Saturday, January 30, 2021

If I could be a character in a YA novel…

I would have to choose Lily from my Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Not that there aren’t a ton of awesome YA characters whose shoes I’d love to step into for a brief adventure (Enola Holmes comes to mind), but Lily is near and dear to my heart. 

                  She is the best of me, and hopefully, the best of humanity in the years to come.

Here's a brief synopsis of the trilogy: In the year 2057, in a post-apocalyptic world where three quarters of the population has been wiped out by a global pandemic, and a polar shift threatens the remainder of Earth’s inhabitants with extinction, sixteen-year-old genetically enhanced teen, Lily Carmichael, faces bigger challenges—escape capture by a rogue government agency, save her family, and avoid falling in love.

Reasons to love this character...

Lily is kind, compassionate, and capable. She consistently puts others above herself and has a passion for healing that drives her every decision—regardless of consequences. I especially like that these traits come across as authentic and true to character because of her backstory and life experience. Her parents are dead, she lives in hiding from those who would exploit her abilities for their own ends, and she's responsible for her thirteen-year-old brother who is her polar opposite and who is struggling with his own dark powers. Her resilience is more than the fact she can heal herself and others; it’s a reflection of her spirit and her desire to fight for what is right and care for those she loves.

I enjoy reading about strong young female characters, and Lily is that in spades—without being over the top, too perfect, and without losing her femininity. She fights when she must, but she tries to think and talk her way out of trouble—the mark of an admirable heroine who values intellect over violence. Unfortunately, that also drives her main internal struggle throughout the series…whether there is ever justification for taking a life, and how to reconcile that prospect with the cruel realities of the world. Her innate healing ability is part of her genetic makeup, but it’s also who she is as a person, and for Lily, taking a life is an existential challenge.

This character and her epic story was so much fun to write! I live in a tiny town in the hills where my nearest neighbor is three-quarters of a mile in either direction. “Preppers” abound here, and folks are very much the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of people. They are also the neighbors you want if you break down on the side of the road in a snow storm. After having frequent conversations with some good neighbor friends about what we would do if the crud hit the fan, how it all might go down, and whether we were prepared to survive, Lily came to mind and ideas started to flow! 

As we discussed the details of food growth and storage, water scarcity, on-the fly energy production, dealing with the impending devastation of climate change, and yes…the possibility of a pandemic causing societal collapse, the entire trilogy unfolded in my head (and that was back in 2011)!

I knew it would need to be three parts to tell the whole story, and as I began to plot it out, sure enough, Lily’s character was complex enough and strong enough to lead the way through three full novels. When I self-published WANING MOON in 2012, it was a departure from my contemporary YA romances, and I wasn’t sure how it would be received by readers. I was thrilled when RT called it, “An action-packed read with a strong female lead.” That was the best praise I could get as a new-to-the-genre author. It spurred me to quickly finish WESTERN DESERT and HEALING WATERS, which became Library Journal Self-e Top Picks and won several awards. 

I’m proud of the entire trilogy, but I’m most proud of Lily’s evolution through the story and how she never compromises her core beliefs, even though she has to make some tough choices along the way. How cool would it be to have the ability to heal spontaneously and to lay hands on and heal others? Lily doesn't let that power go to her head and she always seems to have the greater good as her guide.

At the end of the day, we can only hope we would do the same if we were in her shoes, right?

Who is your favorite YA character and what makes you wish you could be them? 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Why Mess With Perfection? (Brian Katcher)

 To be quite honest, I never really fantasized about switching places with a literary character. Instead, I'd usually place a version of myself into the novel, just so I could experience the story from my own point of view. And why not? When you truly love a story, you want to experience it yourself. How many times did I imagine myself as one of Captain Yossarian's drunken squad mates; a mental patient with McMurphy and the Chief; a smarmy Slytherin student who helps Harry defeat Voldenmort but never befriends him; Doc Savage's sixth aide; the fifth member of the A-Team, or Larry, Curly, Moe, and Brian. But as for actually replacing a character in a book, I didn't usually imagine that.

Well, rarely.

But as a kid, I do recall one series of books that I did actually imagine myself as an existing character. It was a series of 1960s-80s books about a trio of unoriginally named detectives, The Three Investigators.

Chubby genius Jupiter Jones, athletic everyman Pete Crenshaw, and studious researcher Bob Andrews run a detective agency along the California coast. Together, they team up to fight art smugglers, jewel smugglers, gold smugglers, and counterfieters, who all seem to hide out in haunted mines and castles. Their investigations are secretly backed up by their mentor/publisher Alfred Hitchcock (yes, the director...though when he died in real life, his character was replaced by the ficitonal Hector Sebastian). When they're not solving crimes, they're thwarting the plans of their teenage nemisis "Skinny" Norris, or having a rumble with the Hardy Boys.

