Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014, I'm gonna let you finish, but first...



Funny how years can be so similar and yet so very different. Individually, my days mostly look the same. I get up, I go for a run, I teach school all day, I come home and write, I collapse into bed. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

2013 was a year of firsts. In last year’s post, I mentioned possibly getting to go to England after dreaming about it my whole life. In 2014, I did just that. My husband and I spent a week in London and it really was even better than I had hoped.

But the rest of the year was just doing what I always do, and there was some real comfort in that. In February I ran my 7th marathon. I finished in 3:53, which wasn’t my fastest time, but it wasn’t my slowest either. Over the course of 2014, I’ve run over 1000 miles. I don’t regret a single one of them.

I drafted two and a half books in 2014, and revised one. My agent and I polished that one until it shines, and I’m super excited about it.

I read just over 50 books this year.

I won two awards and became a finalist in a third. I spoke alongside Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Kimberly Willis Holt, and met tons of other awesome writers. I participated in both Nova Teen in March, the inaugural LSU Young Adult Lit Conference in June, and the Louisiana Book Festival in November.

So much of who I am –runner, teacher, writer—is behind-the-scenes work: slogging through the miles, putting in the time, getting down the words, working when no one is looking, hoping to reap that benefit later.

2014 was about doing the work and hoping to get paid for it later.

What’s in store for 2015? I haven’t a clue. I will continue to do the work, but as is the case in publishing (and so much of life), what happens next is out of my hands. All I can continue to do is write the best books I can and pray that in the process, my craft improves.

I don’t make resolutions. I run and write almost everyday, and for that, I am grateful. I get to teach, to hopefully turn non-readers into readers, and to learn a little myself along the way. But I do choose a focus, and this year, my focus is to be present. I’m a goal-oriented person, so it’s easy to keep my eyes on what I am working toward and forget to enjoy the current moment I am in. It’s easy to get caught up in the past instead of living in the present. It’s easy to pick up my phone and check Twitter when I instead need to be listening to what the person right in front of me is trying to say.


So this year, I vow to do a better job at being present. What about you?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

SHP's Third Annual Holiday Cheer Giveaway!

Sometimes it's just as fun to receive as it is to give. You've been good all year (at least that's the story, and we're sticking to it), and you deserve bookish gifts, so you're lucky that it's once again time for the Spencer Hill Holiday Giveaway! The giveaway runs from Dec. 5th to Dec. 19th, 2014, so hurry up and enter!

GRAND PRIZE STOCKING:

Spencer Hill Family-$30 Amazon Gift Card, Candy, and Neat Things
Darby Karchut - THE STAG LORD (signed copy)
Errick Nunnally- BLOOD FOR THE SUN (copy)
Elizabeth Langston- WHISPER FALLS (signed copy)
Heather McCollum-SIREN’S SONG (signed copy) and Swag
J.K. Rock -CAMP BOYFRIEND (signed copy) and Swag
J.L. Spelbring-PERFECTION (signed copy) and Swag and FLAWED (signed copy) and Swag
Suzanne Rigdon-INTO THE NIGHT (signed copy)
Kelly Hashway- THE MONSTER WITHIN (signed copy) and CURSE OF DEATH Swag
DK Mok-THE OTHER TREE Magnet and HUNT FOR VALAMON Swag
Jennifer Murgia-FOREST OF WHISPERS Swag
Laura Diamond- ZODIAC COLLECTOR, LORE, and TSAVO PRIDE Swag
Wendy Brotherlin-FREAKS OF NATURE Swag and $20 Staples Gift Card
Brenda St John Brown-SWIMMING TO TOKYO (e-book)
Rich Storrs- Synopsis Critique and Query Letter Critique
Sarah Guillory-RECLAIMED Swag
Jennifer Carson-HAPENNY MAGICK (signed copy) and Swag
Michelle L. Johnson-DIVINITY (signed copy)
Dahlia Adler-BEHIND THE SCENES Swag and UNDER THE LIGHTS Magnet
Megan Whitmer-BETWEEN (e-book)
Tracy Bilen-WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND (copy) and WATCH YOUR BACK Swag
Cheryl Ann Smith-LEADING HER WITNESS Swag and Author Tote Bag
Kelley Lynn-ROAD TO SOMEWHERE (ebook)
Colette Ballard-RUNNING ON EMPTY(signed copy)and Swag, and TEMPORARY HIGH Swag
Trisha Wooldridge-McAUTHOR CHRONICLES Set: THE KELPIE and THE EARL’S CHILDE and Swag
Lisa Amowitz-VISION (signed copy) and Swag
Brianna Shrum-1st Three Chapter Critique 

SECOND PRIZE STOCKING:

