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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

A month of nostalgia, remembrance, and triple-fudge brownies (plus a longing for Rover Bagels)

In the month of May, a month of remembrance (and our topic for this round), there are so many things to pay respect to, feel nostalgic about, and so many people to remember. Below is just a sampling of things I’m reflecting on this month:

 

1.     Our service men and women. In the month of May, I’m always thinking about those who’ve sacrificed – and continue to sacrifice – their time and lives for our country. 

 

2.     The loss of time. It truly does fly by. May is a month in which I take the time – and headspace – to honor the preciousness of life, because it is so fleeting. 

 

3.     Family members – those I never got to meet or who passed when I was really young, like my grandmother, who died when I was nine. I miss her fried-egg sandwiches (even though I no longer eat eggs), and playing cards with her in her peppermint-smelling living room.

 

4.     Rover Bagel. Silly but true; I’m a bit of a bagel connoisseur, and Rover Bagel used to have the very best bagels – Montreal-style (but even better than actual Montreal bagels because I’ve sampled those too). Crunchy on the outside, doughy on the inside, coated in perfectly toasted sesame seeds, and baked in a brick oven. Sadly, Rover Bagel went out of business several years ago. I miss them dearly.

 

5.     I’m feeling nostalgic about triple fudge brownies. I used to make them with my older son when he was little. I made them again recently and they brought me right back to those afternoons in the kitchen, elbow-deep in batter, when he’d get so excited about baking with his mom. He’s eighteen now and wants nothing to do with baking, sadly. I miss those “baking” times: decorating Easter eggs, taking him to the park, teaching him to ride a bike, watching his soccer games… He was always so excited about everything. But, as much as I miss that little guy, I’m so happy for the adult he’s become, and so happy he’s happy.

 

6.     I’m thinking about my mom and our relationship. I’m so lucky to still have her in my life; I remind myself of that nearly every day. She’s 84, and we still chat every day and I visit her often. But, I miss our day-long shopping sprees, our hours of conversation, and the power walks we used to take. 

 

7.     I’m remembering a very close family friend, one of the most generous, selfless women I knew. We had kids around the same time and we lived on the same street – twice – having moved near one another more than once. She passed just after Christmas this past year – and the loss totally hit me from the side.

 

8.     I’m remembering the loss of another friend whose daughter just went to her junior prom. Life is so short. Hug your people. Honor each day.  

 

9.     I’m thinking about the loss of innocence. Growing up, school doors, while school was in session, were never locked (at least, not where I went to school), but now it’s a necessity. We live in a world where we can no longer take for granted that schools are going to be a safe place after drop-off, that desks are not just used as a surface for writing (but as fortresses as well). We can no longer keep the entrance doors open to let the fresh air in on bright, sunny days.  And, as we all know, it’s not just schools that have proven vulnerable to acts of violence and terror. Malls, nightclubs, churches, universities, and other places of business have also been targeted. 

 

10.  Covid has also brought a loss of innocence. Gatherings, these past few years, for many, came with the fear (and in many cases the reality) of becoming gravely ill and/or passing that illness on to others. I’m thinking about the people who’ve lost loved ones due to Covid these past few years. 

 

11.  I’m remembering how my younger son used to hide behind my leg nearly everywhere we went; he’s 15 now and publicly displaying his art, showing himself in the bravest, most amazing ways. 

 

12.  Traveling. I’m thinking a lot about trips I’ve taken, as a family as well as on my own. Each trip has touched my life in meaningful ways. I love seeing new things; meeting people; gaining perspective; talking to readers, authors, and aspiring writers... Covid had pretty much halted traveling for a couple of years, but I’m looking forward to doing more of it very soon.


What (or who) are you reflecting on, feeling nostalgic about, and/or remembering this 

month?

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Book covers old and new—reflections on 30 years in publishing (Brenda Hiatt)

 A couple of months ago, I celebrated the 30th anniversary of publishing my first book. (And yes, that does make me feel old, thanks for asking.) To mark the occasion, I made a video about the evolution of the cover of that first book over the years. You can see it HERE

 





I’d like to think those covers showed steady improvement from the original to my first indie effort to the current cover. 


I’ve updated other book covers over the years, as I learned more about the markets and as fashions changed. Most of my historical romance covers went through at least three iterations after I got the rights back from HarperCollins, and it’s likely I’ll have them redesigned yet again as the styles of bestselling covers in that genre continue to change—as they always do, over time. 


