Friday, April 30, 2021

 In keeping with this month’s theme of “random recommendations”, I thought I would extend my “Every Day is Earth Day” campaign and share a few ideas for the eco-minded. Together, we can make a difference in the global fight against climate change.

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” Max Lucado

Here are just a few of my recommendations...

1)     1)  If you love David Attenborough’s work, this incredible documentary won’t disappoint! Unfortunately, it’s currently only available on Apple+, but even the trailer is worth a watch. The description for The Year Earth Changed reads:this timely documentary special takes a look at nature’s extraordinary response to a year of global lockdown. This love letter to planet Earth will take you from hearing birdsong in deserted cities for the first time in decades, to witnessing whales communicating in ways never before seen. Find out how changes in human behavior—reducing cruise ship traffic, closing beaches a few days a year, identifying more harmonious ways for humans and wildlife to co-exist—can have a profound impact on nature and give us hope for the future.”

View the trailer here.

2    2)  Dr. Katherine Hayhoe is a world-renowned climate scientist. Her common-sense approach to communicating with people about climate change issues is simple, insightful, and inspiring. She uses our shared experiences of how climate change affects us locally to find common ground with others on what shouldn’t be a controversial topic, but is in today’s polarized world. She is wonderful to listen to in any of her YouTube videos, TED talks, and interviews, but this five-minute introduction gives you an idea of who she is, why she does what she does, and why we all need to respond to her powerful call to action. See her interview here.

3)    3)  If you are struggling, as I am, with anxiety over the current climate crisis, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, check out this extremely helpful NPR podcast and browse this helpful and empowering list of resources for “existing—and resisting—in the face of impending climate disruption”. I highly recommend this list for parents trying to help their children navigate the worries around a changing climate.

Visit the website here. 


4)     4)  And for my data-minded, extra geeky science friends who want just the facts (and are brave enough to handle them), there is always NASA’s Global Climate Change website, Vital Signs of the Planet. You’ll find out how scientists are using the International Space Station to study Earth’s climate, an educational website for kids, incredible images of our changing planet, and even Climate Mobile Apps to help you make a difference in your daily life. There is also a Climate Resource Center that hosts an extensive collection of global warming resources for media, educators, weather casters and public speakers.

5)     5)  For our teen readers, here’s a list of the Top 10Climate Change books recommended by Teen Vogue. Pick one and dig in!

There are so many more environmental organizations and plenty of worthy eco-centric causes to support, but since most of us do better with small, measurable, and achievable goals, it’s best to start with our own carbon footprint and the dozens of small changes we can make to reduce, reuse, recycle, and minimize our personal impact on the planet. 

Like eating the elephant (which of course, we would never do!), we must meet the challenge with a one-bite-at-a-time philosophy.

Here's to loving the planet, doing our part by treating it with respect, and spreading the word that every day should be Earth Day.

Peace and blessings,



Wear Sunscreen (Brian Katcher)

 No, that's not my advice, that's a line from 'Advice, like youth, probably wasted on the young', by journalist Mary Schmich. It was a speech she wrote for the graduating class of 1997, and you should go read it right now.

Ah, hell, there's nothing I can add to it. Here's the transcript, copyright the author:

Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who'd rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there's no reason we can't entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.

I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

(Not) Random Book Recommendations by Dean Gloster

               Our topic this month is “random recommendations,” but my recommendations aren’t random, they’re tied together with much in common: I'm recommending YA books with fierce, funny (or at least fun) protagonists and, well, death. It’s my birthday today, and time weighs on me like a slightly heavier jacket, so I get to do what I want. (Actually, since I write full time now, I pretty much always get to do what I want.) 

               Martine Leavitt’s National Book Award finalist Keturah and Lord Death is beautiful, charming, and difficult to describe. It’s got a feisty female protagonist, Keturah Reeves, who wants to help the other people in her medieval village. It also has a quest for true love, and Death (Lord Death) as a major character. This book is so much my jam, if I read it three more times, I’ll probably develop diabetes. Everyone I’ve ever given a copy to (a long list) has loved it. Hemingway once said all true stories end in death, but in this case, there’s a happy ever after version of that. Five stars and several planets.

               Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere has laugh-out-loud observations from narrator-protagonist Lennie, achingly beautiful poetry, and a journey from grief through mistakes to love. I once wrote a really good sibling loss grief novel with little bits of poetry in it, Dessert First, and Jandy Nelson’s is way better. Five stars and the glow of countless distant galaxies.

               I have still never recovered from reading A.S. King’s breakout novel (and Printz Award finalist) Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Vera grieves for her dead friend Charlie, and for his shattering of their friendship before he died, and she holds a terrible secret about an arson blamed on Charlie, which was actually committed by another girl. It’s beautiful, breathtaking, and delightfully weird in the way that Amy King’s surrealistic novels are. Five stars, a dancing chorus of weirdly shaped nebulae, and several chapters narrated by a pagoda. 

            Anyway, happy my birthday to you all. There's a certain randomness in all our lives, but sometimes we can surf the chaos. Enjoy the wonder of the stars (or something) while you're still alive. And read good books. Be well. 


Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. It is actually his birthday today, as he's mastered the art of (very slow) time travel from the distant past. 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.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Random Recommendations

Random Recommendations (in no particular order):


The topic this month for YA Outside the Lines is giving advice and/or providing some random recommendations. I have many recommendations, of all varieties, in an array of subject areas. I will list some of my most random ones below. I hope some of you find them helpful.


1.     Be kind to yourself. Yes, this sounds pretty obvious. And maybe you did an eyeroll when you read that, but it’s true. Be kind. No matter where you are on your journey, practice compassion for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not having done “a” or spending too much time on “b” or saying the wrong thing about “c.”  Resist the temptation to bully yourself with negative thoughts that, most often, simply aren’t true. And, please stop comparing yourself/your career/your house/your car/your fill-in-the-blank-here with anyone else’s life/career/house/car/fill-in-the-blank. It isn’t healthy and it lacks perspective. Ask yourself: Would I treat someone else the way I’m treating myself? More often than not, you wouldn’t. You’re human and flawed and learning... We are all works in progress.


2.     Bananas mashed in a bowl with chunky peanut butter. You’re welcome.


3.     If you’re a writer, consider joining a writers’ group. There’s nothing like meeting regularly with a group of fellow writers to find support and get feedback on your work whenever you need it and wherever you are in the process. Sometimes you may need to shop around a bit for the right group, but it’s well worth the effort. And, don’t use this pandemic as an excuse not to meet. Zoom works well enough.


4.     Treat yourself at least once a day. This could be five minutes of alone-time in a quiet place (free), a twenty-minute nap (also free), a hike through the woods (free, free, free), a piece of chocolate, a cup of coffee from your favorite shop, a facial, an episode of your favorite TV show, thirty minutes to read or journal during a hectic day… You get the picture. Treat yourself. You deserve it.


5.     Some products/random items I swear by… Frownies. They work. I also love my jade face roller, castor oil (for lash health/growth), DIY sugar scrubs, anything by Caudalie, Supergoop (for SPF, also paraben-free, protect the skin!), Instantly Ageless (a temporary but effective eye-bag remover for a 4-5-hour fix), Virtue haircare products (a bit pricey, but worth it in my opinion, especially if you’re hair isn’t naturally thick-bouncy-flowy-shampoo-commercial worthy), Stumptown Coffee (forget the fancy maker; it’s all about the beans), a silk pillowcase, a portable essential oil diffuser, and a list of books to be read.


6.     And speaking of books to be read… Read a lot. Yes, I know. If you’re a writer this goes without saying. But it’s true. Active reading – asking yourself what works; what the writer is doing with tense, structure, style, characterization, plot, theme etc., etc., will help make you a better writer and reader.


7.     The Minimalist Baker has the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever: (P.S. They’re easy to make even for non-bakers like me, plus they’re vegan. Yum.)


8.     Some of my favorite shows to watch at the moment (from mindless to suspenseful, plus some very recent discoveries; no judgement, please): The Real Housewives of NY and/or Beverly Hills; Big Little Lies; The Good Place; Dead to Me; The Reckoning; Somebody Feed Phil; Street Food; The Queen’s Gambit; Dirty John (Season 1); Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel; The Millionaire Matchmaker; The Affair; Broadchurch; Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy; Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; Best Leftovers Ever; and Alone. 


