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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Random Book Recommendation (FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER is a keeper!) (PJ Sharon)

Hey Gang,

Although this month's theme was supposed to be about how our writing has been informed by our home life and how we have mined our past for stories, I’m going to forego the walk down memory lane. Suffice it to say, everything I’ve ever written has its roots in a rich and dysfunctional past, lol. The same can be said for most of what I read. So, instead of further discussing my own twisted tale of woe, I’d like to offer a random book recommendation.


Firekeepers Daughter
, if you haven’t read it yet, is my new favorite YA novel and the best thing I’ve read (or listened to) this year. I downloaded the audiobook on the recommendation of a teacher who loves to read about social justice issues and books with diverse characters. I was not disappointed!

Debut author Angeline Boulley does an amazing job immersing the reader in details of tribal life and the hardships faced living on a Reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the early 2000's. 

The writing is intelligent, authentic, and captivating, and the narration was beautifully done! (Huge kudos to narrator Isabella Star LaBlanc, who gets the teen voices, inflections, and emotion just right). I loved hearing the Ojibwa language and learning about tribal culture and history. With some quirky characters thrown in and a heroine to be admired, the author paints a picture that shows the depth and understanding of someone who herself is a tribal member of the Chippewa Indians and has been a Director of Indian Education at the local level and at the US Department of Education. She writes with first hand knowledge and experience that takes the reader on an in-depth journey into tribal life. We have so much to learn from the wisdom of Native peoples. I came away from this book with a new understanding and even greater appreciation for our Native brothers and sisters. 

FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER is a YA novel with some mature, gritty, and important subject matter (meth addiction, missing indigenous women/girls, sexual assault, corruption, the difficulties of navigating tribal ancestry, and the importance of community), but I would say this book is appropriate for mature teen readers (13+) and a heck of a great story for those looking for a smart, action packed, wonderfully written, emotional read.

The novel’s plot centers on Daunis Fontaine, an 18-year-old girl who is half white and half Ojibwe who often feels torn between cultures. Her dreams of playing college hockey are dashed when an injury keeps her sidelined and a family tragedy derails her plans to leave home. When she witnesses a murder and goes undercover for the FBI, Daunis uses her smarts, tenacity, and innate courage to unravel the case, putting herself and the ones she loves at grave risk. I won’t give away any more, but there is a romance, plenty of heart wrenching family drama, and a good amount of mystery and suspense.

A thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read! Highly recommend…

Write on and read on, friends! 

Have you read any good YA novels lately?

Peace and blessings,

PJ


Monday, November 29, 2021

Home (Brian Katcher)

 

So many authors draw from their childhood experiences for their books. How many times have writers talked about growing up in poverty in Northern Ireland, South Sudan, or East LA? How many authors draw from their experiences mining coal ever day after kindergarten or sweeping out the parlor in their mother's brothel? 

Well, I grew up in St. Peters, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. My parents were both teachers. Pure, white middle class. They sent me to college, and in the big scope of things, I never wanted for anything.

This makes for a good life, but for lousy writing. When I get together with other writers, after we've dismissed our valets and groupies, talk turns to our youths. Soon the air is foggy with stories of abusive fathers, psychotic mothers, and weird, isolated Massachusetts fishing villages that don't like visitors. And when it's my turn, I have to totally make up stories about how my father labored for years at a nuclear power plant and still had to bring home a dog from the racing track as our Christmas present.

 

Not that I haven't had some exciting experiences growing up. That time I found that old man with slime all over his hands and soon we were having a standoff at the town theater? Or when I found that golden ticket and got to go on a tour of a reclusive billionaires cheese factory? And who could forget all the times my brother and I drove our Dodge Charger all over Hazzard County with the sheriff on our tail?

Sadly, none of that makes for good literature. And when it comes to exciting childhood experiences, I'm just going to have to rely on my imagination.

Except for that time my friends and I found One-Eye Willy's treasure map...


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Home

The theme this month is “home.” 

 

For me, “home” is where (and when) I feel most secure – physically, emotionally, and financially. I currently live north of Boston, in a seaside town called Marblehead. It neighbors the city of Salem, best known for the Salem Witch Trials, where I grew up. 

