Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I am the Very Model of a Modern Teen Protagonist (Brian Katcher)

When enjoying any sort of fiction, it's easy to place yourself in the story, imagining yourself as a secondary character (or even the hero), enjoying the adventure as a participant. I remember watching Temple of Doom as a child and projecting myself onto Short Round, wishing that, in spite of my youth, I could accompany Indy on his quests.

Once I became an author, it became tempting to base every character on myself. So I did. Totally. Every male protagonist is facet of myself as a young man. This is why all my male leads are awkward, wise-cracking nerds. And yet, you can't use yourself as a character in every book (I'm talking to you, Clive Cussler). Each character must be unique. I have to drift away from reality and make him someone I'm not.

Looking back over my published books, I see my own personality ooze through. Sometimes I hide it, often I don't.

Leon Sanders, Playing With Matches: Leon is essentially myself at seventeen. Smart, funny (but not as funny as he thinks he is), and terrified of girls. He focuses on the superficial flaws of his dates, not because they bother him, but he worries too much about what other people will think. And he drives a Buick.

Logan Witherspoon, Almost Perfect: Unlike real life me, Logan is an athlete. But like me, he obsessed over his exes, sometimes in an unhealthy, self-defeating manner. Like Leon and my younger self, he places too much weight on the opinions of others.

Sherman Andrews, Everyone Dies in the End: I had (have) a tendency to be a know it all. And I've spent more than my fair share of time searching for occult and supernatural phenomena. We both went to the University of Missouri. Unlike Sherman, I'm a complete lazy slob. Which is probably why Sherman got into the Missouri Scholars' Academy and I didn't.

Zak Duquette, The Improbable Theory of Ana and ZakI'm a con nerd, like Zak. And like Zak, I would make a better long term impression than a first impression.

Deacon Locke, Deacon Locke Went to PromLike my young self, Deacon wants to ask out a girl, but he's more terrified that she'll say yes than that she might say no. Unlike me, Deacon can dance.

I'm not sure what the point of any of this is. I guess we all kind of bare our guts when we write. Speaking of which, happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


When a young person dies, whether in an accident or from an illness, an entire community grieves. Maybe the town plants a tree in his honor, or the school establishes a scholarship in her name, small and grand gestures designed to allow the memory of the deceased to live on. But what happens to a community when gun violence claims enough young lives to fill a classroom in a matter of seconds? This should be the premise for a dystopian novel, but sadly it’s a story rooted in reality and the idea behind my contemporary young adult novel, That Night.

It’s no big secret that America has a gun problem. More than 30,000 men, women, and children are killed with guns each year in the United States.[1] According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 342 people are shot every day in America.[2] But it’s the mass shootings, the ones with the greatest loss of life, that get the most media attention. And do they ever get attention. Logos and haunting melodies plaster the airwaves almost immediately, as if they’ve been “in the can,” designed and pre-recorded, waiting for the next massacre. Once the story runs its course after a few days, the news crews pick up their gear and move on. But how is that the end of the story? For the survivors of that shooting, it’s only the beginning. They may have walked away from a mass shooting, physically unscathed, but they’ll no doubt face a lifetime of trauma from the event. That Night explores how the repercussions of gun violence extend well beyond the reach of a bullet.

Thanks to social media and the twenty-four hour news channels, teens thousands of miles away from a shooting get to experience the trauma of gun violence almost first hand. Mass shootings and the fear of a mass shooting have taken a psychological toll on teens. It’s the unpredictable nature of the crime that’s most terrifying. People are targeted not for something they did, but for where they happen to be at that moment, at school, a concert, a movie theater. Their shattered sense of safety is why nearly sixty percent of all high school students fear someone will come to their school or community with a gun some day.[3] 

Because the constant threat of terror is already so damaging to the mental health of today’s teens, That Night does not focus on the violence of a mass shooting, but on the loss and grief in the aftermath as well as the hope and healing. The story begins a year after a mass shooting claimed eighteen lives in a movie theater. Lucas struggles with the guilt of knowing his older brother, the football star with a promising future, died by selflessly throwing himself on top of Lucas to save him. Jess feels isolated, having lost not just her brother that night, but also her best friend who is now across the country in a special school that specializes in trauma. Their families and friends, the entire community, are all affected by the tragedy; everywhere they turn, they see it in someone’s eyes. Reminders of that night, memories of the victims and the violence.

In writing this story, I wanted to steer clear of sensationalizing the violence. It’s already too prevalent in our every day and I did not want to give a weapon or a murderer any more attention that they already receive. The challenge was walking the fine line between representing the trauma the survivors endured as accurately as possible without actually painting a picture of the graphic violence. In the first draft, however, I did include scenes of what happened that night at the Balcony. But those pages were for my eyes only, so I could write from both Jess and Lucas’s perspectives knowing the trauma and burden they carried with them every day. And once the first draft was complete, I deleted those scenes. Not because I don’t have faith in teenagers’ ability to read difficult subject matters. Quite the opposite. I believe that teens need honest books that reflect not just what’s happening in the real world, but what’s also happening in their world. But when it came to writing about gun violence, I chose to omit the gritty details. There’s already too much terror surrounding this topic; I didn’t want to be complicit in fueling that fear.

