Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Zoning Out by Jodi Moore

This month, we’re offering random recommendations. Mine? Try something new.

 

Well, duh, you might respond. Isn’t that what a recommendation is?

 

To which I answer, ‘kind of’. Think about it. If you go into a bookstore and ask for a suggestion, odds are the salesperson will ask you what you like and then make their recommendation based upon your specific preferences.

 

I’m talking about something truly new. Something out of your comfort zone. Perhaps something you’ve never considered – or even avoided.

 

I’ve always been a beach person. The ocean was my happy place, where the scent of the sea air, the sound of the pounding waves, the rush of the frigid water sloshing around my toes and the lingering taste of salt on my tongue put me in a meditative trance. I zoned out. It rejuvenated me.

 

The pandemic took that away.

 

On the other hand, I’ve never been a woodsy person, particularly because of the bugs. Truth? I avoided it because of the bugs. But there’s a nature trail on one side of our development and one day, I wandered in. Just a little. I saw birds. And butterflies. And sunlight through the trees. The next day, I wandered in a little bit more. I brought my camera. I saw more. Rabbits. Squirrels. A deer drinking from the rushing stream.

 


 

 

Life.

 

Before I knew it, I had walked the entire trail. It put me in a meditative trance. I zoned out. It rejuvenated me.

 

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is the thing you’ve been avoiding.

 

 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Random Recommendation: Do Something You Aren't Good At (And Maybe Don't Even Like) by Sydney Salter

Confession: Poetry has always made me feel dumb. Words all twisted with secret meanings that I never quite felt comfortable about understanding. I remember my high school English teacher reading the line "big as a house" and saying, "of course she's pregnant." And I was like, WHAAAT?!? Didn't see that coming! 

I considered poetry the frenemy of my English major throughout college. Ever-present. Never fully embraced. Super annoying.

After a year of pandemic weirdness, I am compelled to do things that get me out of my comfort zone, if not out of my house just yet. I am doing crossword puzzles, which I also dislike, and also make me feel dumb--teasing me with their playful little clues (and utter lack of knowledge about baseball players).

Now I am regularly writing and reading poetry. A real life actual poet friend recommended books by Ted Kooser and Mary Oliver. I am reading the books, writing poems, and reading poems every night before bed, which turns out to be better than looking at my phone before sleeping. I feel slightly accountable to my poet friend to give it a good go.

I have written a lot of bad poetry. Too many poems about rats for some reason. I have also started to write a few poems that are okay. I still couldn't confidently tell you the difference between a dactyl and a trochee. But I think I get spondee. I am revising the poems I write to make them better. That's the trick to taking any kind of writing seriously, isn't it? Revision, revision, revision.

Poems and crosswords seem to have something in common, I'm learning, in the way they each use figurative language, make words fun (I'm getting there). 

I'm not sure how this experiment is affecting my novel writing, but I think it's been good to remember that practice turns things that make us feel dumb, or things that we dislike, into things we can actually do. And competence is usually enjoyable. 

Happy National Poetry Month! 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

You Asked for Random? You Got It (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines we’re supposed to offer random recommendations, mostly to give us (the bloggers) a wide-open topic to write about, perhaps because someone knew I haven’t even begun to work on taxes and don’t have time to think right now, let alone blog. (Thank you.)

By the way, I think our recommendations are maybe supposed to be book related, but I’m good with the word random.

Last month I highlighted six girls or young women I admired, so this month I’ll double that and offer 12 random recommendations, partly because it’s a random thing to do.

1. Do your taxes way before the absolute deadline. <ha ha ha ha ha!>

2. You’ve probably seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians (and if you haven’t, you should, if only to see Awkwafina, who is HILARIOUS), but I just read the book, and IT IS SO GOOD. Now I’ll watch the movie again.

 


3. Candles. They smell good even if you never light them. I never light them, and my daughter thinks this is crazy of me, and that’s good, too.

4. When you’re traveling (ONCE AGAIN!), put sheets of Bounce in your suitcase so your clothes smell great. I also put them in my convertible when I store it in the winter, and it has the added bonus of keeping mice out.

