Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Which I Confess My Love for Emily Dickinson. Plus: a Shout Out to a Great New Book

I'm ashamed to admit that once upon a time I didn't think much of Emily Dickinson.

When I was in high school, I may have glanced at a poem or two. They seemed like sappy things about nature or unrequited love. Bluh is what I thought. And that mousy author photo, the one they always stick in English textbooks-- bluh to that too.

Poor Emily. What a sad little mousy waif.

Fun fact about that photo: Emily hated it. It was taken when she was seventeen and she'd been sick for a few months when she posed for it. She didn't think it represented what she looked like at all. Which is cruddy because that picture was THE only verified photo of her in existence until a second one was rediscovered in 2012:

Look at how healthy and wise ED looks here!

When I was in college I won a creative writing award and was thrilled to accept the prize money--100 bucks, which could buy a lot of Bacardi and cokes back then, but less than thrilled to accept the other prize the English Dept. gave me. A book. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. 

Shameful confession: I complained to my writing professor about this present. Yes. My face is red as I write this. Jeez. I said. Or something along these lines. I get that the stodgy old white male department head wanted to give me something authored by a woman, but did it have to be barfy Emily Dickinson? I mean, come on. Get with the 20th century. Hello. Ever hear of Sylvia Plath?

I thought my cool writing prof would agree. Instead he shocked me by chewing me out. He was one who'd chosen the book, he said. And nothing against Sylvia Plath, but maybe it was time for me to take another look at Emily Dickinson. She was not barfy. In fact he viewed her as one of the two poets, along with Walt Whitman, who'd ushered in the modern poetry era, and if I didn't know that, then maybe he'd failed me as a teacher. 


I read The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. I fell in love. 

Did you know that ED wrote nearly two thousand poems, scrawling them out on bits of paper or including them in letters to friends and family? She never married and in the final twenty years of her life, she dressed only in white and secluded herself in her bedroom, rarely coming downstairs; although she is rumored to have shared gingerbread with neighborhood children by lowering it in a basket from her window...

Sure, her poems on the surface might be about nature or unrequited love, but there's a lot more to those seemingly dashed off lines. Take another look and you'll find stuff that's philosophical and achingly curious and even funny. 

When I taught high school English, I loved talking ED with my students. One thing I held back until the very end of the Emily Dickinson unit is that most of her poems are written in hymn meter, which means that the lines alternate between eight and six syllables. Yeah yeah, whatever, Ms. Casella, my students would say, until I told them that the poems could be sung to the tune of any song written in that meter. 

Example: "Amazing Grace" or the "I Like to Teach the World to Sing" Coca Cola song. 

For extra credit I let the students sing and they always had a grand old time.

Here. Try it for yourselves. 

Because I could not stop for Death--
He kindly stopped for me--
The Carriage held but just Ourselves--
And Immortality...

Or how about this? 

I heard a fly buzz--when I died
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air
Between the Heaves of Storm--

Okay. That is enough playtime, class.

Maybe you are wondering why I am thinking about Emily Dickinson today. 

Because I just finished reading the most brilliant and beautiful book, Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez. 

Main Character Frenchie Garcia has recently graduated from high school and she's lost and depressed. She didn't get into the art college of her choice. Her best friend has a new girlfriend and isn't paying Frenchie much attention. She has a morbid hobby: watching funeral processions drive by her house on the way to a nearby cemetery. Sometimes she follows them inside the cemetery and sits by the grave of Emily Dickinson. (This is Orlando, so it's not the real Emily Dickinson's grave, but Frenchie kinda likes the idea that someone named Emily Dickinson is buried there.) 

Frenchie's real problem, though, isn't revealed immediately. It turns out that a few months earlier Andy Cooper, a guy Frenchie secretly crushed on for years, had singled her out to have a "night of adventure," and the next morning he killed himself. 

Now Frenchie's trying to come to grips with what really happened that night, and she's doing it by recreating the adventure with someone else.