So instead of focusing on the violence, I addressed the repercussions. The embalmed bedrooms, untouched since the tragedy. The retainer in the medicine cabinet a year later. The fiancée who wears the whisper of a diamond on her finger, a promise of a future together that was cut short. A daughter who has to fend for herself when her mother is too depressed to get out of bed. A son who can’t shake the feeling that the universe made a mistake and took the wrong brother.

But That Night is also about the redemptive power of love. At first, Lucas has misgivings about working with Jess at their part-time job together. With her presence come the constant reminders of that night. But over time, they learn to trust each other and become friends. They discover that their shared experiences actually help each other heal. Who else could possibly understand the range of emotions Lucas experiences every day, except for someone who is going through it herself? And on their road to recovery, they find love.

In fiction, we can write a happy ending to even the most tragic stories. In real life, we have to work harder. Let’s help make #neveragain the next happily ever after.

[1] Amnesty International.
[2] In murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention.
[3] Stephen Wu, et al., “2013 Hamilton College Youth Poll: Attitudes Towards Gun Control and School
Violence,” Knowledge Networks and Hamilton College, December 2013, https://www.hamilton.

Keep up with Amy Giles here:

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Be that Hero, Don’t Wait for One (Really) by Dean Gloster

I write fiction. “I thrive on rejection” is an example.

This month on YAOTL we’re blogging on the blurred line between reality and invention.  

I borrow heavily from the real world in writing my novels. The emotional energy and themes come from what I struggle with in life. And I take the basic facts too. I plucked medical details for my first novel, about a girl who donates her bone marrow to her younger brother, from my wife’s world. (She used to be a pediatric ICU nurse and now works at the George Mark House, a children’s hospice.) And whole scenes were taken from my real life. (One, almost verbatim, except for the Green Day songs.)

Unfortunately, as I sat down this week to write about this, I was again derailed by the news, this time about three separate acts of domestic terrorism in the U.S.: A white supremacist in Louisville failed to break into a black church and then shot two black strangers at a Kroger supermarket. A Trump supporter was arrested for attempting to assassinate 11 prominent Democrats with 13 pipe bombs. And an anti-Semite murdered eleven people at a bris celebration in a Pittsburg synagogue.

So instead of talking about how we use reality in our fiction, I’d like to talk about how fiction changes our reality.

The first point is modest: As we writers know, words matter.

Whether we tell lies matters. How we talk about other human beings matters. And if we promote hatred and fear, pushing dehumanizing narratives of fear of the other (Soros-funded caravan of [insert shorthand here for scary brown people]!) to a country with easy access to weapons, it matters. Fatally, it turns out.

But there’s an even broader point about how stories change us.

I survived my sometimes disaster of an adolescence by floating on a raft of books. I read thousands of stories, about people who took action to change their world and changed themselves in the process.

The protagonists in those stories solved incredibly difficult problems and learned things about themselves and their world.

They didn’t wait for a hero to appear to save everyone. They became that hero.

Here’s the bad news: No hero is going to save us if we don’t do it ourselves.

Susan Collins isn’t going to save us.

Unless mere hand-wringing is required, Jeff Flake isn’t either.

And Robert Mueller won’t save us. Even if Mueller isn’t fired first, and his report isn’t immediately hidden from the public (like the FBI’s supplemental investigation of Brett Kavanaugh), that report won’t do anything by itself—any more than the New York Times’ lengthy exposé showing that Donald Trump and his family had committed half a billion dollars of tax fraud to avoid taxes on his father’s estate.

What will save us?

You. And your work over a long time ahead.

But only if you choose to be a protagonist.

Protagonists persevere. Protagonists change what they do, because they have to.

And protagonists put in the work. They slog through the story’s discouraging middle, despite setback after setback as stakes grow and the situation grows dire.
Protagonists don’t quit.

Be a protagonist.

Historically in the U.S., most old people vote, but most young people don’t. In fact, most Americans don’t vote. That has to change. We have to change it: By voting, by registering young people to vote, by making individual donations to campaigns, and by working to get out the vote. Every YA literary festival for teens should include a voter registration table. Every school visit to high school seniors should come with information on how to register to vote, tailored to that state. We have years--maybe decades--of work ahead of us, to assure fair, representative elections free of vote suppression and national leadership of compassion and empathy instead of hate- and fear-mongering. It will be good, healing work. But a lot of work.

Changing the world is in our hands.

It is a gift, of sorts, to live in pivotal, dangerous times, because it gives us the real answer to the question who we are and who we choose to become.
You don’t have to ask yourself anymore what you would have done if you’d lived in a place like Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s.
Because you’re doing it.

So do good and don’t give up.  

And while you’re at it, when you have a chance, tell the stories of hope and empathy, not just of despair.  

According to his social media post just hours before yesterday’s murders, the shooter targeted Pittsburg’s The Tree of Life synagogue because of its participation in the HIAS National Refugee Shabbat program helping refugees who have fled from persecution and violence. (You can read more about that program at )

In the first day since the shooting, two Muslim-American organizations, Celebrate Mercy and MPower Change, have raised over $55,000 through crowdfunding for the Jewish victims of the shooting, to cover medical and funeral expenses.
That’s the world I want to live in, where Jews work to help Muslim refugees, and Muslims raise money for Jewish victims of anti-Semitic hate crimes.