Spencer Hill Family-$10 Amazon Gift Card, Candy, and Neat Stuff
DK Mok-THE OTHER TREE Swag and Magnet
Errick Nunnally-BLOOD FOR THE SUN Shot Glass
Jennifer Murgia-FOREST OF WHISPERS Swag and Query Critique
Heather McCollum-SIREN’S SONG Swag and Musical Notes Fingernail Tattoos
J.L. Spelbring-PERFECTION (signed copy) and Swag and FLAWED (signed copy)and Swag
JK Rock-CAMP BOYFRIEND  (signed copy)and Swag
Suzanne Rigdon-INTO THE NIGHT (signed copy) and Swag, and 1 Chapter Critique
Laura Diamond- ZODIAC COLLECTOR, LORE, and TSAVO PRIDE Swag
Wendy Brotherlin-FREAKS OF NATURE Notepad and $15 Starbucks Gift Card
Sarah Guillory-RECLAIMED Swag
Angelica Jackson-CROW’S REST Swag
Jennifer Carson-HAPENNY MAGICK Swag and First Chapter Critique
Michelle L. Johnson- DIVINITY  (signed copy)
Dahlia Adler-BEHIND THE SCENES (signed copy) and Swag
Megan Whitmer-BETWEEN (ebook)
Tracy Bilen-WATCH YOUR BACK Swag, and a Query and 10 Page Critique
Cheryl Ann Smith-$10 Amazon Gift Card, LEADING HER WITNESS Swag and Author Tote
Kelley Lynn-ONE WISH AWAY (ebook)
Colette Ballard-RUNNING ON EMPTY(signed copy)and Swag, and TEMPORARY HIGH Swag
Kristy Shen-Query Critique
Trisha Wooldridge-DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME (copy) and Swag
Lisa Amowitz- VISION (signed copy) and Swag

THIRD PRIZE STOCKING:

Spencer Hill Family- $5 Amazon Gift Card, Candy, and Neat Stuff
DK Mok-THE OTHER TREE Swag and HUNT FOR VALAMON Swag
Elizabeth Langston-I WISH (signed copy)
Jennifer Murgia-FOREST OF WHISPERS Swag
Heather McCollum-SIREN’S SONG Swag and $10 Amazon Gift Card
J.L. Spelbring – PERFECTION Swag and FLAWED(signed copy) and Swag
JK Rock-CAMP BOYFRIEND (signed copy)and Swag
Suzanne Rigdon-1 Chapter Critique
Laura Diamond-ZODIAC COLLECTOR (ebook) and ZODIAC COLLECTOR, LORE, and TSAVO PRIDE Swag
Wendy Brotherlin-FREAKS OF NATURE Swag
Brenda St John Brown-SWIMMING TO TOKYO (ebook)
Angelica Jackson-CROW’S REST Swag
Jennifer Carson-HAPENNY MAGICK Swag
Michelle L. Johnson-DIVINITY(signed copy)
Dahlia Adler-BEHIND THE SCENES Swag
Megan Whitmer-BETWEEN (ebook)
Tracy Bilen-WATCH YOUR BACK Swag
Cheryl Ann Smith-LEADING HER WITNESS Swag and Author Tote
Kelley Lynn- Query Critique and One Chapter Critique
Colette Ballard-RUNNING ON EMPTY(signed copy) and Swag, and TEMPORARY HIGH Swag
Trisha Wooldridge-SILENT STARSONG(copy) and Swag
Lisa Amowitz- VISION Swag
Brianna Shrum-Query and 1st Five Page Critique 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Writing Isn't Magical

Reading is magical. It transports you to new places and introduces you to new friends. It even allows you to become entirely different people. And books are fluid. No two people have ever read the same book, and so often, the book is different at different times in the same person’s life. There is nothing more magical than that.

But writing is much less magical. It is routine. It’s work, plain and simple. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t lovely. I love writing or I wouldn’t spend so much time doing it. But for a long time I believed that if writing required so much work from me, it meant I wasn’t good at it. For some reason, I believed that true writers wrote effortlessly.

Now I know just how absurd that is. If a book is good, then the creation appears effortless. That’s the true magic of writing, and the reason writers are magicians in a way. They perform an amazing illusion – taking something that required work and making it look easy.

Writing is much like alchemy in that writers take base metal and hopefully manage to turn it into gold. But it requires hard work, not magic.

There is nothing better than finishing a marathon. It’s the most incredible feeling in the world, but when I cross the finish line, it’s not magical. I don’t look around, surprised that I have reached my destination. I remember exactly how I got there. It’s the end product of early mornings, long runs, and sore muscles. When I finish writing a book, it’s not magic either. It’s the culmination of time put in, the bending, shaping, and reworking of the base material.

Don’t ever think for one moment that working hard on something means you’re doing it wrong. It means you’re doing it.


Write on.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Read Banned Books



It's important for writers, educators, and book lovers to make our voices heard not just during Banned Books Week, but anytime books are threatened; we're not just protecting books for ourselves, but for generations to come. There is so much danger in this world, and we shouldn't teach our children that books, that ideas and cultures and beliefs different than our own, are part of that.

I credit books for molding me into who I am today - not just a teacher and a writer, but someone in love with ideas, someone hungry for rich worlds not found outside my window, a person curious about ideas not normally championed by the masses. Who would I be if someone else had closed the curtains on the worlds I grew up with and silenced the voices that whispered to me when I felt alone?

I looked at the list of the top 100 books banned during the 90s. I was in school then and wondered what books I might have missed if book banning had been allowed to impact me. On the list were books that always are: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Wrinkle in Time. But there were two books on the list that had a profound impact on me when I first read them. One was Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. I read this book at a time when I wasn't sure it was okay to be me, when I was embarrassed about normal biological changes that were outside of my control. I read this at a time when the world said I should be ashamed. The book made me cringe, made me laugh, but above all, the book showed me that I was not alone in what I was feeling. I needed that more than anything.