For the most part, though, I haven’t felt a need to update my YA covers because I love them so much. On recommendation from a fellow author, I hired a cover designer for those books whose work I absolutely adore. Unfortunately, she was unavailable when the time came to have the cover for my second book in the series designed. I actually, literally cried when she informed me she was taking a yearlong sabbatical! Because I still needed a cover, I hired a different designer, one who’d done some of my Regency covers. Alas, the concept I gave her to work with was admittedly rather lame (that sort of thing is not my strength, which is why I hire professionals to create my covers!) Still, she did a good job of turning it into a cover I felt was passable. 

 

By the time I needed a cover for book 3, my original artist was available again and I’ve had her do the subsequent novels in the series. I considered having her redo the 2nd book’s cover, but she’s both very busy and rather expensive, so I kept putting it off… Then, at a recent book signing, I met an author who designs her own covers and I was so taken by her work that I asked if she’d take a shot at redoing my Starcrossed cover. I’m very pleased with the result and it definitely fits the “look” of the series much better than the original. 

What do you think? 


  

If thirty years in this business has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is ever written in stone. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward if you want to survive and prosper. So onward and upward!



Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning Starstruck series.













Sunday, May 22, 2022

Remembering What We'd Rather Forget by Patty Blount

I receive quite a lot of negative messages from people who think I'm too political. They just want me to be an author, not an American citizen with opinions who votes her conscience. 

Sorry, that ain't gonna happen. 

If you read my books, guess what? They're political. They shouldn't be, because in my heart, I'm writing about important issues and justice and equality. But they are, because women are still fighting for those things. 

What if you're not a woman? These issues impact you, too. That's exactly why I wrote SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW (SIU2K), a novel that parents in Florida banned. (My book sales thank you for this, by the way.) 

SIU2K deals with toxic masculinity, rape, and bullying. I suppose these concerned parents think if you read about these issues, they might happen to you. 

I call bullsh*t on that. The truth is, I write about these issues because they ARE happening and I want you to be able to read about them in the safety and privacy of your home, your library, your dorm. I want you to know how to avoid these situations and if you can't, how to fight back and heal if you do experience them. 

Let's start with the first group: women. I want us to remember the thousands of women who experience sexual assault and rape in our country, who may not receive justice because the perpetrators are athletes like Brock Turner, well known public figures like a coach or a prince or a senator, or a family member, like an uncle or a brother. 

I want us to remember that women's bodies are not playgrounds for people to use and discard at whim. 

I want us to remember that America was founded on the principle of liberty and justice for ALL yet there are huge segments of our population that have always been and still are not included in that capitalized word. We cannot be the LAND OF THE FREE unless and until women are allowed to make their own healthcare decisions and yes, that includes abortion. I don't care if you think sweet little babies are being murdered. I care about a woman who has her choice stripped from her. 

Let's turn now to the men. Yes, these issues affect you, too. In SIU2K, I show how toxic masculinity compelled a character to participate in a misogynistic game that sent one player to jail and ruined countless lives. Toxic masculinity makes a game out of sex and if you believe a woman should be forced to bear the results of sex while men get to continue "having fun," "scoring," "getting lucky," "seeing some action," etc., then congratulations! You're a victim of toxic masculinity and likely have engaged in behavior to 'prove you're a man' in some peer-pressure manner that could very well have resulted in similar consequences. 

Know what else? Your participation in these games means you and your friends or your brothers are LESS LIKELY to report sexual assault and rape when it happens to you. 

What was that you said? Oh! You didn't think men could be raped? It happens. 1 out of every 10 victims is male, according to rainn.org. But most do not report their assaults and so, no justice is ever obtained and likely, no professional help for the trauma is ever sought. Because how would it LOOK to your pals if you admitted it happened to you? 

I want us to remember all the male survivors of rape who have been gagged by our society and its toxic masculinity. 

I write these books because I think fiction like mine is important for helping young readers develop empathy and challenging world views like what it means to be a real man. I write these books because I want us to remember what has happened, what could happen, so IT DOES NOT HAPPEN ANYMORE. 

Let us remember the thousands who are victimized and will be forever victimized when basic human rights are stripped from us. 



Saturday, May 21, 2022

Summers More Than Memory (Holly Schindler)

It's summer here. 

It happened suddenly, which is Missouri's way. Just a few weeks ago, I was still in coats and clicking my electric blanket on. 

Somehow, this year, the old summers feel close. Summers of long afternoons and books. Summers of car drives and ponytails, bare feet and no makeup. Summers with no deadlines. 

Some of this feeling comes every year, right on schedule. Hot weather, kids screaming when they get of the bus for the last time that year. Being out in the lawn beneath the same trees that stood when I was a little girl, reading in their shade. It can bring it all back. The old feelings can find me. 