 


5. Zoom writing groups. Ohmygod, this is Changing My Life!! We generally have one or two daily sessions (usually two hours at a time), five days a week, and you can log in for whichever sessions you want. If we want, we list our goals for the session, and then everyone mutes. You just sit there and work for two hours while people can see you but not say anything, and it seems creepy, but you SERIOUSLY get stuff done. I usually work on my novels during these sessions, but sometimes I write songs, and the group thinks it’s hilarious to watch me rocking out on guitar when they can’t hear anything.

6. The movie Pirate Radio. HIGHLY recommend. And the ending is probably my favorite happy ending in the history of happy endings.

 


7. Live music.  Any way you can possibly get it, but preferably outdoors.

8. Clinique Smart Night dry combo moisturizer. My daughter (age 20) is leap years ahead of me in all things beauty and beauty products. (If it weren’t for our strawberry-blond hair, I would suspect she was switched at birth.)  I admit it’s expensive (which is not like me), but I feel and see the results. Put it on at bedtime, but especially under your eyes. Your face and my daughter will thank you.

 


9. Huge blackberries. They’re much sweeter than smaller ones, and blackberries are one of the healthiest fruits you can eat, so you don’t even realize you’re being good.

10. Mask and vaccinate! At this point most of us have tons of masks, but I got a pack of 50 purple disposable ones just for working out. (They usually last for about three workouts.) They’re easier to breathe in because you don’t inhale the mask when you breathe in, and it’s purple, so it matches my bike shoes, and if matching doesn’t matter to you ... well, YOU’RE WRONG.  (heh heh.)

 


11. 5-minute sleep meditations. We got a Peloton bike a couple of months ago, and it’s great, but what has turned into THE best thing about Peloton is their app, because it offers tons of five-minute classes, and my favorite are the five-minute meditations (especially by Anna Greenberg) that help you fall asleep. I’ve often had trouble falling asleep, because my mind starts going a million miles an hour the moment I lie down, and now I’m out cold almost the moment the 5-minute meditation ends. Note: I happen to do Peloton, but there must be other 5-minute sleep meditations out there. I know I also said this about my Zoom writing group, but this has changed my life.

12. Ben & Jerry’s snackable dough. Because God loves you and wants you to be happy. Or, if God isn’t present in your life, because I’m here rooting for you, too.

 


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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A month of heroines!

Hi Readers, 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s theme and have had the opportunity to read everyone’s blog posts. As original and creative as they are inspiring, each post has shone a light on all kinds of heroines to celebrate this Women’s History Month. 

As an author, I could talk all day about literary heroines. The ones we all love to read about and those who every author strives to bring to life on the page. But for the purposes of today's blog and the celebration of WHM, I'm going to talk about real women I admire who have left an indelible mark in history. As painful and challenging as it was, I’ve narrowed it down to a TOP 5. Not because these women are any more deserving of accolades than the millions of other fabulous and brilliant goddesses out there, but there wouldn’t be enough hours in a day to highlight the phenomenal women in my life or the innate heroism of women all over the world. So, here are only a few of the strong women who have inspired me through their words, deeds, and acts of heroism.

Let’s face it, women are bad asses!

Before I get to my top five list, allow me to define heroism as I see it. This applies to anyone, not only women; but first and foremost, heroism requires an act of bravery that is both selfless and consequential. Meaning, doing something for someone else’s benefit with no expectation of reward. My dictionary describes a heroine as a woman noted for courageous acts or nobility of character. The underlying motivation is always about doing the right thing, making a difference in someone’s life, or simply put, acting in service to benefit others. We all know people who do this every day! 

Some of my favorite heroines…in no particular order:

1)     1) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in oral argument, once quoted noted abolitionist Sara Grimke in saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” This sentiment defines a lifetime of service and dedication to ensuring equal protections under the law—for everyone. Overcoming incredible barriers to even practicing law as a woman of her era, to then becoming a Supreme Court Justice, this tiny, soft spoken woman was a giant, and the very definition of heroic. We all owe her a deep debt of gratitude for her work and influence on gender equality. 


