Friday, December 20, 2013

A Debut Writer Reflects on the First Year

The other day my son, home on break from his sophomore year, shared a big realization. He was bummed about how he did in one of his classes. It was a hard class and he'd worked his butt off but the bummer of it was that there were things he could've done to improve his performance--things that he didn't figure out until the end of the semester.

The TAs, for example, offered help sessions that weren't simply help sessions--but mini classes, where crucial information was given out, and all along, the professor had been offering students the chance to redo homework assignments.

Somehow, my son had missed these opportunities. The help was out there, but for whatever reason, it just wasn't on his radar.

Because I am the type of mom who hears something like this and ends up making a connection to writing, I told my son about the Hero's Journey. (Some other day I will blog about how this kind of thing probably drives my kids crazy.)

But anyhoo, there's a point where the hero leaves the comforts or discomforts of the Ordinary World and crosses the threshold into the Special World. This new world has a whole different set of rules and challenges that the hero has to learn in order to navigate through successfully. See, it's like college, I told my son. It's like anything in life. Whenever you move onto another stage--school, job, marriage, whatever--there are rules and challenges and things you've got to figure out in order to be successful.

What's nice is that you don't have to flounder alone. In the Hero's Journey, the hero has a mentor. That's what my son needed, I told him, a friend who'd been through this Special World pressure cooker of a college and who could share the crucial bits of wisdom and experience.

As I was blathering about this and watching my son's eyes glaze over, I had a flash of myself crossing over the threshold into Publishing Land. This year as a debut writer has been a big-time introduction into another world.

And I am so grateful for the mentors I had along the way.

Now I'd like to pay some of this back to any writers out there who are on the verge. So without further blathering, here are the crucial bits I learned this year:

1. Make connections-- with other writers, librarians, bookstore folks, and teachers. Do this NOW, wherever you may be in the publication process.

Why this is important: My connections to bookstores led to book launches and signings. Teachers invited me to visit their classrooms. Librarians asked me to speak and teach workshops. My communication with other writers led to interviews and guest blogs and blurbs on my book. Writers have shared helpful info about contracts and speaking opportunities too. All of these are real connections, by the way. Many of these people have become my good friends.

Corollary to number one: Make a list of contacts--every single person you have ever interacted with who might be interested in your book.

Why this is important: Some of these people will read your book and love it and want to help you promote it. I have been truly amazed and humbled by the responses I've gotten from family, friends--both old and new--who've stepped up to help me.

2. Interact on social media. Dip your toe into a few sites-- Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr etc. (New to the Twitter game? Here is THE best description of it I've read, from YA writer Patty Blount) Be a lurker for a while until you figure out the rules of social etiquette for that site (believe me: there ARE rules, even if they aren't explicitly posted, and people will gleefully let you know when you break them).

Why this is important: the party line is that social media is the way to promote your book. This is true-ish, but there's so much more to it than telling people to buy your book (by the way, NEVER do that.)

Social media is a way to find out the news in this business. I follow editors and agents, publishing companies, other writers, readers, reviewers, bloggers and librarians. These people post on social media about books and everything related to writing, reading, and marketing. Social media is how I've found out about conferences, book awards and deadlines, reviews and interview opportunities. It's a cool community, where a writer can feel not so alone struggling though a revision or reeling over a bad review or worrying over an impending book deal. Also, you can share your love of books with other book lovers.

Be careful though. It is a GIGANTIC TIME SUCKER. 

Corollary to number two: think about the "interacting" part of social media and how you want to present yourself online. Whether you consciously consider it or not, you DO have an online persona. How will you respond to negative reviews? To good reviews? How will you handle blogger requests for ARCs and/or interviews? If you are a blogger/reviewer yourself, will you review books by writers you know? What if you don't, um, like those books?

A word about dealing with bad reviews. Most writers say they don't read them. In fact, many writers don't read any of their reviews. Last year at this time, I didn't understand this policy. Each time a review or rating went up on Goodreads, I'd read it and experience a brief high. Someone I don't know likes my book! This was my dream come true goal--to have readers read something I'd written. Here's what I figured out along the way: the book, my book, is out of my hands now, being read or not being read, being loved or not being loved, being gushed about or being immediately forgotten. There is a certain point where the newness/excitement/nausea/horror fades.

And you stop reading reviews.

3. Figure out what kinds of book festivals are going on in your area and apply to be a part of them. I was lucky, and many opportunities fell into my lap. Another writer told me about an annual bookfair in Ohio that I'd never heard of. A bookstore owner told me about a book festival in a nearby city. A person I used to teach with was on the board of a different book fair and they invited me to apply. None of these things were on my radar last year at this time.

Why it's important: book fairs and festivals are a way to sell books, of course, (and you will sell a lot at some and maybe not so many at others). But they are also a way to meet other writers in your area and to make connections with readers, many of whom are teachers and librarians--which can lead to other opportunities. I met the woman in charge of programming at the Thurber House at a book festival, for example, and this fall she asked me to present a writing workshop for them.

Side note: you will not know about every single thing going on, and there will be some missed opportunities. Oh well.

4. Find your balance between writing and promoting. This is incredibly difficult and I know I still haven't gotten it right.

Last year my agent gave me some advice. I asked her what my goal was and she said point blank that I had two: Earn back my advance and sell another book.

Everything I've done this year, everything I've taken on or passed on, I tried to keep these goals in mind. To earn back my advance I have to promote my book. To sell another book, I have to, uh, write one. The difficult thing, I've learned, is that these two goals don't quite work together. Promoting takes time. Travel. Money. There are details to work out and email correspondence and phone calls.

But writing takes time too--long stretches for pondering and dreaming and drafting and revising and brainstorming and reflecting.  And there's another part of this balance equation too that I haven't touched on--my day to day life, where I have a family and a house to clean (or not clean) and meals to cook and pets to walk and de-flea.  

How do other professional writers do it all?

I do not know. But I promise, dear writers and readers who have been following me as I travel along on my journey, I will tell you as soon as I figure it out!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teen Guest Post: WHO AM I? by Sidney C.

As promised here, I'm hosting a guest blog series called WHO AM I? and have invited teen writers to contribute.  

And a shout out to my artistic teen neighbor Courtney Berger for designing the awesome banner.


Who Am I?
by Sidney C., guest blogger/artist

If your life was drawn out,
Tell me,
What would I see?
You were given a blank canvas
To create who you want to be
But others have folded you
Into a bird with no wings
Can’t you see?
You’re locked inside a cage
Why not set yourself free?
You’re crumbling, broken.
You keep quiet
Your pain remains unspoken.
These thing that you’ve started,
They’ve become a routine.
Two things:
Who you are and
Who they want you to be
And you’re stuck right in-between.
You want to change
You really do
But there is no way, it seems
What if no one likes the real you?
But then you see it
Just like it's in your dreams
Life is a map without a compass
You’re a ship without a sail
You’re a bird with clipped wings
It’s your choice to choose
You can hide behind something fake
Or let yourself shine through.
You realize you were never really alone,
And you kind of always knew,
That there was someone watching over you
Waiting for you to see
That the only person worth being is the one you were meant to be.
After reading this maybe you’ll see,
I like who I am.
I like being me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ah, the Joy of Playing around with a Messy First Draft

I used to hate revising. In school I wrote papers the night before. Revising, in my mind, meant looking over the spelling before turning a paper in. In college when I took creative writing workshops, I still didn't understand revision. I'd write my stories in a burst (typically, the night before).