The memories felt good, even though the summers of old were long gone.

But this year, I'm letting go. Of deadlines and five-thousand-words-a-day self-imposed requirements. Of keeping up with my online life ever hour. Of getting a book drafted two weeks faster than the last book...then two weeks faster the next time. 

I'm a caretaker these days--for my house, family members, an epileptic dog. It's a lot--I try to get dinner whipped into shape first thing in the morning, before I even think about working. I write in snatches of time, between painting and mowing and laundry and dividing meds into those weekly packs. I always helped the family, but my time is stretched thinner than it's ever been. Some of the letting-go is sheer necessity. 

And it's also a blessing. 

Because the summer of youth is still right here. It's not a memory. It exists. Maybe not in the summer's entirety, but in snatches of time, too. It's there, if you let go. It'll find you. 

~

Holly Schindler is an author of books for readers of all ages. Her debut YA, A Blue So Dark, has re-released and is available where books are sold.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Trapper Who Loved Dahlias

 

John Clark sharing memories about my favorite relative and times enjoyed with him and others in Somerset and Franklin Counties. My great uncle Leland Look was the baby of his family. He had four older sisters, Lillian, Lottie, Lucille, and my paternal grandmother, Della.

I was closer to that side of the family because they were Mainers, while my other grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all lived in upstate New York. I remember me and my two younger sisters riding in the back of our 1948 Dodge pick-up, passing over winding roads and going through downtown Waterville at night. Imagine the shock and horror if someone let their kids ride while standing up in the bed of a pick-up today. Back then, nobody even blinked.

We’d stay at my grandmother’s house in West New Portland, half a mile from the wire bridge that still spans the Carrabasset River on the way to Kingfield. My sisters and I loved sleeping on the screened in porch, watching fireflies blink about and listening to the occasional car passing on the road. My late grandfather was probably the last circuit riding and barter dentist in Maine. He had offices in the house, in Bingham, Kingfield and Rangeley. During the depression, he’d accept wild game, hides and firewood in exchange for dental work. I spend many hours in his long unused office and discovering interesting stuff in the attic. I still remember the sex manual I found when I was twelve. It was published around the turn of the century and even at my young age, I cracked up numerous times at all the euphemisms used to describe the sex act.


Leland, Gram Della and my sister Kate

Uncle Leland was a true renaissance man. He was postmaster in New Vineyard, Maine for forty years, cut and split his own firewood, trapped for until he was in his eighties, and raided dinner plate dahlias every year. They decorated the curving porch that wrapped around two side of the house where he and Aunt Ruby lived. Those flowers greeted thousands of people driving to and from Canada every year.

He and Ruby also had a camp on Porter Lake between New Vineyard and Strong. He, like me, loved to fish. He had a twelve foot canoe with an electric motor attached to one side. I don’t remember him ever returning from trolling Porter lake and being skunked. He caught more than his share of togue (lake trout). When I was in my twenties and had time off from my job at the large state hospital in Augusta, I’d often drive to New Vineyard and we’d fish the west branch of the Carrabasset for brook trout. In between bites, he’d share bits of family history and other fishing experiences with me.

Aunt Ruby had been married to an alcoholic before Leland and had emotional scars from the experience. As Leland put it one day while we were out fishing, “She’s hell on liquor.” Once in a while, he’d use our excursions to sneak a beer.

Uncle Leland at his retirement party from the post office
 

Even to this day, I’m not clear on the reasons, but Leland’s first wife, Rose died of breast cancer and Ruby took care of her near the end. That was how she and Leland met. His three children by Rose treated her terribly, even though I never heard an unkind word leave her lips. It was her and Leland’s welcoming love and kindness that keeps their memories fresh. I could stop in at ant time, day or night, and be greeted warmly, get a hot bath if I was cold and wet, plus a meal and fresh coffee. The last time I stopped to see him, it was ‘Upta Camp’ as we say in Maine. He was painting the porch when he turned to me and said, “I’ve had a great life.” It was as though he’d had a premonition because he died in his sleep that night.

When Leland died, it was the last time I remember crying and that was some forty years ago. I kept him alive by making him a character in The Wizard of Simonton Pond, while Aunt Ruby lives on with my daughter Lisa having Ruby as her middle name.

Monday, May 16, 2022

 Unknown American Heroes by Allie Burton


While researching a young adult historical book, I came across information I’d never learned in school. Over 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. They served while their grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends were relocated and imprisoned in incarceration camps in our American west. Internees in most cases lost their homes, business, and possessions when they were interned. Almost two-thirds were American citizens.

