Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Enjoy This Moment

Gus enjoys moments with food or flowers.
When the universe was handing out patience, I must have been in the bathroom. Because I got hardly any of that stuff. But I do have an overabundance of anxiety and nerves and restless energy, which just means they were handing those out with doughnuts, and of course I went back for seconds. But if you are a writer, you will have to learn patience.

As the wise old sage that I am, I always tell my students to stop looking forward to things in their future and learn to enjoy the present. The present is the only thing we have, and if we are always wanting our days to speed by to get to the next thing, those days will oblige us, and before we know it, too many days have passed and few are lying ahead. So as a teacher, I am full of advice.

Which I hardly ever take. Because as a writer, I’m ready to get finished with the first draft, be done with edits, get it on the shelves, write another one. And my husband recently threw my own advice back in my face. He told me to stop looking forward to my book release and enjoy this moment. (Oh wise hubby! Where did you learn that? ) Since I have many more books in me, he reminded me that if I’m always looking forward to the release, I will be always looking forward – and never enjoying where I am.

Some of you are in query hell. Some of you have subs out with editors. Some of you are working on your very first draft of your very first novel and wanting to be done already. I understand your impatience. I feel it every single day.

But I am making a conscious effort to enjoy where I am. I will enjoy these revisions because they are the first I am doing with an editor. I will enjoy this afternoon because it is October and I only get one of these months a year. I will enjoy my birthday later this week, because even though I’m getting older, the alternative is much worse. And I will enjoy family who drive me crazy and students who frustrate me because I am lucky to have both in my life.

So I will enjoy this moment, wherever I may be. Who’s with me?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Teen Perspective: Review of PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

It's time for another Teen Perspective Book Review. I've been wanting to read Perks of Being a Wallflower long before the movie was made, but like so many others in by TBR pile, it kept being pushed to the bottom as new ones were added to the top. When I saw they were making a movie out of it, I moved the book back up to the top. But then Angelle, my teen reviewer, pretty much hounded me until I put everything else aside and read it.

One of the great things about teaching teens is their passion. It is also why I write for teens. Angelle and some of my other students were so passionate about this book, were such advocates, that I just had to see why they loved it so much. And I appreciate their courage in recommending it to me. If they are anything like me, then they have a hard time recommending books that mean that much to them. If someone doesn't like a book that you feel speaks to you in such a way that you are changed when you come out the other side, then it feels like they have betrayed you. If they say ugly things about a book that is your heart, they are saying ugly things about you. (I feel like way about Fahrenheit 451. That books means so much to me, and when people criticize it, I feel criticized and my soul is sore.) Some books seem to be a letter written only to us.

I enjoyed Perks. It felt very much like Catcher in the Rye, and I adored Charlie. You have to. The character development was extremely well done, and the innocent yet stark way Charlie viewed life was great. But I'm going to keep my review short so that Angelle can talk about it. After all, this is her Fahrenheit 451.

October 15, 2012
Dear friend,
I’ve never reviewed a book formally before and I’m especially nervous because this book is so important to me, but I’ll do my best to do it justice. Ok here it goes. Let’s start with the basics. I was just a wee little sophomore when my friend and past reviewer, Emily, gave me Perks of Being a Wallflower, saying it was one of her favorite books.  I was so excited because Emily reads about 5 million books a week (seriously, this girl is Matilda) so I knew that it was something special. I had never read a book like this before. As most 15 year olds, I was reading lots of young adult books with mild subject matters, dreamy boys with cool names like Ashton or Jace, and most importantly, happy endings.  Perks of Being a Wallflower is the opposite of all of that nonsense and that is why it is so great. This book is raw and real, so be prepared for disappointment if you’re expecting a bubbly teenybopper novel.

The whole book is written in letters from Charlie to “friend”, who is never revealed. The book starts with Charlie the day before he starts his first day of high school. Charlie is a really introverted dude with serious social problems. He has no friends after the recent suicide of his best friend Michael. He has a hard time connecting with other kids his age and would rather get lost in a book then deal with the things going on around him. It wasn’t until Charlie went to a football game trying to “participate” in high school life that he met Patrick, (possibly the best character EVER) who he knew as “Nothing” from shop class, and of course the one and only Sam. They took him under their wings, appreciating his quirky and shy behavior. Later on in the book they took him to his first high school party, where he met Mary Elizabeth, Alice, and Bob. It was at that party which Patrick finally coined Charlie’s wallflower status. “You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