 

For me, Marblehead has become the place I call home. I love living close to the ocean – just a minute’s walk away. I can often stand in my driveway, particularly in the morning or at night, and smell and hear the ocean (the pull of the rocks from the tide). 

 

I love that no matter where I go in town, I’m sure to be greeted by someone I know; everyone knows everyone around here (for better or for worse but usually for better). I love the sailboats in the harbor, the view of the Boston skyline; and the skinny, winding streets and cobblestone steps. I especially love that I can be in Boston (my favorite city in the world) in thirty minutes flat. Adam Sandler filmed a couple of his movies here, as have many other filmmakers. It’s “old-world” charming and simply beautiful.

  

I’ve lived in this same house for twenty years. On a walk one day, my husband and I spotted this tiny, boarded-up house, not far from the beach, and joked that it would be all we could afford in town. After flipping a couple of places, that same house went for sale. We used the money from our flips to buy it and have been renovating ever since. It’s “home” now – the place I’ve raised my kids, the place I’ve spent with family and friends (through birthdays, celebrations, graduations, losses, and heartaches), and the place I do most of my writing. 

 

But physical space isn’t the only place I call “home.” Having the emotional and physical well-being to be able to sustain that “home” is also key. For me, that requires connection with friends and loved ones, finding and gaining perspective, educating myself, having meaningful relationships and conversation, taking vigilant care of my health, making time for myself (which I need to do more), writing (of course), and travelling outside my comfort zone. All of these things feed my “home” and enable me to sustain what I do, through the good and tougher times – because there are (and will be) tougher times. But “home” is understanding that despite the tougher (sometimes mind-bogglingly-emotionally-challenging) times, there is a place of support, and kindness, and unconditional love.

 

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big fan of author Elizabeth Gilbert. I’d also love to share here a TedTalk she did on her idea of home (pasted below), which I can totally relate to. I hope you’ll enjoy it. Happy Thanksgiving! May you always find your “home” and the means to sustain it.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_waBFUg_oT8

Monday, November 22, 2021

Setting = Home by Patty Blount

 You know the old adage, "Home is where your heart is"? 

My heart is in books.  

I grew up in Queens, NY, a borough of New York City on the border of Bayside and Flushing, in a small garden apartment complex. As the song says, "We didn't have no internet" and there wasn't a lot to do except play outside when weather allowed. 

But we always had annoying neighbors. One neighbor complained if we played on the corner where her apartment was. Another complained if our bicycles were outside. Still another complained if we played inside the complex's court yard. 

With all those annoyed "Karens" to deal with, I eventually turned to reading as my sole source of entertainment. 

Books transported me. They provided adventure that disturbed no one. Back then, I was reading Nancy Drew and Harlequin Presents fiction in which characters drove down quaint Main Streets and all the proprietors knew them by name. They allowed me to experience--albeit vicariously-- what it was like to live on farms, in small towns, in foreign countries. I knew in third grade that I wanted to write novels some day. 

Nowadays, I live on Long Island about 60 miles from New York City, in a distinctly suburban area where there's little public transportation and everyone drives SUVs. Every town has a Main Street, though how quaint each is depends on what part of Long Island I happen to be in. That's actually one thing I love about Long Island -- how varied it is. Towns like Farmingdale, Huntington, Port Jefferson, Cold Spring Harbor, have quaint walking Main Streets. An hour's drive further east, and Long Island transforms into New England, with antique shops, farm stands, and wineries. About half an hour west of my home brings me to Sea Cliff, a town famous for its Queen Anne Victorian houses. 

Sea Cliff 
Main Street, Huntington

Port Jefferson, NY

Cold Spring Harbor, NY



It should come as no great shock that I set my novels in New York or on Long Island. My most recent contemporary romance, NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY, is set in Bayside, not far from the community college I attended. Because I always felt invisible growing up there, living there, I deliberately showed main character Lia making friends everywhere she goes in this novel. 

The Bell Boulevard sign from the Cross Island Parkway...used in NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY


My most recent YA title, SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, is partially set in a fictional town based on Stony Brook, a college town close to my home. 

