Monday, July 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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most of my major male characters have two syllable names than end with N: Leon, Logan, Sherman, Clayton, Deacon, (and unpublished) Darren, Justin, Griffon, Brenden, Gordon, Deon, and Shannon.

Friend: Why do you supposed that is, Brian?

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

I buried Paul.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hidden Messages and Messaging the Hidden by Dean Gloster

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

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

            So I periodically messaged GOD.

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

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

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

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

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

            Good times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Secrets of the author's own brain (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Secrets are one of the best ways to introduce a driving force into the plotline of a book, because people are naturally curious. We want to know. We want to understand. There are entire genres of books and TV shows and podcasts and movies built around solving mysteries, unraveling historical puzzles, uncovering family secrets. Investigative journalism is about uncovering the truths that powerful entities seek to hide.

A secret in a book is like the gun that must go off. Whether or not all the characters in the book learn the secret, the reader must find out the answer. (There’s an exception for nonfiction in which nobody knows the answer—but the author has to offer something, some reason for the reader to tolerate the dissatisfaction of an unanswered question.)

Although my first book was called The Secret Year, the reader was in on the main character’s secrets from the beginning (however, the secondary characters had some surprises for him along the way). The tension was around how long he could keep his secret, and what would happen if it came out.

But in my second novel, Try Not to Breathe, a character’s secret played a huge role in the climax of the book. I wrote the first draft not even realizing that a major character was keeping a secret from the main character—and even from me, the author! When I realized this person hadn’t told the truth about a pivotal event, it opened up the path to the final conflict, and it explained a lot about this character’s motivations. Everything fell into place so smoothly that it was clear that one part of my brain had been keeping a secret from the other.

Which was fine with me, as long as that part revealed its plan in time to make it into the book. It’s one of the delights of writing: the things we discover as we write, the things we’ve known without knowing.

Friday, July 26, 2019

I Did Not Make This Up (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

*Or her.

I've struggled with this month's topic. If I had hidden a secret in my work, why on earth would I tell it in a blog post?

Once you've told a secret, it's not really a secret anymore.

And anyway, I doubt very much that the details of my life are interesting enough to hold a reader's attention for 80,000 or so words. I don't know if I agree with Virginia Woolf, at least not entirely.

But I do think that we can't help bringing our whole selves to the work, all our emotions and experiences, and everything we've learned along the way. I really think we should, in order to create pieces that are as unique as our individual selves. I began my career in academia, where the questions we ask before we begin a work ask us to think about what we're adding to the conversation. (For years, I taught out of a textbook called Joining the Conversation.)
  •   What has already been written about this topic?
  • ·         How is my work different?
  • ·         How can/should I respond to that?
  • ·         What can I bring to the conversation that is unique?
  • ·         Why am I the best person to write this piece?

I bring this training with me into writing fiction, and because I write historical fiction, I bring my training as a historian in, too, and I tend not to gloss over the messy realities of the past.

This has led several people to confront me about the supposed darkness in my soul that would bring me to write about the near-constant violence of the early American frontier.

If the thought of all these terrible things intrigues you, click here.

The Last Sister is set in a barely remembered sub-conflict of the Seven Years War known as the Anglo-Cherokee War. Occasionally, I'll have people say (awkwardly): "Um, I read your book. How did you think up all those terrible things?"


I did not make up all those terrible things. They happened, and I put them in a book.

My whole life, people have been saying to me, "I hear you love history," and I've been saying, "Love is a strong word."

A secret is just anything we don't talk about, and there's a lot in history that we just don't talk about, a lot of reality buried under layers of myth and legend and digestible chunks unmoored from their larger context.

So I guess there are secrets in my work, and the ones that are historical I'll gladly bring to light.

My own, though, I'll never tell.

If you'd like to learn more secrets, historical and otherwise, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or visit my website.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Secrets? Bring 'em on! (Brenda Hiatt)

I’ll confess right up front that I ADORE secrets in books, as both a reader and a writer. Nothing keeps me reading…or writing…like waiting for a secret to be revealed. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever written a book without at least one big secret in it. Often, the whole premise will be built around a secret. Obviously, secrets are one of my favorite “buttons” and I love pushing it! 

