Wednesday, January 13, 2021

When Characters Become a Part of Your Heart (Jodi Moore)


The question this month is: if we had to choose one character in a book with whom to trade places, who would it be?


If you’d asked me as a child, I probably would have said I’d love to be one of the Banks children from Mary Poppins. I mean seriously – to have a nanny who flies? A chimney sweep pal who invites you to dance on rooftops and ride a carousel in an animated dreamworld? A giggle-fest that quite literally lifts you up?



If you’d asked me as a preteen girl, I most likely would have named every single book in which the character owned a horse. Or rode a horse. Or probably, who was a horse.



As a teen, I devoured the All Creatures Great and Small series. I wanted to be James Herriot (or at least honor his passion.) I volunteered in a veterinary office in high school. I actually started college as a pre-vet major in Animal Science. 




Somewhere along the line, I realized that while I love animals, this career wasn’t meant for me.


Instead, I wanted to teach. To guide. To inspire. I wanted to spark imagination. To encourage laughter and empathy. To empower. Just like Mary Poppins and James Herriot and countless others had done for me.


Because the ultimate thing I learned from books and the characters within is that you don’t have to change places with them. They crawl into your heart and become a part of you.



Sunday, January 10, 2021

Trading Places With A Better Version of Myself (Sydney Salter)

While I would love to live within the worlds of so many stories, if I could choose just one person, I would trade places with the character I based upon my own teenage self: Jory in My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters. I gave Jory all the strength and learning that it took me many more decades of living to figure out. 

Picture me in my basement at almost 40-years-old opening an old box from high school and finding a snapshot of me getting ready for junior prom. I'm wearing only my fancy backless bra or else I'd share the photo, although at this point, maybe I should get that cute young me all over the internet. HAHAHAHAHAHA (I am SO thankful the internet didn't exist for my low-esteemed self!).

I burst into tears. Hard sobs. 

I had spent all of my teenage years hating that face. Now that girl looked young and pretty and excited about going to prom. I had so much fun--I went with a super nice guy, and when we were out at dinner at a little Italian restaurant off Virginia Street, the waitress thought we'd just gotten married so she brought us free wine. Thank you, Reno's quickie wedding chapels!

What a waste. All that face hate.

Writing My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters was embarrassing for me. Cathartic. But so embarrassing. More than one old friend felt compelled to tell me that my nose was just fine. Ugh. 

I wrote the story to face my own demons, and talking about the book once published cured me of ALL my nose issues. 

Best of all--I showed a few teens how to be strong. I've heard from a few, but I hope there are many more. If only I'd been one of those girls! 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Trading Places (Mary Strand)

Confession: after giving the title “Trading Places” to this blog post, I’d really like to take a break and watch the movie with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. It’s not currently on Netflix? Nooo! So, um, Must Write Blog Post.

This month we’re supposed to blog about memorable YA characters: ones we love so much that we’d like to trade places with them, kinda like the mom-daughter switch in Freaky Friday. (Ooh! I OWN that DVD! Must watch!)

When not distracted by movies I’d suddenly like to watch, or leftover Christmas candy I really shouldn’t eat, I’ve given this some thought.

I loved Liesel Meminger in The Book Thief and have rarely been more engrossed in a novel. I still remember finishing it on a long flight home from Europe, tears rolling down my face (on the plane! embarrassing!) because it was so powerful. In the book, Liesel turned into a mighty young heroine with a strong moral code who was fearless about enforcing it. She didn’t necessarily start out that way, but that’s why we call them growth arcs.


In Divergent, I love Four, aka Tobias Eaton. I know, I know: Tris Prior is the main hero of the book(s), but Four always stood up for what he believed. Tris? Not always. (The sight of Four without a shirt on in the movie is entirely coincidental.)


I’m drawn to female (and male) characters who are athletic. Despite that, I’ve loved Hermione Granger ever since I first found her huddled under a sink in the first Harry Potter book. No, she’s not athletic. She’s utterly and completely a brainiac, and an extremely logical one at that. I love brainiacs, although I often hide that tendency. Besides, without Hermione, I doubt that Harry and Ron would’ve survived book 1, let alone the entire series.


Ahh, Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games trilogy. I admire you, okay? You’re athletic, you’re both fierce and loyal in protecting and defending the people close to you, and I absolutely love those things about you. If it weren’t for book 3, Catching Fire, I would love you to death. But you went off the rails in book 3, chose Peeta over Gale (as if), and pretty much lost it. You did a lot of truly heroic things, but Peeta? No. Just because Jo settled for Professor Bhaer after Beth died in Little Women, you didn’t have to settle for Peeta after Prim died. Sorry, but no. I hated that in Little Women, too.