2)     2) Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” She was the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt—who, by the time of his presidency was paralyzed from the waist down due to polio—and mother to five children (one did not survive). As for remarkable First Ladies, Eleanor was one of many admirable women and a force to be reckoned with. She became her husband’s eyes and ears, often acting in his stead throughout his presidency. Known for her fortitude and toughness, she was a social reformer, working tirelessly for women, immigrants, the elderly, and the poor. Even after her husband’s death, she continued serving the nation as part of the UN General Assembly. She wrote 27 books and over 8,000 newspaper columns that included ‘My Day’, a column she wrote six days a week for over twenty-six years! Anyone that prolific and committed deserves a spot on my list, lol.

3)     3) Rosa Parks…because I love a rebel! Best known for stepping on to a “white’s only” bus in the segregated South in the 1960’s, her courage and strength of conviction led to the Montgomery Bus boycott and was a pivotal moment in civil rights history. “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” – Rosa Parks 

      For more stories of Rebel Girls, check out this children's book. I got it for my granddaughter for her birthday last year and she loves hearing about these amazing women's lives!


 

4)     4) Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, makes my list for her sheer force of will and perseverance. A girl after my own heart when it comes to environmental causes and laser focus on the existential threat that is climate change. Her courage shines through in her fiery speeches and her passion is heartachingly powerful. 

     “You are stealing our future.” –Greta Thunberg

5)     5) I’m leaving this last-but-not-least spot for all the unsung heroines…the women who stand up, stand out, fight back, and speak their truth. The ones who run toward the smoke, face their fears, and don’t let anything stand in the way of their dreams. The shatterers of glass ceilings, the busters of stereotypes, norms, and expectations. They are trailblazers and pathfinders, healers, artists and musicians. Rockers, rollers, dancers, writers, and poets—women who add to the collective beauty in the world. Women who sacrifice daily, lift others with love, see the world through the lens of compassion, and strive to make the planet a better place for the next generation of women to come. They are the ones who show up every day—the first responders, doctors, nurses, teachers, caregivers, and moms. I am so blessed and proud to be travelling alongside them.

Even though March is almost over, I say we continue to celebrate not only the women of history, but the Zoomers and Boomers who keep forging on, the Gen-X'ers and Z'ers and every girl in between...all the remarkable young women on their way to becoming the heroines of their own stories. 


Write on, read on, and go spread your awesomeness...you are all heroines in my book!

Peace and blessings,

PJ

Monday, March 29, 2021

Why Do the Good Die Young? (Brian Katcher)

 

                                                            My birthday present to my wife

 

Well, this month we lost a giant. Beverly Cleary, creator of Ramona Quimby and the Mouse and the Motorcycle, passed away at the age of 104. While her career could fill pages, I'd like to write about another inspiring woman.

Mrs. Dawkins, my third grade teacher. She was the one who introduced me to the precocious little girl from Klickitat Street. She read us probably every Ramona book published at the time. And she made us believe it. She did the voices. Willa Jean had that simpering toddler voice. Howie had a perpetually whiny tone. Mrs. Whaley sounded wise and kind. Thanks to Mrs. Dawkins, those books came alive. I remember we had a sub once, and we were all annoyed when he didn't do the voices. It wasn't the same book, somehow.

We lost Mrs. Dawkins years ago, and I do not remember her first name. But it was her skill with read out louds that I feel set me on the path to librarianship. Thanks, Mrs. D. You were an inspiration.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A Particularly Timely Heroine (Brenda Hiatt)

One drawback to posting late in the month is that by the time it’s my turn, often my first (or first several) ideas for our topic have already been done. So it is this month. The previous posts have wonderfully highlighted various real life and fictional heroines, many of whom I also had in my idea file. I considered writing (as Patty did in part of her post) about the heroines I myself have put into books, or elaborating on some of the real ones already mentioned. But then today, as fate would have it, I just happened to run across an article about a heroine I’d never heard of before, but whom I now feel compelled to share with you: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.