Another was On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer. I was shocked to find this on the list because I felt that this book belonged just to me. I think I was in sixth grade when my grandmother gave me this book. It was the first signed book I ever owned, and the first time I realized that authors were real people, not larger-than-life immortals who lived on some distant mountain. The book is about a boy who watches his friend drown, and it was the first book I remember making me cry. I've read this book again and again, and I sobbed each and every time.

We need to prevent our children from embracing hatred and ignorance. We must teach them to ask questions, to listen to diverse voices, and to work for a better world. We can do this in part by allowing them to read that which speaks to them.

Let's not snatch books out of the hands of our children. Who knows what they'll pick up to replace them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Running on Empty

I am currently in between revisions and feeling a bit antsy without something to work on. I must do more research before I start revisions on my most current draft, so I’ve been reading and thinking and pacing and wallowing for the last week or so. And then on a whim, I picked up an old copy of The Southern Review and read a few poems.

And the words flowed. I grabbed the closest notebook I could find and started writing. Within ten minutes, I felt better than I have in weeks. I remembered why I love writing so much. My pen couldn’t fly across the paper fast enough. The words weren’t beautiful (yet), but they were quick and easy and focused. In ten minutes I had added depth to a character that had, at times, felt flat in my draft.

And I realized that during the last six months, I had completely emptied myself out during revisions and hadn’t devoted enough time to filling back up.

As a runner, I know better. During long runs I take in extra calories in order to replenish what is lost. If I don't, I crash and burn. I would never run eighteen miles or more without fueling properly before, during, and after.

The same should be true for my writing. Writing empties us. As we write, we pour ourselves onto the page, wringing out like a dishrag. After doing that for months, I was dry.

In order to create, to empty out our souls, and to do it continuously over a long period of time, we must fuel properly. Read. Don’t just read in your genre, either. Read outside your comfort zone. Read poetry and absorb its music. Listen to its cadence so that your prose will have rhythm and beauty. Get drunk on someone else’s words.

And observe. Sit in the silence and enjoy a sunset. Take a walk and notice that which you bustled past only the day before. Breathe the world in so you can exhale it onto the page at just the right moment.


Listen. Watch. Absorb. You can’t run on empty forever.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review of Jessica Spotswood's The Cahill Witch Chronicles


The Cahill Witch Chronicles

I don’t normally review books. I read the heck out of them, but it’s rare for me to do much other than fangirl over them on Twitter and bully random strangers into reading them. But I had to make an exception for the Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood. As a reader, I hope more publishers buy books like this; as a writer, I hope to create my own.

The Cahill Witch Chronicles (Born Wicked, Star Cursed, and Sisters’ Fate) tell the story of the Cahill sisters, Kate, Maura, and Tess. They live in an alternate New England where witchcraft is illegal and the Brotherhood oversee the moral lives of citizens. The sisters are, of course, witches. Their mother, also a witch, heard a prophecy prior to her death that said one of the sisters would be a great oracle and that one of the sisters would kill another one. The story deals with the three sisters trying to live in a world where their very existence is forbidden while also trying not to kill each other.

The portrayal of strong women is what makes these books so wonderful. All three books are populated with amazing women who are independent in their own way. These girls are smart, brave, tough, cunning, and funny. Some love fashion and others don’t. Some are sweet and quiet while others are brazen. And yet no set of characteristics is treated as the “right one.” There is no “not like other girls” trope. The characters are flawed and fallible and still wonderfully strong and varied. There are amazing friendships between these women too. They support one another. They realize they are wrong about each other without requiring the other person to change. They relish their independence and allow others to do the same.

I know this is less a review and more of a fangirl flail, and I’m okay with that. Each book is satisfying on its own, but the story arc over the course of the trilogy is a thing of beauty. The writing is solid and the world-building is incredibly well-done. There is romance, of course, (and really swoony kisses), but the stories are so much more than that. The characters are so much more than that. Spotswood has crafted wonderful stories about strong, supportive women who take pride in who they are. They also have supportive love interests who share that pride. I adore Finn so very much, and I love that Cate and Finn can fall for each other while still allowing the other person to remain autonomous.


You need to read these books. If I were you, I’d just block a few days off on the calendar because I’m pretty sure you won’t get much done once you start. I didn’t.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RECLAIMED named to 2016 Louisiana Teen Readers' Choice Award!

Hello all! A lovely friend pointed out that I haven't announced the good news on my blog. Last week I find out that Reclaimed was named to the 2016 Louisiana Teen Readers' Choice Award. There are nine other books on the list, and let me tell you, I am in impressive and intimidating company. :) You should totally check the list out and work your way through it. I've read about half, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest soon.

Now I know many of you are already wondering - 2016? Isn't it still 2014? (Sometimes I think it's still 2004.) :) The way this program works is that they release the list now in order to promote the books during 2015. We want our teens here in Louisiana to get a chance to read all of these books. Then they will vote for their favorite at the beginning of 2016, and the winner will be announced in February 2016. It's an amazing program through the Louisiana State Library system. My own students and high school book club (which I sponsor) read the lists every year. (We're currently working our way through the 2015 list.)

I'm super excited and honored to have been named to the list among authors I admire.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

IT'S TIME FOR PITCHWARS!