It is, actually, the world we live in, and we shouldn’t forget to tell that part of the story.

Do good. Be well. And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 6.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean’s hobbies are downhill ski racing and Aikido. He’s currently writing a novel about a 16-year-old boy who gets a sketchy summer internship and finds out it’s with Death herself.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Pandora's box (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

The best writing I have done is when I’m honest.

By “honest” I don’t mean telling the literal truth in every detail. Fiction takes an honest truth and dresses it up in an imaginary situation that is clearer, more focused, pared of extraneous distractions, than reality. Fiction erases the parts that could embarrass the innocent or tempt us to flock too quickly to predetermined viewpoints.

My characters are not me (though parts of them are derived from parts of me), and their opinions and tastes and fears and goals are not always mine, and their struggles are not always mine. What is mine is the theme, the heart of each book. I do believe the things my characters discover: that relationships built on secrecy and obsession cost us. That not every mistake can be undone. That forgiveness is possible. That we don’t have to let others define us. That life can be brutally hard and even the good times don’t last forever, but it’s still very much worth living.

Through story, we unpack truth in all its complexities, its challenges and dilemmas. We grow toward the truth along with the characters. Each story is a Pandora’s box of trouble and conflict, and those troubles wear many names and disguises. We look into the bottom of the box to see something true and unchangeable shining there.

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of several YA novels, including The Secret Year and Try Not to Breathe, as well as short stories, essays, and Loner in the Garret: A Writer's Companion.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


BORROWED is a complex story, so this will be challenging, but give us the elevator pitch: a one or two sentence synopsis.

The lives of a girl with a broken heart and a girl with a "borrowed" heart collide, and each girl needs to rely on the other for survival.

It seems to me that novels usually come to authors in pieces, rather than all at once. Tell us a bit about how BORROWED came to you.

It came in pieces for sure! Years' worth of pieces. The first germ of it came when I thought about how creepy it would be to wake up with writing on your body that you didn't remember putting there. That led to thinking about how/why that would happen, which led to thoughts about how we might become disconnected from parts of ourselves. And because humans are complex creatures, I imagined that self-self disconnection as complex and unpredictable. Only after writing many drafts of what would become Borrowed (formerly known as Faded) did I land on the physiological aspect of organ transplant and how that might play into the psychological disconnection I was exploring.  

You're a former high school teacher--how do you think that helped lead you toward the YA genre?

My own high school years were incredibly difficult, and maybe part of us stays in the period where we experienced the most struggle. So I've always felt a connection with teens, even after I left teaching. Also, reading was an important means of coping for me when I was a teen, so although I'm many years removed from that time in my life, it's not a stretch for me to imagine myself back there.  

I was intrigued by dividing the book into "acts"--what made you choose that division?

I can't take credit for that. Rather, credit is due my smart, savvy, thoughtful editor, Jotham Burrello. I don't have a natural sense of structure (too much like math, and all my math teachers could tell you I'm on the verge of hopeless there). But Jotham has a keen eye for structure and timelines and the like, and he suggested splitting the book up according to the pace of the action and the change in setting. I wouldn't have thought of it on my own, but I do love the three-act structure of the book now that it's in place.

How do you feel editing / ghostwriting helped with your own writing? 

I love editing (my husband will tell you I love it a little too much, like when I have to pause movies with subtitles to point out errors in the text), and I think that naturally lent itself to me finding the revision process rich and rewarding. Regarding the ghostwriting, I think that helps by keeping my writing muscle limber. Because much of my ghostwriting work is nonfiction, it doesn't directly inform novel-writing regarding plotting, but it does help on the sentence level.  

What was the biggest surprise in writing your own project?

Oddly enough (or maybe not so oddly), I noticed that there was a level of anxiety in working on something that would be put into the world as "from me," versus the writing I do where my identity is only ever known by the client. There's a certain degree of comfort in stealth, I guess you could say. That ended up surprising me, because I thought I'd be feeling more freedom in working on my own project, but it was the reverse.  

You do include some violent, frightening scenes. Was it hard to write them? What's scary to you?

Those scenes were indeed difficult to write. But Robert Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader," and since I like to feel wrung out by things I read (maybe "emotionally invested" is a better way to say that?), I was determined to write the scenes that I felt the story demanded. For sure the loss of personal freedom is the most frightening thing for me. 

What's your writing strategy? Plotter / pantser? Do you keep a schedule? Do you work in the same place?

Despite the fact that I've tried many times (oh-so-many!) to become a plotter (it seems so much more efficient), I am a stubborn pantser. I try to write early mornings, before I turn to my ghostwriting/editing projects. When I am especially disciplined, I get to work early enough on the deck and witness the local bats come back from their night out. I really love that, which means it's good incentive to get up before dawn. Otherwise, I tend to vary the scene. Austin is a coffee city, so there's always a cool indie coffee shop to try, not to mention the gorgeous new Central Library (a "library of the future").  

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a YA contemporary retelling of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." There's a band tour bus instead of a ship, and a white wolf instead of an albatross. Thinking up band names has been ridiculously fun.


