor for classes on economic theory and Black Shoals Options Pricing, and stayed in the Midwest for 15 years. My friends were all over the country, nowhere near me. And that boyfriend? We never talked again after moving out of the apartment we once shared.

But life has a funny way of working itself out. I ended up moving back to the Boston area and now one of my best friends from college lives 3 miles away from me and my other best friend is close enough to have lots of visits and late nights talks.(and frequent girls' trips in various locations). I had an idea and decided to write a book, which turned into ten books and a career as a writer...working with uber fabulous editors and big book publishers. And then last year I decided to get a divorce (another event I never would have predicted for myself upon graduation). And soon thereafter I was reconnected with... the ex-boyfriend from college. And we've been together ever since. So the very person I thought I'd spend my life with upon graduation is now the same person I see when I look next to me on the couch, and the best friends I used to share late night pizza with are so near by we could share a pizza every night if we wanted to. Not to mention that I did end up in the publishing industry, albeit as a writer rather than an editor (although I'd still love to be an editor).

It's amazing to me when I  look back and think that 25 years ago I thought I had it all figured out, only to have every preconceived notion about my life turned on its head. I discovered that the twisty, turny road of life has a way of getting us to the right destination, even if the routes we take seem to take us in the opposite direction. And if we're patient, in the end everything ends up the way it's supposed to be. Because I basically have exactly what I wanted when I was handed my college diploma 23 years ago, it just took me 23 years to get here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Graduation memories by Wendy Delsol

Beginnings and ends, they come in rolling waves toward the end of high school. The timing of this blog is particularly poignant because my oldest is a 2013 high-school graduate.
His recent events have naturally brought forth memories of my own coming-of-age experience.
I graduated from Warren Woods High School in 1979. Think painter’s pants, Annie Hall-style baggy skirts, cowl necks, and platform shoes. The preppy look was becoming popular, but not in Warren, a working-class suburb of Detroit.
Compared with today’s standards, there was a lot less parental oversight back then. And I was an all-A, college-bound student. I honestly don’t remember my newly widowed mother discussing universities or majors with me, but that probably had more to do with the fact that she was at her own crossroads.
Also, college options were limited to the state of Michigan, where, for the most part, it’s a two-horse race: Michigan State or the University of Michigan. I went with the Spartans (Go State!) based mostly on the fact that my older sister was already enrolled there, which would make things—transportation, for instance—easiest on my family. An out-of-state college experience never occurred to me. For starters, the cost would have been prohibitive. Regardless, my known world and comfort level was limited back then.
My son’s situation is entirely different. Our family moved to Des Moines from Los Angeles when he was in fifth grade. While he’s adjusted to Iowa and has many friends, his loyalties are divided between the West Coast and Midwest. He’s traveled far more than I had at his age, and his college search was based, in part, on where he sees himself settling.
For my part, I had no idea where I would end up. And, quite frankly, I didn’t want to know.
I loved the uncertainty. I remember vividly the thrill of an open future. Heck, I started college with an undeclared major. I had no idea what I wanted to be.
Though I’d lived in Michigan most of my life (I was born in Canada but left as an infant), I had a healthy measure of wanderlust. (Owed in part to the fact that my parents were both born and raised in England.) I’d studied French for four years in high school and continued in college, spending a semester in Paris. I even returned post-college to live and study in Nice for a year. When back on American soil, I discovered three of my four college roommates had moved to Los Angeles. So I packed up my Toyota Tercel and moved out there with the intention of staying through grad school. Twenty years later, I was still there: married, the mother of two, and with a career in the travel industry.
And empty nest is only two years away for me and my husband. While it admittedly saddens me to ponder this, it does, yet again, offer the prospect of change. We have no Iowa ties. Should both my sons choose to settle out of state, I think we would, too (eventually). My sisters and mother are now in the Chicago area. My husband was born and raised in Northern California.
Which brings me back to my son and his choice…the University of Oregon. Hmmm. Ocean. A milder winter. Pinot Noir country. Who knows? And that is all the fun of it. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When the Future Turns out to be More Awesome than Expected... by Jody Casella

I was not what anyone would call a huge fan of high school, so graduation day was a relief. The future, I thought, could only be better, and I was putting all of my hopes into one thing: college.