I'd often project myself onto Bob, the slightly nerdy, well-read one. He was not much older than me, and I'd always wanted to live in California. My neighbor, who introduced me to the series, and I would have all kinds of backyard adventures, fighting the burglars and terrorists who lurked behind our houses. I think Bob Andrews is the one fictional character I'd considered changing places with.

Well, him and...




Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Future Me (Holly Schindler)

I was really young when I read Judy Blume's Forever. I mean about nine. Yeah, I know. I was obsessed with everything Blume--Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Are you there God? It's Me, Margaret. The usual elementary-school-aged books. I knew Forever was about first love. But I didn't know it was about a girl's first physical relationship until I started reading. 

Clearly, at that age, I knew nothing about what it was to have a boyfriend. Or romantic feelings for another person. But I knew that someday, I would. I didn't know anything about driving a car or wearing makeup (other than bubblegum flavored lip-gloss). I didn't know what it was to attend school where you had to change classes. But I knew I would.

When I read Blume, I got a chance to imagine a grown-up version of me. As much as I was walking in her character's shoes, I was walking in my own--the someday shoes of a future me. 

Maybe, really, that's one of fiction's greatest powers. Maybe it jumpstarts not only our imagination but our ability to daydream--about where we're going, what we want to do, who we want to be. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Why choose? (Brenda Hiatt)

 When I first started thinking about this month’s topic, I quickly became overwhelmed by choice. There are SO MANY book characters I’ve loved, admired and wanted to emulate over the years! Who would I pick to become, if I could? Jo March? Elizabeth Bennett? Harry Potter? Samwise Gamgee? Because there were way too many to choose from, I decided to limit my choice to my own characters—ones I’ve written myself. To narrow my choices further, I would only consider my teen characters, since this is a YA blog (though I’ve had a few Regency-era heroines who were still in their late teens). 

It almost feels like cheating to say I’d switch places with M (Marsha Truitt), the main character of the first five installments of my Starstruck series, since so much of her was already drawn from my own awkward teenaged self. Still, how cool would it have been back then to discover I wasn’t just a geeky, unpopular high school girl, but a long-lost Martian princess…who finds a soul mate in her very own “prince”? Sure, she had to deal with a lot of scary and gut-wrenching challenges over the course of those books, but she rose to meet and overcome each one to (repeatedly) get her happy-ever-after…or at least her happy-for-the-foreseeable future. 



Then there’s Kira, the heroine of The Girl From Mars, my first “spin-off” Starstruck book. She’s not at all like me, so would be much more interesting to switch with! She’s super-athletic, she grew up on Mars, surrounded by cool, futuristic tech stuff, before unwillingly taking a space ship to Earth. Kira was also a fiercely committed activist, though her chosen cause turned out to be rather…questionable. But then she also gets a happy ending, with a “prince” of her own. Yeah, it would be fun to walk in her shoes for a while, I think. 

Of course, Molly, my next Starstruck heroine, is also unlike me in several ways. She’s way gutsier than me, relentlessly optimistic and an amazingly quick thinker when put on the spot (something I’m definitely not!) Even though, like M, she was adopted, she was raised by a loving family and didn’t have to deal with QUITE as much hardship as the other two before making it to her happy ending. So yeah, maybe Molly would be a good choice. 

But then I wrote Convergent, where over the course of the book, I got to “be” each one of six very different characters (including the three girls mentioned above).

Happily, I really don’t have to choose at all! As a reader—and a writer—every book I immerse myself in allows me to vicariously become another new character or characters. Some I’m eager to escape by the end of the book, while others I revel in and keep as part of me long after finishing the story. After all, that’s the beauty of being an avid reader (or a writer). Any time I get bored just being me, I can always find more characters and lives to experience between the covers of a book.

Happy reading! :)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Trixie Belden, Girl Detective

By Christine Gunderson


This month we’re blogging about our favorite character. Who do we love and admire so much that we’d like to step inside the book and trade places with them?


Obviously, the answer to this question is always Elizabeth Bennet, because:


1.     Mr. Darcy

2.     Pemberley

3.     A cook. And a maid. And a gardener. And a housekeeper. And you get the idea.


But, since Elizabeth Bennet is low hanging fruit, I will write about another immortal heroine from the annals of great literature who I have also loved and wanted to become. That character, my friends, is none other than Trixie Belden.


Many voracious readers have never heard of Trixie Belden. This puzzles me, because Trixie is the bravest, smartest, most intrepid girl detective who ever lived.


Please do not confuse Trixie Belden with Nancy Drew. Nancy. Nancy. Nancy. Trixie Beldon is no Nancy Drew, let me tell you.