Be sure to snag a copy of BORROWED here. And keep up with all things Lucia DiStefano on Twitter (@LuciaDiStef).

Links to the rest of the BORROWED tour:

October 29: Review at Fab Book Reviews
October 31: Author interview at Katya de Becerra: The Last Day of Normal
November 5: Author interview at BubblersRead
November 7: Guest post at Fab Book Reviews
November 12: Author guest post at BubblersRead
Week of November 12: Giveaway at Fab Book Reviews
Week of November 12: Author interview at Cynsations
November 20: Author interview at The Story Sanctuary
And more to come, including a podcast special at The Writing Barn
Check out Elephant Rock on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @ElephantRockBks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The disguises we wear and the secrets we keep (Brenda Hiatt)

With Halloween just a week away, I’m taking the Disguise angle on this month’s topic—especially because secrets and disguises are an absolute favorite theme for me as both a reader and a writer! A few years back, a conference speaker challenged the writers present to figure out what themes we tend to keep coming back to when we write. She said those themes define our “core stories.” When I did that, it quickly became clear that “secrets revealed” is a biggie for me. I love to reread favorite books, and when I do I always eagerly anticipate all those “big reveal” moments where the truth (whatever it is) finally comes out. And when I’m writing, those are the moments that always get me juiced enough to write everything that leads up to them. Big secrets or small, they all work for me!

Looking back over all the books I’ve written, I realize that every single one has some element of the “secrets” theme. Sometimes it’s self-discovery, sometimes it’s discovering an important truth about another character, often it’s both.  

Shoot, I wrote a whole Regency series around the theme of secret identities with my six Saint of Seven Dials books, a sort of cross between the Robin Hood legend and the “Dread Pirate Roberts” from The Princess Bride, where each “Saint” retires (when he finds true love, of course!) and hands his “mask” off to another, who becomes the next “Saint” who will rob from the rich to help the poor in London’s slums.

It should come as no surprise that I continued with a “secrets” theme when I began writing my young adult Starstruck series. In the first book, heroine Marsha encounters one Big Reveal after another as she gets closer and close to the full truth about herself and the secret world hiding in (almost) plain sight in the little town of Jewel, Indiana. Book 2, Starcrossed, has its own, different series of Big Reveals as both readers and my heroine figure out what’s really going on and more than one character’s “mask” is stripped away, layer by layer. In Starbound, book 3, my main characters have their own big secrets to keep, and much of the tension comes from wondering when those secrets will be revealed (and how disastrous those revelations are likely to be). Starfall includes a whole section where the reader knows way more than the hero does (and is dying for him to figure things out). 

Fractured Jewel, my “bridge” novella to the next two books in the series, hinges on necessary secrets being kept—and the potential consequences of untimely “leaks.” My heroine in The Girl From Mars is a little too eager to believe deceptions that play into her world view and learns to dig beneath her preconceptions about herself and her world. 

And in The Handmaid’s Secret (which just released YESTERDAY!!) not only my heroine but everyone around her has bought into a “truth” that turns out less true than anyone suspected. 

So yeah, I’m all about secrets and disguises and how there’s always more to a story than appears on the surface. Is it any wonder I love Halloween? As a kid (and okay, sometimes as an adult), I loved dressing up as someone totally unlike my “real” self (whoever that is! LOL) and even in those years when I don’t bother with a costume, I love seeing all the inventive disguises our door-to-door trick-or-treaters come up with. (Yeah, I’m one of those people who give out extra candy for really good costumes.) I passed this love along to my daughters, by the way. Here’s my eldest and my grandbaby dressed for Halloween last year! 

With that said, Happy Halloween! Have fun with disguises this year, whether you wear one yourself or just get a kick out of the ones that come to your door. There’s definitely something to be said for hiding reality with make-believe…as long as we never completely lose sight of the truth.

Brenda Hiatt is the NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-four novels (so far), including sweet and spicy historical romance, time travel romance, and teen science fiction. Look for The Handmaid’s Secret, book 6 in her Starstruck series, releasing THIS WEEK!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Life Story

Life Story
By Christine Gunderson

Our topic this month is story ideas and where they come from. My answer is pretty simple. My story ideas come from the newspaper.

I may be the last person in the Washington, D.C. area who still gets home delivery of the Washington Post.You know, the newspaper ON PAPER. I find great story ideas every morning before I’ve even finished my toast.

I’ve learned that the Chinese government is launching a massive surveillance and facial recognition program to spy on citizens. The government plans to give each person a “social score” depending on where they go, what they do and who they hang out with. That’s a dystopian novel waiting to be written.

I’ve learned that a technology company in Wisconsin installed microchips in 100 employee volunteers. The microchips allow them to log onto their computers or buy candy from a company vending machine with a swipe of the arm. Science fiction is no longer fiction.

I also read the obituaries because every life is a story. I look at their picture and read about who they married, how many children they had, what they did for a living, how long they lived and why they died. You can read between the facts and catch a glimpse of the joys and the hardships of a human life.  