There are Emily Dickinson poems sprinkled throughout, but whether you love Emily Dickinson or not, you will surely love this book. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Time Keeps on Ticking. (Otherwise Known As: Why I Like to Live Inside My Head)

Yesterday I looked out the window and realized it was October. 

Confession: I am not the most observant person in the world. Do you hear that guffaw of laughter? That was my husband, reading this over my shoulder. He knows, after 24 years of living with me, how true that statement is. 

Example, we will be sitting on the couch together watching TV and my eyes will be fixed on the TV screen and my husband will turn to me and remark upon something that we have both presumably watched, and I will blink at him and have no idea what the heck he is talking about. 

I live inside my head, is what I am trying to say. For someone who makes a living being a writer (And I use the term "makes a living" metaphorically), it's a good thing that I live inside my head. Inside my head, I'm imagining stuff. Running through scenes. Relaying a conversation between make-believe people. It's kinda cool to be able to disappear into other worlds while at the SAME TIME sitting in a room and "watching TV." 

My kids have another way of describing this phenomenon. 

Distracted (when they are being nice)

Crazy (when they are not)

But I digress.

My point is that I looked out the window and realized that fall had come without my being aware of it. 

Digression number 2. See that graphic above? I MADE that with this App called WordSwag. I discovered WordSwag this past weekend and have been having a ball making things like this:

And this:

And, okay, one more:

WordSwag, I am here to tell you, provides the PERFECT blend of procrastination and creativity for the distracted writer in your life. Also, it is easy to use--a quality I appreciate as someone who does not know how to operate my phone. 

I know. I keep digressing all over the place.

My eyes have glazed over and I have disappeared into other worlds. 

Meanwhile, in this world, it is October. 

The leaves are blowing around the yard and it seems like just yesterday they were on the trees, blooming and golden. The tomatoes--that I planted YESTERDAY!!--are rotting on the vines. 

Time is passing before my eyes, or rather it is NOT passing before my eyes, since I don't seem to be able to notice it passing. 

Just yesterday, it seems, I threw a party. 

I baked a cake. I pushed a yellow Number One candle into the chocolaty frosting. The cake was for a little boy who had never tasted cake before, so I wanted that first slice to be special. 

The moment is frozen. The little boy has the most serious expression on his sweet little face. Someone--probably my husband, since he was the only one who knew how to work the camera--snapped the picture. 


That happened yesterday.

In a few days, the little boy will be celebrating his 21st birthday. 

Yeah. So. 

Sue me if I like to live inside my head.

Or distract myself with this:


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wondering How To Approach Self-Promotion? Ask Yourself This: "What Would Mike Mullin Do?"

Last year around this time I got an email from a librarian I did not know, inviting me to an event I'd never heard of, in a city I'd never been to, two hours away. The thing--whatever it was--would take place on a week night and it would only last an hour. I'd be driving to part of the state I'd never been to, doing some Thing (I wasn't sure what, exactly), and driving back in the dark.

My first inclination, of course, was to say no. But I ran the invitation by my husband, thinking he'd immediately agree with me.

Instead, he surprised me by asking: "What would Mike Mullin do?"

(Mike Mullin) 

"Um," I said, and I only needed to think about it for a few seconds before I answered, "He'd say Yes."

So I went to the event, which turned out to be one of the coolest events I attended last year--and that is saying something. It wasn't just some random thing. It was a state librarian conference put on for all of the school librarians in the state of Ohio. MT Anderson was one of the keynotes.

(MT Anderson's bare legs)
I ate dinner with him and learned that his name is Tobin and he let me take a picture of his bare legs (which is a story for another day). I met librarians that night, some of whom invited me to speak at their schools. One asked me to teach a session at a city-wide teachers inservice. Another put my book on a multi-city Battle of the Books list. The librarians asked me back to speak this year.

I didn't hesitate to accept. I knew what Mike Mullin would say.