  Three centuries ago this year (1721), as England was suffering a massive outbreak of smallpox, Lady Mary recalled something she had learned a few years earlier while her husband was serving as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. It seemed the women of that region had discovered, and passed along by word of mouth, a process of inoculation that involved scratching the skin of healthy people with a small amount of pus from a smallpox sufferer’s sores. As she herself had already been badly scarred by smallpox and her brother had died of it, Lady Mary decided to try this “old wives tale” on her young son. It worked. Shortly after she returned to England, smallpox began ravaging that country as well, so she again used the technique to have her younger child, a daughter, inoculated. As typically happened, her daughter contracted a very mild case of smallpox, after which she was immune. 


Because of Lady Mary’s position in Society, this drew some attention—though not from the male doctors of the time, who dismissed it. However, she was able to interest Caroline, Princess of Wales, who began a campaign of sorts to spread the idea. This did have the unfortunate side-effect of “politicizing” the technique, which kept many from taking advantage of it (sound familiar?) but in the end, Lady Mary’s knowledge from the East saved hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. That’s especially true when you consider that one of those inoculated included a young boy, Edward Jenner, who went on to develop the world’s first true vaccine—also against smallpox. His breakthrough eventually led to the worldwide eradication of the disease in 1980.


So one woman willing to trust other women, think outside the box, and defy social expectation to try something new made a significant historical difference. I own two different t-shirts bearing one of my very favorite quotes: 


“Well behaved women seldom make history” (first penned by Pulitzer Prize winning historial Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, though often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt)

  

In my view, real heroines, whether historical, contemporary or fictional, are the women and girls who inspire the rest of us to follow in their footsteps by bravely treading our own paths despite all obstacles. 

 

Drive on, Sisters!

 


You can read or listen to the full NPR article HERE 

There’s also more about this remarkable woman here: Lady_Mary_Wortley_Montagu  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A moment of reflection and gratitude for women's history month

  

 

 

For Women’s History month, I’d like to note how grateful I am for the brave women who came be for me.

        Those who pushed boundaries. 

        And challenged authorities. 

        And asked hard questions. 

        And didn’t take no for an answer.

        There have been (and continue to be) so many warrior women who’ve broken down barriers and used their influences to empower others in meaningful ways.

        Thank you to those courageous women who fought so hard so that other women could have a seat in the classroom, in the boardroom, in the courtroom, in the OR, and in all of the rooms where decisions are being made; and so that we could have a voice, a vote, a say, a choice, a purpose, a vocation, a family dynamic that didn’t have to fit within the parameters of some “man-made” definition of what makes a “real” family...

        I’m thankful for the women who suffered for my freedoms, who did what they felt was right rather than what they felt was easy. I’m inspired by them not just in the month of March but nearly every day, and I hope in some way my actions, my choices, my questions, my words, can help support other women wherever they are on their journey – a journey on which empathy, respect, and compassion must be a priority. 

 

Here are ten of my top favorite reads by female authors (in no particular order):

 

1.     The Awakening by Kate Chopin

 

2.     Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

3.     I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

 

4.     Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

 

5.     “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

6.     A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

 

7.     White Oleander by Janet Fitch

 

8.     Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

 

9.     The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

 

10.  The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Strong Women by Patty Blount

 Growing up, I loved the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books because I adored how those characters were brave and smart. You always knew no matter what happened, they'd find a way out of danger. 

But after time, those stories grew stale for me and I suppose it's because as I grew up, I realized they weren't so realistic. 

At some point in my early teens, my reading tastes changed from mystery and adventure to romance. And, just as with Nancy and Trixie, the bloom soon wilted, because the romance novels from Harlequin Presents on which I cut my teeth typically featured a heroine in trouble saved not by her own wile and cunning (as Nancy and Trixie were) but by the hero, with whom she'd already fallen madly in love. 

I soon found authors whose books featured flawed characters whose strengths and weaknesses not only got them into trouble, but out of it and along the way, into love. I love the romance genre because real love should be both characters saving each other. 

Take authors like Nora Roberts, who writes heroines 'with spine,' as she often says. The strongest of these is Eve Dallas, star of 50+ futuristic suspense novels to date. Even as a tough as nails homicide detective, she'd be the first to tell you that farm animals just weird her out, as do loving friendships with key characters in the series. She knows this about herself, and though she spends page after page avoiding entanglements with friends, in the end, she always, always finds a way to overcome the awkwardness that frightens her and holds up her end of the friendship. 