Oh, how I longed to go off to college. I had this dreamy, kooky idea of what it would be like, mostly cobbled together from random, glossy college brochures I'd been collecting. You know the ones with the guys throwing frisbees on the verdant lawns and the wholesome-looking girls strolling to class, the ivy-covered brick buildings hovering in the background.

I had read and loved The Great Gatsby in high school. I didn't like it for the crazy, over-the-top parties or the moony devotion Gatsby had for that flake Daisy. What grabbed me was the self-made thingy Gatsby had going on--how he'd shed his old self and embraced a new persona. Forget the crummy, poor, country boy James Gatz. Enter: the suave, pink-suited, Robert Redfordy millionaire: Jay Gatsby.

Here was what 18 year old Me--who had struggled with shyness and angst and nerdiness and a painful lack of social graces--thought, as I was about to embark on my journey to a college 1250 miles away: They don't know me there. I can remake myself and be brighter and funnier and smarter and friendlier. I can be anything I want, do anything I want.

Join a sorority.

Be in a play.

Here I am as one of the children in A Childen's Hour

Make friends! Study! Read! Write! Learn! Expand my horizons!

Cut to: graduation.

As the day loomed closer, I was terrified. What if nothing else of consequence ever happened to me again? How could new friends or new experiences top what were basically the best four years of my life?

I knew what a great gig college was. The cool classes. The interesting people. The lack of responsibilities (except for laundry, I rarely did anything to take care of myself.) Even the food wasn't that bad.

College was my home. It was where I grew up. Okay, I hadn't become the perfect, sparkly self I had imagined I could be. Truly, I was still kind of a mess. But I liked myself better. And it wasn't an act--that new, one-step-closer-to-a-better-me Me.

I walked around in a daze that day, choking back tears. Oh, well, I thought. It was good while it lasted, even if it will never be THIS good ever again. 

I was wrong...

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Here I am, the day I got my master’s in ’01:

I’d already decided, on this day, to devote myself full-time to my writing.  And I honestly, honestly, had no idea what I was going to be up against.  None.  All I knew was that I’d already had some short pieces (fiction, poetry, literary critique) accepted in journals.  I’d gotten praise for my stories since I was a little girl.  I thought I’d spend a year or so writing a novel, it’d sell, and I’d have money in the bank and my career off the ground.

Yeah.  I know.  It makes me laugh, too, to think about it now.

Looking back, the girl in this picture was completely unprepared to be a full-time professional writer.  My degree did nothing to teach me about writing fiction professionally (I don’t mean anything against my university—I don’t honestly believe any degree really prepares anyone for their profession, not like the trenches do).  I had written one long piece, and revised very little.  I had yet to figure out who I was on the page.

I stayed home, let Mom feed me while I worked on novel after novel.  After novel.  Most of the time, I felt as though the music lessons I taught in the afternoons paid for very little other than the massive amounts of postage I was racking up from submitting manuscripts.  

And the worst part of the whole thing was that I had this marker that rang out a gong: graduation day.  I knew exactly when my pursuit of a book-length publication started.  May 19, 2001.  The day after this picture was taken.  Every year, when graduation day rolled back around, caps and gowns would parade across my TV screen, and I would feel—well—like a total dipstick.  Each year, I felt a little worse.  (Year four was particularly harsh—it was a make-or-break moment, when I had to ask myself, “Am I really going to keep doing this?”  And for a girl who never wanted to do anything but write, that was pretty darn bad.)

But I wound up pressing forward.  In all, I would have to watch seven graduation days (and eight additional months) go by before I finally got my first yes.  And I’m so, so, so, so glad I stuck with it.  I cannot honestly imagine a life not writing.  It fulfills me like nothing else.  

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: the worst thing you can ever do in life is watch the clock (or calendar).  Life happens on your schedule—not anyone else’s.  And no matter how long you imagine it will take to reach your goals, it will take longer.  Strap yourself in for a long haul, dig your nails in, and for God’s sake, don’t let go.