For me (again as both reader and writer), some of the BEST secrets are the ones where the reader finds out the secret before one or more of the characters do. Think about Superman’s secret identity as Clark Kent and how many iterations of that story you’ve seen (movies and especially TV shows) where half the drama and anticipation is in wondering when or if Lois Lane will figure it out. (In my opinion, most of the “juice” leaked out of the ’90s show “Lois & Clark” after she learned his secret.) Characters with big secrets are just plain fun—for me, anyway. 
Then there are the secrets the author keeps from the reader—and some, if not all, of the characters—until the time is ripe. Those are a little trickier, because in order not to “cheat,” I think it’s important to give the reader at least a FEW clues. Not so many they’ll for-sure figure it out ahead of time, but just enough that they might suspect and feel vindicated if they discover they guessed right. I’ve definitely used both kinds of secrets, though not necessarily in every single book. 

Weirdly, it took writing and publishing more than half a dozen books where either one or both main characters had a secret for much of the story before I figured out secrets are one of my “pet” themes. At which point I deliberately set out to write a whole series based around secret identities! That turned into my popular Saint of Seven Dials series of Regency-set historical romances, which follow a series of Regency “Robin Hoods.” In each of those books, much of the dramatic and romantic tension flows from the current Saint’s secret identity and whether/how the heroine (or, in one case, the hero) will discover it. So much fun!

Not surprisingly, when I began writing teen fiction I absolutely brought my love of secrets and secret identities with me. (Hey, there’s a reason “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was one of my fave shows!) In the first book of my Starstruck series, the heroine learns about a whole series of secrets, each one more mind-blowing than the last. And throughout the series, there’s a whole secret “world” coexisting with the mundane goings-on of high school and small town Indiana. Fun, fun, fun! 

 In that first book, the reader discovers all the secrets along with the heroine, since the whole story is told from her first person point of view. In subsequent ones, though, often there are secrets the reader finds out before one or more characters do, which is even more fun. Shoot, I even titled my most recent book in that series The Handmaid’s Secret! So yeah, I love, love, love secrets. :) 

ps - I’m only just starting to write the next book in that series, and writing this article reminds me that I need to come up with some more secrets—or at least one BIG one—if I’m going to have as much fun writing this book as I have all the others. So thanks, YAOTL, for the extreme timeliness of this month’s topic! 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Worst-Kept Secrets in Fiction Are Yours For the Reading by Patty Blount

Here's a little-known fact -- in addition to writing young adult fiction, I'm also a published romance author. A MATCH MADE AT CHRISTMAS, THE PARAMEDIC'S RESCUE, and NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY are all contemporary romances, a genre that is ridiculously lampooned and insulted.
Critics dismiss romance fiction, labeling it as 'mommy porn' or claiming it gives readers unrealistic expectations of men, love, and relationships. It's clear the people making such claims have never read a romance novel.

Romance fiction contains the KEY to winning at love.  Here's a clue -- it's not bodice-ripping, and it's not owning a helicopter, a yacht, and a red room of pain.

Look deeper.

In today's romance novels, you're likely to find relationships built on foundations of mutual respect. Hereos are strong but that's not all they are. They're flawed. They have problems and issues. Heroines are not weak today. Today's heroines are often independent and steely-spined women who don't need saving, but hope to find a partner, someone willing to share the load for the long haul. In today's romance, you're likely to find same-sex main characters as well as differently-abled main characters.

Twilight and its successor, Fifty Shades of Grey, are two of the most frequently ridiculed pieces of romance fiction.  (Spoiler Alert: Fifty Shades was first written as Twilight fan fiction.) Whatever you may think of the quality of writing, both novels feature deeply flawed heroes. Edward and Christian are both stalkers, both scarred by the lives they've led until they meet their respective love interests. For Edward, his guilt as a prodigal son returning to the Cullen family to endure life as a 'vegetarian' vampire following a decade of murderous hunger has convinced him he's a monster and therefore, unlovable. For Christian, his inability to bear the human touch he so strongly craves but can only be overcome through his BDSM arrangements, convinces him he's incapable of any other sort of relationship. Edward meets Bella, Christian meets Anastasia, (again, both women are the same character), and learn to respect those women as entities separate from themselves. Bella is not merely a food source; not merely another giggling student in high school. Anastasia is not merely a sub to dominate, not merely an object for his fantasies. Once that point of respect is attained, the love blooms.

There are infinite stories arguably better than these in which this truth is further evident. The best romances are ones in which both main characters demonstrate a profound respect for each other. Today's romances are stories of hope, forgiveness, redemption, and yes, love -- the one emotion every  single human being ever born has sought. Why should anyone find reason to dismiss that?

Yet, they do.