It's time for Pitchwars -
hold on tight!
And I'm a mentor! I’m also a teacher, author, runner, and avid reader. My debut novel, RECLAIMED, came out this past October. It’s a young-adult contemporary about three teens who come together as their families are falling apart. It won a Silver IPPY and the Gold Foreword Book of the Year in Young-Adult Fiction. I really like coffee.

My credentials: I have a B.A. in English Education as well as an M.Ed. Since I'm an English teacher, I’ve pretty much spent the last fifteen years critiquing writing. I also have two amazing critique partners whom I’ve been working with for the past two years. I believe very strongly in constructive criticism, so I will not lie to you about your work in order to make you feel better. As a writer, I want complete honesty from critiques so that I can improve my craft and turn out the best possible work. My job as a mentor is to push you to be your very best, and that won’t happen if I’m not completely honest with you. That being said, I will never point out weaknesses without also shining a light on the strengths.

I love complex characters and strong writing. I want an engaging voice with setting that feels like character. I love stories that give me a satisfying ending, but if the characters are done well, I should also feel as if there are many more stories within those characters. I want to feel like I can step inside the world you’ve created. I want to be able to imagine your characters living complete lives outside the pages. And I’m a sucker for pretty words.

What I’m interested in:

Contemporary: This genre has my heart. I love dark and twisty, but points for making me laugh. I’m not a huge fan of mean girls simply for the sake of having them or “girls who aren’t like other girls.” I would love to see strong female friendships (in any genre), and I do love me some swoony boys. Recent contemps I enjoyed: Behind the Scenes, The Sky is Everywhere, Everything Leads to You, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

Magical Realism: This is a hard one to do well, but man do I love it when it is. My favorites are One Hundred Years of Solitude (duh) and The Shadow of the Wind. I also adored Savvy by Ingrid Law.

Historical: I enjoy a good historical and would love to see one from a time period that is usually neglected. I recently loved Born Wicked and Star Cursed, which are really more alternative history (with witches), but I loved them because they immersed me in the world and had a strong female lead with equally strong, badass friends. Also kissing.

Science Fiction: Not sure I’m the person for hard-core science fiction (whatever that means, right), but I loved Across the Universe by Beth Revis. Would love a YA version of Firefly. I also have a thing for doomsday – think King’s The Stand or movies like Outbreak and The Day After Tomorrow. I’m also interested in steampunk and, as mentioned above, alternate history.

No matter what the genre, I'm only looking for young adult.

I know how scary and exciting this can be, and I also know just how subjective. I applaud you for having the courage to share your writing with a stranger and for allowing that stranger to pick it apart. Congrats on having the strength and drive to improve your craft, and not being afraid of hard work.

Now pick me - Gus will be sad if you don't.

Check out the list of agents here!

MENTORS:

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BETWEEN Birthday and Giveaway!


Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows how excited I am to read Megan Whitmer’s Between. AND IT COMES OUT TODAY AND NOW NO ONE NEED WAIT ANY LONGER!



When a supernatural freak of nature forces her family to separate, seventeen-year-old Charlie Page must turn to her frustrating (yet gorgeous) neighbor, Seth, to help reunite them. Seth whisks Charlie to Ellauria—a magical world filled with the creatures of myths and legends—and tells her of the Fellowship, the group charged with protecting mystical beings from human discovery. (All except Bigfoot: that attention whore is a total lost cause.) But when Charlie learns that she's under the Fellowship's protection herself, well, "stressed" is an understatement.

Ellauria should be the safest place for Charlie while the Fellowship works to find her family, but things in the mystical realm aren’t what they seem.

Magic is failing, creatures are dying, and the Fellowship insists Charlie holds the key to saving everyone. With her family still missing and the danger in Ellauria growing, Charlie doesn't know who she can trust. She's dealing with a power she never asked for, falling for a guy she can't have, and being forced to choose between her destiny and her heart. And if she chooses wrong, she could destroy magic forever.

Charlie may be in over her head.


Sounds awesome, right? I feel like I’ve been waiting to read this book forever. I did manage to get a sneak peek, and I have to tell you guys, the first few chapters I read are amazing. And now I finally get to devour the whole thing! I was lucky enough to meet Megan at BEA last year, and y’all, she is the funniest, sweetest person ever. And she has amazing hair. She and I are publisher sisters, so in honor of her debut, I’m giving away two e-copies of her book. If you want to win a copy (and seriously, who doesn’t), just follow the directions.


1. Leave a comment below, telling me why you’re excited about this book. Please leave me a twitter handle and email address so I can get in touch with you.

2. Tweet about the book. And I’ll even make it easy on you by giving you the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Between-Megan-Whitmer/dp/1939392152/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406597201&sr=1-1&keywords=between+megan+whitmer. Just copy, paste, and tweet.

And if you don’t follow Megan on Twitter already, I’m sorry. You should rectify that immediately. @meganwhitmer
I'll pick two random winners on Friday, August 1st. Good luck!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

RECLAIMED Won Gold!

I learned last night that Reclaimed was awarded Gold in the 2013 Foreword Book of the Year Award for Young Adult Fiction. It was announced at the start of the ALA convention in Vegas, though I learned about it while sitting in my living room wearing yoga pants. Glamorous, aren't I?