There'd be talk in class about what could be done to make a story better. "In the revision, you could try this," the professor would suggest. "Or you might think about this." I'd nod and take notes, but I never bothered to try any of those suggestions. To me, the story was done. I was bored with it and ready to move on. Maybe I'd apply what I learned to the next story I had to write.

I didn't truly understand revision until I heard a talk about it at a writer's conference. The speaker, a guy named Andy Gutelle, pointed out that many beginning writers struggle with revision. They have their finished draft in front of them, and they start from page one and edit along, tightening up passages or cutting a few things, fixing punctuation and typos. But this isn't really revision, he said.

Revision begins by looking at the entire novel at once. It asks big questions like:

What is this story about?
Who is your main character and what does she want?
Do all of your scenes contribute to the arc of the story? Does each one develop your main character and/or move the plot along?

He suggested revising in layers. Read through the book asking the big questions and then read through it again, zeroing in at the scene level, and finally at the smaller sentence by sentence level.

I had never thought about revision in this way. I was used to writing short stories, where I could hold the entire picture of the narrative arc in my head at once. Scene, scene, scene. Character, conflict, realization.

I had never done that with a novel. It's too big! But it made sense. Writing a first draft is often an exercise in discovering what it is you are writing about in the first place. Your initial idea can change a little or a lot. Characters that seemed important disappear. New characters emerge. Strands and subplots fade away. Revelations plop in out of nowhere.

Starting from the beginning and zeroing in on grammar errors is not going to help you get your novel into shape. To do that, you have to see what you actually have on the page (as opposed to the initial vision of the book that you hold in your head).

It's not a pleasant experience to read your first draft through for the first time. The fear going into it is that it's going to be a horrible, unfixable mess. What ends up happening, I'm happy to tell you, is that it IS kind of a mess, but it is fixable.

If it makes you feel any better, other writers go through this too:

"All writing," says Jane Yolen, "is about the gap--no that chasm--between the expectation and final product. Expect it, sidestep it, move on."

How do you DO revision, though? How do you take a big thing like a novel and see it for what it is--all the characters and strands and scenes and meanderings?

Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird describes printing out every page of a draft and spreading it all over her apartment.

Other writers write out their scenes on index cards.

(this is from YA author Nova Ren Suma--working on a draft at a writer's retreat)

They create elaborate maps.

(Check out Laurie Halse Anderson's revision road map. If you want to know more about Laurie's revision process, see her blog on her website Mad Woman in the Forest

They write on their walls.

(This is a wall in William Faulkner's house. Yes. Even Faulkner's novels did not spring from his head fully formed.)

Revising is like doing a puzzle. With your first draft complete, you've got most of the pieces out of the box and spread out on the table. You turn them over, examine what you have and think about how they might fit together. You chuck out the pieces that don't seem to belong to this puzzle. You assemble and realize which pieces are missing.

Uh oh. A character disappears? I'll rewrite the scenes at the beginning and take her out. A sub plot begins on page 100? Let's see if I can work that in earlier.

This can be fun or painstaking, angsty or exciting, depending on how you look at it. It takes time and work to put together a puzzle. Also, unfortunately, they don't come already assembled.

This is the truth about the work that is involved in writing a novel. It takes time. It takes logical thinking. It takes leaps of faith.

I heard David Wiesner speak at a conference this summer. He's an author/illustrator who's known for his award winning picture books Tuesday, Flostam, and Art & Max. He told us about his latest book, tracing the steps he went through from idea to development to revision. It was fascinating.

One day, he said, a very cool idea popped into his head. It was an image of a tiny spaceship landing in a child's sandbox. He immediately drew the picture and began to storyboard out the story arc. He showed us the sample and it seemed pretty good to me, but Wiesner said it wasn't right.

He drew the story out again, beginning with the spaceship in the sandbox. Still not right. And again. Again. He put the failed manuscript away. He wrote another book. He came back to it. Each time starting with the spaceship in the sandbox. That was the originating idea and he couldn't let it go. But for whatever reason, it just didn't work.

He quit on it again. He wrote other things. During a break he watched his cat not play with his toys. He wondered what a cat would do if he found a tiny spaceship. He drew out another story board. That story, after multiple revisions, became Mr. Wuffles. 

Check it out. It's clever and hilarious. It came to be because David Wiesner did not give up on his story. He let go of the original idea and took a leap of faith.

His parting words: Don't just think about an idea. Do the work.

PS. Anyone who would like my notes from Andy Gutelle's revision talk, email me at jodycasella (@) yahoo (.) com

Friday, December 6, 2013

I confess that I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to writing...

Also, probably, when it comes to life. (But I will leave that confession for some other day.)

I don't know why this is such a big revelation. Maybe because you think--or at least I thought--that when I got to a certain point, after I'd written a certain number of books, gone through the process enough times, I'd get to the end and, um, KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!!!

All the years that I was writing and rewriting and submitting and absorbing rejections and then repeating that fun loop, I kept thinking I was on the verge of understanding how it all worked, like there was some magical answer to becoming a published writer and once I figured that out, Wah lah! I'd cross over to the other side. And just Be There, I guess, smiling and waving and signing my pile of books for adoring fans.

I had these turning points along the way, mini revelations about writing and how my process worked, and whenever I'd figure out something new, I'd cling to it like it was a life raft.

I must write 1250 words per day.
I mean, 1500.
I mean, 2000.

I must revise as I go and make my draft as perfect as possible the first time through.
Who am I kidding? I should write without worrying where it will go and revise the mess later.
I'm an idiot. I should have made an outline.

But after ten "finished" manuscripts, more than 10,000 hours of time spent on writing, and one published novel, there are times when I still feel like a novice.

Every day is hard to sit down and write, to rework or to let things go, to plan or to allow my words gush out.

Every day there are distractions. The internet. The dishes. A horrifying college bill to pay. My daughter's forgotten lunch that must be brought to school. The dog yakking on the carpet.

Every day there are things that can potentially derail me. Before it was stuff like a rejection. A pass from an agent or editor who had requested something. An agent quitting. An editor changing her mind. Now it's a meh review or a  bizarrely fluctuating Amazon rating.

Blah di blah di blah.

I could go on about the inner angsty-ness, but I am starting to bore myself, so I will spare you.

Here is something I DO know:

There IS a magic answer.

Something that makes the doubts and the distractions and the outside evaluations disappear.

Something that I actually did learn along the way and know for sure.

Something that ALWAYS works when I am angsting or stressing or reeling.

It is the one and only thing that I can control as a writer.

I sit down. I open up my lap top.

I write.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Which I Return (briefly) to My Dream Job

When I was fifteen, my dream job was to work at a department store and sell perfume. I have no idea what that was about. I don't even like perfume. Maybe I thought it sounded like easy work--lounging behind a glass counter, arranging bottles, spritzing people...