Remember what I said about those quaint Main Streets, with shop keepers who know everyone's names? That's likely one of the reasons why small town romance is such a beloved trope. I wrote a romantic suspense built around a small Long Island town that I hope sells soon.



Sunday, November 21, 2021

Home Sweet Home (Holly Schindler)

I'm a Missourian. Sixth generation. I've often talked about that. 

Take the girl out of Missouri, but you can't take...

Well. You probably aren't going to take the girl out of Missouri.

Maybe that's not so unusual. Maybe there really are quite a few people who stick to their home state.

But here's something that probably really is unusual:

My home--as in, the house I live in--has been my home for every year but one. 

I live in my childhood home, with family. Like most artists, I've had some seriously lean years. I needed financial support. When I could help more with the bills, I have (of course). Even when I  couldn't chip in as much monetarily, I've always done that dirty work that comes with a house: the mowing, the shoveling, the reglazing the windows, the sistering the joists under the house (which is all becoming more and more important now that the folks are getting older). 

I think some other writer did something similar. Eudora Welty, maybe. I think I remember reading an interview where this writer said it was important to watch lives play out. I get that--I've seen the neighborhood go through all sorts of phases, been here as babies were born and kids moved out (and sometimes returned). I've seen changes in elderly neighbors. A couple of years ago, I said goodbye to two different neighbors (senior men, two next door neighbors who passed away within a few months of each other). I'm an animal person, and have even grown attached to the pets on the street (I once wrote with a neighbor's cat on my lap out on my deck). 

I could win the lottery tomorrow, and I don't think I'd ever let go of the house. It's home, in a way nothing else will ever be home. 

And besides, the story on my street's not over. Far from it. I have plenty more chapters to witness. Lessons to learn about how lives play out. 

All of which influences the kind of stories I want to tell...

Friday, November 19, 2021

Maine is in my Blood

 

John Clark sharing why the state I live in figures in almost everything I write. I grew up on a 189 acre farm overlooking Sennebec Lake in the small town of Union. My sisters and I roamed blueberry and hay fields, lake shore, an orchard, swamplands, and forest. Union had a lime quarry, an annual fair, and a history going back to the 1700s. I hunted and fished from age nine, earned money to buy new school clothes by taking care of chickens and raking blueberries and, along with sister Kate, devoured every book I could get my hands on when our small town library was open for three hours on Friday afternoons. I spent most of my time reading, fishing in my ten foot row boat on the lake, or exploring the woods on our property.


 Sennebec Hill Farm from the west shore of the lake

I went to college in Arizona, going from a class of 38 in snow country, to a university of 29,000 in desert heat. Living for four years in a totally different environment and culture, not only expanded my awareness, it helped me look at my home state and the people who lived there in very different ways when I returned to Maine.

I began my post college career working at the Augusta State hospital, later known as AMHI, and was there for 27 years. During that time, I got sober, got married, earned masters degrees in adult education and library science. I came to know and see as friends, many people who had a mental illness learning their stories was a big part of my foundation as a writer.


 Me and my sisters in our hippie days

I worked as a public librarian in one of the wealthier seaside communities, went on to handle library software for more than 100 public and academic libraries, then when my mom died, I burned out and spent the last nine years of my work life as the entire staff in a rural library where poverty was rampant.

People, events and locations in Maine have all factored into my writing. Many of my characters have issues, directly or indirectly with substance abuse, poverty, or both. Some of my characters are composites of young people I met while working with adolescents on the teen psych ward at AMHI. We have more coastline than California, plenty of dirt roads and logging trails, more trees than people in most states, lots of remote locations (many of our unorganized territories don’t even have names, just letters and numbers like T9, R7), and more genuine characters than Hollywood could cast in a lifetime.

When I was growing up, we had Republicans with ethics, huge blizzards (my father had to ski to the store during one storm in 1952 to get milk), and Maine was considered one state. Sadly, that last item has changed drastically in the past twenty years. The ‘Two Maines’ discussion has not only grown more divisive and the demarcation line between them has crept steadily north, leaving the rich and generally liberal set in the south, the poor and more conservative folks up in my area and north to the Canadian border.