I absolutely love this book because it has REAL characters who I can really relate myself and people I know to. Charlie and his friends are those kids who wear “weird” clothes, listen to music they don’t play on the radio, and have their own ideas about how things should be. They don’t care what people think and I absolutely, positively, 100% love that. I guess I loved these characters so much because I see myself and my friends in them, which makes it so much more real to me.  Charlie is so pure because he’s crazy, really he is, but he doesn’t know it. Charlie has a right to be very sad but he isn’t; like everyone else, Charlie is just trying to get through life the best he can, despite his circumstances. You would think Charlie is a depressing character from hearing him described, but he really isn’t and I think that is why he’s such an interesting person. He’s hopelessly in love with Sam, who I like. Usually the main girl character annoys me because she is usually perfect and just kind of deals with the choice of which boy she should choose or something dumb like that. Sam is a real girl with real problems. Her past is a broken one, which made me really like her. She’s a very round character who has her own problems to deal with. Sam is not a damsel in distress begging to be rescued; she is a broken girl struggling against the current of life just trying to keep her head above water. Charlie finds Sam beautiful and I think part of her beauty is in her sadness. Patrick is Sam’s brother and my favorite person ever born, written, thought up, whatever you want to say. He is cooler than any of us will ever be and that is just the truth. I’ll let you take that in for a moment…. Ok and we’re back. Patrick. I LOVE HIM.  Let’s talk about it. First of all I want to thank Stephen Chbosky for making him a real person. Patrick as you may or may not know is gay (sorry to tell you ladies), but thankfully is not portrayed as a sassy best friend: purely there to give fashion advice, drink coffee, and make catty comments like most gay characters in books are. Don’t get me wrong, he’s hilarious, but he’s much more dynamic than the occasionally sassy comeback. I think my favorite part about Patrick is how unapologetic he is for being himself and I just love that so much! I enjoyed Mary Elizabeth for her spunk and stubbornness, which I can relate to.  I like Bob a lot too because he’s that simple pot head type who’s just nice to everybody. Over all I think Chbosky did a really good job making these characters intriguing. I say intriguing because it’s their faults that make them more interesting. I think we can all see aspects of our own lives in theirs.

I could write a whole novel just talking about how much I enjoyed this book and how important it is to me. It deals with issues like abortion, abuse, and self love, which are real issues teens deal with. I would DEFINITELY suggest this book to anyone, but especially teens. I’ve heard a lot of people say this book is too depressing which I STRONGLY disagree with. Anyone who has actually taken the time to read and UNDERSTAND this book for what it really is knows that this book is something beautiful, and just like Sam, there is a certain beauty in sadness. The best thing about this book is that it’s not obnoxiously sad. It doesn’t shove depressing situations in your face and force you to cry yours eyes out. I think Charlie’s social “wallflower-ness” helps to blatantly express what’s happening and he can honestly express his feelings almost matter of factly. I never felt like the book was supposed to make me cry. It was always the things Charlie said that I just connected with so much that I couldn’t help but to get emotional. This book doesn’t make you cry because you feel bad for Charlie, it makes you cry because you see yourself in Charlie and feel the pain with him. You feel the emotions of all the characters. They are all broken in some way and are just trying to find the missing pieces like everyone is. That’s why it bothers me when people say this book is sad because it’s not. This book is life. Life has some sad moments, some happy ones, but most importantly, infinite ones!

                                                                                                            Love always,


Monday, October 15, 2012

Writing is Hard

I use the idea of pushing through pain a lot when I’m teaching.  Maybe it’s because so many of my students claim to experience physical pain while taking my class.  Their brain hurts when they read Julius Caesar.  Their hands hurt when they’re writing their essays.  They claim the research papers deaden their souls, which sounds pretty painful to me. But my response is always the same.  Difficult things hurt but are the most rewarding when accomplished.

I’ve run six marathons. They hurt every single time. The first time I ran twenty miles was the most painful experience I’d ever had – even more so than my knee surgery. I remember the last couple of miles feeling like there were needles embedded in my quads. I’m really not exaggerating. It was the lactic acid building up, but I didn’t care what the hell was actually causing it. I just wanted it to stop.

But I didn’t stop. So when I stepped up to the starting line of that first marathon, I was ready. Of course, I was only beginning to learn about pain. 26.2 miles is somehow infinitely more painful than 20.  It wasn’t pretty.  It hurt.  I made rookie mistakes that made it hurt worse.  At around mile twenty-three or so, I totally understood why people curled up in the snow and died. I was that tired.  I wanted to collapse on the side of the rode and sleep. But I didn’t.

I cursed myself and the distance and even the sunshine the last few miles. I vowed to never, ever run a marathon again. I made deals with God.  And I cried.  I cried even harder when I crossed the finish line.  I couldn’t walk very well and my husband was there to make sure I didn’t fall over (it was actually highly probable at that point) but once I’d wiped the tears away, before I’d even made it very far from the finish line, I was ready to sign up for another one. Because the exhilaration and pride that comes with finishing a marathon is like nothing else.  So I’ve done several more, and they’ve hurt less, but not much. And it’s worth it every single time.