Pick up any novel by Nora Roberts, the reigning queen of romance fiction. Nora writes contemporary romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense. In ANY book you choose, find the moment when the respect is shown -- and SPOILER ALERT -- it always is.

In a society where the president pays porn stars for sex and hangs out with unscrupulous sexual predators, books that promote mutual respect should be, IMHO, on every reader's TBR list. I write my young adult novels the same way, showing the respect my characters develop for each other. In SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, older brother Derek Lawrence spends much of the novel figuring out how to fix his relationship with his sister, Ashley, raped by his teammate in a scavenger hunt gone horribly wrong. It's not until Derek learns to STOP framing his sister's assault and subsequent healing in HIS terms and begin recognizing and accepting her as a being separate from him, as fully human in her own right, that we see his growth.

If you want to learn to the secrets to finding love, read a romance. They're all in there. You just have to know where to look.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


I doubt anything can take a book on a wonderfully wind and crazy journey quite like a secret.

I think we can all point to instances in our own lives when we have done or said something completely out of character, all in order to protect a secret. As a teenager, we might have tried to keep a bad test score or a even a romantic relationship hidden from our parents. We might have wanted to keep certain family secrets hidden from friends or classmates.

Often, to accomplish the secret-hiding, we resorted to lying. The lies got bigger. Harder to keep track of. They spiraled outward. Those closest to us began to see through us. Question our motives. Fight ensued. And then...

Well. However secrets were handled in your own personal life, you could begin to feel the tension in that previous paragraph, couldn't you?

A secret can do the same thing for your novel.

The best part is, the entire book doesn't need to completely revolve around the keeping of a secret. You can wedge a secret into a subplot--and it can help add tension throughout the work. Secrets can also spin far enough out of control that they do begin to bleed into the main storyline--and shape the events of the novel. They change how the main character interacts with those closest to him or her. They can even alienate the main character--with no one to call on, they're all on their own to try to resolve the central conflict of the novel.

The next time your WIP starts to sag in the middle, try infusing it with a secret--it might belong to the main character, OR it might belong to someone close to that character. I guarantee a secret will ramp the tension right up.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Finally Sharing my Freaky!

There is something wonderful about holding onto secret good news. That special time when the news is yours alone before being shared with the world. When my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our daughter we held our happy news to ourselves for weeks and it was wonderful. It just so happened that we were living in England at the time and this was 1999, pre-cellphone constant-availability text-messaging easy-access. We had to actually pick up the phone to relay news, but we waited. Held our exciting news to ourselves. Told a few strangers. Took a breath and a full week before telling the people who were about to become grandparents and aunts and uncles. Kept our happy news just ours for a bit before sharing it with the world.

In publishing we are often forced to hold onto news as we wait for contracts or cover reveals or announcements, sometimes for years! The first time I experienced this I thought I would burst! Thankfully I was able to announce my first book deal within weeks of the sale, but those weeks felt like forever. My most recent secret news has involved the adorable cover for my next book FREAKY IN FRESNO which has been the home screen on my phone for the past six months but only just last week became public. It has so much character and it has been so much fun to get people's reactions to the now-familiar-to-me image. Even one blogger who didn't care for the cover made me smile because she was REACTING to it strongly. My new cover is out there and it belongs to the world (and bloggers) now! That pooch! That pink! It's just perfect and reflects the fun story inside and I couldn't be happier with my new book cover!

And so that's the last of my secret news stash for now. Looking forward to holding onto the next secret... hopefully soon!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Easter Eggs (Alissa Grosso)

Does July seem like a strange time of year to be talking about Easter eggs? Well, what if I told you these aren't the brightly colored eggs you search your front yard for? I'm talking about the metaphorical Easter eggs that astute fans spot in their favorite movies and video games.

Okay, so the term Easter eggs is used to describe some sort of secret or hidden reference tucked away in a movie or creative work. Digital Spy has compiled a nice list of some Easter eggs that you probably haven't spotted in popular movies such as some familiar Star Wars droids hidden in some hieroglyphs in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Yes, but apparently authors have been known to dabble in some Easter egg hiding as well. I enjoyed this list that Mental Floss compiled of some literary Easter eggs. And while I enjoyed learning that F. Scott Fitzgerald included a poem he wrote that he attributed to a character in one of his other novels in The Great Gatsby, my favorite Easter egg from the list was the story of how John Betjeman biographer Bevis Hillier exacted some revenge for a bad review that fellow biographer A. N. Wilson had given him. Hillier created his own Betjeman love letter that just so happened to fall into Wilson's hands. Believing it to be the real deal A. N. Wilson included it in his own John Betjeman biography, which was when reviewers spotted that the first letter of each sentence in the love letter spelled out: A N Wilson is a shit. Good stuff!