At this point you may be wondering who Mike Mullin is and why I use him as a yardstick for evaluating my invitations.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time Mike Mullin wrote a book called Ashfall. It's a cool page turner about a fifteen-year-old boy named Alex who just wants to stay home and play video games while his parents and little sister leave town to visit relatives 100 miles away. Big bummer for Alex  because the first night he is home alone the super volcano under Yellowstone erupts and pretty much half of the country is wiped out. The remainder--and where Alex lives--is covered in ash. The book is a nightmarish hero's journey with Alex trekking across the desolate and dangerous landscape trying to find his family.

Ashfall is published by Tanglewood, a well-respected, small publishing company. It doesn't have a huge PR budget, so Mike did a lot of the promotional work himself. Before the book came out, he loaded a box of advanced review copies of the book into his car trunk and drove around the country, stopping at bookstores and libraries.

He did not do the hard sell Buy My Book thing. Instead, he chatted up the booksellers and librarians and dropped off a copy Ashfall--no pressure to read it or do anything with it.

I heard this story from one of the booksellers that Mike had chatted up. Mike's non-pushy demeanor and compelling book pitch had piqued her curiosity and she'd read Ashfall. 

And loved it.

Now she was passing the copy on to me, so I could read it and review it on my blog, if I liked it. Which I did. 

I imagine a similar kind of thing happened all over the country at those bookstores and libraries where Mike introduced himself because Ashfall made quite a splash when it came out, both critically and sales-wise. The book earned a starred review from Kirkus, was promoted on NPR and in Entertainment Weekly, and was featured on awards lists in nine states. Mike wrote two sequels to the book and keeps driving around the country to this day, speaking at bookstores and libraries and visiting schools.

I met him at a book-signing for his second book. He started the presentation by karate-chopping a cement brick in half.

At this point I was thinking that Mike was awesome and if I ever got a book deal I was going to model myself after him (minus the karate-chopping.)

When I did get my book deal, I mustered up the courage to ask him if he'd read my book and possibly blurb it. He turned into a role model for handling blurbs too. He wrote to me, saying, and I quote: "If I love it, I'll blurb it. And if I don't, I'll keep my big mouth shut."

He wrote the blurb.

I told my husband the story of Mike Mullin when I was brainstorming ways I could promote my book Thin Space. 

There are A LOT of ways a debut writer can approach self-promotion and marketing. Some writers push their books and themselves like door-to-door salesmen, pleading Buy My Book both virtually and in person at every opportunity. Other writers do absolutely nothing, believing that their efforts are as productive as spitting into the wind.

I didn't (and still don't) like either of these approaches, although I don't begrudge the people who follow them. (Okay, that's a lie. I CAN'T STAND the obnoxious Buy My Book thing. It never makes me want to buy the person's book and instead causes me to feel the same way I do about telemarketers and people who try to guilt me into passing along a chain email. Resentful. And that's on a good day.)

But back to Mike Mullin. Here was a writer who seemed to have found a sweet spot between Nothing and Inspiring Me To Slam My Phone Against a Wall.

When my husband asked me if Mike Mullin would've driven two hours away to attend a librarian conference, there really wasn't any question what the answer might be.


The only difference is I didn't heft a cement block into my car before I made the trip.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Eureka Re-Vision Moment (with a fun look at other writers' visual snapshots of their revision processes)

I mentioned last week that when it came to being on the receiving end of a critique, I was a weird mix of anxiety and arrogance. My inability to take criticism is one of the reasons why it took me so long to break through and get that first publishing deal.

Another big thing that tripped me up was my misunderstanding of the revision process -- and by "tripped me up" I mean "took me 15 years." (during which time I wrote and "revised" 5 books)

Arrogance. I knew how to write. I'd been writing since I could hold a pen. I majored in Creative Writing in college. I worked on a freaking MFA in Poetry.

Arrogance. I knew how to write a short story. I had stories published, damn it.