Nancy Drew is the Martha Stewart of girl detectives and was way too pulled together for my taste, what with her cardigans and her fancy roadster and her perfect boyfriend, Ned.


If Nancy Drew invited you over, she’d give you tea and cucumber sandwiches on the terrace. But Trixie? Trixie would give you Twinkies and orange Kool Aid on the tire swing. To steal a phrase from the millennials, Trixie is authentic.


I couldn’t relate to Nancy Drew because she was so perfect. But not Trixie. Trixie was real. She had three irritating brothers. Her mom made her weed the garden and do chores, and best of all, Trixie had trouble with math. This attribute alone was enough to build a six lane super-highway to the center of my heart. 


If the Trixie Belden books were written today, she would likely defy gender stereotypes by solving mysteries at the STEM Olympics in anticipation of her future career as a bio-chemical engineering physicist who invents CRISPR while designing rockets for NASA. 


But back in the day, girl detectives freely admitted they thought algebra was both very hard and a complete waste of time, time better spent re-reading Pride and Prejudice and Barbara Cartland novels. Trixie wasn’t a character to me. Trixie was a comrade, a fellow traveler, a sister-in-arms bravely bearing the slings and arrows of middle school and the fresh hells of solving for X.


Trixie had short blonde hair, like me. She wore jeans and dirty sneakers, like me. She lived on a farm and loved horses, and I did too. Trixie lost her temper and got discouraged and had flaws and felt insecure, also like me and like every other teenaged girl on the planet. Every teenaged girl on the planet except Nancy Drew, that is.


Trixie had a wonderful group of friends. They called themselves the Bob Whites of the Glen, and they ran around solving mysteries and doing good deeds while wearing matching jackets. 


Trixie had a boyfriend too, named Jim Frayne. Unlike stuffy old Ned from Nancy Drew, Jim came from a broken home. Jim had issues. In other words, he was real, too. 


But he was saved by Trixie’s love, the rich neighbors who adopted him, and by the enduring friendship of the Bob Whites of the Glen, who addition to matching jackets, also had a clubhouse AND a secret signal that sound like a bird call!!!


It was all so thrilling and perfect, if you were a thirteen-year-old girl, which I was. After it become obvious to me that I couldn’t go to Narnia, I wanted to crawl into Trixie’s world and live there instead.


There were 39 Trixie Belden books, and I’m pretty sure I read them all. And now my daughter can read them too, because a Trixie Belden fan grew up and became an editor at Random House. Several years ago, she spearheaded the effort to re-release the Trixie Belden books with updated covers. 


Thanks to her, Trixie is back in the world again, reminding thirteen-year-old girls everywhere that being real is always better than being perfect.



Christine Gunderson is a YA writer who lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star the Wonder dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher. You can reach her at










Friday, January 22, 2021

I GOTTA BE ME (Patty Blount)

 This month's blog post really had me scratching my head for ideas. Whose shoes would I most like to try on for a bit? One of my own characters? Or characters in beloved books I've read over my lifetime? It's really hard to narrow this down. 

I thought about Nancy Drew, the first character I'd ever wished to be. She lost her mom at a tender age and I would never wish for that. But the convertible? Yep. The best friends? Yep. The intelligence and the beauty? Yep and yep. 

In considering which of my own characters with whom I'd like to trade places, I almost gave myself an anxiety attack. Too many things have happened to these poor characters, things I'd prefer not having to experience. 

And that gave me an epiphany...I ALREADY HAVE walked in their shoes. There are lots of horrible things in this world. Bad news, bad people, bad luck, bad decisions. Exploring these horrible things through reading, through writing novels, provides a safe environment for us to develop compassion needed in the real world. 

I've never been a teenage boy, but I could write one in SEND by imagining how a bully so consumed with what he did could haunt him in every aspect of his life. 

I've never been a foster kid, never volunteered for the junior fire fighters squad, and never lost a brother, but I could empathize with one in NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. 

I've never been raped, but have been the victim of molestation by a neighbor, so yes, I believe I can write characters like Grace (SOME BOYS) and Ashley (SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW) with the proper levels of fear, guilt, anger, and disgust at certain family members' reactions to the crime so that I could elicit those same emotions from readers. 

When young adults pick up one of my novels, I hope they feel those emotions in ways that will change how they respond to similar situations in their real lives. I WANT teens who read SEND to stand up when they witness bullying. I WANT teens who read TMI to think twice before they reply to an unknown profile. 

So... to answer this month's question: there is no one with whom I WANT to trade places just because it's fun. But there are dozens of characters I have left in me whose stories I need to tell. I'll imagine myself in their shoes for just a little while, so that I can write their stories in ways that will allow YOU to trade places with them and hopefully, emerge from their stories with a deeper appreciation for what you already have. 

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.