I'm thrilled and excited and humbled by the award. Reclaimed is my debut, so obviously it has a special place in my heart, but I also always believed in this book, even when it looked like it might get tucked away into a drawer.

The summer I revised Reclaimed was one of the best ever. I finished the draft in the spring of 2011, then let it sit until I was out of school. That summer I learned that a crappy draft really could be transformed into a readable manuscript. I learned about patience, and killing your darlings, and the joy that comes with finally getting the words to truly convey what the characters are feeling. It was such a wonderful experience watching that ugly draft change into something I was proud of. For the first time, I wanted people to read something I had written.

So if you are discouraged, keep at it. Know that the hard work will pay off in one way or another. For a year I couldn't get anyone interested in reading Reclaimed. Then I had a full request from Spencer Hill Press and an offer for publication one week later. I had an editor who understood my book and loved it almost as much as I did. Reclaimed had a home.

And now, Reclaimed has won its second award.

Thank you to everyone who has read and loved Reclaimed. You have a special place in my heart as well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Finding Time to Write


Lately I've been getting this question a lot, so I thought I would re-post a guest post I wrote last year. You can find the original post here.
 
 
I’m often asked how I find time to write. I’m a high school teacher, which requires tons of time planning and grading and meeting and learning in addition to those hours between 8:00 and 3:30 when I’m actually teaching. I also sponsor the yearbook and the book club. I’m a runner. And a wife. I’m a daughter and sister, aunt, friend, and avid book lover.

I do not find time to write. I horde it like a dragon with his gold.

You are not going to stumble upon unused time. It’s not something to find. It’s something to cultivate. Once I decided to take my writing seriously, some things had to go.

The first thing to go was my clean house. Seriously. I spent a lot of time cleaning my house, thinking that it was necessary to always keep up appearances. One day I realized that when I got to the end of my life, I didn’t want to look back and be able to say, “well, at least my house was clean.”

So I don’t worry if there is a little dust on the tables or the laundry needs doing. I don’t ignore it completely. I get to it after my allotted writing time. But I gave myself permission to chase after my passion first. And while there is often guilt in that decision, there is never regret.

I don’t get to watch tv like so many other people. I’m behind on movies. But this was something I was willing to sacrifice.

Four years ago I turned my guest bedroom into an office. Every day after school I go into my office and work until it’s time to cook dinner. Sometimes I’m on Twitter too much. Sometimes I just stare at the blank page. But I am in my office, keeping to my schedule. And most of the time, I’m writing. Or revising. Or crying about how my characters have a mind of their own and why in the hell can’t they just do what I want?

I’m very protective of this time. I have to be. Otherwise I’ll squander it, and days, weeks, months will pass, and I’ll have nothing to show for it. I take days off – they’re necessary. But I’ve made writing a necessity.

I teach full time. But as I’ve said many times before, even if you don’t write full time, you write full time. Whether you have a day job or not, you still have to write the book, revise it, sell it, market it, just like those who don’t have another day job. If you want to be a writer, above all, you will have to learn how to balance your time between writing and the rest of your life.

But it can be done. There are a million and one different ways to do this. Don’t let anyone tell you there is only one way. If writing is your passion, don’t wait to find the time. Hunt it down, hold it tight, and don’t let anyone steal it from you.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Real People are not Clichés


"The character is dealing with the death of a parent or sibling. That's so cliché."
"Another story with an alcoholic family member. How cliché."
"Yet another tale dealing with abuse. Cliché."

I understand that readers get bored of seeing the same things over and over again in fiction. But let me tell you a story.

One day, when discussing a novel, a student lamented the fact that she had just read yet another novel where the character was dealing with the death of a sibling. "That's so cliché," she said.

And the girl next to her flinched. Cliché girl had forgotten that her fellow student had lost her brother to suicide just the year before. How convenient. I promise you, the student who lost her brother won't ever forget. And reducing down her very real conflicts to a cliché is harmful.

I've been a reader for a very long time. It's easy to forget that new readers are born every single day. What we've seen often, they're encountering for the first time. But many of them, unfortunately, may actually be dealing with the day to day reality of the events we only know about through books.

In my experience, literature leans in and whispers in my ear. I understand. I've been there. It's okay. It's one of the reasons I read. And things become cliché because they are true. So before we easily dismiss something, we should remember that while it may not speak to us, it probably speaks to someone.

It illuminates a truth he has never heard before. It reminds a reader she is not alone.

We must never make a person feel cliché.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

FAQ: RECLAIMED is not an Autobiography

"Is this book about you?"

Contemporary writers get asked this question a lot, I assume more so than other writers. I doubt J.K. Rowling has been asked whether or not she is secretly part of the wizarding community. (Though many people did assume Harry was based on a real person.) It seems that some readers have a hard time believing that characters, and their situations, are actually fictional.

But they are.

I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, and I've lost count of the number of people who've told me they tried to figure out who my characters are in real life. My characters are based on no one and everyone. I've never modeled a character after anyone, but I have used what I know about the world to hopefully create dynamic characters.

I wrote a guest post about this back in October, but I thought it was worth mentioning again. Pops is not my grandfather, and I don't write my students into novels.

But characters are real, in the sense that readers make them so. And isn't that the best part about reading?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

RECLAIMED Won Silver!

RECLAIMED won Silver in the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Young Adult Category!