Executive Order 9066 was issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. This order authorized the evacuation of all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers further inland. The order didn’t deem caucasian people of German or Italian descent a national threat. Only those of Japanese descent, some of whom had never visited Japan.

Still, Japanese Americans from the Nisei generation (meaning born in America) volunteered to serve. Segregated into all Japanese American units with white officers, they faced dangerous conditions, sometimes coming under friendly fire. The 100th/442nd Infantry Regiment became the most decorated unit in U.S. Military history. Approximately 800 Japanese Americans were killed in battle.

And that’s who I will be remembering on Memorial Day. Those who served while being discriminated against at home, those who took extreme risks in dangerous conditions, those who died without recognition.

#niseigeneration #japaneseamericans #memorialday #worldwarII


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Memory. Loss. | Writing About Grief | Sara Biren

 


When I was eight years old, my friend Jason died from injuries that occurred when a tree limb fell on the tent where he was sleeping with his sister. A storm had passed through their campsite at a state park. Just a month before, on Mother’s Day, we’d made our First Communion together. 

I did not want to go to Jason’s wake. I was sad and upset and terrified. The only other person I’d known who had died was my grandmother. I was three and remembered very little about that time. But my mother and Jason’s were good friends from church. In fact, his mom had been our CCD teacher and had prepared us for First Confession and First Communion. 

My family and I went to the wake on a hot, humid summer evening. I hung back, not wanting to walk up to the front where my friend lay motionless in a casket, wearing the suit he'd worn for First Communion. Mom told me I had to. 

“What do I do?” I asked.

“Kneel down and say a prayer for his soul,” she said.

“Which prayer?”

Jason’s mother had taught us so many different prayers that year but how could we have possibly known we’d need them for this?

“Whichever one feels right,” she said.

She walked up to the casket with me and placed a hand on my shoulder to gently push me forward. 

I remember the worn, faded velvet of the kneeler in front of the casket, a deep rose. I remember the rosary in his hands that were folded together as if in prayer. I remember that his skin looked waxy and artificial. I remember the sick feeling in my stomach, the tears leaking from my eyes, my shaky breaths as I knelt at my friend’s casket, closed my eyes, and began to pray: Hail Mary, full of grace…

Jason’s mother was a part of my life for the rest of my childhood and into my adulthood. A few months after I graduated from college, I had surgery and spent three days in the hospital recovering. She happened to be there, too, and came to visit me even though I wasn’t able to speak well. I don’t remember what we talked about.

Fast forward to another hot, humid, stormy summer night, 16 years later. I was two years out of college, working retail, living with a friend, and struggling to find my place in the world. I wanted to go to graduate school for creative writing but so many obstacles stood in my way. I’d decided to take a “sampler” class at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I was writing a story about a young woman who reflects on the death of her best friend and the relationship she continues to have with the friend’s mother. The story, called “Cat’s Cradle,” explores loss and grief and how, when someone we love dies and leaves this world physically, they are with us still.

By this time, I had experienced the death of many others: my remaining grandparents, an uncle, a stillborn niece, my friend Nicole who died when we were 16. “Cat’s Cradle” and the emotions of the narrator are, of course, influenced by my memories, my experiences with those losses.

The thing is, except for what I can find in the journals I kept over the years, my memories are hazy and were even then. In some cases, I remember the smallest, exact details, like those of Jason’s wake. Those details are still, all these years later, crystal clear. In other instances, I wonder if my memories have shifted or blurred. In “Cat’s Cradle,” the narrator receives a call from her friend's mother, which then causes her to to revisit the death of her friend, slipping back into her grief. I think I was inspired to start that story because Jason’s mother called me that night but I’m not certain. The lines of what is real and what is fiction have blurred but the feelings remain the same. 

That story was difficult to write. I recall reading it aloud to my classmates and then ducking out to a courtyard during the break to smoke a cigarette and cry. The instructors came outside to sit with me and hold my hand and hug me close. 

Years later, I would write The Last Thing You Said and explore the lives of two characters left behind: grieving, learning how to live without their best friend and sister, learning how to live with each other without her. My grief became their grief but in different ways. 

Writing about grief and loss is an intense, personal experience. The circumstances of your character’s grief might be worlds apart from your own but it’s impossible to write their grief without mining and drawing from your own. 

It’s going to hurt. There will be days when you can’t manage reading another journal entry filled with the memories and the pain of your sixteen-year-old self. There will be days when you can’t write another word, when you sit on your balcony and watch storm clouds move across the sky instead. Eventually, you'll go back to the story because the story needs to be told. For yourself, for others.