 On a road east of Lincoln, Maine, a family gave up. This house misses them

There’s no end to story ideas here. That was one of the best parts about being a small town librarian, somebody came in every week with something, be it a question, a vent, or really interesting gossip that I would file away for future use.


 My favorite spot on the Appalachian trail just East of Carrying Place

My mother, A. Carman Clark used what she saw and experienced while living on Sennebec Hill Farm to write her column From The Orange Mailbox, which later became her first book. Sister Kate Flora has set her Joe Burgess police procedurals in Portland and has worked with law enforcement as well as a Maine game warden to craft several true crime books about events in Maine. I could go on for pages about other influences, but let’s save that for another time.


Sister Kate skating on the meadow at Sennebec Hill Farm

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Where Is YA? (Holly Schindler & Chris Tebbetts)

Seems like an odd question maybe--especially at a blog that has already been devoted to YA literature for years.

I (the "I" here being Holly Schindler, administrator of YA Outside the Lines) published my first YA in 2010. YA was my entry to the publishing world. YA opened all of my doors. YA taught me so much, introduced me to my first readers, brought me to my first author events--and, as a result, I have such a soft spot for the genre. 

I haven't published a new YA since 2016, though--and now, as I'm in the midst of re-releasing my early YA work and also drafting new YA work, I find myself asking, Where is YA these days? in a way I didn't when I first started drafting YA stories. 

I'll be featuring YA authors in a new ongoing series, as I ask, quit simply: Where was YA when you started? Where do you think YA is headed?

We're visited first by Chris Tebbetts, author of Me, Myself, and Him:


"I only have two YA novels, one published in 2006 and the other in 2019. Both of those books feature what I call incidentally gay protagonists, which is to say, my characters' sexuality isn’t the main focus (much less the main problem) of these stories. Back in 2006, this was a more unusual approach, at a time when a large proportion of LGBTQ YA was focused on the difficulties of being queer in a homophobic world. 



Now, fifteen years later, we’re seeing a much broader spectrum of queer stories--not to the exclusion of the ones that reflect the still real, and harsh, realities of what it means to be young and queer today—but in addition to those stories, alongside them on the shelves. I think the same is true for YA in general, where writers of color, disabled writers, Jewish writers, Muslim writers, and others, are finding inroads in publishing today with stories that aren’t beholden to the so-called pain narratives that used to more exclusively define their individual genres."


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Young Adult Books Are My Home

HOME. What a perfect topic for my first blog! 

Joining the authors at YA Outside the Lines feels like coming home and I want to say thank you for welcoming me. 

I wasn’t always a young adult author. I played with thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary romance (a few published). When my kids looked over my shoulder while I was writing, I’d have to cover the screen. At the time, they were too young for murders, crime, and all that takes place in a romance. When they asked, “When will you write something we can read?” I quickly penned a story about a soccer player and a gymnast. 

And fell in love with writing from a younger point of view. 

Teenage angst. First love. Popularity. Sports. Bullies. 

I’d always loved watching teen movies and shows, always loved reading young adult books, and yet never thought about writing a young adult tale. My kids were my inspiration, and I need to thank them too. 

While that first book will never see the light of day, it was what lit the creative spark to write young adult books. First came my Lost Daughters of Atlantis series. I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean and what lurks beneath. I love a fish out of water story, literally.













Then, my Warrior Academy series. Ancient warriors in present day San Francisco out to save the world from destruction.













My current series, A Glass Slipper Adventure, featuring kick-butt heroines in a twisted fairytale kingdom. And of course, a little romance.
 













You might’ve noticed all the books have a fantasy bent. They might be magical and make believe, but the books address real problems, real emotional conflicts, and real relationships. Things even I can relate to. But they also are fun quests, escapism, amazing worlds, and fantastical powers. 