Anxiety. --that naggy voice in my head whispering: "If you know so well how to do this, why isn't working for you?"

A little background on my Revision Process--such as it was--from my teenage years up to six years ago.

I wrote something. I fiddled around with it. I edited it. DONE

And when I started writing books:

I wrote a sentence. I fiddled with that sentence until it was perfect. I moved on to Sentence Two. I made it to the end of one of these beautifully constructed sets of sentences and prided myself on what I had. Not a first draft, but more like a 3rd or 4th draft. Immediately, I sent this brilliant gem of a manuscript out to editors and agents....
              ...and collected a nice pile of rejections.

The turning point came six years ago when I went to a Highlights Foundation workshop on revision and the speaker suggested putting the completed first draft away (because this is what it is, folks, no matter how polished, a FIRST draft--your very first time through the story from beginning to end.) Let it sit for a month or two. Print it off in a different font (That little tidbit in and of itself was worth the price of admission for me) and read the thing through as a whole completed story.

Revision means literally Re-Vision-- looking at your story, again, and seeing what you actually have there. THE BOOK on the page. And not the book you imagined. (Sigh) (I will note here that even now when I read a first draft through from beginning to end, I feel intense waves of nausea as I contemplate how crappy it is and how much work I have yet to do.)

There was more illuminating information thrown at us during that session and I took notes like a maniac trying to get it all down, light bulbs popping in my head. In all my years of writing I had never thought of revision like this before.

And no wonder.

I had been trained at writing short stories. I can keep a short story--the entire thing-- in my head at once. If I wanted to (not that I ever did), I could print off the pages and arrange them on my dining room table and look at them.

You can't do that with a book.

It's really really hard to keep an entire book-- all the plot strands and character arcs and scenes and bits of dialogue --in your head at once. Even if you are an outliner (I'm not) your draft may drift away from you, meander off in different directions, gallop toward some other story (maybe a BETTER story) than the one you envisioned when you started.

I don't care how beautifully written each of your sentences are, when you get to the end of a first draft, it is still a first draft, and if your drafts are like mine, they are a mess. (See intense waves of nausea, above)

This past weekend I presented a session at a regional SCBWI conference on how to move from a messy first draft toward what will eventually be a draft that you can submit to an agent or editor. Something I know now, that I did not know six years ago when I shuffled into that revision workshop at Highlights, is that there is no one right way to Do This. And my way--the way I eventually figured out through trial and error and lots and lots of crappy drafts-- is not the only way. In fact, with each book I have to figure out the process again.

I won't bore you with all the details, unless you're interested-- and in that case, email me and I'll send you my latest method  jodycasella (@) yahoo (.) com

In the meantime, for your visual pleasure, take a look at some other writers' snapshots of their writing and revision process:

(Erin Dealey)

(Jennifer Salvato Doktorski)

(Bill Thomas)

(Liz Coley)

(Natalie D. Richards)

(Stephanie Kuehnert)

(Kristina McBride) 

(Mindee Arnett) 

(CJ Flood)

(Jennifer Mann)

(Kristy Boyce)

(Claire Caterer)

(Kristi Belcamino)

(Crissa-Jean Chappell) 

(Nova Ren Suma)
(William Faulkner)

Oh yes. That's William Faulkner, one of the great American novelists.

Even old WF needed a little help with revision. The story is his wife wasn't too thrilled that he'd scrawled some of his draft... on the walls of their house.

PS. A HUGE thank you to all of the writers above (including William Faulkner) for sharing their revision processes with me!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My First Critique. Also known as "I'm a daydreaming doofball"

My first writing conference I was a weird mix of anxiety and arrogance.

I'd been writing for a long time. Pretty much since I could hold a pencil. I'd majored in Creative Writing in college. I'd worked on an MFA and had a masters degree in literature. I'd had a couple of stories published. 

