Tuesday, September 22, 2020

(Re)Claiming the Joy in Writing by Patty Blount

This year has been like running on a treadmill stuck on a high speed. Once false step and you're gonna go flying. 

All over my various author communities and indeed, this blog, colleagues are talking about how hard it's been to be creative this year. Feelings persisit. We long for normalcy but yet, too few of us are willing to put in the effort to get it back. So...we're stuck. 

We're exhausted. We're losing hope. And we're tired of Zoom! 

Students have it even harder than authors. Trying to concentrate on lessons, missing out on friends, on sports, on SATs -- their futures are in a holding pattern.

I think about them. Just as I need to take my mind off of 2020, I think teens do, too. And that's my job as a YA author. So I made the decision NOT to write about the pandemic. I want teens to be able to lose themselves in my work. 

They can't do that unless I can. 

So I put it away. I know for one hour, one scene, one chapter, I can hop off that treadmill and put the world on hold for a while. I can find joy in the world I've created and hope readers will, too.

That's why I'm working on a YA Chrismas story. Christmas novels, especially romance, have huge readerships. I am certain it's because the holiday season fills us with hope and cheer. What will this year's holiday season look like? 

Scaled down, lots of masks in red and green, silver and gold, silver and blue, maybe Zoom parties. I don't know. 

What I do know is the feelings persist. And I try to write those feelings. Tell me how you're coping with pandemic-related stress in the comments! 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Finding My Voice...Again (Jodi Moore)

 

Like many writers, I’ve had a hard time creating over the past six months. 

 

 

The dreaded blank screen
                                                        

 

It seemed my heart shattered on a daily basis as I watched the news and perused posts on social media sites. My arms ached with emptiness – not only for the hugs I couldn’t share, but for those who had lost loved ones and would never feel their precious embrace again. My brain couldn’t comprehend the hate and the selfishness of those who ignored the cries for help.

 

(Disclaimer: three of these descriptions still hold true.)

 

On my best days, fog surrounded me. On my worst, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t write. My characters’ voices had disappeared, lost to the negative static.

 

(Yes, I hear voices. I depend on them to write. Many authors do.)

 

But recently, I remembered back to a time long ago when another voice had disappeared. As a teen, I had silenced my own. No, I hadn’t stopped speaking all together, but I learned to carefully measure my words – swallowing those that might upset the delicate balance in a household that had been through trauma. Too often, I heard the – sometimes well-intended, but often patronizing – advice of ‘get over it’ and ‘let it go’.

 

On those rare occasions when I did speak up to let them know their words hurt my feelings, they claimed I was ‘too sensitive’.

 

Those voices eventually took up important real estate, living rent-free in my mind.

 

Needless to say, that repression wasn’t exactly a healthy decision. Thankfully, in my twenties, I had a wonderful therapist who encouraged me to listen closely to the voices – not just what they were saying, but who the voices belonged to. Would I myself say those things to another person going through distress? And if not, why would I allow them to speak to me that way? 

 

Little by little - and with a lot of help - I learned to express myself once again.

 

Over the past few months, those negative voices have crept back in. I didn’t recognize them at first. Oh, sure. I noticed the ones who showed up screaming and foaming at the mouth. They were easy to spot. But others arrived with smiles. Their words coated with sugar. Spouting love and concern...then lashing out when I asked questions or took issue with their positions.

 

They told me I was naïve. Stupid. Wrong. They belittled me. Ridiculed who and what I hold dear. Told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. And when I dared to say they hurt my feelings, they told me I was ‘too sensitive’.

 

That’s when I acknowledged I’d let them move in. Again. And that’s when I decided to evict them.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this poem:

 

 

It

 

By Jodi Moore

 

 

Move past it, She said.

Then She walked away and left me alone.

With It.

 

Get over it, He said.

Then He took the ladder and left me alone.

With It.

 

Let it go, They said.

Then They slammed the door and locked the windows and left me alone.

With It.

 

At first, I pretended It wasn’t there. But It was. Staring at me through the darkness.

Then, I raged at It, screaming for It to leave. But It stayed. Waiting for me in the midst.

Finally, I turned away, cowering in the corner, sure it would devour me. But It didn’t.

 

Through the silence, I heard soft crying.

 

And then I realized that It had been lost, and left, and locked away too.

With me.

 

I took Its hand in mine. Together, we opened the door and left Them.

 

 

 

I can’t say I’ve completely broken from ‘Them’. But I can say that I’m working hard not to let Them break me.

 

In silencing the negative voices, I’ve empowered my own. In piecing my heart back together, I’ve begun to breathe life back into my art. In leaving them, I’ve begun the journey of reuniting with myself.