After all, I’m a big kid—or teen—just with many more years of experience 😊 and one who finally found my home.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Mountains by Sydney Salter

I remember vividly a moment in which I realized that my surroundings absolutely affected my writing: I was coming out of a matinee of one of the Harry Potter films, feeling a bit of writerly envy for the series' success, but mainly for the tremendous world-building--the magic, the creatures, the secret passageways, alleys! 

I walked out of the dark theater into a glorious sunny day (we have a lot of these in Utah). The mountains, oh, the mountains--they take my breathe away so often when I'm just driving along burdened by errands, and then wham! The mountains.

Many years have passed since that moment, but I still tend to write stories based in a mountainous western setting, even if I skip all the cultural baggage that comes with Utah locales. I set My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters in Reno, a city also ringed by mountains, where I loved living as a teenager. I based the waterpark in Swoon At Your Own Risk after a quirky little place a few minutes from my house in Utah. 

Every morning I start my day snuggling on my sofa with a cup of coffee and a book. I watch the sun come over the mountains, a hint of pink blooming across the sky. And then I get up to write. 




Monday, November 8, 2021

Home Confinement and the Worst Decision

The calendar moves inexorably toward March 2022, marking two years of working from home at my desk on a PC laptop and giant monitor supplied by my job. Each appointment or event that necessitates leaving my home feels exhausting to contemplate in advance and even more exhausting after I return from it.

I try to remember how it was before. Was I so attached to being home? Did I spent as much time online? Did we get everything delivered?

I can't remember very much about the before time. I know I went to the office four days a week and worked from home on Fridays. I know I met colleagues for lunches and traveled to conferences. I know I took one annual trip for a work meeting in Europe--visiting Paris, Italy, London and even Estonia. I know I earned silver status on Delta.

I also remember taking my Mac Air to a local coffee place to write, returning home with the satisfaction that I'd been productive.  Maybe this is what I miss most of all.

Is that coffee place open or was it one of those pandemic commercial tragedies? Maybe I could check it out and see if they've put up one of those outdoor dining sheds. Bu it's getting too cold to sit outside and anyway the tables and chairs at most places aren't all that sturdy for the laptop. Plus where would I plug it in? 

I could try sitting inside. I have a vax card I can show, a requirement in NYC. But do I want to sit for hours inside wearing a mask or worrying because I'm not wearing one? 

No. It's better to play it safe, stay warm and try to write at home. 

What I do remember is how bad it was here when this all began in March 2020. The incessant sounds of sirens day and night bringing people to hospitals throughout Manhattan. Medical tents on an expanse of Central Park, pitched by an evangelical, anti-gay group invited to the city by the openly gay head of a historically Jewish hospital. As if an out of control pandemic in the city wasn't bad enough.

At one point in those early months we counted 20 people we knew who were sick, including two who hadn't made it through. One member of a couple was bedridden for two weeks, close to needing the hospital but luckily she recovered. Her wife had a mild case that resulted in months of long Covid. 

We were terrified. We bought the best masks, paying exorbitant prices on Ebay; had a friend from Ohio mail us toilet paper; and stocked up on handwipes and antibacterial soap. Our apartment looked like a warehouse and we considered ourselves lucky for that.

We stayed home, both of us working in a one-bedroom apartment, trying not to get in each others' ways. Earbuds, headphones, ambient music on You Tube. We reviewed our work calendars together each morning. We mastered Zoom and MS Teams. 

I tried to work on my book and couldn't. I needed a place to write that wasn't the same place where I spent the day at my job.

Taking a risk, I booked an Air BnB in upstate New York. The listing had all kinds of assurances about cleanliness and airflow. It was lovely but the heater did nothing to warm the place up. I was used to the enveloping warmth of a New York City apartment, where I could work in a t-shirt in December. Still, I made myself write and thought that maybe one day in the late spring I could come back again.

Then we took a leap of faith and bought a summer place at an historically gay beach community. My son and his wife thought it was humorous that we'd again bought a one-bedroom co-op instead of spreading out into a more spacious second home. But we loved it, and it ended up being my writing salvation. I worked outside on a wooden picnic table by the pool and inside at a desk, sitting in a comfortable desk chair I bought from Staples.

When my wife had to return to her in-person job at a school this semester, I went to the beach place by myself and wrote some more, adding a good amount to my word count.