9.     Make daily and/or weekly lists of things you want to accomplish and cross the items off as you do. 

10. Podcasts. I discovered I love podcasts about two years ago. I play them on walks, in the car, while doing chores, etc., etc. I’ve learned so much and gained perspective. Plus, if you’re a writer, you may just be inspired by the storytelling techniques. There are so many podcasts out there to try. Some of my favorites include Becoming Wise, Dare to Lead with Brené Brown, Beautiful Anonymous, Crime Junkie, Full Body Chills, Nice White Parents, Spooked, Serial, and Where Should We Begin.


11.  Floss daily. 


12.  Dry eyes? From all the time you spend Zooming on screens and working on your manuscript…? I’ve found the magical elixir (at least it works for me). Ready for it? Black currant oil capsules. 


12.  Looking for an agent or editor? Do your homework. Study the agent’s and editor’s lists of authors and titles before sending your work. Would your work be a nice fit? If not, keep looking and researching. Become an expert on who’s who as you search for the perfectly tailored list to send your work. 


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Learn Something New (Brenda Hiatt)

 I see that among other “random recommendations” this month, a couple of people have already suggested stepping out of our comfort zones. I heartily second (or third) that advice, and will add a few specific examples of my own that may help you find new ways to do that. At least, they’ve helped me.

First, since this is primarily a writing/reading blog, I’ll talk about books. When’s the last time you read a book from a totally different genre than your usual favorites? Try it! If you mostly read contemporary fiction, try something historical or speculative. If you mostly read fiction, try nonfiction (or vice-versa…I’m currently finding the book Crucial Conversations enlightening). In your writing, try a setting or style you’ve never attempted, if only as an exercise. First person viewpoint? Present tense? Fourth Dynasty China? Poetry? What haven’t you done yet? 

Then there’s that thing called Life. I’m a big believer in setting Goals, but I think it’s important that those goals be at least marginally within your reach. Stretch goals are fine, but making them TOO hard to achieve can lead to dispair and accomplishing nothing at all. (I speak from experience here.) More than a decade ago, I set myself a goal to learn something new, large or small, each year. Among other things, that led to me studying Taekwondo to the point of becoming a third-degree black belt, learning how to format and publish my own books and my ongoing quest to learn German. (I finally reached Diamond League in Duolingo a few weeks ago, which I consider a huge triumph, and I’m almost up to 700 consecutive days in my current “streak”!) 

This year’s goal is to (finally) learn how to market my books more effectively. Of course, one problem with this system is that some skills take way more than a year to master, so by now I’m simultaneously working on several (see above), which can become overwhelming. This is why I’m also a huge believer in Rewards. When I reach a goal, no matter how small, I try to reward myself somehow. Rewards, like goals, can be big or small, but keeping promises to myself helps me stay motivated. Lately, my favorite reward for meeting my daily writing goal is to spend a few minutes (or half an hour) on a jigsaw puzzle—a recently-rediscovered passion of mine. 

I reward myself for other daily achievements, too, like exercise (I write on a treadmill and swim as often as weather allows) and that day’s German lesson. Sitting down after lunch with a sudoku puzzle and a piece of chocolate (I’m fond of Ghirardelli dark chocolate raspberry squares for this) works for me! 

What haven’t you tried yet? Or lately? Think about how you might expand your life as a reader, writer or human being on this ball of dirt we call Earth and step out!

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Greatest Generation by Christine Gunderson


This month our blog is about advice. But my advice has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with parenting. And believe me, most days I am the least qualified person in America to give parenting advice, but here goes.


My advice to my fellow parents is this: Maybe it’s time to look at our kids and the pandemic in a new way. Maybe instead of worrying about all the things our children have lost and missed, we could try looking at these hardships with a tiny bit of gratitude and a whole lot of pride. Because I believe the kids we’re raising today are America’s next Greatest Generation, not in spite of Covid, but because of it.  