One recent obituary described the life a woman who worked in the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Holland. She worked with her sister, starting when she was only fourteen years old. She lived to be 92 and the headline over her obituary described her as a “Resistance fighter who lured Nazis to execution.” Her life was fascinating, heroic and inspiring. And I would have missed this if I hadn’t read the obituaries that day. 

I clip all these articles (again, because I’m the last person in America who still reads the newspaper ON PAPER) and I put them in file marked “Ideas.” Some of these articles will be useful. Others won’t. 

I keep what I find intriguing. Someone once told me that writers are like magpies. We pick up bright, shiny objects and use them to create something new. I think that’s an accurate description how imagination works.

As a reader and a writer, reading the newspaper every morning assures me that as long as humans live and breathe and love and die, we will always have stories.

Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog.  When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasionor unloading the dishwasher. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Hiding in Plain Sight by Patty Blount

October's theme is FACT VS. FICTION and I gasped out loud when I heard that because it fits so perfectly with my latest YA novel, SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, as well as its predecessor, SOME BOYS.

Both novels deal with rape and rape culture. While Some Boys was a "who do you believe story," Someone  tries to answer "what do I do now?" But both novels introduce characters that APPEAR one way but ACT another. I think that's the most frightening disguise there is.

Image result for ted bundy quotes about looks

Think about words like MONSTER, RAPIST, SWINDLER, CHILD MOLESTOR. What does your imagination conjure up? We imagine deranged or even disfigured barely human men hiding in shadows, or perhaps the mask-wearing sexual deviant. But in reality, we're always - always! -- surprised when we learn monsters can look like Ted Bundy, rapists can look like Brock Turner,  SWINDLERS can look like Bernie Madoff, and child molestors look amazingly, appallingly, like priests.

This disparity haunted me -- it still does. That's why I deliberately wrote the rapists in both Some Boys and in Someone I Used To Know as "nice boys." Zac McMahon comes from a successful family; Victor Patton is a respected player on his school's football team. Zac is blond and blue eyed -- he can't possibly be a bad boy! Vic has dimples -- he can't possibly be bad!

Their handy normal, clean-cut, perhaps even pretty appearances disguise personalities that demand rewards for athletic achievements, that expect services from anyone who catches their eye, that assume they're entitled to those rewards and services even when -- especially when -- they're told no.

It's a pattern that has played out repeatedly throughout history. Here's another quote from Bundy:

Image result for ted bundy quotes about looks

No stereotypes? Hmmm. Then why do we, as a society, keep insisting on adhering to them? Every time we express fear of the black man in the hooded sweatshirt but not at the son of the rich family or the boy on the swim team, we're exhibiting stereotyping at its most basic form.

And then, when someone accuses the rich family's son or the swimmer -- or the Supreme Court nominee -- of rape, we gasp, clutch our pearls, and insist SHE'S LYING because if she isn't, then we're wrong, we've always been wrong, everything was wrong, and we need a new lens through which to observe everyone around us.

(This is precisely what I'm saying.)

How many others are there? If Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh and Harvey Weinstein are all guilty, how many other nice, clean cut, pretty, Ivy-league educated or wealthy and powerful men out there are ALSO GUILTY, but we couldn't see past their disguises?

THAT is a horrifying question, isn't it? And I PROMISE you, the answer is "too many."

Grace in Some Boys and Ashley in Someone both figure out the truth by looking beyond what the world sees. You know how you remove someone's disguise?

Watch how they act. 

Zac in Some Boys literally wakes his mother up one night so she can reheat the dinner he missed. He doesn't care that it's ten o'clock. He cares only that he's hungry, and it's her DUTY to feed him. He's more than capable of operating the microwave. That's not the point. The point is, he EXPECTS this. Grace becomes obsessed with the idea of showing the world Zac's 'game face,' which is the face under his mask. Slowly, best friend Ian Russell begins to see Zac for who he really is -- a boy who considers girls to be here "for him." He watches Zac flirt with a server at a restaurant, with girls at school, and with his sister....but says nothing because he thinks Zac is a great guy. Throughout the novel, Ian makes excuses for Zac's less than honorable behavior. There's a scene in which Ian and his father talk about a former neighbor who used to beat his wife. Ian's father tells his son, "You never truly know somebody until you live with them."

People have learned how to present their "game face" to the outside world. Watching how they act when the pressure's on, when too much alcohol has lowered their inhibitions, when they think no one is watching.... that's when you can see behind the mask.

In Someone I Used To Know, Ashley struggles to forgive her brother, Derek, for his role in her assault. There are multiple layers of disguise for her to remove. When they were small, he was her Hero Brother. But that was a child's perception of the truth. After her assault, she saw him as something close to a co-conspirator. But that was a victim's perception of the truth. In the end (SPOILERS!), she is finally able to see Derek as he really is... flawed, human, but willing to change.

In a country where facts are smeared with the stains of a praetorian administration, it's never been so important, so crucial, for us to look beneath the surface for the truth. Unmask the current leaders by watching how they act, how they behave, when they think no one's watching. Watch the videos of senators and congressmen ignoring constituents who try to talk to them, who snap at reporters that they don't care what people think, who tell the nation that they'll do whatever it takes to get back at some political opponent...or at a woman who accused the Supreme Court nominee of assault.

