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Why Writing for Young Adults Matters

This past week, I presented a talk about young adult literature to the Literature Committee of my city’s Woman’s Club. Due to a scheduling snafu, my audience consisted of five women instead of the anticipated 20 or so, and two of the attendees had to leave early because they were greeters at the club’s expo for vendors! There I was with my suitcase of sample books and a presentation I’d spent days and days preparing—all for this handful of people. So was it worth it? Absolutely. The women who did attend were effusive and appreciative. They even took notes! Beyond the connection I made with these women, however, the process of researching YA literature reminded me of how what we do as YA writers matters. I’m often asked about why I write for young adults instead of the adult market. I usually answer that question in terms of my personal background of working extensively with teens and being a lifelong reader and fan of YA fiction. But Michael Cart’s 2011 book, Young Adult Literature, From Romance to Realism (2011), as well as more current research on adolescents, has strengthened my perception that writing for this age group is an important way to make a positive difference in young people’s lives. And in many ways, this work has never been more vital. Drawing heavily on Cart’s work, here is some of what I said: Our teens are coming of age at such a challenging time. Our politics are severely polarized, the [...]

By |2019-11-12T13:51:23-05:00November 12th, 2019|Young Adult Writers & Writing|2 Comments

Finding Your Tribe Helps In Surviving the Ups and Downs of the Writing Life

Monday morning did not start out well for me. I opened my email to discover a publisher’s rejection of a writing project close to my heart. As rejections go, it was a very nice one. The acquisitions editor pointed out some strengths of my manuscript and encouraged me to submit more work in the future. Still, it was a rejection. As a working writer, I should be used to them by now—but they’re never fun. I limped through the day, feeling discouraged and in need of chocolate. Lots of it. And then lo and behold, that night another email arrived in my inbox with good news. “Missed Cue,” the short story I’d submitted to Malice Domestic for inclusion in their 2020 anthology, Murder Most Theatrical, had been accepted. This felt especially miraculous to me because: 1. I’ve never written fiction for adults; and 2. The last time I wrote a short story, “Woman in the Dugout,” I was in seventh grade. My fiction writing ideas always seem to arrive in novel form. I am especially grateful to my friend, middle grade fiction writer and columnist Beth Schmelzer, who encouraged me to try writing a story for the anthology and organized an online critique group to work on drafts of our stories. Our little group also included the wonderful middle grade writer, Cynthia Surrisi. It was such a positive experience to work with these delightful women. There is nothing quite like “finding your tribe” as a writer. Beth Schmelzer with [...]

By |2019-10-18T12:11:25-05:00October 18th, 2019|The Writing Life|1 Comment

What John Lennon Said

On the wall of our music studio at home, my husband hung up a plaque with one of our all-time favorite quotes by John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” That certainly has been the case in my own life. For example, years ago, in the wake of a painful divorce, I quickly wearied of my abrupt descent into dire financial straits as the single parent of a young son. I loved my job dancing in a small modern dance company, but I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough. I announced to my friends that if I ever got married again, I’d certainly pick a well-off man who’d chosen a career that actually paid the bills. No sooner had I made my pronouncement than I met the new guy in our dance company, who was every bit as broke as I was. He was hilarious, sweet, and utterly irresistible. We fell madly in love and were married within the year. My writing life has worked out much the same way. Prior to beginning a novel, I spend long hours creating bios for my characters and outlining what I anticipate happening, chapter by chapter. No writing by the seat of my pants for me! I’m one of those determined planner types. The thing is, though, my plans and characters have this mysterious way of bending and changing. In my latest work in progress, for example, I recently passed the 150 page mark of my first [...]

By |2019-10-07T09:36:59-05:00October 7th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Maybe Next Week Will Be Better

My younger son Joel teaches at an inner city high school in Denver. It’s a tough job for not much money. Last weekend, he recounted a particularly difficult week in which nearly everything that could have gone wrong did. “But it’s okay, Mom,” he told me. “I’ve even picked out what I’m going to wear. I’m really excited to start next week.” (Below: my son Joel!) “Why is that, honey?”                 “Well, I know this coming week can’t possibly be any worse than this past one.” We both laughed, and when I spoke to him yesterday, in fact, the following week had been better—not great, but better. It was a good reminder for me. This past week was rough. My mom’s dementia has grown so much worse and a couple of painful conflicts in my extended family have continued to simmer. Regardless of what’s going on in my life, however, the reality is that sometimes, issues feel quite manageable, and other times, they really don’t. Depression has dogged me for most of my life. Despite the meds and the years of therapy, my sadness can periodically weigh so heavily I feel as though I can barely breathe. Like right now. But I know that at some point, this latest bout will lift. And hey— maybe it will even be next week. So, I’m heading to my closet to pick out some nifty outfits.