Also honored to learn that Reclaimed has been named a finalist for the 2013 Foreword Book of the Year. See the full list of young adult fiction finalists here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Sound of Silence


Banning books is a hot topic in the literary world, and I spend my life surrounded by people committed to stop it from happening. Readers need to see themselves in fiction, and there is plenty of room on the bookshelf for a variety of world views. I read banned books and I encourage my students to read them as well.

So I am surprised that lately, I’ve seen those who speak openly against banning books cheering for others who are doing just that. We must remember that in championing books, in celebrating our freedom to read, we are going to be faced with protecting those very ideas that we disagree with. That is the nature of free speech. There are many voices, and not all of them are speaking our language. But if we truly believe that censorship is wrong, we fight it.

This doesn’t mean we don’t criticize those books and ideals. That is the best part about freedom of expression – it allows us to engage in meaningful conversations about those things that matter. We should be critical of ideas we don’t agree with. But only in allowing them to be expressed can we fight that issue head on.
 
I recently saw on Twitter several people agreeing with a child who demanded a sexist children’s book be removed from the bookstore. While I am also sick of seeing both boys and girls being told what they can and cannot enjoy, by celebrating this behavior, we are teaching that banning books is the answer and will solve the problem. Neither are true.

In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Beatty tells Montag that people stopped reading of their own accord long before books became illegal, mostly because authors were so afraid of offending somebody (and no matter what you write, it will offend somebody), that the books didn’t actually say anything.

I want books to speak – to me, to my students, to people who are similar to me as well as to those who differ. And in order to make sure that those books stay on the shelves, that my students are able to find these books, then that means I must fight for the freedom of all books.

We all know taking those issues out of bookstores and libraries doesn’t mean those issues disappear from reality. When those books are no longer present, it means they are also no longer part of a necessary critical conversation. We’re not just silencing opposing voices – we’re stopping conversations. And that kind of silence isn’t just deafening. It’s dangerous.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

RECLAIMED is six months old!


I can’t believe it’s already been six months since Reclaimed released! It’s been an incredible six months, full of awesome events, lovely reviews, and even lovelier support from readers and fellow authors. Thank you for reading, reviewing, and recommending Reclaimed. Thank you for the emails, the flails, and for your all-around awesomeness. To celebrate, I’m giving away an annotated copy of Reclaimed. The giveaway opens at midnight tonight and ends at midnight on April 14th. I will choose the winner on April 15th, the six-month annivesary of my release. Use the rafflecopter below, and thanks for spreading the word!
 
 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 3, 2014

On Fear




I’ve always been fearful. Even as a child, I was nervous and high-strung. It frustrated my mother. She wanted me to enjoy things, experience life. More than once, when I refused to do something out of fear, she would pull me close and promise that she would never let me do anything that would hurt me. But in addition to my fear, I am stubborn, so I always stood firm and refused to do whatever it was that scared me.

I am phobic about heights. Seriously. I can’t even ride glass elevators. I’m not ashamed of this, nor do I care to overcome this fear. I like my feet firmly on the ground.

But I spent a very long time being afraid of failure. When I was younger, I refused to do anything that I didn’t already feel I was good at. I would not step outside my comfort zone, because more than anything, I feared looking stupid, or inept, or, God forbid, average.

I missed out on a lot of opportunities because of this fear. I quit the track team because I never won a race. I didn’t allow myself to write often because I knew I wasn’t any good. Now the two things that bring me such joy are running and writing. I missed years of doing these activities because I wasn’t perfect at them, and I demanded perfection from myself.

And then I grew up. It was really running that taught me I didn’t have to be perfect to enjoy something. I fell in love with running, with the discipline and the achievement that came from competing in marathons. I’ve never won a race, but I’ve beaten myself time and time again. I learned that it isn’t about competing against others, but against yourself, and becoming the best self you can be.

Running gave me the courage to write. At first I was terrified of rejection, but that got easier. Then I was terrified of being published, because there is nothing more soul-baring than sharing your words with strangers.

But I did it anyway.

I’m still afraid. The project I’m working on right now terrifies me because the characters are very different than I am and I want to do them justice. I want to get the history and culture correct, I want to represent truthfully and fairly. I want so many things with this project; wanting is a scary thing.

This week is full of things that terrify me. Today I have something exciting and terrifying happening. I hardly slept last night. Tomorrow I fly out to attend the NOVA Teen Book Festival, and while I’m thrilled and excited to be a part, I’m also nervous. I hate flying. It makes me sick and, more than anything, I can’t stand being dependent on others. Flying requires me to do nothing and hope my flights are on time and that they don’t lose my luggage. The lack of control causes me so much anxiety. But it will also be my first time on panels, and though I make my living off of standing in front of teens and talking books, adults intimidate me a little.

There’s a great quote in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Cowards die many times before their deaths;/The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Being afraid is normal. But if we let fear dictate our lives, we’ll never truly live.

I still fear failure. But I'm not going to let it stop me.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Upcoming Events

There are so many exciting things going on right now! Besides being super busy with revisions, I have a few events coming up. Let me know if I'll see you there!

March 8, 2014: NOVA Teen Book Festival

I'm so excited about this event! I get to see my amazing editor Danielle Ellison, as well as meet up with other authors and fellow readers.