Okay, who among us hasn't felt like Michael Scott at some point and wanted to be part of an inside joke? Well, the cool thing about being a writer is that we have the opportunity to create our inside jokes by hiding references and planting secrets in our books.

Um, it has occurred to me that I really haven't been making full use of this magical ability of mine. Looking back on it, I can only think of a few instances of planting Easter eggs in my own works.

So, the first time I decided to toss an Easter egg into something I had created, it wasn't even a
book. It was back when I was editing a "newspaper" aimed at tourists to the Poconos. I put the term newspaper in quotes because though the publication was printed on newsprint our news stories were not pressing matters but things like exciting deals on lift tickets or a tasty new treat added to the offerings of a local candy shop. It was late one evening and I was working on finishing up a story on a local gift shop, but needed a cutline for a picture of some birdhouses they had for sale. On a whim I typed "Make a little birdhouse in your soul." As die-hard fans will recognize this is a reference to the They Might Be Giants Song "Birdhouse in Your Soul." Alas, no diehard fans seemed to be reading the photo cutlines in that issue because I didn't receive a single letter in response to my little homage.

Easter egg side note: I remember reading a story about an unexpected Easter egg planted by the guys from They Might Be Giants. So, there's a pretty trippy picture book out there called The Nightgown of the Sullen Moon by Nancy Willard. Apparently a young fan decided to create their own fan art of the book and then sent it off to They Might Be Giants as fan mail. Unaware that the crayoned masterpiece was not an original idea but an actual published book (the book's about the moon finally getting what she's always wanted, a flannel nightgown so you can understand how one might assume that it was simply something created by an imaginative kid) decided to pen their own song titled of course, "The Nightgown of the Sullen Moon." Only after its release did they learn from fans that it was in fact a published children's book.

Every Easter egg I've hidden in my own books has been a personal reference. In my book Unnamed Roads there's a chapter titled "We Get Lost in Gary, Indiana" a reference to a road trip photo a blogger sent me from back when I was doing some promo for my second book Ferocity Summer. Also in that book one of the prizes that Grandma Honey wins is an orange juice mug, and many years ago I too won an orange juice mug. As it turns out mine was way cooler as it was in the shape of Donald Duck's head. However, like many of the prizes Grandma Honey won I eventually sold that mug on Ebay. I suppose every author has little personal details like that sprinkled throughout their books.

I see now, though, that I really haven't been making full use of my Easter egg hiding abilities. There's just so many opportunities to have some fun and offer up little literary prizes for the most astute of readers. Well, it's something I'm going to have to start paying more attention to.

To all of you who have made it this far into my little post on Easter Eggs, all I'll say is I may have decided to do something about the shortage of Easter eggs in what I write, and as a clue I might have been inspired by that prank Bevis Hillier managed to pull off. So, happy Easter in July!

Alissa Grosso is the author of four young adult novels as well as three books for adults, which she now realizes unlike the article above are sorely lacking in Easter eggs. If you would like to know more about her and her books you can visit her at

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Do You Wanna Know A Secret? (Jodi Moore)

I once had a conversation with a therapist about dreams. He said that every component of one's dream reveals something about oneself.

For me, the same can be applied to writing. Each character contains a piece of me. Yes, I layer and twist and sculpt each one to be unique and suited to his/her "role", but at the core, a tiny fragment of me remains. 

A few years ago, a friend offered to beta read a novel I was working on. I jumped at the chance. After all, I valued her opinion. I knew she was tough, but fair. She’d be supportive, but honest.

Like most writers, I became a tumbleweed of nerves when I handed it over. Would she like it? Was the plot exciting? Was it on point? Were my characters believable?

You see, we’re told from the start to write from the heart, as bravely as we possibly can. That the readers deserve our true honest selves.

You know that Ernest Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”? I may not take it literally, but I do take it seriously.

After a couple of months, my friend sent her thoughts. She liked my story. Some parts, she loved. Other parts, she offered constructive criticism that ultimately made it better. However, there was one section that she didn’t “get.” “No teen would ever react to the situation that way,” she said.

Only there was a teen who did.