People of quality do NOT stand on a world stage and encourage viewers to mock and laugh at a sexual assault survivor.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


I get asked all the time--as most authors do--if my characters are real. I have never--nor would I ever--drop-kick a person from real life straight into my books. Never, never, never. I'm not trying to shake a finger at authors who do. It's just that for me, it would feel like a horrible invasion of privacy.

That's not to say a few things from real life haven't (kinda) crept in. My first YA, A BLUE SO DARK, took place in "Springfield," which is the town I grew up in...But then again, it's not Springfield, either. A few real-life landmarks from the town show up, but they're all mixed up, on wrong sections of town, and other landmarks, including the high school, are completely fictional. Another of my YAs--FERAL--takes place in Peculiar, MO. Yes, I swear, that's really the name of the town! And no, nothing--absolutely NOTHING about the town is real. I made every last bit of it up.

I've also never written about my own personal situations. My YA PLAYING HURT involves a couple of athletes, and my own family likes to joke that I'm so clumsy I can fall around corners. ;)

For me, then, anything that MIGHT have a sliver of truth in it always gets upstaged by fictional details.



I released my first poetry collection this year. TANGLES is actually a collection many years in the making. It's love poetry, and while I still didn't pull anyone straight out of real life and slam them onto the page, it really does feel like the most laid-bare, open-hearted piece I've ever written.

I read recently that poetry reading is growing in the US. Maybe this is why--maybe it's because, right now especially, we need a little laid-bare and open-hearted. We're starving for a little honesty.

Anyway, one of my favorite parts about TANGLES is the way it ages. The opening poems are about a young woman opening her heart for the first time, and as the collection progresses, the woman gets older, more mature.

In honor of both the older voice (and the fall season all around us), here's one of the poems included toward the back of the collection:


I wonder
if summer romances
hover in the
of the
love stories
that begin
in the autumn of
Maybe they are


twice as hot
as the first time

and maybe all the
singe the very
they touch

and maybe
it's hearts
starting over
that turn
the leaves
the color
of fire.


You can snag a copy of TANGLES at all the major outlets (Amazon's got the paperback on sale right now). You can also grab a signed copy at my Etsy store.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

I Am Not a Murderer (Alissa Grosso)

Some oft-repeated writing wisdom says that authors should write what they know and many writers (myself included) follow this advice by peppering our books with details drawn from our real lives. A character's description might come from someone you happened to see in the coffee shop. Fictional towns may share a lot of details with places you have actually lived. And both main and secondary characters might have some of your own quirks.

This is all well and good until friends and family members who have read your fiction recognize you in the story. The lines of fact and fiction are suddenly blurred, and they mistake your novel for a memoir.

My second novel Ferocity Summer was set in a fictionalized version of the town where I lived in my teens and the characters attended the same high school I did. Was it an accurate depiction of my teenage years? No, not in the slightest, because it wasn't supposed to be. It was a purely made up story, not a memoir disguised as a novel.

This is why I'm a bit worried about my latest novel, an adult thriller called Girl Most Likely to Succeed. It's full of murder and shady characters and a whole mess of details I've drawn from my
personal life. Take the main character, for instance. She's a vegetarian, who lives in a crappy house in the Poconos and works in the children's department of a public library. Guess who else was a vegetarian who lived in a crappy house in the Poconos and worked in the children's department of a public library? That's right, yours truly.

So, I wanted to take this opportunity to set things straight. I am not Katrina Parker. Sure, we have some things in common, but there are way more differences than similarities between the two of us. Katrina, like the novel itself, is a work of fiction.

And while we're on the subject I feel like I should add that one need not be a murderer to write dark and twisted books full of death or a literal monster to write a horror novel. Writers, as it happens, are a pretty imaginative bunch. It means we're very good about making stuff up, even if we do pepper our tales with stray facts.

Alissa Grosso writes YA  and adult novels. You can find out more about her and download a free novella that is also not at all factual at

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Real...or Imagination? (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re exploring fact vs. fiction in our stories. This topic made me smile, as this is exactly what “happens” in WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN. The boy is thrilled when a dragon takes up residence in his “perfect” sandcastle and wants to share the magnificent news with his family…but no one believes him! The story, thanks to brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam actually allows the readers to decide for themselves. Is the dragon real? Or just a figment of the boy’s imagination?

I love to share this picture book during my author visits. When I ask these questions at the end, the decision is usually a 50:50 split within the audience, and each child is adamant about his/her decision, armed with passionate arguments to back it up.

Personally, hard as someone may try, I don’t think it’s possible to create anything without at least a teeny bit of our own selves running through it. After all, we see the world through our own eyes, processing it piece by piece based upon our own references.

The same can also be said of reading. We all bring our own emotional baggage and experiences to the stories we explore, which means that in a sense, we all read a completely different tale.

But here’s the question. Does an author know whether he/she is writing fact or fiction? And are the lines sometimes blurred?

This past week, I picked up a manuscript I hadn’t touched for about a year. This happens to me a lot. I get started, but then lose my way. Sometimes because I haven’t thought the whole thing through (yet). Sometimes because another project speaks to me in a louder or more insistent voice.