The jobs I ended up with were so far away from that perfumy vision, it's laughable. I chopped whole chickens in half at York Steakhouse. I scrubbed pizza pans at Papa Gino's Pizzeria. I flipped steaks at Ponderosa. I busted my butt waiting tables at TGI Fridays and Perkins (jobs I still have nightmares about). At the end of my shifts, let's just say, I did not smell like perfume.

When I was in grad school, a friend of mine suggested I apply for a job where he worked, a bookstore. This sounded like a cool gig. I knew how to work a cash register. I wouldn't have to wear a grease-spattered polyester uniform. I had what I thought was an extensive knowledge of books.

What I didn't have was much experience with bookstores, unless you count bopping into one of those Walden Books places at the mall every Christmas to pick out a yearly calendar. Up to that point, I was a total library fan girl.

But man oh man, the first time I stepped foot into the Davis Kidd Booksellers store in Memphis, I swooned. 100,000 + books. Bookcases upon bookcases. Tables piled high with stacks. And more books lining the walls. Comfy chairs. Cozy nooks. Pillows.

Oh! a book-loving, nerdy, poet-writing grad student could get lost for days in a place like that. I loved everything about working at Davis Kidd except for one rule: we were not allowed to read on the job. I confess that I did. Unpacking boxes of fresh new books and arranging them on the shelves, geez, how could you not stop to read the blurbs on the backs?  Or thumb through the pages. Or, um, read a couple of chapters?

My co-workers were the coolest people, fellow book lovers, many with advanced degrees or students like me (like I?) See, if I were still working there, I could ask any grammar question, and someone would know the answer. This was before the internet, before you could ask your phone any question in the world and get an almost instantaneous answer. No, children, before the internet, before smart phones, you had to just sit around and wonder what the answer was.

Or, you could call Davis Kidd Booksellers and a clerk would tell you.

I'm not lying. We got calls like that all the time.

We also hosted story times and author signings. We chatted with customers about the latest bestsellers, classics, and forgotten gems. People browsed around, listening to music and sipping coffee.

Bookstores, sadly, tragically, are struggling, and many are going out of business. It's hard to compete with the low prices and convenience of Amazon. And more and more people are downloading books on e-readers. I'm not knocking this practice. But I do so hope that we'll still have places for book-loving people to gather and browse.

This Saturday, Nov. 30, is Small Business Saturday. Author Sherman Alexie put out a call to fellow writers to support their local independent bookstores. Shop. Volunteer to work. Hand sell books. So, that is what I am going to do.

You can find me at my favorite bookstore in Columbus--Cover to Cover Bookstore.

Please come out and say hello. I promise I will not be reading on the job.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Happens When the Birthday Celebration Gene Skips a Generation

Today is my mother's birthday. She is turning 70, which is a milestone as far as birthdays go, and clearly something to celebrate. For my mother all birthdays are a good excuse to celebrate.

I wrote recently (here) that if there is such thing as a Cleaning Gene, I did not inherit it. Well, if a Birthday Celebration Gene exists, I missed out on that one too.

My mother tried her best to instill a love for birthday celebrations in me. When I was growing up, she always threw me a party. Nothing over the top--when I was a kid people didn't go nutso over birthday parties like they do now. No themed parties or gift bags or bouncy tents--but my mother always baked a cake. She always invited my aunts and uncles and cousins over for a party after dinner. I had a big candle that had the numbers all the way to 21 on it.

My mother started this tradition on my first birthday, burning the candle all through the party until that year's number disappeared. Every year she brought the candle out and lit it. Now that I'm thinking about it, this is pretty impressive--that she remembered it, that she could find where she'd stored the thing. I can barely remember where I store my Christmas tree ornaments.

The year I turned 21 was the first year I celebrated my birthday away from home. I was staying at a college friend's house for the weekend and unbeknownst to me, my mother had mailed the last remnant of my special birthday candle there. She called the friend's mother and gave detailed instructions--this was it for Jody's birthday candle. That number 21 needed to be burned to keep up with the tradition that had been going since I was a baby.

I don't know what my friend's family thought about all this. But let me tell you, they burned that candle for me. That was the year my mother started a new tradition.

I was born at 11:42 in the morning, and she called me at that exact time to tell me the story of my birth and to wish me happy birthday. Every year since then, if she is not with me at 11:42, she calls me.

Sometimes this tradition has veered into bizarro-land. IE, the time my mother was driving along and realized it was nearing 11:42 and she had to pull off the highway to find a payphone. (This was before cell phones.)

Or the year I turned 24 and had a job interview for a teaching position at a high school. I was sitting in the principal's office being interviewed when the phone rang. The principal answered and nodded and smiled, while I sat there thinking maybe it was normal for an interviewer to have a chatty conversation with someone on the phone during an interview. The principal kept smiling and nodding and then she handed me the phone.

It was my mother.

She had just explained to the principal that it was 11:42 and it was my birthday etc. I nearly died of embarrassment. But the principal thought that entire thing was a hoot. (PS. I got the job.)

Over the years I have tried to live up to my mother's birthday celebrating example. My husband and I threw parties for the kids when they were growing up. Some of these were even over the top bashes. As the kids have gotten older we've had smaller celebrations. The kids didn't seem to mind. We go out to dinner. Maybe invite a few friends over. I bake a cake.

Things have really started to taper off lately, and a couple of years ago I hit rock bottom. My daughter was turning 14 and she was busy doing stuff and I was busy doing stuff and I asked her what kind of cake she wanted me to bake her and she acted like she didn't care and yadda yadda ya, and the next thing I knew, it was the night of her birthday and I had nothing. NOTHING.

Okay, I did have a couple of candles. Which I duct-taped to the counter.

Not my proudest moment as a mom.

While I am confessing shameful things, here's one more: I have no idea what time my mother was born. Today is her birthday and I can't call her at the exact time because I don't know what that time is. Until this moment, I have never even thought to ask her.

Is it too late? Can someone who clearly has not been blessed with a Birthday Celebration Gene start a new tradition?

Hmm. Okay.

Right after I post this blog, I will call my mom and ask her. And if the time has already passed, I will make a note of it for next year. In the meantime, "Happy birthday," I will tell her. And later today I will bake a cake. I will poke 70 candles into it and present it to her.

It's not every day that it's someone's birthday after all.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pushing Through the Mushy Middle

As promised (here) I'm back to give my middle of the month NaNoWriMo pep talk. Saturday I spoke to a group of gung-ho authors hunkered down at the Thurber House for a Columbus area write-in, and Wednesday night I met with writers at the local library in my town. I was blown away by the number of people who showed up for both of these sessions.

Everyone and their mother seems to be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.

Okay. This is a slight exaggeration. I am not signed up for NaNo this year. And neither is my mother. But it does sorta feel like there's been an uptick of interest. (Just checked and there are almost 300,000 people plugging away on novels according to the NaNo site.)

Many of those people may be floundering around at this point in the process.

All of that energy and excitement you had on Day One--the cool ideas, the interesting characters, that brilliantly worded first line--all of that tends to fall away on like Day 5 or 6ish, and suddenly the ideas seem dumb, the characters are meh, and what the heck were you thinking? the first line is ridiculously pretentious.

But I am here to tell you to keep writing anyway.