 

And my characters? They’re back, stronger and more insistent than ever. After all, they’ve got stories to tell, and it’s my job to let their voices be heard.


 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Back to Life: Finding Good News in the Bad News by Kimberly Sabatini

 From what I hear, I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been reading lots of posts about writers struggling to write in 2020--the year that has decided to fight back. That has not been me.

In fact, I've found I'm more productive than usual. *fist pump*

It may be because writing is incompatible with watching the news or being on social media and working helps me find balance.

It's also reminiscent of when I first started writing when my kids were 2, 4 and 6 years old. Back then, there weren't a lot of ways from me to socially distance myself from the boys. But while writing didn't give me physical distancing from my all consuming role as a Mom--it did give me some mental space. 

Perhaps now, with everyone home and in each other's space so much more than usual, I have unconsciously defaulted to using my writing as a way of giving me a bit of a buffer zone from everyone who is physically and virtually around me. 

Whatever the reason, I'm just very grateful to be feeling creative despite all the insanity going on in the world.

But no matter what "Back to Life" means to you, I think it's hard to deny that there are some headlines popping up in the news that can shock me into a stupor or make me laugh so hard I almost pee my pants. It's a kinda fine line. To keep these eye-popping moments from pushing me towards despair, I've found it helps if I play a little game and ask myself...

If I put this in a novel, would an editor tell me it's too unbelievable and I need to take it out?

The game makes me laugh and occasionally sparks a real story. And we all need to laugh a little more and have our creativity sparked, so let's do this. Please leave your favorite headlines or mind boggling bits in the comments and know you are not just limited to one. 

But before I start, this comedian having a back to the future moment might warm you up...


Here's my Hey, Editor headlines...

*Gender Reveal Party Starts Massive El Dorado Fire in California.

*A $110 million sewage treatment plant will be named after comedian John Oliver.

*Denver is under a winter weather advisory two days after the city hit 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

*A University claims it prevented a coronavirus outbreak before it began--all thanks to poop.


Show me what you've got YA Outside the One-Liners. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Ready, Set ... Uh, Go? (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging at YA Outside the Lines about “back to life,” which is like “back to school,” but even less fun.

That was sort of a joke, but after six months of COVID-19, not really.

So.

I’m not going back to school ... except for my ongoing Zoom guitar lessons, for which my teachers deserve combat pay. As I write this, my daughter is flying back to Boston for her junior year of college, whatever that turns out to be in this pandemic world of ours. Aside from begging her to take a selfie from her in-apartment quarantine tomorrow on her first day of classes, though, back to school is no longer a big deal once your kidlets are off at college, except that you have fewer people complaining that there’s no decent food in the house. Which, okay, there maybe isn’t.

But it’s September 1 (as I write this), and September 1 has always been my true “Happy New Year,” filled with resolutions and plans and hopes and dreams and all that good stuff. (January 1, being winter in Minnesota, doesn’t do much to inspire me.)

This year, the arrival of September means that we’ve been in a pandemic for six months, under quarantine for the first couple of months, and not much better than being under quarantine for the months that followed.

Except for songs, I haven’t written in six months. And writing novels is what I do.

It shouldn’t be a shock, really. I realized last week that I’ve been depressed for six months, and I write funny books. (In my opinion. ha ha.) Being me — which means someone who lives life at full tilt — I’ve been throwing myself into everything I could think of during the last six months (or, actually, the few things still allowed in this pandemic world), figuring that constant activity would fix what ailed me.

Hot tip: it didn’t. As a total extrovert in a world that’s now made almost exclusively for introverts, I’ve been circling the drain.

BUT IT'S SEPTEMBER! 


Seriously, I always give myself a do-over in September. Always, always, always. This year, it means it’s time to go back to living again. Time to reclaim my life. Tra la la.

In other words, it’s time to write. And to quit feeling miserable pretty much every moment that I’m not working out (God bless The Firm in Minneapolis!) or listening to live music (OH WAIT! NO LIVE MUSIC!) or traveling (OH WAIT! NO TRAVELING!) or hanging out with friends (OH WAIT! ALMOST NO ONE HANGS OUT ANYMORE!).

So, yeah. TODAY, despite the fact that nothing has changed, I’ll start writing novels again. TODAY. Because I’m a novelist, and I write novels, and they’re even pretty decent. Yep, I have no game plan except for that: I’m going to start writing again, and I’m going to somehow make it funny. TODAY.

Or certainly sometime this week.