This project had a little of both. Although I couldn’t find the words to finish it earlier, it now seemed to call out for me like a child in need. Or perhaps it was my own inner child begging me to return…

You see, I grew up in a development of houses that bordered a golf course. In the winter (much to the irritation of the ground keepers), it made for some fantastic sledding trails. One afternoon, when there wasn’t anyone around to sled with, I decided to take myself on a nature walk through the wooded section. Near a clearing, under a tall tree, I found a baby bird. He’d obviously fallen from a nest, thankfully unscathed. I remember looking around to see if the mother was anywhere near. She wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t even hear another bird. It was just me, and this little guy.

Alone. In this big, big world.

(Note: since I obviously didn't take pictures when I was six, the part of the little bird will be played by our dove, Bake, who has always wanted to be in theatre.)


In my six-year old mind, it was up to me to save this baby. To teach him how to fly back to the nest where he’d be safe. Of course, I’d been taught never to touch wild animals, for reasons of safety…theirs and my own.

But I looked around and found a feather. Speaking in a soft voice, I explained the plan to my new little friend. And then I prodded him. Ever so gently. With the feather. He hopped forward. I praised him, then prodded again. Once more, he hopped. I must have spent over an hour doing this. Each time, he’d hop farther. A little bit higher. Soon, his wings began to flutter, then to flap. We kept working together. Tirelessly. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap.

Until he flew.

At first, he only traveled a few feet, and in the wrong direction, wobbling like Snoopy’s best friend, Woodstock. But we never lost hope, this bird and I. Over and over, he’d try, and I’d cheer. And finally, I watched as he fumbled his way up, up, up and landed in his nest.

I remember my heart filling. I remember spinning around as the snowflakes began to fall. And I remember hearing birds all around me, chirping, celebrating, rejoicing for my little buddy and me.

Did the last part really happen? I don’t know for sure. In my mind, it did. In my heart, it did. In my memories, it absolutely did.

I guess it will be up to my readers to decide whether it was indeed fact, or fiction.

May you all experience, and spread, a bit of kindness today and forever.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

What We Think We Don't Show (Maryanne Fantalis)

People frequently ask how much of me is in my books, especially because I tend to write in first person. "Is Kate, the main character in Finding Kate, a lot like you?" (Actually, she and I are quite different, which made her hard to write sometimes.) And then there's the follow up: "Are the other characters in the book based on the people in your life?" This seems to be a common belief among readers, and apparently it's a common practice among writers. How many times have you seen a coffee mug or a tee shirt like this:

Funny Author Novel Meme Square Car Magnet 3" x 3"
Car Magnet from

I literally have no idea how I would do that. I mean, I get the concept, but to base a character on a real person seems impossible to me. My characters are real people with goals and needs of their own. How could I make someone in a book a version of someone who was real? Maybe there's an echo of something in my real life in my characters, but I never set out to put my real life in my books. To me, there's a definite line between the two.


Sometimes we reveal more than we think.

My second completed manuscript was a YA fantasy about a young woman who discovers some pretty surprising truths about herself, truths that redefine who she believes she is and who she can become. While my editor and I were working through revisions, she said to me on a call one day, "Did you realize that you have three wicked step-mothers in this book?"

Huh. Do I?

Now, I don't have a step-mother myself, and my own mother was by no means wicked, but I definitely had my problems with her. And while I didn't set out to explore those problems in my novel, there they were, clear as day to anyone who was paying attention. Not to me, of course, because I was too close to see. It took someone else, someone outside the story, to observe what my subconscious mind had snuck in behind my back.

Do we authors disguise ourselves in our writing? Do we reveal elements of our lives, our beliefs, our personalities? Of course. All our ideas and inspirations come from somewhere, consciously or subconsciously, and who we are informs our characters and our stories. Should you look for an author's literal life story in their fiction? Probably not (sorry, Shakespeare scholars). But are there hints, intended or unintended? Are we there, disguised in our characters and hiding behind the scenery? Absolutely.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Disguising A Search for Understanding by Sydney Salter

I didn't want to write a story about a girl on a soccer team, especially not in a tight market that demanded big, edgy ideas. But I desperately wanted to understand my athletic daughter.

I had been watching my daughter and husband bond over their shared soccer experience, and I knew I had to find a way to connect too. I had no credibility. Apparently, forty-two minutes on the elliptical machine while watching the Amazing Race isn't a sport.

I did what I usually do when I need to learn something, I bought some books. I read memoirs that helped me get into the head of intense athletes, mostly football players who kept competing no matter what it did to their bodies or brains.

I developed a range of decidedly sporty conversation topics. (And maybe I talked about concussions too much.)

In the midst of my sporty reading, I remembered a joke made by a friend who had cycled in the Olympics - forget doping, he said, let them add an extra heart, let them explode if they want.

I got the idea for what has come to be described as my sci-fi sports novel Sponsored (coming soon-ish from ChiTeen).

The story doesn't resemble my life in any way, but the research allowed me to understand the way my daughter drives herself to perform physically, and maybe in other ways too. I know that I supported her better through her competitive high school soccer years, and now during the transition to informal college athletics.

My favorite thing about writing fiction comes from that combination of real life experience, real emotion, stuff learned in books, and imagination - how it all mixes together to create something that never existed before.