From 11:00-11:45 AM I'll be participating in a panal with Lamar Giles and Ellen Oh entitled "Who Are You." It deals with identify and destiny. After the event ends, we will be signing books at the Arlington Central Library. Check out the schedule to see the incredible line-up. Don't miss it!


April 5, 2014, 2:00 PM: Signing at Baton Rouge Citiplace Barnes and Noble


June 2-6, 2014: LSU Young Adult Literature Conference and Seminar




Friday, February 14, 2014

Books Are My Valentine

The husband gave me beautiful
roses today. He's my Valentine too,
but he'll have to share me with books.
I love books. I love the smell of their pages and their weight in my hands. Fictional characters make me swoon. Adventure and intrigue and magic make my heart pound. Heaven is a bookstore and an eternity to read its content.

Books are my Valentine.

They comfort me when I am sad and cheer me up after a hard day. They take me on extravagant trips. They've never abandoned me.

Books have given me a lifetime of happiness and never asked for anything in return. I'm grateful.

In honor of Valentine's day, here are just a few books I've fallen in love with recently.

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
I read this in one sitting. Be prepared.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
King creates such great characters. I was totally immersed in this story and read it in just a couple of days.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
This was a re-read. I read this back when it came out, and then re-read over my snow days. This is such a beautiful story. I'll read it many more times I'm sure.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I love any book set in a bookstore.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I also read this one straight through. I loved it so much and can't believe it took me this long to get to it!

Today a student asked me what my favorite love story was. While I truly can't choose a favorite anything when it comes to books, I do love Elizabeth and Darcy of Pride and Prejudice.

Happy Valentine's Day!





Monday, February 3, 2014

I Love My Body


Me, seconds before crossing the finish line
of my seventh marathon. See that crazy
look in my eye?
I’ve sat on this post a while, knowing that many people would judge me for it. But many people judge me anyway, so what the hell.

I love my body.
 
This is not something most people say out loud. We’re supposed to hate our bodies, right? Or at least tolerate them? We’re not supposed to tell others that we like the way we look. This makes us vain, egotistical, prideful.

I didn’t always appreciate my body. I was very skinny when I was younger, all knees and elbows, and my extremely long legs looked like toothpicks. Or chicken legs. At least, that’s what everyone told me. It came as quite a shock. I’d always liked the way I looked. But when I was twelve years old, I went to high school. (Our high school was 7th-12th grades.) Once I got there, I found out I was gross to look at because I was thin and bony. The older boys teased me to tears. I’m not sure I slept through the night during junior high. I would wake up in horrible pain as both my calves seized up with muscle cramps, due to the 200-300 calf raises I did almost every day. Maybe if my calf muscles were bigger, they would leave me alone.

But these legs have endured a lot. I tore my muscle where the hamstring attaches to the glute. At the time I thought it was just a pull, so I didn’t go to the doctor. Now I know it was a significant injury, one that still causes me daily pain. Because of that tear, six months later I tore my ACL. Then I tore it again two years later and had to have reconstruction surgery.

After all that, my body still works hard. It’s propelled me through thousands of miles, seven marathons, and countless half-marathons, 5ks, and 10ks.

It kept me running through the heartache when my husband and I learned we probably wouldn’t have children.

It taught me to keep going even when things hurt, which made me not only a better writer, but a better person.

I overheard a student say the other day that she didn’t love anything about herself. This broke my heart. I couldn’t be sure whether or not she didn’t love things about herself because she truly didn’t see her own worth, or because society had taught her at least to pretend she didn't see her own worth. Either way, it’s unacceptable.

I am a flawed, fallible human being. I make mistakes daily. But despite those things, I am also loyal, and compassionate, and hopefully, kind.

My body creaks. I’m starting to get a few creases around my eyes. My calves are still skinny. I do not have a daughter, so I will never be able to teach her to love herself, to appreciate her body, no matter what shape it may take.

But I will say the words, so that when my students and other young girls in my neighborhood see my legs pounding the asphalt, they won’t note their size, but rather their strength.

I love my body. It is strong.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Don't Take My Advice


I see so much writing advice out there, laundry lists of dos and don’ts, and not all of it is good, or helpful, or true.

What one reader enjoys, another hates. What works for one book does not work for another. What might be cliché in this instance is not so cliché in the hands of a different artist.

Getting caught up in the “dos” and “don’ts” of writing can be dangerous. If you’re so worried about doing it wrong, you may never do it right, either. Because you are going to do it “wrong.” Not wrong because some governing board of creative writers says it is, but wrong because that’s not who that character is or the direction that story wants to go. For me, writing means layering, and I can’t get to that final, polished layer until I first lay down all the other ones.

Writing is a talent and craft that requires hard work. It does not come with a set of tried-and-true, guaranteed-to-never fail instructions. (We aren’t assembling bookshelves, after all.) Great writing is honed and developed over time. The best writing forges its own path instead of following the paved, oft-traveled road laid by others. (Or it takes us on the paved, oft-traveled road and makes us look at the familiar world in a way we never have before. See? No rules.)

Well-meaning advice is just that. Following it does not guarantee you a poignant story, an agent, a book deal.