By |2019-09-28T15:25:21-05:00September 28th, 2019|Depression|0 Comments

The “Who” in Whodunits Can Be Tricky

My mom used to complain that she’d figured out the identity of the bad guy in books by Mary Higgins Clark way before the big reveal. Honestly, that never bothered me. I’ve always loved Clark’s storytelling ability, and even when I correctly suspected who the villain was, I kept right on turning the pages. Still, as any mystery writer can tell you, endings for our whodunit tales can be tricky. When it comes to revealing the guilty party, we want to leave our readers satisfied. We’re advised not to be too predictable. Surprise is good. So are unexpected twists. But there is a danger. We do have to lay some groundwork. We have to develop plenty of hints and foreshadowing not only for our red herrings, but for the actual culprit, so that the reader feels the ending, while not necessarily expected, is understandable. If we don’t, we risk irritating our readers. Recently, for example, I read Karen McManus’s Two Can Keep a Secret. McManus is a wonderful YA mystery writer, and I enjoy her work. I was riveted throughout her story—until I got to the end. In her story, teenage girls had gone missing and murdered, and the entire focus of the book had been on the teens and their slightly older siblings who had some connection to the victims. But (spoiler alert!) the revealed killer, a prominent attorney and the seemingly happily remarried stepdad of one of the protagonists, had barely appeared in the story. Unless you count [...]

By |2019-09-23T13:26:51-05:00September 23rd, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Two Most Common Questions Writers Get Asked

If readers have enjoyed a writer’s book, I’ve noticed that there are two questions they repeatedly ask. The first is usually some variation of, “So what’s your next book about?” and the second is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Recently, I decided to redo my website (currently in progress) and took a stab at responding to these two questions for a new “In the Works” section. Here’s a brief description of Leisha’s Song: On scholarship at Stonefield Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school, academically gifted seventeen-year-old Leisha has fallen in love with singing and become close to Ms. Wells, her vocal coach and mentor. So, when Ms. Wells suddenly resigns and disappears with no warning or even a forwarding address, Leisha is shocked. And worried. She needs to track her teacher down, make sure she’s okay. Cody, a sensitive cellist from an ultra-wealthy conservative white family, insists on helping her. Sparks fly, clues multiply, and romance blossoms, despite the disapproval of their families. Leisha’s desire to be with Cody and pursue music rather than medicine puts her on a direct collision course with her African-American grandfather, the only parent she’s ever had. But an even more immediate threat looms—because as Leisha draws closer to the truth about her teacher’s disappearance, she puts her own life in grave danger. Like many writers, the kids in my life inspire me! And now here’s what I wrote about where I got the idea and inspiration for this story: Years [...]

By |2019-09-12T16:59:15-05:00September 12th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Sharon Draper’s BLENDED: A Powerful Story

What a thrill to meet the award-winning writer Sharon Draper at the SOKY Book Festival this past spring. Before the festival doors even opened, we had bought each other’s books! It turns out that her daughter is a dancer, so she wanted to give While I Danced to her as a gift. And I devoured her deeply moving novel, Out of My Mind, which is used in classrooms all over the country to promote understanding of kids with disabilities.   Sharon Draper with Kristin O'Donnell Tubb at the SOKY Book Festival Draper’s warmth and caring about kids and the complications of their lives is nowhere more apparent than in her middle grade novel, blended. Full disclosure: the subject matter of this book, the trials and tribulations of eleven-year-old Isabella whose divorced parents, one of whom is black and the other white, are in constant conflict, hits especially close to home for me. My oldest grandson is also a blended kid, with a white dad and a black mom who are not together. So I guess you could say that I really empathized with Isabella who gets caught in the middle, moving between households and negotiating relationships with her parents’ new partners. Her problems extend to the outside world where she has to deal with other kids’ curiosity about her identity and the harrowing experience of being shot in a racial profiling incident. On their way to her piano recital, she and her older brother are pulled over and [...]