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 marystrand.com.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

An Embarrassment of Glitches by Dean Gloster

 

        This month we’re supposed to tell you about our embarrassing early writing mistakes, and friends—that's a rough topic, because I’m still making them. (*Sigh*)

Yeah, I know—the plan was to give us a soft lob about the long ago that we can talk about wryly now, with the benefit of all this time and distance.

 


It’s a pandemic. At this point, the misty distances of time were, like, Wednesday.

But that’s not how I roll. Thomas Mann said of my kind, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for other people.” Since I’ve never experienced easy writing, why start now? And since I’ve never directly followed the monthly writing prompts before, why change that now either?


 

Oh, I have plenty early embarrassments. My first literary work, at about 6, was Go Turtle, Go, an homage of P.D. Eastman’s Go Dog, Go. (Homage, as used in the preceding sentence, is a French word meaning “blatant, direct ripoff” except by a kid who can’t actually draw.)

 


On the theme of not being able to draw, in the mid-80s, when I was a law clerk for a Supreme Court Justice, I circulated cartoons to my fellow clerks (which I wrote about here) that I eventually had to tone down, when a third of the Justices—including my boss—insisted on also being on my distribution list. (The resulting pinnacle of my art career was that I did the drawing for Sandra Day O’Connor’s annual Christmas card. Yes, really. Which was hard, because I can’t draw. Seriously.)

        And while I was a law clerk at the Supreme Court, in the evening I’d stumble over to the Department of Agriculture for night classes in Arabic, because my plan at the time was to go the next year to Beirut, Lebanon, to write the Great American Expatriate Novel about the American press corps in Beirut, which I blogged about here. That idea—to type in a seashore hotel to the background noise of desultory rifle fire—was ended before it even started by the base note punctuation of the bombing of the U.S. Marines there and resulting flight of the American press corps entirely. Which did save the world from one Earnest Yet Terrible Novel Set in Wartime, but left me somewhat at loose ends.

So instead I went on to a three decade-long legal career. The result was enough savings to finance my current novel-writing gig nicely, but it’s put me a little behind on the whole writing-bunches-of-novels part.

So I’m still making embarrassing early writing mistakes.

The latest mistake is writing at a glacial pace, while the world is on fire.

It’s a difficult business, writing novels. It’s hard and uncertain, and mostly not very lucrative. And—unlike when I was a lawyer—the days that I don’t feel especially productive don’t still come with a paycheck to reassure me that, yup, I still count. It’s even worse now, because I’m in the U.S.—we’re in a pandemic, in a terribly run country, sliding into authoritarianism unless we change that in November.

Under the circumstances, writing a YA novel some days feels like licking the end of a pencil and scribbling a few words on a notebook in the middle of a house on fire.

The U.S., with just over 4% of the world’s population, has over 22% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths. South Korea started with many more cases per population than we did, but unlike us managed the epidemic—their total death rate per population is now barely over one one-hundredth of ours.

And organizations like RepublicansUnited are now raising funds for a 17-year-old serial murderer with white supremacist social media posts who traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin to shoot three people this week, killing two. Argh. 

We need to be better than this, America.

It’s enough to create a constant state of rage, but an endless cycle of rage is not a fertile ground for creativity.

So let me leave you with one good word. I’ll try to keep moving on my novel, which is going embarrassingly slow. In the meantime, let’s all try to do something in November to make sure we’re not embarrassed to be Americans for the next four years: Vote.

Good luck to us all. 


            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.” 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 57 percent of his soul.

 


When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing--and, let's face it, there's less of that right now--he’s on Twitter: @deangloster




Saturday, August 29, 2020

My Writing is Perfect, It's the Readers Who are Flawed (Brian Katcher)

 My mother always enjoys telling the story of when I was in third grade, I came home angry. It seems my teacher had the gall to suggest that I rewrite a story I'd written, with some suggestions on how I could improve it.

"If I was a real writer," I shouted in self-righteous, eight-year-old rage, "No one would tell me to rewrite anything!"

That's what's known as ironic foreshadowing.

Aspiring teen writers ask me about how I got started as a writer, figuring I'd tell them some inspiring story of me as an awkward middle schooler with dreams of the literary life.

Actually, I never wrote anything willingly until I was 25. That means every single bit of creative writing I did as a teenager was something someone forced me to do. So I wrote a lot about farting and masturbating. I don't tell that to my readers, of course. I spin tales of how I practiced writing on the back of a shovel, while the rain poured through the roof of the cardboard box in the wretched Irish town where I grew up.

Maybe that really happened. Everything before age 14 is kind of a blur. 

The first book I wrote was published, so I guess it was okay. That makes all the subsequent rejections all the more difficult to swallow. 