Art demands it be felt, not reduced down to a dos and don’ts list.
But don't take my word for it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Top Ten Books I Want in 2014

I'm finally posting my Top Ten Books I'm excited about for 2014. There are so many amazing books releasing this year, so it was hard to choose just ten. (Because after I typed this up, I went back to my TBR list and realized I'd missed several: Follow me Through Darkness by Danielle Ellison, Sing Sweet Nightingale by Erica Cameron, Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz, Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater - seriously, I could be here all day listing them. I'm going to have to quit work if I'm going to have time to read them all!) But this is a top ten list, so I'm not going to cheat by adding a few extra. I play by the rules and all that jazz.

 

I loved Send me a Sign, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this ever since I heard about it. I love the last two lines of the description: “One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.” Doesn’t that sound awesome?
 
 

This one has been on my radar a while. Russian spies? An “espionage thriller with a dash of both history and dystopia?” Yes please!
 
 

I loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. Loved. So when I heard about this one, I didn’t care what it was about. Now that I know, I’m even more excited. May is an awfully long time to wait.
 
 

I met the lovely Dahlia at BEA, she of the macaroons and shiny tiara. She also saved me from having to ride the subway by myself. Dahlia has impeccable taste in books (she’s never recommended a book that I didn’t love), so I can’t wait to read hers.
 


I also met the lovely Megan at BEA this past May, so I called in a favor. I begged to sneak a peek at Between, and either my wiley Southern charm worked, or Megan thought I would leave her alone if she just sent it already. Whatever the reason, she sent me the first five chapters, which was actually torturous, now that I think about it, because as soon as I’d read those chapters, I wanted more. The writing is clean and the characters interested me from the beginning. I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of this book.



I need more Sturmhond. There. I said it. I still love Mal of course, but Sturmhond stole the show in Seige and Storm, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to in the final book. I read the first book, Shadow and Bone, because of the gorgeous cover. But what’s inside is even better. If you haven’t read these yet, there’s still time to do so before the final one is out. Get on that.



If you haven’t read A Discovery of Witches, then you need to reexamine your life. A friend recommended this book to me, and though I was a bit skeptical, I took her advice. I finished the book in two days and immediately re-read it. It’s sexy and smart with a healthy dose of history. I liked the first one better than the second (which got a little slow for me), but I’ve been looking forward to this book for two years now.
 


So I’m cheating a little with this one, since I read a very early version of it about a year ago. Getting my hands on it also involved begging. (I’m shameless, I know.) I read this book in one afternoon. I was only going to read a few chapters, but the voice was so incredible, the characters so real, that I didn’t move until I’d finished it. And I was reading it on my computer, which, if you’ve done this before, you know is not the best reading experience. But it didn’t matter – the story was that good. So I can’t wait to see what Kelsey has done with it in the year since.



I’m super excited for the third Raven Boys books. I loved the first one, but the second, Dream Thieves, was even better. Stiefvater writes very lovely sentences, but her writing isn’t the only thing I admire about her work. She creates complex characters and then puts them into a contemporary setting with an otherworldly feel. Both prose and story are haunting and magical. I’m not sure I can wait until fall for this one. I might do unhealthy things for an advanced copy.

 

I absolutely love the sound of this, particularly the last line of the description: “But between ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ there’s a whole world of possibilities.” I was also lucky enough to interview both Jaye Robin and Dahlia Adler about waiting on their debuts.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Neverending Stories



So many people have asked about a sequel to Reclaimed. Teachers and students accost stop me in the halls to discuss what happens later and demand I write a continuation. I’ve received emails expressing the same thing.

At first I was shocked people expected a sequel. To me, the story ends exactly where it needs to. The main conflicts are resolved and, in my mind, the characters are happy. (Or as happy as they can be considering the situations I put them in.) Then, I was flattered. That readers connect with and love my characters enough to want more is the best feeling an author can have. Sharing your characters with the world can be frightening, but when readers love them as much as you do, it’s worth it.

I have no plans for a sequel to Reclaimed at this time. I don’t know what that story would look like. But it got me thinking about story endings. To me, the best stories end in such a way that the main conflicts are resolved but the readers feel like the characters have a hundred more stories to tell.

I just read Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. For those who don’t know, it’s the newly released sequel to his 1977 book The Shining. I loved The Shining, but I really loved Doctor Sleep. King does such an amazing job of bringing his characters to life (making them shine, if I may), that even when the story is over, readers know the story isn’t over. The Shining didn’t need a sequel – King wrapped up the conflicts satisfactorily. But he’d created such dynamic characters that readers knew there was more story to tell. So he did, showing what happened to Danny Torrence. It didn’t read like a sequel to me. It was its own story, with appearances from familiar characters. But at the end of Doctor Sleep, I was left knowing that the characters had more story to tell. I want to know what troubles Abra gets into and out of.

It is my favorite King book, and while there is no sequel, I know, through the characters King created, that there is more story there. And I’d read it if King ever decided to write it down.

There’s a reason there are so many Pride and Prejudice continuations, with authors imagining what happened to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy after the wedding. It’s understandable why so many people write fanfiction – we know our favorite characters have much more adventure in them. When a character has been developed well enough to truly come alive in a reader’s mind, we know that the story the author chose to tell is just one of many.

The best stories linger in readers’ minds. We think about the characters and imagine a hundred different journeys. If done well, all stories can become Neverending Stories, which come to life, draw us in, and take us along with them, allowing us to create the endings, knowing that the best stories never truly end.