The original Greatest Generation is the cohort of Americans born from 1901 to 1927. They grew up during the Great Depression and then saved the world from fascism by winning World War II.


Many of us have grandparents from the Greatest Generation. My grandmother carefully saved used wrapping paper and put plastic bread bags inside boots to make them waterproof. She was a walking Hints from Heloise column and she wasted nothing because she grew up during hard times. My other grandmother spent her schoolteacher summers working as Rosie the Riveter in an aircraft factory while her future husband fought the Germans in North Africa.


Let’s think about this for a minute. Making do with what you have. Growing up in hard times. Sacrificing for the common good. Being separated from those you love. Who does this remind you of?


Not me obviously. I’m Gen X and the only things I’ve been forced to sacrifice for the common good are my shoes at the airport, and I’ve only had to do that since 9-11.


But our kids are another story. 


They’ve sacrificed proms, graduations, slumber parties, sports, high school musicals and freshman college keg parties. They made do with car parade birthday celebrations. They’ve played sports in masksAnd they’ve done everything from long division to dance lessons to Model UN conferences on Zoom. Bread bags in the boots are nothing compared to the endless days our kids have spent living their lives on screen.


And as a result, they’ve become good people, the kind of people the world desperately needs.


My thirteen-year-old son Mark recently volunteered to be part of a vaccine clinical trial for kids. He said, “If no one volunteers for the trial, there will never be a vaccine for kids and life will never go back to normal.”


This is the same logic my grandfather used when he volunteered to fight in the Second World War. Someone had to liberate Europe. Why not him?


My son Erik is a high school freshman, and his idea of fun is hiking five or ten miles, almost every weekend, often in the rain, to raise money for children’s cancer research. He’s hiking with his friend Joseph, who walks on a hip damaged by radiation and chemotherapy, and his friend Lauren, who in addition to hiking for cancer research also uses her prodigious math skills to tutor other children on Zoom in her spare time for free. 


***Shameless and Brazen Fundraising Appeal***

If you would like to help them raise money for children’s cancer research, you can donate here!!!!


And these are just a handful of the great kids I happen to know. You probably have a few in your life as well. There are so many kids out there doing similar things to make their world a better place, in spite of Covid and because of Covid.


I would like to point out that in my spare time I am not hiking in the rain to raise money for children’s cancer research. I am sitting in a chair watching Netflix. And when my boots leak, I do not encase my feet in bread bags. I spend way too much time and money on Zappos shopping for new ones.


Our children are not saints, of course. As parents, we have spent 365 plus days trapped in an enclosed space with people who:


Put empty ice cream cartons back in the freezer

Leave crumpled up Band Aid wrappers in the Band Aid box

Use approximately 750 thousand drinking glasses, cups, and water bottles every time they consume any beverage

Festoon the house, the garage, the car and even the backyard with dirty socks

Equate dishwasher unloading with climbing Mt. Everest and/or running a marathon.


But some day they will grow up and we will grow old. When we exit the stage, our tough, pragmatic, empathetic kids will run the show, and I personally can’t wait.


Our Covid kids will set the world on fire because they understand sacrifice and disappointment and doing without. And love. They really understand love. 


If we look at history, we see that our Greatest Generation grandparents came home from World War II and in the prosperous and peaceful world they made safe for democracy they raised...the Baby Boomers. 


I know. So, our grandkids might be more like us. A little soft. Whiny. Kind of self-indulgent. Not every generation can be great, after all. 


But this next one is, and we’re lucky to be their parents.




Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and reporter and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of 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 contact her at


Thursday, April 22, 2021

So You Want to be an Author (by Patty Blount)

 All month, we at YA Outside the Lines are providing our best recommendations on all manner of things. Here are my recommendations for anyone who'd like to become an author. 

Writing is part skill, part talent, and part determination. There are those that insist luck plays a part, as well, but I still think that falls under the other three. If you're a young adult who'd like to become an author, here are ways you can develop your skills and hone your talent. 

First, what's the difference between skill and talent? For me, I think talent is something you're born with. Skill, on the other hand, is something you learn, practice, and develop. The two go hand in hand. For example, though I love music, I can't sing. I can't carry a tune. I have taken lessons but the best I can hope for is a passable karaoke evening. In other words, I can become competent but likely will never make it to American Idol. 