My dad always used to say I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I guess I was surprised my friend didn’t recognize the “me” in that scenario.

I realized then that even though she didn’t, someone would. Someone who needed to.

Someone who, like me, has a secret.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hiding In Plain Sight (by Maryanne Fantalis)

The prompt for this month is do you hide secrets in your books?

Well, that's a really good question.

I do not deliberately hide anything in my books, but apparently my subconscious mind has other ideas.

It's funny, because people will spend huge amounts of time with the work of famous authors trying to figure out how much is drawn from their real life. Take William Shakespeare, for instance. So little is known about his life that a whole industry has sprung up where people mine his works for clues to his biography. Could Prince Hamlet be named for his son Hamnet? Could certain lines show his secret support for Catholics or even -- gasp -- reveal his own Catholicism? Maybe that reference to pigs, to pork, to ham, is a clue that the REAL Shakespeare is in fact Sir Francis Bacon.

Okay, calm down everybody.

Sure, sometimes writers draw directly from their own lives. We take conversations we hear, situations we witness (or are part of), or even people we know, and play with them until they become fiction.

I mean, they don't make journals like this for nothing.

Redbubble design by Cloud9hopper
But fiction is still fiction. Most of the time, everything you are reading springs entirely from the mind of the writer.

And yet, I am always shocked to discover that my secrets get hidden in plain sight, in spite of that.

Before I started working on Shakespeare's plays, I wrote young adult fantasy. The novel I almost got published, called The Lost Duchess, was about a young woman who discovers she's not who she thinks she is.

My mother-in-law read the draft at one point and commented, "I love how you reflected the main character's secret identity in the buildings."

"Hmmm. What do you mean?" I said, trying to seem wise and all-knowing when I had no idea what she was talking about.

"You know, how the tower looks round from far away, but when you get close you can see that it's actually got lots of angles. And the same with the walls in the temple, how the painting shifts from one scene to another and fools your eye so you can't tell exactly how it's happening." Fn 1

Why, yes, of course. My main character looks like one thing -- the illegitimate daughter of a lord, raised with his biological family -- but really she's something else -- the legitimate daughter of a royal duke and deliberately kept away from knowledge of him and her magical inheritance. Just like the two most significant landmarks in the book look like one thing, but really that's just an illusion. I absolutely, 100% intended to write that amazing symbolism into my book.

I'm not even going to tell you about all the nasty step-mothers in that novel. You think maybe I had some unresolved issues with my mom?

My subconscious keeps busy, apparently.

It happened again as I was reading through a draft of my current novel, Loving Beatrice. I suddenly recognized one of the characters. I groaned out loud. "Oh no," I said. "That's my grandmother."

Here's the tweet I sent at that moment:

I just hope no one else in my family recognizes her...

Do I set out to hide secrets in my novels? Absolutely not. But my mind has a way of sneaking them in there anyway.

Fn 1

The idea of a round-looking tower with many angles was, in fact, taken from reality. It is based on the Multangular Tower in York, England, a Roman ruin from the Fourth Century.

The Multangular Tower in York, from my trip in 1996

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Keeping It Secret by Sydney Salter

Don't ask me about my WIP. It's a secret!

I used to attend a weekly writing group, sharing my stories-in-progress. The feedback was helpful when I was a less-experienced writer. Good critique partners helped me avoid problems from too much telling to poor characterization to plain confusion. The downside was fighting off too many creative minds interfering with my vision. I, too, am guilty of inflicting ooh! what if this or that happened instead-ism on other writers - it's unkind.

To avoid too many creative minds in my head while working on a WIP, I started to only share finished projects. I'd chat about my story, but months of writing group passed before I'd plunk a fat hunk of pages on the table. I learned a lot about problem-solving and muddling through the middle working on my own.

I stopped talking about my WIP about five years ago. I had plunked down my pages. And I waited for my critique partners to read. We met for lunch, marked manuscripts on the table. The main complaint: my love interest wasn't who they had imagined. All my chatter about this guy - an unusual paranormal dude - had stirred their imaginations, and they anticipated someone very different. The good news was that I had succeeded in my vision for the character. The bad news was that they hated him for it. I felt like I hadn't given my character the chance to stand on his own terms because I'd been talking about him too much, using shorthand labels.

I might be feeling way too sensitive. And I may be only going through a phase - like a stubborn toddler. I acknowledge that. But since my wholly misunderstood paranormal dude, I've only talked about the topic of my novels. Sci-fi sports novel. The murder-suicide story.