Now with the summer in the rear view mirror, I am once again back home in the city, fully vaxxed and less terrified but still wary. I will be working from home until April of 2022, cruising past that fast-approaching two-year mark. I've gotten over my inability to write at home, thanks to an author friend who's also needing to complete a manuscript.  We write together everyday, and it's helping.

I worry that all this confinement has aged me and made me too comfortable in my home. I worry that this new normal will be permanent for me, even after the pandemic ends. I worry that I won't want to leave the house and that my existence will forever be lived online.

Before the pandemic, my wife and I used to joke that the worst decision we could make was to leave the house. We liked our little nest. Now, as things begin to resemble the before times, I need to once again not make the worst decision. Though this time, the worst decision is NOT to leave.  

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Home, Not-So-Sweet Home (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines, we’re talking about home: how the place where we grew up affects our stories.

Note: this is a somewhat awkward task for someone who hasn’t grown up yet.

My first thought is that, 16 years ago, I took an online voice class with ten other writers, the purpose of which was to dig deep and figure out where we came from and, with any luck, where we were going as writers. As a direct result of that class, I wrote my first YA novel...and kept writing them.

Several of the assignments in that voice class were focused on the assigned topic of this blog, and I just pulled out my old assignments and read them ... and got mildly depressed. Jesus, I did not have the most pleasant home or growing-up years. When I was eight, I moved from Minneapolis (where I live as an adult) to the much smaller Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and I always say (accurately! hoo boy) that I grew up in a family of eight only children (we had nothing in common), and I did everything I could to avoid them. God forbid I’d have my friends come over to our house.


There's no place like home. Luckily.

I will shock myself right now and actually post one of my horribly embarrassing voice-class assignments:

“I am 12 years old. We live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a little town an hour and a half from Minneapolis. I’m finishing 6th grade or starting 7th, and I’m just getting my first pair of glasses. Brown ugly things in the shape of octagons, and I’m at the start (because of the glasses) of the ugly years of junior high. I try to ignore the glasses, just as I try to ignore my family. My life is sports. The kids in my grade school weren’t all that friendly to me, since I wasn’t in one of the pre-established cliques that already existed when I arrived in third grade, so I don’t fit in. I have a few friends from grade school. The other kids don’t hate me; they tolerate me but don’t hang with me. But my life is sports. I play baseball all day and basketball on other days. For hours. I’m a tomboy, although I don’t call it that. I just play sports and do my own thing. I play sports as well as the boys, and they let me play with them. I often have 10 boys in my driveway shooting hoops with me. Maybe I can’t compete with the other girls on some levels, but I’m the one with 10 boys in my driveway, and they’re not, and that’s okay. I’ve just started playing tennis, and I kinda like Chris Evert but I’d rather play like Jimmy Connors. My serve is just like his, even though I’m just beginning and am just supposed to throw the ball in the air and hit it, not swoosh my racquet around behind me the way I do. I hit with Jimmy’s 2-handed backhand, hard and fierce, even though I’m still at a point where I get blown away on a court by the girls who’ve been playing a while.”

Now you know where my YA novels come from.

Growing up, I also acquired an extremely dark sense of humor to cope with the reality of my life. But my dark sense of humor doesn’t show up in my books and only very rarely shows up at all, and only with people I trust. My writing is light all the way, and I have no interest in writing another Great Expectations or Bleak House. Already been there, thanks!

But my YA novels really do channel a version of my actual self from my teen years. My heroines almost always play sports ... and when they don’t, they’re much harder to write. My novels tend to be set in and around Minneapolis and other parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, but they tend not to have anyone resembling my family in them, or anything else I’d still rather ignore all these years later. So, in many ways, they’re not at all a reflection of my “home.”

But me? Oh, yeah. I’m right there in the pages of my novels, but if you try to guess which character is closest to me, you might just guess wrong.

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.

Monday, November 1, 2021

News

The authors of YA Outside the Lines share their good news:

Holly Schindler is re-releasing her first YA, A Blue So Dark. 


Subscribe to her newsletter to be notified of the release.