Monday, October 8, 2018

What Facts Have Grown From Your Fiction? By Kimberly Sabatini

Sometimes when writing, we have a glorious moment where we stumble upon an unexpected and illuminating deep thought. It often feels too big and wonderful to have come from our own limited scope of abilities as a writer and a person. It causes us to suck in a breath or tremble with the magnitude of what we've just discovered. It is a thought that rises from our imaginations but feels like a universal truth. And in some capacity, it changes us.

Discovering those moments is one of my favorite parts of writing. But immediately after I've been affected, I then hope there might one day be a reader who will also find themselves altered by my words or ideas.

In my novel, TOUCHING THE SURFACE, this thought grew from my fiction and has had a lasting effect on how I see and navigate the world...

Life altering mistakes are meant to alter lives.

And as a reader, I've recently been deeply moved by Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle. This particular quote from book Four--The Raven King stuck with me...

“If you can’t be unafraid, Henry said, be afraid and happy.” 
― Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven King

In everything I read and write, I am always on the lookout for facts and truth that grow from imagination and fiction. I loved to plumb my own depths and share what I've discovered. I also crave exposure to universal truths as they appear through someone else's lens of experience.

I would love it if you'd share your moments of illumination as a writer and or a reader. What facts have grown from your fiction?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Everything Is Real. Or Maybe Not. (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is fact vs. fiction, or what we reveal in our fiction and what we “disguise.”  (Happy Halloween!)
“I can't disguise myself with a wig and dark glasses - the wheelchair gives me away.” ~ Stephen Hawking

For me, much of “real” vs. “made up” involves whether to name real people, places, and things in my novels.  Personally, I think putting actual restaurants, streets, buildings, products, and even celebrities in books makes them more accessible.  I don’t know anyone who drinks a “cola”: it’s Coke or Pepsi.  (Okay, it’s Coke.  Or, actually, Diet Coke.)  If I’m reading a book set in New York City, I want to hear about the Saks or Macy’s windows at Christmas, not the windows at Fictional Department Store.  Reality puts me RIGHT THERE in the story.  Specifically, on Fifth Avenue.
And suddenly I'm thirsty.
 If nothing disparaging happens at or to the real person, place, or thing, I name it.  My characters can drink a Diet Coke as long as they don’t open the can and find a dead bug inside.  Similarly, my characters can attend actual high schools as long as nothing bad happens at the school.  That’s why, in two different YA novels currently in the works, the teens in one novel attend Southwest, Washburn, and Breck High Schools in Minneapolis ... but the other novel takes place at a fictional Minneapolis high school, because that book deals with bullying and other issues facing my teen heroine, often at school.

In my Bennet Sisters YA series, the characters live in Woodbury, Minnesota, so they hang out at the Mall of America (not a Fictional Really Big Mall) and DQ and such.  But one mildly ugly (and, okay, funny) scene takes place in a pizza parlor, so I invented that restaurant.  In Cat Bennet, Queen of Nothing, Cat takes a road trip to Wisconsin Dells.  I made up the particular waterpark where she gets a job, because someone almost drowns - oops - but she drives along Highways 494 and 94, stops at the (real) Menards in Hudson, Wisconsin, etc.

The one exception that writers talk about is that Disney does NOT like to be named in novels not published by Disney, and some cranky suits at Disney headquarters are bizarrely litigious about it.  So most novelists avoid using the word “Disney.”


(Actually, I avoid it, too.)

Another aspect of fact vs. fiction is the characters themselves.  Readers often try to guess which character in a book is “really the author.”  Short answer: the cute one.  (Ha!)  No, ALL of them are.  I mean, not precisely.  Everything I write comes out of me, so it’s all “me” in a sense, but it’s really a conglomeration of everything I’ve ever done, seen, read about, etc., all of which I put into my magic writer’s “blender,” which spews it all out in fragments that make up the various characters and the things they do.

Example: my Bennet Sisters series.  It seems like most women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice decided at some point which Bennet sister they’re really like, usually Elizabeth or Jane.  (Elizabeth!)  When I started writing the series, my daughter teased me for thinking I was just like Liz; she also said that neither Liz nor I was all that.  (She is now dead to me.) (Kidding!)  But then I wrote Mary’s book ... and I EASILY channeled the geek I always felt I was in junior high.  Then came Cat’s (f/k/a Kitty’s) book.  Problem: Cat/Kitty isn’t athletic or brainy or funny or, really, anything like me, so it took forever to pull her out of me.  But finally I made her artistic, and sent her to Wisconsin Dells, and taught her to drive a manual transmission: all pieces of me.  It wasn't that tough to find Lydia, the Bennet bad girl, inside of me.  This won’t surprise most who know me.  heh heh.

One final question of fact vs. fiction, even within fiction: how much of her true self does a fictional character reveal to OTHER fictional characters?  In Lydia Bennet’s book, Livin’ La Vida Bennet, she’s the ultimate bad girl of her high school.  But ... is she?  Or, since everyone in her life is determined to believe she’s bad, does she merely let them do so regardless of the truth? 

I could go on, but then I’d have to talk about how much we disguise ourselves in another form of fiction: social media.  Don’t get me started.
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