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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 |2019-08-15T14:10:07-04:00August 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 |2019-08-08T11:25:31-04:00August 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Why Gayle Forman Inspires Me

This past week, I read Gayle Forman’s latest young adult novel, I Have Lost My Way. Like her previous YA novels, it’s a beautifully written and deeply moving work. Three teenagers from markedly different backgrounds are each suffering from devastating losses. Freya, a budding pop star, has lost her voice while recording her debut album, while Harun, a closeted gay Muslim, has lost his lover and is about to be sent to India for an arranged marriage. Meantime, Nathaniel has come to New York City after losing his father and feels he has nothing left to live for. Accidentally drawn together in the course of one tumultuous day, the three teens become a family of choice committed to helping one another cope and heal from their respective losses. As Freya discovers, “To be the holder of other people’s loss is to be the keeper of their love. To share your loss with people is another way of giving your love.” Forman’s compelling novels are beloved by millions. What particularly resonates for me is her hopeful theme of the redemptive power of love. While the families we are born into may not always be there for us, we can create intentional families of mutual support and caring, as well as work to repair existing relationships. This has also been a major theme in my own work, inspired not only by my own life but by the lives of so many brave teens I’ve worked with. Beyond her impressive body of work, [...]

By |2019-07-27T18:01:13-04:00July 27th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Crying While Watching Morning Joe

I don’t usually cry watching Morning Joe. Well, that’s not quite true. The horrifying images of the inhumane and immoral treatment of immigrants at our borders have certainly brought me to tears. But yesterday, I cried about something good, something inspiring, the story Mike Barnicle told about Joe Biden’s generous outpouring of emotional support for his brother Pete when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. When Biden learned about what Pete was going through, he flew to Boston to spend the day with him. After that, he called him every single week until his death. Biden is a busy guy, but this is only one of many stories folks have told about his taking time to support and console others, especially those dealing with adversity and loss. Rather than folding his tent after the devastating loss of his first wife and infant daughter in an auto accident and more recently, the death of his son Beau, Biden has devoted his life to public service. He is one tough, resilient guy, a genuine survivor of unspeakable tragedy. But he also demonstrates and models empathy, a quality so sorely lacking in many of our current political leaders. To me, this is a big deal. Character counts. Resilience matters, toughness matters, and empathy really matters. Our children are watching. The world is watching. But the importance of character, especially empathy, goes way beyond the impression we’re leaving around the world or with our kids. Without the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s [...]

By |2019-07-17T11:59:59-04:00July 17th, 2019|Empathy|0 Comments

When an Elderly Parent Dies

My husband and I are at that age where if parents of our contemporaries haven’t yet passed away, they’re dying now. This past year, our sister-in-law’s parents both died, as did a dear friend’s mother. Saturday night, it was our turn. At age 93, my mother-in-law passed away. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. She’d been in ill health and suffered from severe dementia. By the time she died, I’m not even sure she knew who my husband was. Watching my husband grieve has reminded me that when a parent dies who’s in awful shape, feelings of love and loss comingle with relief. At last, the parent is no longer suffering or living with a dramatically diminished quality of life. But when a parent-child relationship has been complicated, as theirs was, the emotional head winds are even fiercer. My mother-in-law did not like children, and she had four of them. She came of age when that’s what women did—they got married and had children, whether or not they were brilliant students (as she was) and whether or not they would have preferred to pursue a professional career and be child-free. I know that my mother-in-law wanted to connect with her children and later her grandchildren, but she simply couldn’t. As my husband’s younger sister said, her message was, “I love you. Now can you get out of here?” I grieve for her woundedness that made her incapable of communicating warmth and unconditional love and acceptance to her children. I grieve for the [...]

By |2019-07-10T13:40:08-04:00July 10th, 2019|Death and Dying|1 Comment

Writing Out of Our Comfort Zone

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford My late writer friend Thelma Wyland used to tell me, “I was born without the poetry gene.” Of course, I knew that wasn’t really true. Despite her preference for short story writing, she created such evocative Haiku that musician and composer Frank Richmond was inspired to create a deeply moving original composition. Still, I’ve always felt I lacked the “short story gene.” Ever since I’d written “Woman in the Dugout” in seventh grade, all my ideas for fiction seemed to naturally gravitate toward novel length. So when Beth Schmelzer, who was kind enough to adopt me at my first Malice Domestic convention this spring, invited me to join with middle grade author Cynthia Surrisi and her in working on short stories to be considered for an upcoming Malice Domestic anthology, my initial thought was “No way! I’m not a short story writer—I write novels for young adults.” Of course, the theme of “Mystery Most Theatrical” intrigued me, since my background is in dance. And then an idea lodged its way into my pea brain, and I actually wrote a rough draft of a short story. It needs tons of work, but I know I’ll get helpful critical feedback for revision from Beth and Cynthia. Plus, I get to read their stories (which are really good) and enjoy this emerging tiny online writing community. Writing short forced me to be economical in a way that’s different from [...]