Maybe I'll feel like talking about my WIP again someday... but for now it's a secret.

Monday, July 8, 2019

SELF-SECRETS and PROCESS SECRETS -- By Kimberly Sabatini

Unless you're writing a memoir or non-fiction, I believe there should be secrets in every story you write. And I believe there are two kinds of secrets you'll find within the pages of a book.

I discovered these secrets by writing and then later talking to readers about 

The first kind of secret comes from your own discoveries. These I might call SELF-SECRETS. If you're anything like me, you write to explore the things that pique your curiosity, the things you might be afraid of and the things you don't consciously let yourself think about--often because they make you feel vulnerable. 

In TOUCHING THE SURFACE I wrote about death. And even though I was taking on the topic from a paranormal, young adult experience--make no mistakes--I was secretly writing about losing my Dad several years prior. I was processing all my thoughts and worries about what it means to die and what it means to live and be left behind.

In retrospect, I also found I'd secretly been writing about life-altering mistakes and my love-hate relationship with them. As a teen and sometimes even now, I find myself worrying about insurmountable wrong choices and about the concept of perfection. These topics are a big thread running through TTS.

Once my book was no longer in my hands and I was speaking to readers and students about my process and motivations--I could so clearly see the secrets I was uncovering within my writing. And what baffles me to this day is that I couldn't see the forest within the tree. I was completely unable to connect those dots until I'd put some distance and finality between myself and the project.

The second kind of secret is what I might call PROCESS SECRETS. These are the kind of secrets that develop from the collision of your personal experiences and your creativity.  It's the intersection between what you know and what you grow with your imagination. All of my characters and settings always start off using what I think of as a body double. I pick someone or someplace I know or know of and I use them to build the basis of a character or setting. It's a scaffolding tool for me. 

But those characters and locations NEVER stay the people and places I start with. As I write and as the story takes on a life of its own, those characters and locations bend, twist, change and grow to be something completely different than that place holder I started with. But I can go back and tell you every person or place that was my starting point. But sometimes I keep my body doubles a secret because of this experience...

The character of Mel in TOUCHING THE SURFACE was connected to someone I knew who is a mentor for me in my real life. That mentor knew I was using her as a body double. But it was my first book and a lot of these secrets about the writing process were still secret to me. 

As time went on, in my writing, I lost track of how and when the character of Mel became less my mentor and more her own unique character, until one day I was sitting with my mentor and realized she might think Mel's character arc was how I visualized her real-life "story" arc. I was a bit thrown askew by the revelation--surprised at how my characters moved from body doubles into independent people with their own journeys. The good news is that my mentor was aware of what I wasn't--she is a great mentor after all. 

Now, what was once a secret for me has become part of my process. And I've let you in on the secret. 


Saturday, July 6, 2019

It’s a Secret! (Mary Strand)

This month, we’re blogging about whether we hide secrets in the books we write.

I ran this topic past some of my writer friends, but in keeping with the topic, I will keep their names and advice a secret.  ha ha.  But thank you, Romex peeps!

I just finished revisions on a novel (part of a YA series about a high school for psychics) in which the main character, Becca, always has such “loud” thoughts that most of her classmates can “hear” them more easily than the thoughts of anyone else.

Naturally, Becca finds this pretty annoying.  But, as she puts it, “Just because they can hear my thoughts doesn’t mean they KNOW me.”


I think most people keep a lot of secrets from the world.  Maybe a lucky few will know some of those secrets, but it’s also probably true that NO ONE will know every single thing about another person.  Not even that person’s spouse or BFF or, for instance, hairdresser or bartender.

Why would characters in books be any different?

Many writers wring their hands over how a character can possibly hide secrets from the reader when we’re in the point of view of that character.  I don’t think it’s difficult: the character simply doesn’t think about that secret.  Let’s say it’s a dark secret.  Do you dwell on dark places you’ve been?  (Okay, sure. Sometimes.)  Most people would rather not go there.  It’s usually not forgotten, but it’s buried as deep as the secrets your teenage self kept from your parents about the parties you went to that got busted by the police.

(Not that any of MY parties did.  I’m speaking hypothetically, naturally.)

Think about social media.  Do you keep secrets about your life from your Facebook friends or Twitter or Instagram followers?  Of course!  I’m known by my Facebook friends for sharing TONS about my life.  As in, telling all.  HA HA HA HA HA.  Not even remotely!  You wouldn’t truly know me if you only read my Facebook page, because I share the “Mary Strand Author” version of the truth or, as a writer friend once said about my Facebook page: “You are SUCH a liar!”  And then she laughed.