In conclusion, this was our first week back at school, and it's chaos. We have no idea if we're going to have to shut down or not, and I'm exhausted. 

Maybe there's a book in this. Or maybe I should just dust off all my old essays on farting.


Monday, August 24, 2020

When a mistake is (maybe) not a mistake (Brenda Hiatt)

 One of the beauties of e-publishing is the opportunity to fix mistakes after a book is already published. That wasn’t a luxury afforded to authors back in the day of print-only, traditional-only publishing. Once a book was in print, it was done. Period. Written in stone.

For that reason, once a book of mine was published, I made it a policy never to read it again. Because I knew I’d find things I should have done better, maybe even typos and other mistakes that had made it past all the edits and proofreads. If I saw them now, they’d drive me nuts because I couldn’t fix them. I’d feel like I had to apologize for them to readers. So…I just didn’t look. Though cowardly, it was a solid, sanity-saving strategy. 

 

Then the ebook revolution occurred. First with small, e-only publishers putting out new (mostly erotic) books for obscure e-reading devices. But when Amazon’s Kindle arrived on the scene, the whole publishing landscape changed. For the first time, authors had a viable avenue to publish their own books and make a profit almost from day one. At that point, lots of traditionally-published authors (myself included) started working to get rights back to their earlier books. Over time, I managed to claw back virtually all of mine.

 

Some were fairly easy to e-publish once I had the rights, though I had to learn the ropes—get new covers made, figure out how to format and upload, etc. But those first books I received back were actually my more recent releases, due to slightly more generous reversion clauses (that I negotiated) in the original contracts. Even better, I still had digital files for those books, making the formatting and uploading a (relative) piece of cake. 

 

Then I started getting rights back to my very earliest books. Those were so old that my only digital files were on ancient floppy disks that turned out to be unreadable even when I took them to experts. I ended up having those books scanned, after which I had to painstakingly go through them to correct the inevitable scanning errors.

 

Unfortunately, I discovered scanning errors weren’t the worst of it. Not even close! No, the horror was discovering, after all these years, how many stupid beginner mistakes I’d made in the actual writing of those books. The head-hopping! The cliches! I writhed with embarrassment thinking about all the readers who’d suffered through my fumbling early attempts. I did my best to fix the most egregious errors, with the benefit of many more years’ writing experience. But some, like the rapid-fire viewpoint shifts, proved impossible to change without massive rewrites. Finally, figuring hardly anyone would read those old things anyway, I simply republished with a lot of those original flaws still intact.

 

And guess what? Those earliest books became some of my best ebook sellers. Why? Who knows? But it demonstrated that craft issues which might seem hugely important to writers may not matter at all to readers. I wrote those books when I was still learning, when my enthusiasm for storytelling was still at its exuberant peak. Maybe that’s what spoke—still speaks—to readers? Whatever, it was a good lesson in not overthinking when looking back at early “mistakes.” 

 

It’s just possible some of them weren’t mistakes after all. 

 


Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-four novels (so far), including sweet and spicy historical romance, time travel romance and, with her Starstruck series, young adult science fiction romance. 


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Never Submit Your First Draft. Trust me. (by Patty Blount)

 Embarrassing writing moments -- oh! There are so many! 


When I was a brand new unpublished writer, the first novel I ever wrote was called Penalty Killer. It was a young adult murder mystery written for my son. I published it by taking it to Kinko's and having it printed and spiral bound. He let a bunch of his seventh grade friends read it and all enjoyed it. They enjoyed it so much, they asked their English teacher if they could use it as the subject of their book reports. 

I received a note from the teacher asking me for a copy of Penalty Killer. It was back to Kinko's for a second draft that I happily sent to school with my son. 

It was returned to me a month later, COVERED IN RED PEN. The 7th grade English teacher GRADED my novel. 

It was a humiliating moment, for sure, but I was undaunted. I figured I wrote one book, I could certainly write another. 

My second attempt was called Postpartum Deception. Another murder mystery, but for adults, this time. This novel was 170,000 words and when I finished it, I burned a bunch of CDs and handed it out to friends.

Not ONE OF THEM ever read it. 

I tried querying agents and thought I got a few requests, no one every wanted the story so I shelved it and kept trying. I went on to write several more books and finally, SEND, my fifth attempt, was the one that got published. 

But I never gave up on Postpartum Deception. In the years that had past, I'd learned a thing or two and knew where I'd gone wrong. Clearly, 170,000 words is too many. I wrote it in omniscient third person and gave POV time to damn near every character I'd created. Main characters, secondary characters, tertiary characters. I even gave a POV scene to a newspaper placed at a table setting. In the rewrite, I decided to make it YA and write in first person. That draft was called The Sky Was Scarlet.