Some people say that writing a novel is like driving through Texas.

It's a freaking long trip and maybe your car will break down, or you will get lost, or you will veer off the road to avoid hitting You'll wonder if you should turn back, quit driving, and perhaps check out the condo rentals in this little town in Texas where your car has overheated.


Have your car tuned up by a local mechanic, get a bite to eat at the Waffle House next door, then get back into your car, set your GPS, and go. New Mexico is only like, 400 miles away.

Wait. What were we talking about again?

What I meant to tell you is KEEP WRITING. As Robert Frost famously said: "The only way out is through." Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Who is the poet Robert Frost to be giving us advice? He wrote poems for God's sake, which everyone knows are MUCH MUCH shorter than 50,000 word novels.

Sigh. Somehow these "inspirational" talks of mine always devolve into commiserating with people about how HARD it is to write a book. Yeah, you're going to have finish this first draft and it's going to be a big messy thing and you're going to have to revise it. Multiple times. And then it's likely never going to be published. Blah blah blah, and instead of being inspired, everyone's depressed.

I promise I did give these hunkered down writers what I hoped were a few practical helpful tips.

The big one, something that has helped me in the past, is to take a look at the Hero's Journey. For those of you who have not heard of it, the Hero's Journey is basically an outline behind every story ever told. The hero leaves the comfortable (or not so comfortable) Ordinary World and sets off on his real (or psychological) journey.

Along the way he meets friends and fights enemies. He learns the rules of the Special World and faces his demons. At some point he approaches danger and what seems to be certain death, but he fights that battle and emerges with his reward.

In the end he returns home a changed person.

There's more to it and you can read about it Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Another helpful resource is Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey.

Many writers use the Hero's Journey template to structure their books. I see it more as a guideline, though, something to keep in the back of your mind while you are writing, especially if you are the type of writer who does not outline extensively before you begin. If you're stuck, it can't hurt to see where your main character is on his journey.

And it can't hurt to see where YOU are on your Writing a Book Journey.

If you are mired in the mushy middle--if your story has veered off and what you thought you were writing about has turned into something else, or if your main character has disappeared, or if new characters have mysteriously plopped into the narrative on page 100, or if the realistic novel you thought you were writing suddenly evolves into a Sci-Fi thriller--there is no quick fix, no magical secret.

Worry about that stuff later. Make a note to yourself and move on. Get back in the damn car and keep sputtering down the road.

PS. If you're really blocked, you can always kill a character or blow something up.

Tune in next month when I give you every trick I know for revising your messy first draft and for one day, possibly, hopefully, getting it out there into Publishing Land.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Teen Guest Post: WHO AM I? by Isabel Randolph

As promised here, I'm hosting a guest blog series called WHO AM I? and have invited teen writers to contribute.  

And a shout out to my artistic teen neighbor Courtney Berger for designing the awesome banner.


Who Am I?
by Isabel Randolph, guest blogger

If I wanted to be cutesy and cheesy and baseline poetic, I would say that I am a liberal artist, integrating aspects of the liberal arts education into every part of my life. However, the thought of being so cloyingly cute, and particularly the thought of being so cloyingly cute in poetry, makes me cringe a little bit, so I guess we can call that answer number one to the question ‘Who am I?’.

Let’s cover the facts; I’m a student in my second year at a small, private liberal arts university where I’m studying everything, though specifically English, economics, and various foreign languages, along with leading the fencing club, volunteering, working, and continually looking for new experiences. By May next year, I’ll be halfway done with my undergraduate experience, and I’ll be 20 years old, and the more I think about it the more terrifying that thought becomes. That’s two decades of time spent rotating the sun... I feel old! And young. And sometimes stuck in between.

Ignoring any quarter life-crises, I’m happier to be riding out the end of my teenage years than I was when thoroughly entrenched in them, a sentiment I semi-assume most people would adhere to. Like Jane mentioned in her post for this series, it’s so easy to get caught up in the social standards, especially in a setting like high school where it seems as if everyone has been together for ages, and because you spend so much time together just as you’re learning to define yourself, you also start to define each other. Like, I’m pretty sure I’ll always have a reminiscent affection for My Chemical Romance thanks to a best friend in middle school, and I know at least some of my drive to do really well academically was kick-started by a boyfriend in high school.

And sure, maybe those fun character-quirks would have happened anyway-- it’s possible. However, I’m inclined to think they’re much more attributes to relationships I’ve had, and, to be honest, I think that’s something that’ll happen no matter when or where you are. I could throw out examples now even to prove that that kind of influence doesn’t stop at high school graduation (hello, new found interest in Arabic and working knowledge of Twitter).

More than influences on each other, though, I think the pressure that creates that ‘trap’ feeling in high school comes from others’ expectations of you, and your reputation, and how ‘this is how you’ve been for the past five years, so obviously this is how you’ll still be, and always.’ It was that image that I remember feeling most caught in, and while I did change and grow some, probably along with the same ways everyone else was growing, it took graduating and effectively moving out of the bubble to truly get away from those expectations.

Yeah, it’s a cliche, and I’m trying to not veer back into cutesy, cheesy waters, but getting a new start was what I needed to really tackle the ‘who am I?’ question. One could argue that that’s a question with no answer, or no definite answer, anyway, but with the authority of a 19 year old who really doesn’t have a whole lot figured out (authority? what authority?), I’m going to say that I have a better answer now than I did before, which brings us to... now.

I so tongue-in-cheekily threw out the expression ‘liberal artist’ because, while I’m probably not going to stick it on a business card or resume anytime soon, it does convey probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself: that when it comes to learning, I don’t want my liberal arts education to stop outside of the classroom. We’re taught on these ethical pillars, the idea that a well-rounded, well-informed student becomes an autonomous thinker and problem solver, and overall has a better understanding of the world, and that ties right into my goals because, the million dollar question, who am I?

I’m ambitious, and overachieving, and I’ve always had a little bit of an issue with teetering on that line between maximizing output and taking on just a little bit too much. I don’t know if it comes from a fast-paced society propelled by technology and instant gratification or my impending entry into a third decade on this planet (and I thought two decades sounded crazy...), an ambitious friend from high school or just the lingering aftereffects of so many jokes about the world’s apocalyptic doom the year I graduated, but I do have this sense that I have a lot of ground to cover, the sooner the better. Multitasking, getting experience in different areas, attempting to cultivate different interests; it all feels like stock ingredients that are slowly adding more facets and experiences and stories to my life.

Who am I? I’m over-caffeinated, slightly neurotic, and really, really stressed. I’m also excited, and impatient, and working on adding confident to the list.

That being said, last weekend was the first time in almost five months that I got to go home for more than 24 hours, and did I have internship work I should have been doing? Miles I should have been running? Blog posts and scholarship applications I should have been writing? Sure, yes, definitely. Did I blow off the vast majority of those responsibilities to see my best friends, shuttle my brothers around town, and go out with my parents? Yes, yes, yes. Did my entire potential future collapse before my eyes in a metaphoric pile of ‘coulda shoulda woulda?’ Negative. Finding that balance in priorities is the next big thing I have to tackle.