Writing is painful. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe you sit down and your Muse is a unicorn who whinnies softly in your ear while the words flow like a swift stream. Not me.  If I have a Muse, she’s more the type to beat the hell out of me and leave me in some back alley, bleeding and cursing the day I was born. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I love writing more than anything.  I love taking words and creating something where there once was nothing.  I love revising too.  I love cutting and pruning until the story is what I'd envisioned.  But along the way there is doubt.  There is fear that I can’t do this story justice.  There is certainty that I’m not good enough to do this.  Sometimes it hurts like hell and I wonder why I ever thought I could do it.

So writing is like running a marathon. It hurts. Sometimes you want to quit. But if you’re lucky, there are people there to keep you from falling. And when you cross that finish line, it’s worth every painful moment. And I’m not talking about the finish line of being published. My book won’t be on shelves for another year. I’m talking about that sense of accomplishment when your own words make your heart race, when someone else loves those words and lets you know just how much, when someone else completely gets your characters.

Writing is hard. Writing is painful. But it’s so worth it.

After the finish of the 2011 RocknRoll New Orleans Marathon.
I look as rough as I felt.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


So I can finally share the cover of The Dollhouse Asylum with you.  Isn't it amazing?  The book was written by my Spencer Hill Press sister Mary Gray, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. 

The Dollhouse Asylum

A virus that had once been contained has returned, and soon no place will be left untouched by its destruction. But when seventeen-year-old Cheyenne wakes up in Elysian Fields--a subdivision cut off from the world and its monster-creating virus--she is thrilled to have a chance at survival.

At first, Elysian Fields,with its beautiful houses and manicured lawns, is perfect. Teo Richardson, the older man who stole Cheyenne's heart, built it so they could be together. But when Teo tells Cheyenne there are tests that she and seven other couples must pass to be worthy of salvation, Cheyenne begins to question the perfection of his world.

The people they were before are gone. Cheyenne is now "Persephone," and each couple has been re-named to reflect the most tragic romances ever told. Everyone is fighting to pass the test, to remain in Elysian Fields. Teo dresses them up, tells them when to move and how to act, and in order to pass the test, they must play along.

If they play it right, then they'll be safe.

But if they play it wrong, they'll die.

Title: The Dollhouse Asylum
Author: Mary Gray
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press (www.spencerhillpress.com) Please feel free to use any images, text, links, etc. from our website.
ISBN: 978-1-937053-64-2

Release Date: October 22, 2013
Formats: Paper, e-book

Add it to your Goodreads shelf here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I can’t believe I’m writing a review of The Casual Vacancy.  Those of you who read this blog know that I only review books that I love, books that I would recommend to others, and The Casual Vacancy doesn’t really fall into either category.  It is a harsh book, and I often put it aside because the characters were difficult and made me very uncomfortable.  But this seems to be what Rowling was going for, so I have to commend her on pulling that bit off spectacularly.

Books are personal for me.  Whether or not I like a book has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the writer. Thus, I hate books that are well done and may love some books which could have been improved with a little more editing.  But I do believe one of the best tests of a great book is whether or not the author has accomplished what he or she set out to do.  As a writer, I know how difficult this is.  Sometimes I have a wonderful idea that I am so afraid of screwing up.  I fear taking this idea and not being able to do it justice, to write it the way I see it all played out in my head.  I read a book once, which shall remain nameless, that I hated.  The premise was cool, but the author did not make good on her promise.  The plot was shoddy and the characters were two-dimensional.  There was no motivation for anything they did, and I did not buy into their story.  Rowling, however, has taken a difficult story and accomplished what she set out to do, and I believe that is the mark of a great author.

The Casual Vacancy is a challenging book.  While the writing is good, the language is harsh and the characters are hateful.  I disliked most of the characters (and truly hated some of them), but that was because they were so real and honest.  They got right in your face and shouted their flaws.  They were not easy for the reader to love or root for.  This is also difficult when you are a writer.  You are told that, even if your character is unlovable, the reader must sympathize with them in some way.  This was not the case for me with the characters is The Casual Vacancy, but yet, for some reason, I couldn’t give up on their story.

This book is about a town and its inhabitants.  It begins with the death of Barry Fairbrother, who is on the parish council.  But it’s not a mystery as many have assumed.  It is a character study.  The book starts a little slow, as there is a bit of info dump at the beginning, and since it is told in third person omniscient, it was extremely difficult to keep up with all the characters. But once I got well into the book, I was amazed at the intricate workings of each person’s story and how it connected them to the other characters.  I won’t give away the ending, but how everything finally comes together in the climax is incredible.