Still no interest. 

"A series! That's the ticket!" 

I revised it AGAIN, splitting the story into 3 books. 

I even put this book on Wattpad and Radish. I tell you, I can't give it away.

The lesson I've learned is no matter how much you love a story, how great you think it is, don't send it anywhere until you've revised, edited, and revised it some more. 

Finally, one of the most embarassing stories in my writing was my early attempts at fan fiction. Fan Fiction was how I got started in writing. The characters and their world are already fully developed, leaving you to write the situation in which they must escape. I wrote an X-File. 

*blushes* I had a mad crush on David Duchovny in the '90's. My X-File was nothing more than a day dream, a fantasy. Even worse? I sent it to the producer. 

These early stories are the equivalent of camera phones today. 

I'm not even going to tell you about the email I sent to my entire staff with an X-rated typo in it. There's embarassing and then there's complete humiliation. 



Friday, August 21, 2020

Avoid Embarrassing Submission Mistakes: Work On Your Plot! (Holly Schindler)

 I've been writing since I could hold a pen. So there are plenty of doozies out there--embarrassing early works, that is. Poems I wrote to ex-boyfriends. Poems I wrote to friends. Poems I wrote in the backs of yearbooks, even! (No "Have a nice summer" messages from me.) 

But really, the doozies didn't stop there.

It took a long time to sell a book. Seven and a half years of full-time effort. And that was after I'd gotten a master's in English. Every mistake you can make, I made it. And that's regarding the work itself, not just the five-page queries or the fancy envelopes for unsolicited manuscripts (because, yeah, when I first started, I was submitted via the snail mail). 

Looking back, most of my manuscript mistakes followed similar patterns:

Weak Plots

This was probably my biggest problem. I'd spent most of my life reading quiet books. Literary books. College reading lists brought me more of the same. I love getting in the head of a main character. In so many ways, I think we learn so much about empathy from reading. But here's the thing: Each main character needs to change. Needs a character arc. That change is facilitated by the events of the book. Without some interesting events (a tight plot), the character arc often winds up being weak as well.

Weak plot =  weak character arc = weak book.

Too Much Internalization

This springs off the previous point, but my earliest books were incredibly internal. Lots and lots and lots of thoughts. And feelings. And more thoughts. And long paragraphs. And not enough happening. 

Too Much Attention to Literary-Style Phrasings

Some of this goes back to my literary reading. I was always interested in description. In how a story was told, rather than that events that happened to a character. But I think too many literary bells and whistles can distance your reader from your main character. Keep them from connecting. 

Clearly, the best advice I can give any writer is to really work on plot. I've become a junkie for technical books about plot structure. So often, if you've got a tight plot, character development will naturally follow. And, of course, you can insert a few literary devices to help tell the story.

Yes, more and more, I do believe it's all about plot. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

That Time I Unintentionally Terrorized My English Teacher (Alissa Grosso)

 

I have been writing for a long time so I have a lot of cringe-worthy writing pieces in my past, but the one that mortifies me the most is something I wrote when I was in high school.

I need to add the caveat that this was a very long time ago. The term "school shooting" was not yet a term anyone was familiar with. The Columbine massacre wouldn't happen for another seven years. As you will soon see this likely explains why I was not expelled from school for writing a short story. In other words, kids, don't try this at home. Or at school, or anywhere really.

Okay, so my high school had a gifted and talented program, and nerdy teen girl that I was, I was in it. The way it worked was a sort of independent study, where we came up with a project we wanted to work on then asked a teacher to be our advisor for the project.

I had the idea that I wanted to write a series of short vignettes about my kooky family. My inspiration was My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber. If you're in need of a book to make you laugh, I highly recommend it. In particular "The Night the Bed Fell" is one of the funniest things ever written in the English language. So, as a sophomore in high school, I decided I was going to pen my own series of Thurberesque anecdotes and asked my freshman English teacher (my current one was due to take maternity leave) to be my advisor. Mrs. Keller had no idea what shes was getting herself into when she agreed.

Thankfully for me, my family provided me with copious material. I don't remember all the vignettes I wrote but can recall I did a piece on my grandparents and a dirty dime. You might think that subject matter couldn't have warranted more than a paragraph or two, but that just proves you don't know my grandparents. I also remember writing about my family's difficulties in taking road trips to Maine including one unforgettable Christmas journey that if you wrote it as a scene in an over-the-top comedy screenplay someone would certainly scoff at it as being completely unbelievable.