I’m grateful, to be lucky enough to get to go to a fancy school with a solid scholarship, to have parents and family and friends who love me and support me, even to have the abilities to run and go out and occasionally eat way too many cookies without serious repercussions. I do feel the pressure of those opportunities, though, and that’s just part of the equation, I guess. I’m lucky and crazy and hopeful and intelligent and hoping that didn’t sound self-centered and stressed out and overwhelmed, but mostly I’m young, and it’ll be okay, and I’ve got time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On the Road (and Off): Photo Diary of the Thin Space Book Tour (PS: this my 200th blog post!)

Sooooooo Thin Space has been out for nearly two months and I've been having a grand old time talking it up with family, friends and sometimes, shockingly--people I don't know. 

This has been kind of a whirlwind travel schedule and totally NOT the norm for me, which usually consists of me sitting on the couch and staring bleary-eyed at the computer screen interspersed with multiple walks with my high strung dog. But what I've discovered is that being on the road can be fun too (once I got over my slightly agoraphobic/I hate driving alone-itis issue. See here.)

A display at Parnassus Books, the cool independent bookstore in Nashville owned by author Ann Patchett

My in-laws made cookies shaped like feet.

And I met Jessica Young, author of My Blue Is Happy 

My first book festival--Books by the Banks in Cincinnati--where I learned that having a huge bowl of candy on the table is a helpful marketing technique.

Fellow 2013 debut YA writer Mindy McGinnis, author of Not a Drop to Drink, a dystopian novel set in the not so distant future where water is scarce. (Notice the brilliant promotional thingy Mindy's got going on: water bottles...)  

I hung out with the Ohio school librarians at their annual conference which was held at a waterpark and had a chance to chat with one of my favorite authors, MT Anderson. He was gung ho to enjoy the rides but had forgotten to pack the proper shoes. What I learned: MT Anderson is a good sport. 

A trip to Memphis to visit my husband's and my alma mater, Rhodes College--where we are subtly, or not so subtly, urging our teen daughter to apply.
"Look, honey, can't you just see yourself going to school at this place?" 

I mean, really. THIS is the ceiling of the Rhodes library.

The bookstore in Memphis where I used to work--The Booksellers at Laurelwood. Here I am chatting it up with former students, friends, sorority sisters, former co-workers, and several  people I don't know

Taking a lesson from Mindy McGinnis, I gave out something that tied in with my book--lollipops shaped like feet.

I talked a ninth grade boy into taking off his shoes for an impromptu photo shoot. This was a cool day--visited 5 classes of ninth grade students who were REQUIRED to read Thin Space, which I must say, made me slightly nervous. Those kids had writing assignments and homework and tests on that book!  But everyone was cool about it (or did a good job pretending to be).

A local book club read Thin Space and invited me to chat about it with them at their monthly meeting. They met at a French bistro and I book-talked one of my favorite books, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, which they ended up choosing for their next book. Now I want to go to that meeting too.

The Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster Ohio. The feet lollipops were a big hit.

Only downside to my travels: a dog who is less than thrilled. Here she takes out her displeasure on my file folder. 

But that seemed to be the extent of the damage.

Sigh. This was my favorite journal.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thinking About Writing a Book in 30 Days? (Here's a bit of advice to get you started...)

Last week I did a presentation at two local libraries for writers interested in taking the NaNoWriMo challenge this year. NaNo, in case you are wondering, is a cool writing site where participants pledge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It costs nothing to join and you get to be part of a cool community of writers all chugging along on the same crazy journey. At the end of the month, if you meet your goal, you win a virtual badge (WOO HOO!) and the satisfaction of knowing you've got a finished first draft to play around with later.

Tracie, the awesome librarian at the Upper Arlington Ohio library who'd asked me to give the presentation, introduced me as a writer with lots of wisdom to share.

I had a hardy laugh about that. Yes, I may have won the virtual NaNo badges (For the record, I wrote four novels during previous NaNos and one of those novels turned into--after multiple revisions--my first published novel.) but in many ways I am still a beginner. Each day's writing is just as hard (if not harder) than the day before, and if I have learned anything over the years, it is that I always have more to learn.

Anyhoo, a few writers emailed to say that they could not make either of the presentations but would love it if I could share my notes. I'm not sure how useful these will be, but in the spirit of sharing "wisdom," here goes:

1. The nitty gritty. Get out a calendar page of the month of November. Look at the days you will realistically be able to write. Count them up. Divide 50,000 words by that number. The answer equals the number of words you will have to write per day if you want to win. To put this in perspective: if you plan to write all 30 days, you will need to write 1667 words per day. I NEVER could do that. There's Thanksgiving to think about. As well as life in general. My daily word count goal was always something nutty like 2800 words.

2. Every book begins with an idea (or two).

  • There's a saying that it takes two sticks to light a fire and two ideas to create a story. Sometimes these ideas are unrelated on the surface. For example, my book Thin Space began with the idea of a girl moving into a creepy old house AND the Celtic belief in thin places, where the wall between our world and the world of the dead is thinner. 
  • I read once that there are only two basic plots--the hero takes a journey or a stranger comes to town. That's it. Every story, movie, book you've ever heard boils down to either of those two plots. The hero takes a journey, for example, would be like Luke in Star Wars or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. An example of a stranger comes to town is Jaws. That story, of course, has both plots. The stranger (Jaws) comes to town, and the hero (Chief Brody) goes on a journey to kill him. 
  • Another way to look at your story is to ask a question. Will Luke defeat Darth Vader and restore balance to the universe? Will Dorothy find her way back to Kansas? Will Chief Brody overcome his fear of the water (and what a goofball that guy is living on an island!) and kill Jaws?
  • You can also ask yourself: Whose story is it? What's happening? What is at stake? 

3. Once you've got your ideas/basic plot/questions, the next step is

To outline


Not to outline

It's perfectly okay during this pre-NaNo time to outline your story. I'm not talking the formal outlines you did in seventh grade with Roman numerals. Simply write out a list of your characters, a few of your ideas, the conflict and questions. Chart out scenes, etc. Some writers I know write very detailed outlines that go one for 50 pages.

I am not one of these writers.

The beauty of NaNo is that you can start writing your book with very little plotted out in advance. Take your two ideas or your question or your basic plot idea and just see how it all plays out as you write.


Once upon a time I went to a writing conference where the brilliant author Jane Yolen told the audience of 1000 people that she was about to share her secret to writing a book. She paused, and you could hear all 1000 people holding their breaths and leaning forward eagerly.

The answer, Jane Yolen said, is BIC.

Another pause.

And then she smiled and said, "Put your Butt In the Chair and write."

Yeah. The truth is there are no short cuts and no magic answers. But know this about NaNo, and about writing a book in general (and this probably applies to anything in life--such as running a marathon or losing 20 pounds): if you chip away at your goal by writing those 1667 words per day, in the end you will make it to the finish line.

5. To get yourself warmed up each of those days

Read books on writing. (See the list below for helpful books on craft, inspiration, writer's block, etc.)

Before I begin a writing session, I read a chapter from one of these books.

Or journal the junk out. Every morning write for ten minutes--all the gibberish-y stuff clogging up your brain and keeping you from thoughtfully beginning your work for the day. Anxieties, snippets of dreams, arguments you're having with the comment section of a Yahoo news article, bills you've got to pay, etc. Get it on the page and out of your head.