This is not a book I would recommend for everyone.  It is not entertaining, nor is it an escape from reality.  It is reality – it is gritty and in your face.  It made me uncomfortable, which I believe was its intention.  But it stayed with me.  It was a hard book to get through, not because the writing was bad or the characters were flat, but because they weren’t.  The characters were so real they made me cringe.  And somehow Rowling made me feel for the characters at the end of the story, even if I didn’t like them.

So maybe I don’t love this book, but I respect it, both for what it is and what it isn’t.  There isn’t any magic, but there is brokenness and the possibility of redemption, no matter how remote or unlikely.  And realistically, that’s what life is – the possibility of recovering from our mistakes or allowing them to destroy us completely.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Students Respond to Banned Books Week

Poster one of my students made. Isn't she clever?
As an avid reader, I have always urged my students to celebrate banned books week by reading something someone else has deemed "wrong".  As the book club sponsor, we celebrate the week by hanging up posters and having a "read-in".  Earlier in the week, I posted my thoughts on banned books week.  You can read that post here.

But I also wanted my students to discuss their feelings on banned books week, since they are the ones it seems to affect most often.  So I encouraged by book club members to jot a few things down, and three of them participated with coercion gladly. 


Personally, books are my escape from reality.  Something I hold dear to my heart. I love to lose myself in a good book. Shock value is one of the best parts of the books I read. The thought of people I don’t know restricting me from reading something purely because they find it offensive is disturbing. People should be able to read what they want without “the man” trying to control them. So many amazing books that have affected my life have been banned in schools, which is truly a shame. Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Perks of Being a Wallflower are all great books that have been banned in some schools. Hunger Games, for example is a riveting book, and though some people might find it offensive, I loved it, enjoying the absurdity of it all.  I mean really, who doesn’t like a good book about children fighting to the death to avoid starvation? The point is I read all three of the Hunger Games books and I’m just fine. I’m not shooting arrows at people or trying to bring down a corrupt government. It was my choice to read that book knowing its theme was kind of morbid and I value that it was MY CHOICE, not someone I’ve never met deciding whether or not I could handle it. Banning books is banning knowledge and growth which OBVIOUSLY is wrong. I will keep reading banned books because that is my right and I truly do value it.


When I look back at all the books I have read, it shocks me to think over half of them are considered “banned”.  I have never found anything wrong with the books on the shelf in my room, but it seems there is.  To me, banning books is very wrong.  Children and teens should be able to feel the imagination and love you gain from books.  Book have changed my life.  They gave me a whole new outlook on life.  I find an escape from everything in my books.  I don’t care if they are banned and frowned upon.  Those books help me.  They could help so many others as well.  My mom does not frown upon what I read.  She supports my reading.  Every person should have that.  Everybody should be able to read what they want.  Reading builds people into being great, in my opinion.  I also noticed most banned books are banned for cursing.  Well, whoever banned those books obviously has never been to a high school.  Banned books can help people.  They can stop someone from taking their life, getting sucked up in the wrong crowd, and even help them deal with problems at home.  The banning of books must be stopped.  So go out and read a banned book!  (Some of the banned books I love: Water for Elephants, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Crank, and Go Ask Alice.)


I really like books. I mean, I really, really like them. As in, if my best friend and the last set of Harry Potter books were dangling over a cliff, I’d totally save my best friend, but only after at least five minutes of an internal debate and possibly making a pros/cons list.

Personally, I’ve never been limited when it comes to reading. My parents never censored my books, and they never tried to control what I read. If anything, they encouraged my devouring of books, always willing to buy me something new at any time. (Except for the one time I got punished from getting books from a Scholastic book order, but that’s a different story for a different day.)

There’s a point to this post besides my love affair with novels, and I’m getting there, I promise.

Banned Books Weeks. Can we just focus on the fact that there’s an entire week dedicated to reading and our right to read ANYTHING we want? Like, anything. As in, I could walk into Barnes & Noble and pick any book I so choose, and no one can stop me. And no one should be able to, if we’re being real here. Like, if you don’t like a book, YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ IT. No one is forcing your eyes to absorb the words of a book that you may or may not agree with. It’s your own opinion. AND PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS GOOD AND HOLY, DO NOT TRY TO PASS YOUR OPINION ONTO OTHER PEOPLE. YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO SUCH A THING. (This applies to a whole lot of other things too, but I’m sticking to books, keeping it clean.)

Don’t keep someone from the beauty of books. Just don’t do it, man.

So, Happy Banned Books Week! Go read something wonderful.