Anyway, I don't know if it was because she grew tired of my comic anecdotes or if it was simply because she was trying to be a good advisor and push me out of my comfort zone, but Mrs. Keller challenged me with writing a work of fiction, a short story. I swear, I wasn't mad at her for requesting I try my hand at something new, but probably that was the impression she got when I turned in the assignment.

For someone who had previously submitted pieces that were comical in nature, I went a very different route with my short story. My short story "The Homework Assignment" was dark and disturbing in nature. In fact, very disturbing if you happened to be someone who was teaching creative writing like the protagonist of my story.

The general gist of it was that a creative writing teacher is at home grading the stories that his students have submitted for an assignment and comes to one titled "The Homework Assignment." As he starts reading he hears some bumps in the night noises, but what really unsettles him is that the story is about a teacher reading a short story submission at his home while the student who wrote the assignment lurks inside preparing to attack the teacher. More upsetting is that the short story describes a living place that is frighteningly like his own, something his student couldn't possibly know unless he was in the teacher's house.

Well, I'll save you all the gory details, but I assure you there were some. In the end, the creative writing teacher met with a grisly fate. "The End" typed at the end of the submitted story had a bit of a dual meeting for that poor character. 

I still think the story was a good one, though I'm sure the execution might have been a bit clumsy and cliche-riddled given that I was in my teens, but what I find mortifying about this story is that I thought it would be a good idea to write it and submit it to my own teacher as an assignment.

What was I thinking? Couldn't I see how something like that might freak out my teacher? I don't know if that extra creepy and disturbing story caused my teacher undue stress or caused her nightmares, but if it did I offer her a belated apology. It was never my intention to terrorize her. I never really thought things through.

For her part, Mrs. Keller never really seemed too bothered by the story or else she hid her fears well. More importantly, she did not report me to the principal or school psychologist, but as I said, those were different times. I can't say for sure, but I think she probably had a newfound appreciation for my harmless, humorous family anecdotes after receiving that doozy of a short story.


After "The Homework Assignment" Alissa Grosso has gone on to write some additional thrillers, but she's also written some tamer novels that hopefully won't inspire any nightmares. You can find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Puppy Love Stories & Green Horse Tails (Jodi Moore)

I got married in Kindergarten.

 

I was five. He was five. He was handsome. Creative. Kind. A man of the world, able to recite his ABCs with more panache than I’d ever heard.

 

Instead of rings, we exchanged plastic animals. That tiny green horse was my favorite. But Joseph had captured my heart and I would have done anything to make my new husband happy.

 

 

 

While many dismiss and/or roll their eyes at ‘puppy love’, I believe it is the purest of ‘romantic’ love. It’s not based on popularity, or money, or physical intimacy, but simply on two hearts that connect in such a profound way, it defies explanation.

 

Of course, not all of my crushes were reciprocated. Most didn’t even know I existed, and I don’t mean this in a teenage heartbreak metaphorical manner. I crushed on celebrities all the time – who genuinely did not know of my presence in the world – and yes, even wrote one of them a letter.

 

Once. I read in a teen magazine that he liked football, so I said I liked football.

 

Yeah. I don’t like football.

 

As a teen, even I realized writing a letter to a popular rock star would most likely wind up on his assistant to the assistant to the assistant’s desk, and ultimately in the circular file.

 

Of course, it never stopped me from dreaming he’d notice me in the crowd of screaming fans. Our eyes would meet. He’d send that assistant to the assistant to the assistant into the audience to bring me backstage after the concert, and I’d give him my favorite plastic green horse...

 

Oh, wait. I gave it to Joseph. Huh. No wonder things never worked out with Jay.

 

But.

 

It didn’t stop me from writing about it. As a child, I was gifted real horses – in my stories (if I wished, I could even make them green!) As a teen, my celebrity crushes did notice me in the crowds – in my stories. And even now, I reach deep to find those pure, simple, honest feelings and try to funnel them into the stories I write.

 

I did get remarried. To my latest and current crush. I was 21. He was 23. He’s handsome. Creative. Kind. And he doesn’t care one bit about football. I owe you a green plastic horse, Larry.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Ace Teen Poet ... In My Own Mind (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging at YA Outside the Lines about something funny or embarrassing that we wrote in our teens.

Dear Lord, please shoot me now.

Although I PLAN to write about my high-school life as a poet laureate - ha ha - I’ll first share that nanosecond of insanity in eighth grade, in the patriarchal world in which I grew up, when I filled half a page with a scribbled “Mrs. John Doe” or “Mary Doe” or “Mary Strand Doe.” (The name of John Doe has been changed for obvious reasons, including that when I last saw him at a high-school reunion, his ego wildly outstripped his apparent merits, and I laughed at my shallow eighth-grade taste.)