Do whatever you need to do to get your daily word count done. Set an alarm. Flip an hour glass (my little trick). Leave the house and write in a coffee shop. Stay in the house and lock yourself in a closet. Or mix it up and try a different motivational strategy each day.

Don't forget to reward yourself at the end of a session. Writing 1667 words in a day may not seem like that big of a deal, but do it today, and the next day, and the day after that... and you deserve a piece of chocolate. Or a bag of Doritos.

6. Biggest nugget of wisdom I know: Resist the urge to revise as you go. NaNo is about quantity NOT quality. Get the words down (crappy as they may be) and worry about fixing things later. If it helps, keep a notebook on the side of all the things you want to delete/change/fix later. DON'T WORRY ABOUT THAT STUFF NOW.

And finally, remember E.L. Doctorow's true words of wisdom:

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Good luck. And meet me back here in mid November for a middle of the month pep talk.

Some helpful books on writing

Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind, and Thunder and Lightning by Natalie Goldberg
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
One Continuous Mistake by Gail Sher
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Elements of Style by Strunk and White

PS. Here's a post I wrote last year on why you should NEVER EVER send your "finished" first draft out to a publishing company or an agent on Dec. 1.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What's the Difference Between Being Published and NOT Being Published? (Also, a Brief Digression about Fleas)

It's been roughly one month since my first book Thin Space was released and lately I've been thinking about the differences between the Before I Was an Officially Published Writer ME and the After Me.

Before I was published I ruminated over the question too. I'd been writing and pursuing publication for years and truly believed I was on the verge of publishing almost as long, but somehow the ever elusive finish line kept moving out of reach.

When it finally happened--the book deal--it almost seemed anti-climactic.

The Pre-published Me struggled to sit down every day and write. That Me set goals and the majority of the time accomplished those goals. I'd figured out over the years that it's hard to write the first draft of a novel, and that the "finished" draft will need to be revised multiple times, and all of that will take a long time.

I was plagued by self doubt. There were days when I hated what I was writing. There were days when I thought my work was brilliant, but then I was plagued by the fact that no one would ever read this brilliant work because I couldn't seem to snag an agent--and later, when I had snagged an agent, she couldn't seem to catch the attention of an editor.

I kept writing.

I wrote ten books. I wrote multiple versions of these ten. The despair of finding readers for any of these grew exponentially. I kept writing anyway. I vacillated daily, sometimes hourly, between hope and despair.

So that was the Me then.

The me now is the same.

I still struggle to sit down each day and write. I still have terrible days when I think that what I am writing is horrible, that I will never be able to pull strands together, and that if/when I do, I won't be able to sell the damn thing.

I have been through the angsty painful process so many times that I know I will finish the project eventually. I also have an agent now who will read it. But there is no guarantee that she will like it and want to sell it. And there is no guarantee that an editor will want to buy it.

The differences:

One is promotion. I might want to spend all my time hunkered down with my WIP but I have to promote Thin Space (a book I finished writing five years ago). I am not complaining about that, just stating the reality. I am traveling around to schools and bookstores. Which is fun and gratifying and cool but also tiring. (see: I am an anxious traveler).

The biggest difference has more to do with perception and response from other people--and it's why being published had always been so important to me. I had made my peace with being a writer who wrote for the sake of writing itself. I love writing (even when I HATE IT) and know that if I never published another word, I would continue to write. But I will be the first person to admit that it is very nice to know that people are reading what I write.

I visited Middle Tennessee State University last week when I was in Nashville to sign at Parnassus Books and I talked to a lot of the students. The first question I asked was "Are you a writer?" Each one gave a hesitant reply.

Yeah, um, sort of...
Well, I hope to be but...
Um, I'm working on that...

I totally understand that hesitation--it's amazingly difficult to say out loud what your dream is--to say unequivocally Yes, I am a writer because the usual response from the questioner is something like, "Oh, what have you written?" (which really means, Is your book published/Can I find it at a bookstore?) and then the writer will have to hesitate again. Um, well, I'm working on something but, um, no, not yet.

It took me ten years to answer simply: "Yes."

It took another ten years to write something worthy of publication.

I told the students: Just save time, skip ahead ten years, and say I am a writer. If you write, you are a writer and in the end the only difference between being published and not being published is ... being published.

For years I had imagined the big release day of my first book. I'd be chatting on the phone or on social media with well-wishers. Maybe I'd visit a few bookstores and bask in the glow of my beautiful book faced out on the shelves.

Here's how I actually spent the long awaited for day:

Locked out of my house.

A couple of days before I'd discovered that my dog and cat were infested with fleas. Not sure how I'd missed this because the $*^&# fleas were all over the place. The morning of the Big Day I carted stuff out onto my back porch--open food containers and tooth brushes and pet food and the litter box. I corralled my anxious old cat and my skittish puppy (who even after a year of co-habitating still loathe each other) out there too. My neighbor and I ran around my house setting off flea bombs and screaming as the poisonous stuff spewed into the air.

We raced out the back door to find the cat hissing and the dog crying. My neighbor, no dummy, went home. I sat out on the porch picking fleas off my pets as they whined to me about their proximity to each other.

Did I mention it was the hottest day of the year?

While my house was being poisoned, I combed out fleas. I sweated like a pig. The animals finally settled down and in exhaustion and possibly under threat of heat stroke, they flopped out at my feet and fell asleep. I worked on my latest manuscript. My phone dinged every once in a while.

"Congrats on your book!!" said the well-wishers. "Enjoy your day!"

Ah, just as I had always dreamed.

I swiped the perspiration from my eyes and whacked dead a hopping flea, then I wrote back to each one: "Thanks!"

Just out of curiosity, why in God's name would there ever have been a child's game called "My Dog Has Fleas"? 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Teen Guest Post: WHO AM I? by Olivia B.

As promised here, I'm hosting a guest blog series called WHO AM I? and have invited teen writers to contribute.  

And a shout out to my artistic teen neighbor Courtney Berger for designing the awesome banner.


Who Am I?
A Poem by Olivia B., guest blogger

The new school year starts to begin,
As the teenage identity crisis sinks in,
Am I the same as I was before?
Exciting or fun, or just a bore?

What college should I be going to?
As relatives ask “what do you want to do?”
Does what you do define who you are?
Boy, your sisters really set a high bar.

Maybe I should stop talking about crew,
Do I want to row in college first division,
Or does my height already confirm that decision?

Is watching Gossip Girl on repeat a waste of time?
Should I be saving the world? Am I at my prime?
Does appearance matter when I’m just running to the store?
Will they think I’m not who I was before?

I know who I was, and what I want to be,
But what about the current me?
The past and future create an identity dent,
As you can never quite tell who you are in the present.

First impressions never seem to satisfy,
Whereas second impressions are a biased lie,
And even the closest don’t know everything, do they?
Is it supposed to be that way?

You read books telling you you can be whoever you wish,
All of the falsified information 1st grade teachers dish,
You are who you are, not who you choose,
You can hide, but the real you will win and the fake you will lose.

So why do people still pretend it’s okay,
To lock the real them far away,
Who am I? Is dropped day to day,
But what is that really meaning to say?