So how do you know which part is which? I've always believed people gravitate toward the things they have talent for. It's instinctual. If you love books, love stories, and seek out good examples to emulate, you probably have that instinctual talent for story-telling, which is driving your desire to become an author. 

Let's turn to the skill part. 

It took me 10 years to finish my first book. That was because I didn't know anything about structure or pacing, about character arcs, about back story. Sure, I knew about things like the denoument and the climax from writing school book reports, but actual story structure was something I didn't truly know until I studied. 

There are dozens of craft books available that can teach you things like the 3-act structure, about pacing, about plotting, about voice. My recommendations are to read as many as you can with a critical eye. Try the parts that speak to you and ignore the rest, for there is NO single craft book that will make an author out of you. Rather, it's the practice, the application of the various methods that helps you hone your skills. 

  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron illustrates the connection between and among characters and plot. 
  • On Writing by Stephen King is a fantastic mix of memoir with writing craft advice from a master.
  • Save the Bird by Blake Snyder is an amazing resource for authors though it was written for screenwriters. It helps you write visually, showing emotions through character actions.
  • Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott is an absolute classic for a reason. 
  • Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes breaks down structure into tasty little morsels
These are just a few of my recommendations. I am constantly reading craft books because even though I have about a dozen novels under my belt now, I'm always willing to learn, to improve, to hone and sharpen. 

Now, remember what I said earlier about reading these resources, applying the parts that speak to you and ignoring the rest? How exactly do you do you this? 

Ah! That's the toughest part of writing for many authors. Suppose you scrape up enough money for that writers' conference you've always wanted to attend and tingle with excitement as you wait for the workshop with Your Favorite Author, who promises to share her writing process with you. 

You listen in rapt attention as she describes creating dioramas and vision boards, papering a wall with hundreds of sticky notes, listening to hours of Spotify to create her playlist for her work in progress --all before she writes a word. You wonder if this can work for you, so you buy stacks of sticky notes in a rainbow of colors, purchase a stock image subscription and begin looking for the perfect pictures that match what you see in your mind, but soon give up, feeling like a failure because Your Favorite Author's process didn't work for you. 

Reader: been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

Every author has a different process. Some plot. Some outline. Some sit and write until a story is carved from the ruins of a forest of trees. How can you possibly know which process will fit you the best? 

Read the craft books. Try out each method. If it feels comfortable for you, if you like the results, keep it. Throw the rest out. If you can afford to, I recommend taking a strengths assessment with Becca Syme
Knowing what you're good at, strong at, weak at, can help you figure out a process that works for you. 

Meanwhile, if you have a craft book I haven't read yet, drop it in the comments! Like I said, I'll try any suggestion. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Just Talkin' (Holly Schindler)

Gus is the absolute friendliest little dog I've ever had.

He's actually almost friendly to a fault. He never sees a stranger--that includes humans, old and young and kids, and cats, and other dogs, and birds...

You get the point. 

But the thing is, he can't be friendly all on his own. I mean, he can't exactly open the front door and go hang out at a friend's house. His visiting takes place during our walks. So if he wants to go say hi, suddenly I'm saying hi too.

With Gus, I've gotten to know all my neighbors. I mean all of them. Especially during the months of the pandemic, when so many were working from home. We waved from curbs, we put on our masks and introduced ourselves. 

(Funny, isn't it? The idea of having to introduce yourself in a place you have literally lived your whole life?)

We chatted. We laughed. We told stories. I found out who I was living near. These days, when I'm in the front yard, neighbors walk right up and start chatting. They honk and wave when they drive by. 

It's really, really nice. 

My recommendation? Just start talking. Say hello. Tell someone their flowers are looking pretty as you pass by their mailbox. Ask how they are. What's been keeping you from it? The same thing that used to keep me from it, I assume--thinking it would seem stupid or silly. 

Trust me and Gus--it never comes across as stupid. It just comes across as friendly and kind. It sure makes the world seem a whole lot bigger. And a whole lot friendlier in return.

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.






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