Oh. My. Gods. (by Tera Lynn Childs, since there are one or more other books called Oh My Gods) gives me Phoebe Castro when I need a quick fix of a seriously athletic female hero. Phoebe is a runner (which I’m not, because I require a sport like basketball or some other good reason to run, like someone chasing me with a machete). She happens to be descended from a Greek God, but she also stands up for herself and others. Go, Phoebe, go!


But as I did this “who would I want to trade places with?” exercise, I realized that with the possible exception of Phoebe in Oh. My. Gods., I would MOST like to emulate, or trade places with, one of my own characters: the modern-day Lydia Bennet of my Bennet Sisters YA series, who got her own book in Livin’ La Vida Bennet. Yes, if you know Pride and Prejudice, let’s just say my Lydia isn’t entirely unlike the original. At the outset, even I viewed her as bad to the bone. But every girl has a story, and sometimes the rest of the world doesn’t understand that story and too often makes assumptions. My Lydia faced those assumptions, acquired both strength and a fundamental decency that no one would’ve expected from her, and emerged triumphant. More precisely, she kicked ass.


Yeah, I want to be exactly like that.


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

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Hello, YA Outside the Liners, and happy 2021! Like most everyone else, I celebrated a safe and socially distant New Year’s Eve at home. I gathered with family and friends virtually and together we said good riddance to this unusual year in the usual way – with cheers, toasts, and drinking a cup of kindness for auld lang syne.

Now it’s time to take on the new year. One of the first things I do in January is to select a single word as my guide through this shiny new year. In 2018, my word was embrace. To embrace the “new” in new year with energy and vitality and to embrace all opportunities that came my way. In 2019, I chose the word persevere, as in, nose-to-the-grindstone, stick-to-it determination to reach my goals in both my writing and personal life. For 2020, I chose challenge. I planned to challenge myself, but as we know, the year itself ended up challenging us all.

So… What word would fit for 2021? As luck would have it, this month’s Outside the Lines theme—which YA novel character would I like to change places with—tossed the word at my feet.


After the tough times of the past few years, what better way to embrace, challenge, and persevere in 2021 than with the ferocity of a determined YA novel heroine taking care of business?

Now, because I’m once, now, and always indecisive (and a little greedy), I couldn’t settle on just one book character I’d like to change places with. I’ve chosen three. All intricately drawn, memorable characters who, through their words and actions, define the word fierce.

The first is Mattie Ross, the heroine of Charles Portis’ True Grit, the savviest 14-year-old you’ll ever meet. Mattie is one of my all-time favorite characters, YA or otherwise. Here’s why:

1. She speaks her mind without hesitation (tough for a girl from any era).

2. She doesn’t take BS from anyone, especially those who underestimate or dismiss her.

3. She’s Determined with a capital D.

4. She gets to ride a horse.

5. She’s unapologetically fierce.

What more could a reader ask for? Spending time with Mattie, you’ll be inspired to sic your own Lawyer Daggett on anyone who questions your abilities.

Next up in heroines I’d like to do the Freaky Friday switch with is Pippi Longstocking, the title character of Astrid Lindgren’s children’s book series. I just loved Pippi when I was a kid and admire her today for a whole lot of reasons:

1. She’s independent and, like Mattie, not afraid to speak her mind.

2. She’s wicked funny.

3. She lives alone and manages it quite well, thank you very much.

4. She’s strong in both mind and body. And I mean strong. She’s pick-up-a-horse-and-carry-it strong.

5. She’s fiercely optimistic. Nothing and no one is going to bring her down or get in her way.

So, yeah, I’d love to switch places with Pippi for a couple of chapters, especially when she’s in the South Seas.

Now onto my third choice, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series. Not sure I’d like to switch places with Ms. Everdeen for more than a few pages, since she’s in danger every freaking second of the books, but man, the way she handles that danger is a journey you’ll never forget:

1. She’s a fighter for all the right reasons.

2. She’s loyal.

3. She can nock an arrow and let it fly in the blink of an eye.

4. She’s not as strong as Pippi, but given the right motivation and a head start, she could probably pick up a horse.

5. She’s fiercely fierce. She’s fierce squared, fierce times a million. Have I mentioned she’s fierce?

There you have it, three indelible characters, three role models for how to handle the ups and downs of 2021. Not that I expect to be chasing cowardly outlaws in the next year. Or outwitting Panem’s powers that be or hoisting any horses on my back for transport purposes. But no doubt some curveballs will come my way in the coming days, so I’m putting on my fierce face and getting ready to face them all.

Janet Raye Stevens writes YA and Adult mystery and paranormal. Her first book will be published in October 2021, BERYL BLUE, TIME COP, a time travel adventure with humor and heart.