I don’t know, and I don’t think I will for a while,

But until then all I can do is just smile.

--Olivia B. is a 17 year old writer living in Ohio

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On the Book Tour Road: Confessions of an Anxious Traveler

Tomorrow I'm off to embark upon the second leg of the Thin Space Book Tour--otherwise known as the "The Tour through All the Places Where I've Lived slash Know People."

The first stop on this tour was Lexington Kentucky, my home for ten years, where I raised my kids through their pre-school/ elementary/some of middle school years, taught at an awesome creative and performing arts school, and experienced the hey day of my PTA-Carpooling-Uber Volunteer stage of life. (Update: I had a blast returning to my former school--where I did my first ever Power Point presentation. I loved catching up with old friends--my book club, PTA moms and dads, local writers and teachers and librarians and former students--and the signing at Morris Book Shop was so well-attended the store ran out of copies of my book. Woo!)

Stop Two is Nashville, and I must admit I am anxious for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with the actual Book Signing/School Visiting/Public Speaking aspect of a book tour that might make other writers nervous.

The truth is I always get nervous before I travel. I love traveling but what I don't love is the actual getting to the new place part of the process.

I'm not thrilled with flying (the potential for missed connections/cancelled flights/lost baggage weighs on my mind. Also, plane crashes.) But I hate driving too. I think it's the combination of intense hyper-alertness intermingled with the mind-numbing boredom.

There's other stuff that goes along with gearing up for a trip that puts me over the edge, and usually I drive everyone my husband crazy in the days before we travel.

Example 1:

Packing. What do I pack? What will I wear? What is the weather like? What if I forget something important? My husband's answer to this rant is something along the lines of "I could be wrong, but I think they have stores where we are going."

Example 2:

Cleaning. Okay, this is totally my own weird idiosyncrasy, but every time I am about to leave on a trip, I feel compelled to clean my house. It's this thing where you know that when you come home you're going to have a bunch of dirty laundry and you're going to be tired from the trip and wouldn't it be nice to walk into a clean home? This compulsion manifests itself in scenarios like this: My husband is loading up the car and I am running around with a scrub brush scouring the toilets.

He yells at me to put the cleaning implement down and help him load the car and I yell at him to understand my mania and help me rearrange the silverware drawer. Big shocker: we don't always begin our vacations in the most chipper of moods.

Really, I am trying to work on my traveling anxiety. Especially today, the day before I leave on my Nashville solo road trip. It's hard though. I have a mile long list of things to do:

1. Revise a chapter in my WIP
2. change the cat litter
3. finish and post this blog
4. clean off the kitchen counter
5. Answer a bunch of emails
6. Vacuum the upstairs bedrooms

You get the picture.

And look at me, all efficient and productive and just about to finish number 3 on the list!

Readers, please say a quick prayer for me tomorrow as I set out on my 400+ mile drive, and if you happen to live in the Nashville metro area, pop into Parnassus Books to say hello, Saturday, Oct. 5 at 2:00. With any luck I will be dressed appropriately for the weather and the store will not run out of books.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Interview with Alethea Kontis

Before I start this interview, I've got to set the stage for my first meeting with Alethea. It was in Los Angeles, a few weeks ago, at the very cool party thrown by my literary agency. I was sorta feeling like a fish out of water, standing there holding my wine and a plate of delicious-looking appetizers that I could not figure out how to eat, whilst also holding a wine glass, and in walks a stunning woman, dressed head to toe in what I can only describe as Glitter. She had sparkly, flowing clothing and glittery make up and elaborate glittery hair clips.

I think they were butterflies.

Of course I had to introduce myself. The stunning woman was Alethea Kontis. Turns out she had just come from Vid Con (I didn't even know what this was, so that just gives you an idea out of it I am and how IN Alethea is.) We talked shop and later I looked Alethea up and discovered that she is a popular and critically acclaimed writer--of picture books AND young adult novels, the first in her Woodcutter series, Enchanted, earned a starred review from Kirkus.

Her new novel, Hero, the second book in the same series, is out soon, and I'm chomping at the bit to read it.

Jody: Okay, Alethea, I've got to start with the obvious question: Where do you get your ideas?

Alethea: I have a butterfly net strung with silver that my great grandmother smuggled out of Turkey during the Great Fire of Smyrna. I use it to catch fairies. Once I have them in my clutches, I barter for fairy dust. I won't say exactly what I barter...let's just say fairies have peculiar tastes.

Jody: Ha. Well, that is not the answer I was expecting, but weirdly, it makes sense on some level. There is something magical about how ideas come to us. Didn't Anne Lamott say she got her ideas from a little kid sitting in her cellar? And I read an interview with Stephen King once where he described diving down into a deep dark pool. Now, I will add fairies and butterfly nets to the list.

So, once you've netted those fairies, what's your next step? Do you outline? Or do you just start writing and see where the story goes?

Alethea: I am an "Athena Writer." I tell myself a story over and over in my head until I have it down perfectly, and then I write it on paper. Short stories tend to spring forth fully-formed. With novels, I do use a list of logistical bullet points so that I'm sure certain things get mentioned in the correct order from the correct point of view, but that's all. So I'm a very structured writer...but not formally so.

Jody: I've never heard that term before, Athena Writer. I like it. Now I am picturing these stories popping out of your head the way Athena popped out of Zeus's head...

How many books did you write before you got your first book deal?

Alethea: Um...none?

Jody: WHAT?? You are only the second writer I know who has said that! Wow! So the very first story you wrote was published?

Alethea: I mean, I started writing a novel in the seventh grade (see Wattpad) and revised it in high school (see Wattpad also), but I never wrote the last chapter because I knew it wasn't good enough.

My first book deal (AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First) was a true Cinderella story: I wasn't even the one who submitted it to the publisher. A friend of mine did. I'm just lucky I wrote my name on the manuscript, or Candlewick wouldn't have even known whom to call. ALWAYS PUT YOUR NAME ON THINGS.

Jody: You have good friends! I'm almost afraid to ask, but have you gotten any rejections along the way?

Alethea: Oh, sure. I might not have finished a novel until I was thirty, but I've been a prolific writer since I was eight years old. I wrote and submitted to EVERYTHING. Local paper, TV Guide contests, Reader's Digest, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, cereal name it, I tried it. I even submitted a poem to the New Yorker when I was a teen just so I could say I'd been rejected from the New Yorker.

I would collect all my rejections in a shoebox, and then at the end of the year I'd throw it away because it was depressing. I've never been a fan of keeping rejections. Bad juju.

Jody: I'm with you on that. I hear about writers who paper the walls with rejections. Bluh. How depressing.

Tell me about your work schedule.

Alethea: On a perfect day, I get up with Joe and the girls and they drop me off at the gym at 8 am on their way to school/work. After an hour of running, I walk home and write until they get home. Then we hang out and I answer emails & update the internet until we go to bed around 10 pm.

Jody: That's a long work day...

Alethea: But perfect days happen maybe 15% of my year. For instance, I am typing this with a sprained-possibly-fractured left thumb because I slipped and fell in a giant puddle of vomit on the last day of Dragon full costume, two hours before my panel with Jim Butcher. That's right, folks: I AM THE REAL BRIDGET JONES. With material like this, it's really no surprise I'm a storyteller.