What I'm saying is I knew I was a good writer. (See arrogance, above)

The conference was put on by SCBWI  (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). The anxiety came into it because I had to drive four hours to get to the conference, and I don't like driving long distances by myself. 

How these conferences work is editors, agents, and writers speak about writing and the children's book industry. They teach smaller sessions on craft and marketing. There's lots of networking and inspirational pep talks. For an extra fee, you can submit a few pages of a manuscript and cross your fingers that an editor or agent will be the one it's assigned to. 

I submitted the first few chapters of one of my manuscripts. For the record, it was the third book I'd completed. The first was totally a practice book. It was me--the poet and short story writer--figuring out how to write a novel. I had no hopes for the book, but I could see the value in having written it. The second book was autobiographical. I did have some hope for that one but I also knew from the bazillion writing classes I'd taken that sometimes we've got to get all that personal angsty true stuff out of us and out of the way before we begin to tackle fiction. 

But the third book, this new manuscript--this was the one. I could feel it--when I came up with the idea, as I struggled and sweated over the various beginnings, when I read bits of it aloud at a writing retreat. And when I finished the draft and read it through. 

I submitted the first ten pages and I knew it would be given to an editor. (It was.) I knew she would read it and love it and ask for the rest. 

I knew this so surely that I printed off a copy of the entire manuscript and brought it with me to the conference. I tucked it in a bag and carried it to the morning opening session, where What a Coincidence! that very editor would be giving the keynote speech.

I loved her as soon as she started speaking. We were the same age. She talked about her favorite books when she was a kid and why she loved being an editor, and I gazed at her as if she was already my mentor and best friend.  

The future scrolled out so clearly I could see the Newbery Award sticker on the book cover. The editor would greet me for my critique session. Before I could even sit down, she'd be gushing about how much she loved the first ten pages, saying how original the idea was and how exquisite the language. She'd laughed while reading. And sobbed, when it was appropriate. Oh how grateful she was to have signed up for this conference! What luck that she'd been the one to get my book!

Of course she wanted it.  

If the first ten pages were any indication, she knew she would love the entire book and wanted to sign me now, on the spot. It was an award winner, for sure. And a best seller. On the plane ride down to the conference, she'd begun to cast the characters. "Oh, Jody!" she'd say with a smile, "I know it's silly, but I already feel we're going to be best friends."


Do I need to write how this critique actually went down? 

Weirdly, things started out almost as I'd envisioned...

The editor spoke. When her session was over and everyone else filed out of the room, I hung back and introduced myself (thinking that I may as well get the whole dream ball rolling). She smiled when I said my name. 

"Oh, Jody!" she said. "You're one of my critiques!"  

At lunch we ate together and talked about our similar taste in books. I fought the urge to give her the manuscript that was practically burning a hole in my bag. But I played it cool. No need to rush things. 

Time for the critique. More smiles. We were already well on our way to being friends, so no surprises there. Then she whipped out my pages, suddenly all business-like.

I have no idea what she said. Because of what she didn't say --the beautifully clear vision of gushy praise and book deals on the spot did not seem to be happening. In a flash the fifteen minutes were up and she smiled. 

Apparently, the critique was over? 

Stunned at the stark contrast between dream and reality, I gave the dream one last shot. "Um, I've got my full manuscript" --I lamely patted my bag-- "right here with me. Do you want to--"

She cut me off with a tight smile. "No. That's okay. I don't take manuscripts at conferences." Smile smile. "But why don't you try some of my suggestions, and you can submit in a few months?" 

The rest of the conference is a blur. Probably because I was blinking back tears and everything was literally blurry. I drove home, alternating between crying and arguing in my head with the stupid editor. She didn't know what the HELL she was talking about. She was wrong about my book. She didn't UNDERSTAND it. Blah blah. 

Hour three, I was grudgingly admitting that she might have been right about a couple of things and why not play around with them, just to see if it worked better.

Hour four, I was excited. How had I not seen the obvious? Those suggestions would make the book stronger, better. What an idiot I'd been not to realize! 