Kennedy Ryan, another one-click buy for me, writes some of the smartest, sharpest, and deepest stories I've ever enjoyed. While her characters are often victimized, they find strength to fight back and emerge all the stronger for those battles. 

Even the Bridgerton novels, currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to the Netflix adaptation, feature strong women resisting the roles in which the ton insists on squeezing them, and finding alternative ways to survive the norms of the period. Eloise Bridgerton remains unmarried long after it's fashionable. Penelope Featherington has a *gasp* career. I look forward to seeing how Netflix adapts these characters in later seasons.

Sherry Thomas, author of the Lady Sherlock series, a historical Remington Steele situation, features Lady Charlotte Holmes, mastermind of the entirely made-up Sherlock, finds a way to survive --dare I say it? Without a husband. 

Is it any wonder that my own writing features strong heroines? I hope not. Grace in Some Boys declines her mother's offer to finish high school abroad, where no one knows she was raped by the school's golden boy and instead, forces everyone to confront what happened to her -- what was done to her. Ashley in Someone I Used To Know, who heals from a similar trauma in her own way, on her own terms. 

But you know which character I am ridiculously proud of? Olivia Ivers in Nobody Said It'd Be Easy. This novel is not YA, but a contemporary romance I released in 2018, featuring a widowed father of four daughters. 

Olivia is daughter number 2. Each of Gabriel's daughters had to have a personality that was unique and all her own because his girls featured prominently throughout this book. Olivia is super-smart, smart beyond what's typical for most nine-year-olds. She's inquisitive and often impatient with the answers she's given, particularly when those answers are 'dumbed down' for her age -- or what others believe is typical for her age. (See earlier point.) For fun, Olivia is more likely to watch documentaries and solve famous equations than play video games or *shudder* shop. Gabriel's strength is illustrated through his four girls and how he provides exactly what each child needs, instead of trying to force them into molds dictacted by society (see Bridgerton, above).

I read strong characters and I try my best to write strong characters because of one important reason: I want my readers to see themselves reflected in my stories, even if they don't look like my characters. I hope girls read books like mine, like these, and see that it's rarely a heroine's appearance that solves the story problem. 

It's her intelligence, courage, and wit. 

Please tell me about your favorite strong characters in the comments! I'm always looking for new material to read. 


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Flawed Heroines (Holly Schindler)

As much fun as it is to cheer on a Wonder-Woman-style kick-butt heroine, my favorites are always flawed. And, often, far less superhero-y. They’re in the process of working through something big. They’re screwing up along the way.


Maybe the most flawed of all the characters I’ve written is Chelsea from Playing Hurt—and not just because she’s been physically injured. Once her senior-year accident leaves her no longer be a small town athletic celebrity, she’s lost. She doesn’t know who she is anymore. In the midst of her struggle to figure it out, her family goes to Minnesota for a three-week summer vacation. And she meets a guide at the resort, who also lost his own ability to be a small-town athletic celebrity.

Sparks fly, even though Chelsea has a boyfriend back home.

Chelsea doesn’t find her way without messing up and breaking hearts.


Which is why I’m so excited about Play It Again—the sequel to Playing Hurt. It’s four years later, and Chelsea is returning to the same resort. But nothing is the same.

It’s because nothing’s the same that Chelsea has to confront herself—and what happened four years ago. This time, she has to ask herself what kind of person she really wants to be. She has to ask herself what she needs to do to get there.

She has to admit she wasn’t the best person four years ago and figure out how to reconcile that.

Finally, all these years after her accident, Chelsea has a chance to really decide who she is—and what the rest of her life will look like.

It’s not a perfect journey. It’s messy. Chelsea bumbles. But she gets there.

Which is why I’ve always loved reading flawed characters—and why I’m drawn to writing about them. They’ve always given me hope that I don’t have to be perfect, either. I can stumble my way through—and in the end, I can be a heroine, too.