Jody: I'm not going to ask you what Dragon Con is. Pretend that I know.

So you're like many of us working writers, juggling writing and family and promotional stuff (although your promotional stuff sounds both exciting and potentially dangerous). How do you balance all of these obligations?

Alethea: On one foot. (Because my thumb is broken.) Also, fairy dust.

Jody: Ah, the fairy dust. Have you ever considered bottling that and selling it? I would definitely buy it. The marketing/promotion/social media aspect of the writing business can be overwhelming. What's your approach to self-promotion?

Alethea: I'm one of those weirdos who adores social media. I love finding new ways to meet new people who love the things I love.  The only down side is that there are so many that I'm spread SO thin--I don't have the time I'd like to spend on YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram/G+/Tumblr (especially Tumblr)...and now there's Snapchat! I need to check that out ASAP. The up side is: I AM UBIQUITOUS.

I probably don't push my own books as much as I should. My theory is that if people love me, they'll love my I concentrate more on being awesome than flat-out "promotional." (Don't tell my publicists.)

Jody: Well, it's clearly worked for you. I mean, you literally sparkle when you walk into a room. Okay, last question before I let you go:

What are you working on now?

Alethea: I am currently working on Beloved, the third book in the Woodcutter series, slated to be out in the Fall of 2014. I love it because it incorporates all the bird fairy tales: The Six Swans, The Wild Swans, The Goose Girl, and Swan well as a little Tristan and Isolde and A Weave of Words.

And I hate it because I should be finished by now...only, BAD THUMB. *ow*

Jody: Go bandage that thumb up because your fans (and I) are eager for you to finish. It sounds awesome.

Thanks so much, Alethea, for "chatting" today! And readers, if you'd like to know more about Alethea, check out her website:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thin Space Has a Playlist (also, a video!)

Thin Space has been out for a little over a week and I am still being surprised daily by cool bonus stuff that even in my dreams I did not see coming.

My editor's younger brother put together a playlist to go with the book.

In my editor's words:

"It's not necessarily a list of songs that Marsh would listen to (I think Marsh would be way too caught up in his own stuff to actually listen to music) but a set of songs that matches the tone of the book. The "bonus tracks" are songs I thought were good for the book, but lessened the cohesion of the list. Also, the songs are kinda sorta in the order that one would experience tonally while reading the book."

Let me say here that I scanned the list and --OLD FOGIE ALERT -- I only recognized a few of the songs. But I have listened to them since, and I LOVE them and totally think my editor (and her way cool younger brother) nailed it.

Listen for yourselves:

Bleeding Out by Imagine Dragons
Change (In the House of Flies) by Deftones
Born to Die by Lana Del Rey
42 by Coldplay
What the Water Gave Me by Florence and the Machine
On the Surface by Civil Twilight
Weak and Powerless by A Perfect Circle
Dead Hearts by Stars
Soldier's Eyes by Jack Savoretti
Flying Solo by Elenowen
Your Bones by Of Monsters and Men
Hurricane by MS MR
You Found Me by The Fray
Brother by Green River Ordinance
Memories by Within Temptation

"Bonus Tracks
Wherever I May Roam by Rockabye Baby
So Cold by The Vitamin String Quartet
Iris by Boyce Avenue
All Around Me by Flyleaf

While I am on the topic of music, I should mention that every day when I was writing Thin Space, I psyched myself up by listening first to Coldplay's All These Things That I've Done. I have no idea why the song resonated with me, but it played like a music video in my head, and all the while I could picture my poor tormented main character Marsh Windsor trudging along barefoot through the snow...

I will leave you with this (which, I think will make more sense after you read the book), a tribute video made by a fan. (Okay. It was made by my daughter):

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Teen Guest Post: WHO AM I? by Beth B.

As promised here, I'm hosting a guest blog series called WHO AM I? and have invited teen writers to contribute.  

And a shout out to my artistic teen neighbor Courtney Berger for designing the awesome banner.


Who I Am
A Story by Beth B., guest blogger

“If you got to start over, what would you want to be?” Jake asked me, leaning his head back against the cell wall.

“We don’t get to start over.” I said. I had no interest in the conversation. “We chose what we wanted to be and now we’re paying for it.”

He frowned up at the grimy ceiling as we both listened to the steady dripping sound that echoed down the hall, a leak probably. It didn’t matter either way. The warden wouldn’t fix it. Why use the money on a building made for thieves, rapists, and murderers?

“Yeah I know.” His voice grew quiet. “But what if you could? What if we got a second chance?”

I stared up at the ceiling. “I don’t like those words.”

“What words?”

“What if.” There was a brown mold at the far right corner of the ceiling; it had over the past weeks made a slow, but deliberate march across the grimy surface. “What if, what if. I don’t see the point of wasting time thinking about it when there is no way it’ll ever happen.”

“Okay, but what else are we going to do?”

I rolled over on my cot facing the wall now. It was very much like me: dirty, unclean, and screaming for someone to come save it from this fate. I’m just like this wall, but we both have one thing that is different, and that is the wall knows it’s a wall, but I don’t know what I am.

Who am I?

“Andrew?” I felt Jake kick my cot with his worn boot. “Andrew? Fine. Ignore me.”

I heard him lie down, grumbling about unfriendly oafs. I raised my hand so it was inches from the wall's surface. “If who I am is what I have, and what I have is lost, who am I?” I whispered to the wall, willing it to answer me by pressing my hand against it and pushing hard.

“What are you mumbling about?” Jake asked, his cot creaking as he shifted. “Cause the food cart's not coming back until dinner, and that’s hours away.”

“Nothing.” I said, pulling my hand back, and closing my eyes, losing myself to darkness.


It’s been ten years since I had that conversation. Ten years to ponder who I am, and what it would be like if I got a second chance. What did I discover?

Nothing, well almost.

You would think ten years would be enough time to discover myself. That’s not easy, but I did think about it a lot. I even asked a few less violent jail mates. One said the same thing that I did: I was wasting my time thinking over something that would be worthless if I didn’t get out.

Another one said that who I am is up to me to decide. The last guy added to it by saying that who I was changed throughout my life, and there is no true answer for it.

The last one haunted me every night, and now that I’m out I realize what he means.

Who I am is never just one thing. You can try to limit yourself to one job, hobby, or sport, but the truth is that who you are is larger than you can dream, and confining that self is like shutting every emotion you have inside a small box.

So this time I’m not going to do that. I’m going to go out there and tell everyone who will listen that there is never only just one thing for you. That who you are is up to you, and you can be anything you want to be.

How do I know this is true? Well, if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here sitting at this old coffee-stained desk staring out at a sea of young faces. If I was the man still in jail, the faces would all look alike, but I’m not, and I can see that they all are harboring something special, and as their teacher I want them to share it.

I stand up, placing my mug of coffee down and picking up a black marker. I turn to them. “For today’s lesson I would like everyone to share what they wish to do when they are older. And if you don’t know, then tell me a hobby. Tell me what you dream to be.”

--Beth B. is a 13 year old writer living in Ohio.