What’s funny and embarrassing is that I would’ve ever thought even for a moment of changing my name to some GUY’S name when I got married. I was totally over that by high school, I know, because I had a MASSIVE (and mutual!) high-school crush that never involved my dreaming of a name change, which is lucky since he never even asked me out, in his case because he loooooved basketball ... and I was better at it than he was.

(Never fantasize about insecure guys, even if they’re cute, which he was. He was also smart, funny, and nice, but ... yeah. A girl’s basketball skillz will weed out the weak ones. If his pet nickname for you is “Superstar,” run. This is good to know in the long run, but in the short run, not so much.)

(Now you know why I write YA. Clearly, I never left my teen years.)

So. Um. Poetry.

I was really into it in high school: reading it, but especially writing it. I wrote our class poem for our yearbook. (Not as big a triumph as you might guess, since I was co-editor of the yearbook.) Someone else recited it at graduation (since I was actually shy at that point in my life, which is even more hilarious than anything else I’ll write about today), and my poems LITTERED the pages of my high school’s annual literary magazine.

Today I read all of those poems from junior and senior year. They were filled to the max with angst and despair, which is particularly funny since I was (then as now) mostly a clown. But I did have deep thoughts (then as now), and back then I apparently wrote Every Single One Of Them in a poem and then unfortunately submitted all of those poems to the literary magazine. Dark stuff, sometimes brightened (inexplicably) in the last line of the poem, as if I didn’t want to scare people.

Not that this worked. The day the literary magazine was published each year, I always had at least half a dozen people, including a teacher or two, ask if I was “okay.” I had no idea what they were talking about. I was a jokester who happened to write dark poetry that, once written, was in my distant past. I wasn’t REALLY a dark, gloomy, angsty person. I just played one in the literary magazine!

Worse (yes, it gets worse), I loved to write poems about how horrible it was to be under the thumb of my Cruel Mother — because TEENAGER — and then, when I finished the poem and thought it was a good one, I’d always show it to my mom! lololol. I can still remember her wide eyes as she read those poems, her indrawn breath, and finally the faint, “Er, that’s very nice.” 

I think those memories helped get me through my own daughter’s teenage years, when I was the Utterly Unreasonable Adult in the room.

I was going to post one of those psychotic poems here, but (1) this is already too long, (2) I used “different than” rather than the correct “different from” in the poem in question, putting my street cred as a grammar geek at risk, and (3) you will not benefit from reading it.

But I did. Because (hysterical) laughter is good for the soul, right? Right!

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 marystrand.com.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

An Embarrassment of Riches (Brian Katcher)

Like most authors, I have a 'real' job: teaching. And during a normal year, my free time is precious. When my wife and daughter go to bed around 9:30, I have two hours (three, if I'm willing to be loggy in the morning) to write. Even during summer vacation, we're usually on the run so much, I still have to budget in time for writing.

When the COVID hit, we were began teaching from home. Then, when we realized it wasn't going away anytime soon, we cancelled our vacation plans. We've done a lot of reading, binge watching, and various other projects. My lawn looks great.

When I realized I was going to be restricted to barracks for so long, the silver lining was that at least I would get more writing done. I could stay up all night! Lock myself in my room for days! Crank out an entire novel by the time this is over!

My 1000th Shining reference on YAOTL

In the two or so months since I stopped teaching online, I've written about 100 pages. That's about average for me during a regular school year. What happened to this great period of productivity I was expecting?

Well, part of the problem is I didn't want to isolate myself from my already isolated family. The plague robbed our daughter of vacation, drama camp, swimming, and her friends. I didn't want to make her even more alone. On the other hand, she's thirteen and doesn't exactly want to hang out with her father all day.

Mostly, though, it was just sloth. Why beat my brains out to finish a chapter tonight? I have weeks and weeks of free time! And how can I write with that leaky toilet staring me in the face (metaphorically)? And that garden isn't going to weed itself.

Also, I used to limit video game binges to once every hundred pages I wrote. Now I find myself playing for hours a week.

I used to pray for a day just for myself. Now I'm getting weeks and months. And it's unclear whether this will end when school is supposed to start.

Sadly, the extra free time has made me less disciplined. My goal is to have a novel finished by the new year. Watch this space.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Time Is Always Now by Dean Gloster



“All of us had an ample share of the treasure, and used it wisely or foolishly, according to our nature.”—Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.