It's a feeling I want to give to my readers.

Play It Again:

Amazon

B&N

Apple

Kobo

The Lake of the Woods Love Stories 2-book series on Amazon.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Hero in Us (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’ve been challenged to write about a female hero in our lives. And yes, I used the word ‘challenged’ rather than ‘asked’ on purpose. Because to me, this is an overwhelming task. Not because I can’t choose one, but because I can’t choose one.

 

You see, heroes don’t ‘hero’ alone. Yes, there are those who spark the fire and lead. There are those who develop a platform and give voice to those would otherwise be unheard. There are those who use their talents to create medical breakthroughs, engineering magic and stunning art to heal and nourish our bodies, our world and our souls.

 

But it takes a village. It takes others to recognize the call. To answer it. To share and amplify it. These are our extraordinary everyday heroes. Those who are inspired to rise. To lay down their normal and make the sacrifice. And here’s the thing. We don’t know what these everyday heroes are sacrificing. Sometimes it’s just a latte. Sometimes it’s time previously dedicated to something – or someone – else. Often, it’s the only time they have to spare.

 

If I’ve learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that heroes are everywhere. In our hospitals. In our schools. In our neighborhoods. And in our homes.

 

They come in all sizes, shapes and colors.

 

 

You’ll recognize them immediately...if only you take the time to look and listen. They’re the ones who are wearing masks when they’re out, but whose eyes smile at you when you pass. They’re the ones who are patient and generous with the essential workers. They’re the ones who offer support to those who suffer. Sometimes, if they can afford it, it’s through shopping small businesses or GoFundMe accounts or other donations. Other times, it’s through a simple kind word.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact all of these heroes aren’t female. Some are her. Some are him. Some are them.

 

All can be us.

 

Stay safe and healthy everyone. We need - and I'm grateful for - every hero out there.

 

 



Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Finding The Women Before Me by Sydney Salter

A couple of years ago I received a unique book in my box from the Alignist Book Club by a Brazilian author, Maria Jose Silveria. Her Mother's Mother's Mother and Her Daughters traces a family through the maternal line all the way back to the moment of first European contact. It's a fun story to read, but for me it turned into a quest to find the ordinary heroines in my family. 

I signed into my neglected Ancestry account and clicked through my mother to my grandmother, great-grandmother and so on. Fortunately, my family has some dedicated genealogists, so I could do this fairly quickly. 

Everything stopped with a 16 year-old, likely German, girl who died in Pennsylvania in 1745 the same year as her 20-year-old German husband, leaving a two year old daughter. The fragility of womanhood struck me as I traced this two-year-old's life around the East coast via the scant data left behind in various records. The orphaned house servant's survival made me possible.

For the next 200 years, the women in my family each birthed about a dozen children apiece - one had seventeen! I can only imagine a life filled with the drudgery of housework, childrearing, making ends meet. Utter exhaustion. Any hint of creativity or the luxury of quiet thinking time -- things I can't imagine living without -- isn't apparent in any records left behind. 

Willa Cather wrote about women like my great grandmothers, but she never married. Never raised children. Edith Wharton had loads of money, but she never raised children either. 

The prolific childbearing in my family tree comes to a screeching halt with my grandmother and her sister. Each woman had two children. My grandmother ran my grandfather's Real Estate company after honing her office skills during his absence in WWII. Her sister owned local clothing stores. I have so many memories of both women sitting at their desks, making decisions, enjoying equality in their marriages as well as the workplace. Things unusual for their time, really. 

The ability to have small families combined with professional work rippled down to the next generation. My mother and her sister both went to college and graduate school. Watching two generations of independent women allowed me to dream bigger dreams. 

I thank every one of the mother's mother's mothers who made me and my creative life possible today. I wish I could go back in time--scrub some pots, knead the dough, wring out the wash--so that my great-great-grandmother could put her feet up and read a good book. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

My New Obsession--The Heroine's Journey by Kimberly Sabatini

 This month on the blog we're blogging about heroines (in honor of Women's History Month).