By |2019-07-04T09:42:48-04:00July 4th, 2019|The Writing Life|1 Comment

Hating the Endings of Otherwise Wonderful Books

This past week, I read two beautifully written young adult novels. Both feature a Romeo and Juliet trope which I also explore in my third YA novel, Leisha’s Song. Interestingly, both books star Hasidic heroines who live in Crown Heights, New York. In Like No Other by Una LaMarche, Devorah, described as “a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing,” gets stuck on an elevator during a hurricane with Jaxon, a boy whose family hails from the West Indies. The two fall for one another and begin meeting secretly. Told in alternating viewpoints, the novel movingly depicts the intensity and beauty of their relationship. Of course, all hell breaks loose when her family discovers their strictly forbidden relationship. Jaxon is brutally beaten up by Devorah’s brother-in-law and his friends, and Devorah is sent away to Hasidic “rehab” while her family plots to arrange an appropriate marriage for her. It’s impossible not to root for these star-crossed lovers, but at the end, Devorah can’t bring herself to leave her family and community. She dumps Jaxon and her consolation prize is to be “allowed” to go to college and postpone marriage. Likewise, in Eva Wiseman’s The World Outside, seventeen-year old Chanie is expected to marry as soon as she graduates from high school. She dreams of becoming a singer, a forbidden career. But when she meets David, a boy outside her tight knit community, he encourages her to pursue her dreams and helps her arrange [...]

By |2019-06-26T11:12:29-04:00June 26th, 2019|The Courage to Change, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Love, not Labelling

Friday night, I marched with a contingent from my Unitarian church in the Gay Pride parade in Louisville. This annual event is very special to me. It’s not only because it expresses my deepest values that we all have the right to be accepted and celebrated for who we are and whom we love. It’s also because it’s just such a “feel-good” occasion! There is something quite magical about folks of diverse ages, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities coming together to celebrate love in a hug-filled, colorful way. For a few hours, I feel as though I’ve stepped into a judgment-free zone. We are who we are—gay, straight, neither—and all have seats (well, make that floats) at the table. I couldn’t help but compare this experience to the one my husband and I had the week before when we attended an evening of cutting edge performances by artists who’d spent a year in a special mentoring program. The program’s theme was “Dis/Comfort Zones.” We’d come to support a former modern dance colleague, Theresa Bautista, who performed her brilliant solo, “I am a pretty girl.” Afterward, we wandered over to the art gallery where viewers were invited to add comments to white boards on what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable. My husband, probably the least sexist, traditional white male I know, not to mention being a strong supporter of gay rights, visibly drew back when he read some of the comments. One person wrote that what makes him/her/they uncomfortable is [...]

By |2019-06-19T10:57:32-04:00June 19th, 2019|Uncategorized|1 Comment

A Life-Changing Friendship

In what seems like a lifetime ago (well, several decades), I left my first husband, a really nice, well-to-do man. At the time, I had a young son and a job dancing with a small modern dance company that barely paid the bills. To say that my family members were appalled is an understatement. I was the one who’d managed to “marry well.” How could I ruin my life this way? And my little boy’s life? What kind of a person does something like this? Their judgements added plenty of fuel to the flames of my own guilt. Throughout one of the lowest times of my life, however, I had an amazing blessing—my dear friend and fellow dancer Connie. As we spent hours together each day commuting to the dance company we performed with, she listened, comforted, and never judged me. To this day, I think she saved my life. I’m incredibly grateful to her and feel such gratitude for our enduring friendship. Despite living in different cities during our post-dance company days, we’ve remained close and have supported one another through painful losses and celebrated together when we experienced terrific joy. (Our grandkids top that list!) We’ve cried together and laughed together. And as I grow older, I appreciate the blessing of our friendship more and more. The other day, I drove to Cincinnati to see Connie. Her beautiful debut picture book, From A to Z with Energy! recently came out. We lunched at our favorite bookstore, Joseph- Beth, [...]

By |2019-06-10T11:13:59-04:00June 10th, 2019|Friendship|1 Comment

Never Too Late

The genetic predisposition toward alcoholism and depression has threaded its way through generations of my family tree. While I have struggled with depression throughout my life, I was lucky to escape the disease of alcoholism. One of my sisters was not so lucky. But that’s not the end of the story—it’s only the beginning. This coming December, I’ll be traveling to California to celebrate a very special occasion, my sister’s 35 years of sobriety. She is one of my heroes, someone who literally hit rock bottom and turned her life around—in her forties no less. After 22 years as a raging alcoholic who endured everything that entails—troubled relationships, career derailments, financial struggles—she decided to do the scary thing. She changed her entire way of being and doing life. After many failed attempts to stop on her own, she surrendered and did her best to follow AA’s twelve steps. With strong support from the program, she’s not only maintained her sobriety but has built a successful professional career and this summer, will celebrate her twentieth year of marriage to a wonderful man. Recovery hasn’t been easy, but she’s done it. And I am in awe. Moreover, a second miracle recently occurred. After decades of struggling with this disease, one of her daughters, my beautiful niece, decided she’d had enough and joined AA. Her journey, like her mom’s, will be long and hard. But so far, so good. My sister reports that her daughter often tells her, “I can’t believe how much [...]

By |2019-06-04T13:03:02-04:00June 4th, 2019|The Courage to Change|2 Comments