We all respond initially to a crisis according to our patterned behavior. So I—of course—used some of my time in this pandemic hassling myself for not being more productive.


            On an even cheerier note, William Carlos Williams said, “Time is a storm in which we are all lost.”


            But we are not lost yet. And I’m not the alleged President, and this isn’t Twitter, so I’m not going to just whine. Life is to be lived forward. There will still be plenty of this pandemic left to decide how to spend what time we have.

            I’m still in the desert mirage phase of finishing my current novel, where I think I can see that cool, tear-watered finish line, but while I stride purposefully toward it, it steadily moves away, at almost the same pace.


            But I am getting closer, even if the progress sometimes involves cutting words and removing my favorite jokes, because they don’t serve the story. (And, sadly, they don’t.)


            So I plan to finish that novel, and to give a Zoom class on how to write the YA novel, which could be fun. (Or not.) And to take delight in my friends, who I still get to hang out with on Zoom and on Twitter and in the back yard at separate tables for shouted socially-distanced dinners.

            A little distance teaches us how precious connection really is.

            Wear your masks and take care, all.


            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.” 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 57 percent of his soul.


When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing--and, let's face it, there's less of that right now--he’s on Twitter: @deangloster




Friday, July 24, 2020

Learning to be kind…to ourselves (Brenda Hiatt)

I’m clearly not the only writer here learning new lessons during this unprecedented time of stress, quarantine and involuntary restructuring of our daily lives. One biggie for me has been the importance of kindness. 

I've always tried to be kind to others, of course, but that seems more important than ever as we’re all buffeted by the changes forced on us by current circumstances. Since March I’ve made a point of tipping more generously, paying more compliments, offering words of encouragement whenever possible and reminding friends and family members to be gentle with themselves right now. In other words, I’ve gone out of my way to be kinder than usual to everyone…except myself. 

Like many/most writers, I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. We need to be, or we’d never get all those books written. Not when it’s so easy to procrastinate with virtuous-seeming tasks like research, world-building, office reorganization, promotion (and everything that goes with it), financial spreadsheets…the list is endless. And that’s completely apart from all the regular Life stuff, which in my case has involved three moves in less than two years. 

Since leaving traditional publishing and taking control of all aspects of my writing biz a few years back, I can honestly say I’ve never worked for a more slave-driving bi**h of a boss in my life. She makes me work through breakfast, lunch, in the evenings after dinner, and on weekends. (Shoot, I’m typing this during what’s supposed to be happy hour, though I do at least have a glass of wine within reach.) 

If anything, I’ve been harder on myself than ever in recent months.

Since early Spring, I’ve been promising my readers a Summer 2020 release of my next Starstruck book. This book took a lot longer to write than usual, because it’s been so difficult to focus and sink into my story world with the stress of this new reality. I kept plugging away, though, and I was finally able to announce in my June newsletter that I’d finished the first draft.  

I took one week “off” (hah!) by doing my taxes, then dove into revisions, still envisioning that Summer 2020 release date.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered the book needed a lot more work than I’d realized when I typed “The End.” Among other things, I apparently left out most of the conflict necessary for an engaging story. An author friend with a similar issue theorized that we’re avoiding conflict in our writing because there’s so much of it in the outside world  right now, between the ongoing pandemic and the increasingly frenetic news cycle. Um, yeah.

I’m currently fixing that and other problems and the book is getting better and better, much to my relief! But it’s a slow, slow process. Because I hate to miss deadlines, even self-imposed ones, I’ve been pushing myself harder and working longer and longer hours trying to make that Summer release happen. Yet here it is late July, and I just spent the last three days rewriting—and rewriting—chapter 12 (out of 27).

Kind to myself? Not so much.

After what amounted to an intervention by family members, I hope to change that. In the July newsletter I just sent out (today), I let my readers know I’m reluctantly pushing back the release date for the book—and why. It was that or risk damaging my health, marriage and sanity, or all three. I hope my readers will forgive me.

Going forward, I plan to build more downtime into my schedule. Here’s hoping I can remember how to relax and actually enjoy life, for at least a few hours a day. 

If by chance you’ve also been beating yourself up over how little you’re accomplishing right now, please stop! While we navigate our way through the sometimes overwhelming challenges of this time, we all need to be extra kind and gentle to ourselves, as well as to others.

Take a break. Read a book. Binge-watch a show or series. Listen to music. Make cupcakes. Do something nice for yourself.

Eventually we will get to a new normal, but until then simply surviving each day as it comes is a triumph. Celebrate that.

Peace and love to you all.
  

Brenda Hiatt now hopes to release Convergent, the next book in her Starstruck series, in Fall 2020.