I would do everything the editor said and I would revise the entire book and I would send it to her in a few months and she would gush about what a great sport I was at taking criticism. She'd buy the manuscript and it would win the Newbery and soon we'd be on the way to being best friends.

Yeah. So, none of THAT happened either.

It took 6 more years and 3 more completed manuscripts before I got my book deal. I am not best friends with my editor, although she is a very nice lady. The book did not win a big award or sell a million copies. 

This weekend I'm off to an SCBWI conference where I'm teaching a few sessions. I'm also critiquing the first ten pages of several manuscripts. 

Dear lovely writers who are just beginning this journey, would you believe it when I tell you that I might understand how you feel? 

(A sample of rejections for the manuscript that was THE ONE)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Debut Year by the Raw Numbers

Today is September 10th, which means that my first novel Thin Space has been officially out in the wild for a year.

The writing and revising and submitting part of the book publishing process is interesting. Some people are surprised, for example, when I tell them that I wrote the book six years ago in one mad dash of a month. And completely rewrote the entire novel from scratch from a different character's point of view. And revised it at least 4 more times. 

It took months to find an agent. And two YEARS for her to sell it. (That little wrinkle where she retired in the midst of trying to sell it, might have been a factor.)

When it debuted last year, my family and friends and neighbors threw me an awesome party.

What I didn't know while I nibbled on the delicious foot cookies was that my work promoting the book was just beginning... 

So, just for ha-has, I decided to count up some of the things I've experienced this year while working to get my book into the hands of readers. 


1. Bookstore signings -- 13
2. Book fairs/festivals -- 5
4. Foot tattoos tattooed upon my foot -- 1
5. Library talks -- 8
6. Sightings of Mark Zuckerberg -- 1
7. School visits -- 17 (number of classes taught -- 41)
8. Book panels -- 11
9. Library conferences -- 1
11. Cities visited -- 16 
12. Class taught at the Thurber House -- 7
13. Visits to the governor's mansion -- 1
14. Former students who showed up at my signings -- 4
15. Sessions taught at teacher inservices -- 5
16. Car rides with Suzanne Young, Sarah Ockler, and CJ Flood -- 16
17. TV interviews -- 2
18. Skype chats -- 2
19. Students who fell asleep before I started talking -- 1 
20. Pre-school story-times -- 1
21. Book clubs attended -- 6
22. Snow days that caused school visits to be cancelled/rescheduled -- 2
23. Blog interviews -- 25
24. People I knew from middle school who came to my library talk -- 5
25. Students who warned me that a spider was about to drop on my head -- 1
26. Print articles -- 4
27. Boys who took off their shoes at my request -- 2
28. Artists programs in the San Francisco mountains visited -- 1
29. Readings at colleges -- 1
30. Miles driven -- 7897.9

31. Books sold -- ??? (Because I haven't received my 6 month statement yet. Guesstimate: I suspect it is more than the number of times I ate breakfast with MT Anderson.) 

Ahh, what a fun ride it's been.

(First time I saw my book on the shelf at the same library where I WROTE it)

(Carey Corp, co-author of DOON, Natalie D. Richards, author of SIX MONTHS LATER, and Me at the Ohio governor's mansion after the Ohioana Book Festival)

(Summer Lovin' Tour lunch on the Facebook campus--with CJ Flood, Sarah Ockler, Suzanne Young, and a special FB intern tour guide--my son)

(With a few enthusiastic teen readers--daughter and friends--at my book launch at Cover to Cover Bookstore. Side note: we are all looking in different directions at the request of my fun-lovin' husband) 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Promo Advice from an Author Who's Been There" (Guest post by Holly Schindler)

I am so excited to be a stop on Holly Schindler's Feral blog tour. 

Over the years Holly (who is the administrator of my group blog YA Outside the Lines) has become a good friend. Still, I was surprised when she asked me to take an early peek at her newest novel and possibly blurb it. 