It's no secret that I crush on Hugh Jackman.
Oh, wait. The secret is that I DON'T truly crush on him.
But don't tell anyone on Facebook!

In real life, ironically, I never lie.  (It’s a major thing with me.  There are seriously no exceptions.)  But it doesn’t mean I tell everything I know.  Far from it.  It takes me quite a while before I share anything I truly value about myself with someone I’ve met.  I have to trust them first, just as I assume they have to trust me.  I’m also impossible to “read” unless I LET you read me, which I rarely do.  In the meantime, there are a million things to chat about.  Just not my secrets.

So.  Do I hide secrets in my books?  ALL. THE. TIME.

Sometimes, unfortunately and annoyingly, the characters in my books also hide secrets from ME.  But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

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

Friday, July 5, 2019

I've Got Secrets-And I'm Keeping Them!

by Fae Rowen

I have a friend whose birthday is the Fourth of July. It must be tough growing up, thinking that the fireworks are for your birthday.

At least, that's what he'd believed as a kid. Wouldn't you?
As for my secrets, well, as my friends will tell you, I have plenty in my checkered past. But I'm tight-lipped with them. My best friends are golden. They've been to hell and back with me. But none of them know all of my secrets. (That's what therapy is for!)

They know certain ones, on a need to know basis. I'm not one of those people who loves to share my past. Not that I am ashamed of it. It's just over. When I received awards in school, I gave them to my parents for safe-keeping, with the understanding they would not be displayed, and moved on. There were more mountains to climb, figuratively.

The problem is, I don't know when my cover slips and I expose some of my self in a book. When one of my best friend's housemate read my first book, she said that she'd never known someone who'd written a book, so she had no frame of reference, but she would have known I'd written that book because it was all about me. She's a librarian! Really? She sees me as a girl who flies skimmers and lives with a tiger?

I know a lot of authors leave personal surprises (in the gaming world they're called "Easter eggs") for their readers. That must be cool to do and cool for the reader to find them and know what they mean.

Nobody has ever accused me of being cool.

As much as I don't share specific information, I do realize that if you know me well enough, you know certain things about me. I've written five fiction books. Looking back at them, they all share character traits that, for better or worse, parallel my own personality and beliefs.

The female characters are fiercely independent. Smart. Capable. Fighters.

My mother said that once I learned to say the word no, I wouldn't let anyone help me do anything. I wanted to do it myself, even if I couldn't, got frustrated, and cried. I graduated from college in three years with two degrees, going on in two years to be a department head in a "man's profession." Did I mention I got a brown black in judo, while studying aikido and saber?

Heck, I just write what I know. Isn't that what new writers are told?

I'm revising my fifth book for release in October. It's the second in my YA series, PRISM. The characters must deal with past lies and deceptions, odds not in their favor, and the lack of weapons equal to those of the mercenaries they're fighting.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 
Who of us haven't had to deal with lies and deception of people from our past, or even our own lies coming back to bite us in uncomfortable locations? Who hasn't had to come from behind in a contest or compete against someone with a better resume or experience? Now, I admit I've never had to use weapons to defend my life, and I've certainly never had to engage in warfare with mercenaries to escape slavery, but if we take artistic license and think metaphorically, well, maybe…

So, yes, I have secrets. Am I going to tell you about the day I showed up at my first job without zipping my miniskirt? Of course not? (Oops!) But could that happen to a character? Yep. Am I ready to cop to what is my personal experience in an interview? Not yet. As my husband says when I ask him questions he doesn't want to answer, "Leave that chapter out and make it a mystery."

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
  P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Fae's second book in the series — PRISM: Rebellion —will be available for pre-order October 1, 2019.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

I've Got A Secret - Janet Raye Stevens

When I was a kid *number redacted* years ago, after school TV programming was limited. Our 21-inch, RCA Victor black & white television tuned in three network affiliates and four or five UHF stations, channels with grainy reception and a fondness for endless Three Stooges marathons (hey, YAOTL’ers, did I ever tell you about the time I met the Three Stooges? No? Well, that’s a blog post for another day!)

Turning on the boob tube after school in those days I’d find soap operas; reruns of the aforementioned Stooges; my favorite sitcoms Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, and That Girl; and game shows. Lots and lots of game shows.