Coincidentally, I've been taking a 10-week class on the Hero's Journey (through SCBWI New York: Eastern Upstate) with the remarkable Kelly Going (aka K.L. Going). Along the way, we's also been learning about the Heroine's Journey. 

I'm obsessed. 



THIS journey is what has been missing in my investigations of the Hero's Journey. 

It's as if something has always felt out of balance when I've tried to explore writing through this lens. It made me feel like I had ying, but no yang.  Or visa versa.

It's not that learning about the Hero's Journey isn't amazing and helpful, but something about it has always felt a little bit like trying to push a square peg into a round hole. My stories did not easily fit into the scaffolding of the Hero's Journey with the same ease that they do for other people.

I just automatically assumed I wasn't very good at understanding it.

But now, as I'm digging into THE HEROINE'S JOURNEY by Gail Carriger, it almost feels like my innate sense of story telling has found its organic structure. This is my sweet spot and I'm breathing a sigh of relief with every turn of the page.

I highly recommend this easy to read and entertaining book, but here are some highlights to get you further intrigued...


* "Biological sex characteristics are irrelevant to whether a main character is a hero or a heroine."

                    --Wonder Woman (the 2017 movie) is a Hero's Journey.

                    --Harry Potter (Books and Movies) are a Heroine's Journey.


* "The Heroine's Journey is NOT simply the Hero's Journey undertaken by a woman--it's narratively different, not biologically different."


* "What the Heroine's Journey defines as strength, power, and success is diametrically opposed to the way these concepts are viewed in the Hero's Journey."


*Hero: Concerned with defeating an enemy.

  Heroine: Looking for reunification with someone who was taken from her.


*Hero: Always on the offensive--His enemy is stasis.

  Heroine: Builder, delegator, communicator, information gatherer--Her enemy is loneliness or isolation.


*Hero: Sheds the restrictions of civilization and family to go it alone.

  Heroine: Requesting aid is a sign of strength, the more people on her team, the stronger she is.


*Hero: Sacrifices too much for the journey so the end is bittersweet, lonely, and the hero usually finds          himself outside the group.

  Heroine: More likely to have a happy ending while surrounded by family and friends.


*Your story can be a mishmash of the two different journeys.


* "There is no shame in storytellers employing either narrative. There is shame when an entire culture of storytellers and critics value one narrative over the other."


If you've never heard of or explored the Heroine's Journey--Women's History Month is the perfect time to dig in. 

But if you're already well aware of this other face of story telling, I'd love to hear what you think about it. I'm also intrigued to know if your writing leans one way or the other. Or even what your favorite Hero or Heroine story/movie is. I'm dying to have these conversations. 


Saturday, March 6, 2021

You Go, Girl! (Mary Strand)

March is Women’s History Month. Rather than launch into my annual rant about why half of the population get to celebrate their history during a mere one-twelfth of the year (STILL? In 2021? YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! Oh, wait, I was going to skip the rant, wasn’t I?), I’ll celebrate a few girls and young women who’ve set the bar pretty high for the rest of us, female and male, in this world.

Note: I didn’t want to turn this into a major research project for me, because (1) lazy, (2) I already graduated from school, multiple times, and am not being graded, and (3) I have a book to write. So I’m just telling you a few snippets about six rockin’ role models I admire, because I blog on the 6th day of the month.

I’m currently thanking the heavens that I don’t blog on the 30th!

Bana al-Abed, now 11, started tweeting (as @AlabedBana) at age 7 from inside her besieged city of Aleppo, Syria, with help from her English-speaking mom. She wanted to tell the world what was happening in Syria: air strikes, destruction, hunger, displacement, and her fears of dying. She and her family have now been relocated to Turkey, and she’s published a memoir, Dear World.


 

Amariyanna (“Mari”) Copeny, aka “Little Miss Flint,” was eight years old when she wrote to President Obama to let him know about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and how it was affecting children. She asked to meet with him (or Mrs. Obama), and she received a resounding YES. She remains an activist now at the advanced age of 13.


 

Anne Frank needs no introduction. She and her Jewish family were forced into hiding from the Nazis in cramped, concealed rooms in Amsterdam for two years during World War II. While in hiding, she scribbled in a diary that was published by her dad (the family’s only survivor after they were found and sent to Jewish concentration camps). Anne’s The Diary of a Young Girl is a life-changer.