By |2019-09-06T11:35:46-05:00September 6th, 2019|Review|1 Comment

Killer Nashville’s Distinctive Brand

  At the Coming of Age Panel with Alison McMahan and Sheila Sobel Every professional author on the planet hears the consistent message that publishing has changed. Gone are the days when we can spend all our time doing that writing thing. Nope, we have to get out there and market our babies. Promote, promote, promote! A big part of that is creating and publicizing what makes our work special, unique, and worth paying for—what marketing specialists call “developing our brand.” I have to admit that I never really thought about writing conferences as having “brands” as well. But after attending my first Killer Nashville conference, I’ve come to appreciate that they really do. Founded by Clay Stafford, Killer Nashville, now in its 14th year, is devoted to supporting and nurturing writers of mystery, suspense, and thrillers at all stages of their careers. This year’s honored guests were Alexandra Ivy, David Morrell, and Joyce Carol Oates—not exactly shabby literary company. All three were thoughtful, down-to-earth, and much more interested in talking about writing than how to sell lots of books. And that in a nutshell is what I loved about this conference. The emphasis was on the work, not on sales, awards, number of reviews, or likes on Facebook. As Stafford pointed out, “Write because you love it… if you love what you are doing, then that sustains and nourishes you no matter your career highs or lows.” He advised all of us to support and encourage one [...]

By |2019-08-30T10:45:14-05:00August 30th, 2019|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

What Would You Ask a YA Writer?

Next week, I’ll be travelling to the Killer Nashville conference for the first time. I’m excited not only to have been nominated for the Silver Falchion Award for my YA novel, It Should Have Been You, but to participate in several panels, including one I’ll moderate, called “Coming of Age: Writing YA Mysteries, Suspense & Thrillers.” To prepare, I’ve been brainstorming questions with my fellow panelists, Sheila Sobel and Alison McMahan. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far: What drew you to writing mystery/suspense/thrillers for young adults? How do you see this as different from writing for adult readers? Young adults are making the transition between childhood and adulthood. In addition to the young adult protagonist(s) solving a crime or dealing with a threat, in what ways do the challenges of growing up figure into the plots of your books? As YA writers, we’re a lot older than the characters we write about. How do you make the voices of your characters authentic-sounding? Can you share what sparked your interest in the premise of your latest book? And can you briefly describe your project? Since you began reading or writing young adult literature, what changes have you seen in books for this age group? Tweens and teens are not the only folks reading YA books. What is the appeal to adult readers? Can you speak to the trend of YA books getting turned into films? What haven’t I asked you that you wish I had? Speaking of this last [...]

By |2019-08-15T14:10:07-05:00August 15th, 2019|Young Adult Writers & Writing|0 Comments

Family History: Not What I Expected

Until my sister Lucretia began digging into genealogical research, it never occurred to me that my family had anything to do with the abomination of slavery. My mother’s California family was one of modest means, while our Texas-born dad grew up in abject poverty. So, imagine our surprise when we discovered that we were direct descendants of Major Richard Bibb, a wealthy Kentucky plantation owner who came to believe that slavery was wrong and freed his slaves upon his death in 1839. Thanks to the leadership of Russellville, Kentucky’s J Gran Clark and Michael Morrow, there are now two separate but related SEEK (Struggles for Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky) Museum sites in Russellville which tell the stories of three generations of enslavement at Bibb’s 1817 urban plantation, as well as the struggles and accomplishments of newly freed persons after the Civil War in a vibrant neighborhood called The Bottom. This past weekend, my sisters and I travelled to Russellville for a reunion of the descendants of those enslaved by Major Bibb and his family, as well as the descendants of Major Bibb. It was actually my second visit to SEEK, having visited this past October with my sister Lucretia. Both visits have been deeply emotional experiences. The contrast between the opulence of the Bibb mansion built by the enslaved folks and the cramped, stiflingly hot attic where up to a dozen slaves were forced to live while on call 24 hours a day seven days a week is incredibly [...]

By |2019-08-08T11:25:31-05:00August 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|1 Comment