In the end, if the grief on the page rings true and fills you (and hopefully your reader) with both heartbreak and healing, you’ll know that you got it right. 


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Memorial To Past Experiences (Sydney Salter)

Each of my novels contains at least one small memorial to my past experiences. Sometimes I'd like to atone for something I've done, like wrecking the delivery van and the wedding cake in My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters. In high school I worked for about three days at the Cake and Flower Shoppe in Reno, NV. At the beginning of my shift, I crumpled the sliding van door against a metal post. We had to crawl through the back of the van to load a wedding cake. Wanting to be helpful, when we arrived at the wedding, I placed one of the tiers on the little columns. That crashed, too. I got fired. Ironically, I had to ride my bike home because my mom had taken away my car for some reason that neither of us can remember. 



Sometimes the truth is worse than fiction can be, but I love how writing about difficult experiences can feel like a bit of repentance. After My Big Nose was published, I visited the Cake and Flower Shoppe, and they still remembered my brief employment. It felt good to give them a paperback copy of my apology.

Swoon At Your Own Risk pays homage to the few months that my psychologist mother moved in with my family. I had fun with that one. The story served as a memorial to a busy happy time of career building, raising kids in an extended family.



Now my mom lives with me again, retired, nutty, ailing and in need of lots of doctor's appointments that always get a little too weird. My kids are adults living far away. I know that I'll put this time into fiction, someday. But maybe not all at once. Like the wrecked van, the truth might be a bit too much for fiction. 

Writing helps me process my life. Just this morning my mom came upstairs, and we talked about the lingering stresses of the pandemic, and as she took her pills, one at a time, with all the melodrama of a mediocre soap opera actress, she said, "I know you'll be okay, though. Because you are writing."

She's right. 

Again.

Friday, May 6, 2022

On Memorial! (Mary Strand)

May is “memorial” month at YA Outside the Lines ... whatever that means to each of us who blog here.

I’m going in a different direction from the sort of thing I expected to write, but it’s on my mind right now. A lot.

I’m currently hard at work on copyedits to the third and final book in my Pendulum women’s fiction trilogy, which releases on June 8. (After it’s done, I can go back to my usual life of writing YA novels! Yeah!)

Book 3, Seemingly Perfect, is about Vic (mostly), Tess, Midge, and Andrea, who 20 years ago had been in a group of five girls who hung out together in high school. The fifth one, Carrie, died during the fall of their freshman year of college while joyriding on her first adventure in her brand-new truck.


 

The characters in my books are composites, their lives and actions and dialogue shaped from snippets of my own life and that of almost everyone I know or have ever read or heard about. (So, basically, they’re both everyone and no one you know.) The heroines definitely aren’t “really” me, despite what readers sometimes like to imagine, although a heroine named Becca in my upcoming-some-day YA series about a high school for psychics comes close. For better or worse!

Carrie in Seemingly Perfect is the exception to my composite rule. She’s the fictional version of my high-school friend, Nancee Eberhardt, who died in the same way that Carrie did in my novel. It’s been (mumble-mumble) years since high school, but I still think about Nancee, who was my first close friend to die. Revising this novel has brought it ALL back, as if that horrible tragedy had happened yesterday. Tears galore.


 

(I, too, was part of a group of five girls who hung out together in high school, but the four surviving women in my novel are my usual composite suspects, not representative of the other four of us in real life. By the way, our high school’s name was Memorial, and our school song was “On Memorial!” How perfect for this topic!)

Memorial Day is meant to commemorate those who’ve died in service to our country. But I don’t limit it that way. To me, it’s about those I’ve lost, period. Like Nancee. Like several other friends and so many family members who’ve died. But now, in our third year of a pandemic that sometimes feels like it’ll never end, I think of it as something more. Most of us have lost at least a few friends in the pandemic, and not always due to death. No one close to me has died from COVID, but people you thought you knew have turned into people you no longer recognize. Maybe dealing with the insanity of this pandemic simply either changed them or revealed their true inner selves, voluntarily or otherwise. (For fellow writers: The Hero’s Journey in real life!)

Right now I’m thinking about and missing those I’ve lost, whether to death or other circumstances. And I’m especially thinking about you, Nancee. Miss you still.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

YAOTL News

 Mary Strand has an upcoming new release, now on preorder and releasing on May 4. 



Driving with the Top Down, book 2 in Mary's Pendulum trilogy, is women's fiction, not YA, and is available at the preorder price of 3.99 cents. It's a summer beach read, funny stuff about taking two steps forward and one step back! For more on the book, check it out on Mary's website.