One of the most unusual and urbane of this game show crowd was I’ve Got A Secret, a CBS show that ran from 1952-1967 and then forever and ever in rerun heaven (and now ad infinitum on YouTube). The concept was a simple variation on Twenty Questions: while the clean-cut host moderated, four panelists, dressed as if they were about to testify before Congress, asked questions as they tried to guess the unknown-to-them contestant’s secret. They could only ask Yes or No questions. The contestant raked in the moolah for every “No” answer (20 bucks!). At the end of the round, the contestant revealed their secret (if it wasn’t guessed).

A lot of celebrities plugging a new book/movie/records appeared on the show, but so did many unknowns, who all had interesting and intriguing secrets (including a drummer named Pete Best whose tragic secret was he was booted from the Beatles two minutes before they hit the big time, and, in 1957, an elderly man who claimed to have witnessed Abraham Lincoln’s assassination).

Okay, that long-winded, somewhat serpentine introduction above is what brings me to this month’s theme at YA Outside the Lines: hiding secrets in your books – do you or don’t you?

I do, and I’m going to use I’ve Got A Secret to explain how.

The cast having a jolly time on set
Think of me, the writer of the story, as the host, my readers as the panel, and the story/characters as the contestant. The game the contestant and I play with the reader/panelists is designed to keep them guessing to the very end. 

As I’ve noted before, I jump around in genres, but one thing consistent in my work is a mystery at the story’s core. So, this secrets thing can be double hard to maneuver, but also doubly rewarding when I’ve written something that makes both my characters and a reader go, Whoa, did NOT see that coming.

As the writer/host of this I’ve Got A (Fiction) Secret game, I play on two levels: the secrets my characters keep from each other (or others) and the ones the author keeps from the reader.

First, the secrets characters keep from each other (or others). These are a lot of fun to write. Secrets create conflict for the characters and a whole lot of tension for the reader, especially when they know the truth. The “secret baby” trope in romance is a perfect example of this. The reader knows the baby is the hero’s, but he doesn’t, keeping the reader guessing for a delicious 200-plus pages how and when he’ll find out.

In my Golden Heart-finalist YA manuscript, THE NASCENT BLOOM, the characters are attempting to escape a prison-like work farm. They fear being punished and their plot derailed if discovered, so they go to great lengths to keep their plans a secret, even to the point of infuriating and alienating their friends and allies.

The author keeping secrets is a bit trickier, as it’s not always a given the reader will pick up on the clues. My time travel BERYL BLUE, TIME COP's heroine, a 23-year-old contemporary woman, reminisces about her first visit to a library at the age of five. She says she remembers wearing gloves and patent-leather shoes. I’m hoping my reader will blink and go, patent-leather? In 2001? I don’t think so. What’s the real story? A secret to be revealed by the story’s conclusion.

And in my work in progress, KILROY WAS HERE, someone’s trying to kill the hero. I toss suspicion on one character while a couple others lurk on the periphery each time an attempt is made to bump off our hero. I’m pushing the reader into guessing the (attempted) murderer’s identity—is it the obvious suspect or one of the other barely-mentioned characters? If the reader falls for my clues and chooses the wrong suspect then, game over, I’ve done my job.

As a reader/panelist myself, I love to be the one ferreting out secrets and clues and trying to figure them out. Any author who feeds my addiction to secret-hunting has hooked me for life.

For example, I recently read a contemporary romance where the heroine and hero had a thing way back when and had just reconnected. When the heroine met up with the hero at the bar, he was talking to someone she couldn’t clearly see and who left as she entered the building. My secrets-loving-self latched onto that incident, even though the author had the heroine brush it off and forget about it. But I didn’t forget it and played a guessing game until the secret was revealed during the “black moment,” when we find out the hero had been talking to his new girlfriend!

The moment could just as easily have been nothing, but still deliberate on the author’s part, a red herring stuck in there to unsettle the reader and keep us guessing—and keep us reading.

That’s part of the I’ve Got A Secret game too, I guess, a game I’m ready, willing, and able to play.


Janet Raye Stevens is a committed genre hopper, writing mystery, paranormal, contemporary romance, and sometimes YA, but she draws the line at poetry. A three-time RWA Golden Heart® Award finalist (winning in 2018) and four-time Daphne Award finalist, Janet lives in Massachusetts, where she spends her days drinking copious amounts of tea (Earl Gray, hot) plotting revenge (best served cold), and creating fictional worlds populated with cool chicks and hot guys.