 

Jazz Jennings is now 20, but she became perhaps the youngest publicly documented person to identify as transgender when she spoke about it on TV at age six. (I was on the Casey Jones TV show at age six. It was not similar.) Since then, she’s become a YouTube personality and has had a TLC show and written a children’s book, both titled I Am Jazz.


 

Greta Thunberg, now 18, is a climate-change activist from Stockholm, Sweden. At age 15, she went on strike from her school to shine a spotlight on the need for world action against climate change, and students worldwide have undertaken similar strikes. She’s spoken in front of the United Nations and elsewhere and has bravely (and humorously, via her Twitter account, @GretaThunberg) stood up to those who’ve essentially attacked her for taking on an “adult” cause at a young age.

 


Malala Yousafzai, now 23, was a 15-year-old in Pakistan when she was shot in the head for speaking out against the Taliban and for encouraging girls to get an education. She survived the assassination attempt and moved to England, where she has continued as an activist while becoming the youngest recipient (at 17) of the Nobel Peace Prize and a graduate of Oxford. Her memoir, I Am Malala, was an international hit. A famous quote by her: "One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world."  

Whew! And to think I merely have to write a book today. And, okay, a song.

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, February 28, 2021

The Light Fun in Starting Over by Dean Gloster

            Decades ago, when I was a lawyer, one of the name partners at the firm where I worked decided to become a novelist. I’ll call him John.

            The New York Times had described him as one of the top ten trial lawyers in the U.S. To do trial work, you put your case on in the form of a persuasive story, so he had some relevant background.

 


             He wrote a legal thriller. When he sent it to his agent, she reportedly told him, “This is great. Now add lots of sex.”

            He did, and the result was a best seller, the kind you see sold in airports, with a strand of pearls on the cover. It nearly put me off writing forever.

 


             Every character in the book was John, so reading it—if you knew him—was like watching a bunch of John’s personality fragments running around—some wearing short skirts—having enthusiastic sex with each other.

            Yikes.

 


             We bring who we are to everything we write, and for some of us, the stories interesting enough to turn into whole books are the ones full of the issues or complicated emotions we grapple with in our own lives. 

            In John’s case, his debut bestseller was about a law firm killing its clients. (Ambivalent about that trial work, much?)

 


             As I start over, finishing one novel and turning to starting the next, I’ve thought about the kind of stories I mostly tell, and why.

            When I was twenty, my mother finally succeeded in her decades-long effort to drink herself to death, which I wrote about here. As a teen, I thought it was my job to figure out how to save her. (Spoiler alert: That’s not how alcoholism works.)

 


            Now as a grownup, I mostly write stories about death and grief and love and whether it’s possible to save someone. I include lots of humor (I used to do stand-up comedy, so that comes easily), but they’re still hard stories to tell. Every time I finish writing one novel, I tell myself that the next book will be lighter and more fun.

 


             Then, on that new book, I give the protagonist a bunch of trauma similar to mine and find myself writing a story that includes death, grief, and the question of whether it’s possible to save someone. The book I’m in revisions on now is a YA novel, and I thought it would be fun, involving a pair of brothers who are funny, a wonderful love interest, and a lawyer dad who sold 54% of his soul to an interdimensional predator. (Possible metaphor for the practice of law alert.) But, of course, their mom is dead, their grieving father is an alcoholic, and the protagonist has the exact same counter-phobic mechanism for dealing with his trauma-caused PTSD—which makes him charge toward danger—that I have.

 



             You know, light stuff. (But the jokes are great.) 

            Still, the next book is going to be much lighter and more fun. For real. It’ll involve, among other things, a dhampir—a girl who’s the daughter of a human mother and a vampire father—who has to fit in, in a human school, and also save her family from deadly other-worldly danger. And—oh—for good measure I’ll give her some trauma that’s a version of the worst thing that happened in my youth.

            Yeah. That should be fun.

 


 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 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 an off-kilter sensibility, including a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 54 percent of his soul.