I did not hesitate to say YES! Or to provide a blurb: 

"In the town of Peculiar, the cats aren't the only ones keeping secrets... A dark and creepy psychological who-done-it that will keep you guessing until the very end."  

Oh, yes, dear readers, you will be guessing. Also, you may never look at cats the same way ever again.

Holly's written several other books, and I marvel at how easy she makes it all look, particularly marketing and promotion. It's something a lot of new writers wonder and worry about (and something I really struggled with) so I asked Holly if she'd mind sharing a few tips... 


1. Your first book will be a bit of a stumble-fest. It will. I guarantee. But then, it is for everyone. So just embrace it! You have no idea what your own strengths are, as far as promotion goes. Try as much as you can. Take on the opportunities that come your way, knowing that some efforts will be successful and others won’t. Use the promotional opportunities associated with your first book to learn what your strengths are. Take those strengths into promotions for book number two.

2. Conversely, don’t be afraid to say no—if it puts you 100% completely out of your comfort zone, there’s a good chance you just plain won’t be good at it, either. And life is too short to be living in constant fear of, say, public speaking. You need a clear head to write the next book. You won’t have one if you’re counting down the days to the convention where you’re scheduled to talk and wondering how you might possibly be able to sever a nonessential body part just in time to miss your flight. Trust me—it’s not worth it. Say no.

3. Reach out. Don’t think of it as shameless plugging. You wrote your book to be shared. So shout it from the rooftops. Your enthusiasm will be infectious. You’ll hear it a lot, but it’s true: you really are your book’s best advocate.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of direct emails—to booksellers, librarians, bloggers. An extra bonus: emails are FREE promotion.

5. Fancy swag isn’t as powerful as a free copy of the book. You’re probably better off investing in a few extra review copies of your book than you are in jewelry, T-shirts, etc. intended for giveaways.

6. Teachers are on Twitter—this is especially helpful for middle grade. They hold book-a-day reading challenges in the summer, tweet about the best books they’ve found for their kids, and discuss read-alouds they’ve used. Check out #nerdybookclub, #mglitchat, #4thchat, #5thchat.

7. I’ll go out on a limb and say it: Read your reviews. I know not every author does, but I highly recommend it. Be objective. Look at the patterns. Don’t be so intent on justifying what you’ve done that you don’t learn from your reviews. I would hate, hate, HATE to think A BLUE SO DARK, my first novel, was the best thing I’ll ever write. Of course I want to be better. Bloggers and reviewers are influential in making me a better author.

8. The job is never done. Don’t expect to start promos a month before your book releases and finish two months after it hits shelves, never to be mentioned again. I’m still talking about A BLUE SO DARK (2010) with readers.

9. Finding your promo rhythm is like finding your writing rhythm. Some writers are better off working on their WIPS every day with specific word count goals; others are better working a couple of days a week without the pressure of maintaining a specific word-count pace. Similarly, I work best doing a little bit of promo work each day (usually in the morning), then moving straight into my current WIP. But you might prefer to work on your WIP during the week and devote your weekends to a few promo activities. Some of us are night owls; some of us early birds. Listen to your own internal clock. Don’t worry about how much time other authors are spending online, or how many cities other authors travel to. Do what fits for YOU.

10. Befriend other authors—online, through regional chapters of writing groups, etc. Writing is a unique lifestyle, and no one will understand the ups and downs like another author. Writers also often like to get together for promotion opportunities: debut groups, blogging, school visits, etc. Sometimes, the best promo tool you can have is interacting with other authors!


FERAL jacket copy:
The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

FERAL falls squarely into the realm of the classic psychological thriller. While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the “psychological” rather than thriller / action. The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain). Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting. The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and here is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state). The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley. Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. Ultimately, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too. The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that frightening process in detail.

Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”

Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits. She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found at,, @holly_schindler,, and

FERAL Trailer: