Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Art of Letting Go

This year I let go of a lot of things.

My dining room table, for example. Also, I gave away the things that I recorded here, dutifully, for tax purposes. I just now read over the list and realize that I don't miss any of these items...except maybe the glass cheese plate?

A few weeks ago we hosted a party and it would've been nice to have that cheese plate. But oh well. We made do with another serving dish.

Shedding stuff from my house had a weird ripple effect. Once you shine a spotlight on things you've had for years and ask yourself: Do I need this? Do I want it? Really?

You might find that everything, potentially, is a candidate for the recycle bin.

For most of the year I was working on a stubbornly resistant revision. This was a book I had completely revised at least four times and for whatever reason couldn't walk away from and move on to other projects and so decided to tackle it again. There was a certain moment in the process where I broke through, a weird combination of pushing and letting go in which I shed all of my old versions, literally shoving the printed off manuscripts aside and starting on a blank sheet from page one.

But the real breakthrough was letting go of the weight of expectations, the perfectionism to "get it right" this time. I stopped caring about publication. I stopped caring if another human would ever read the story. The book became, instead, my own quest to figure out a puzzle:

What was this story about at the core of it? What was its hold on me in the first place? Why was it so important that I had to keep returning to it over and over again for the past thirteen years?

To answer these questions I had to tunnel into the past, face crap I thought I'd shed years ago, examine it again, and finally finally

cart it off to the metaphorical Goodwill in my brain and let it go.

I wrote the book but haven't found a publishing home for it, which in the past, would've made me frustrated and depressed. But here's a funny thing: I've let go of those feelings and the anxious manic pressure to achieve goals that are beyond my control.

My house is a radically different house from the one I lived in a year ago. I have books on my shelves that I love, pictures on the walls that my husband and I took ourselves. Furniture that he made (Did I ever tell you, faithful blog readers, that my husband is an artist too?)

I've started working on a new novel.

It's a messy draft, with numerous plot holes and inconsistent characters. I haven't been able to figure it out yet. There are no guarantees that when I do, I will be able to sell it. Each morning I head upstairs to my newly arranged office, surrounded by things that I love, and get to work.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Trapped in a Room with a Zombie without My Reading Glasses." A Comedy-Drama in Three Parts.

Because my husband and I wanted to buy a gift for my notoriously hard-to-buy-a-gift-for brother, and because we know he likes games and activities like laser tag, and because I'd heard a story on NPR about something called Room Adventures where participants are trapped in a room and must solve a bunch of clues to break out, and because it seemed like just the kind of thing my brother might like and our kids were home from college and we were looking for activities we could do together as a family, we bought tickets and presented them to my brother on Christmas Day. 

Further bit of back story: I suddenly--and I mean suddenly--like, one day I could see small print and literally the next I could not--found myself the owner of reading glasses. Which I do not like. And resist wearing. Even though, apparently, I need to wear them. 


Five other participants that we did not know until we showed up at the Room Adventures place and now I don't remember any of their names except one, Marianne, who asked a lot of good questions which were not answered by our guide, the Doctor.
The Doctor
The Zombie 
A guy with a weird, I guess it was supposed to be a Transylvanian? accent


We arrive at a desolate warehouse in the rain and spill out of the car making jokes about the zombie apocalypse and how if it happened, it would happen here. A guy with a weird Transylvanian accent greets us and has everyone sign a disclaimer that we won't sue them if we get hurt, trampled, and/or eaten by a zombie. We all mull around uncomfortably, eyeing the other family.

Doctor (also speaking with a weird Transylvanian accent.)  Come closer. Something something about the rules. Something something backstory about a virus and zombies. You're going to have one hour to solve the clues and break out of the room. Also, there's a chained up zombie in the room who will try to eat you. Every ten minutes his chain will release another foot.

Marianne: How long is the chain? How many clues are there? What if I have to go to the bathroom?

Doctor: (Ignoring the first two questions and reminding all of us to go the bathroom now) Is anyone here psychic?

Daughter: (pointing at me) Mom.

Me: What? No. (Doctor places a headset on my head and my daughter cracks up and the Doctor says I look adorable and my husband asks if he can take a picture of me and the Doctor says no.

The Doctor opens the door and we all walk into the room.


There's no zombie in the room but there's a table in the center and the walls are lined with cabinets and drawers. Everyone spreads out and looks for clues, realizing fairly quickly that we have no idea what the hell we're doing. Daughter and I solve an easy puzzle and unlock a drawer and find a bunch of random items.

A cabinet opens and a zombie rolls out.

Zombie: (growling)

Everyone: (screaming and running to the other side of the room where we all stand against the wall, embarrassed.)

Son: If this was real life I'd use all of my energy to figure out a way to kill the zombie instead of solving clues.

Everyone: Yes.

Daughter and I work on another puzzle in the corner that has a lot of letters and codes and involves me adding up a bunch of numbers and making an addition mistake but somehow we manage to unlock a drawer and find more random things.

A timer buzzes and the zombie lunges closer.

My brother discovers that if you clap, the zombie will be distracted and other people can sneak over to the side of the room.

Everyone: (clapping)

Everyone: (not sneaking over to the other side of the room)

Everyone: (realizing that we can't stand on one side of the room clapping for an hour)

The timer buzzes and the zombie rolls closer.

My brother gets the idea that if we all run from one side of the room to the other, the zombie will chase us around the table and wind his chain up and get stuck against the table.

Everyone: (running around the table)

Everyone: (Clapping and lamely trying to solve clues and collect more random items)

The Doctor: (making eye contact with me and using hand signals to indicate that I've got to do something important because I am wearing the headset.)

Me: Damn it.

Turns out, I have to solve a clue on top of the table. Which means I have to get past the zombie and squat on the table and use my headset to do some intricate activity that the doctor tries to help me with (without talking) while everyone claps and screams and runs around the table.

The timer buzzes.


I find the clue after much struggle.

Daughter: Open the lock, Mom, with the number!

Me: What lock?

Daughter: The one on the side of the table!

Everyone: (clapping and looking at me expectantly)

Me: (Leaning over the side of the table where the lock hangs. Unfortunately the zombie's bloody mouth is less than a foot away from the lock.) Damn it!

Daughter: He can't reach you!

Me: (leaning closer) (And taking the lock in my hand) (And trying to ignore the zombie mouth)

Daughter: Come on, Mom. Do it!

Me: Okay okay.

And this is where I realize, from my perch on the table, with the zombie mere inches away and the others in the room clapping and screaming and running around the table and still trying to figure out clues and the timer buzzing and the clock running out and the Transylvanian doctor tsking at our group's ineptitude, that this whole ridiculous thing may come down to me unlocking this lock...

and I can't see the numbers

because I am not wearing my reading glasses.

Skip to: We lost. It didn't really come down to me, I am happy to report. There were a ton of other clues that we never found and items we never figured out how to use.

The number I was trying to use in my lock weren't even the right numbers. So, Ha Ha.

But we had fun and the doctor dropped her Transylvanian accent and the zombie stood up and was suddenly an ordinary nice guy and the two of them explained all of the things we did wrong but gave our group points for effort and asked us to like them on Facebook and had us all take a group photo, and then our sweaty, stressed out group filed out into the dark rainy night, knowing, without a doubt, that if there truly was a zombie apocalypse, we would all perish.

The End
From left to right: Zombie Son, Me, Husband, Zombie Daughter
Possibly my greatest fear
Brother is a good sport 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

On Reading Harder Better Smarter Wider Gentler

Many of my friends are competitive readers.

I'm not sure if this is actually a Thing, but let's just say if there was an Olympic sport category for number of books read/time spent reading, these people would be on the team.

A writer/blogger friend recently posted about having read 300 books this year. Another friend is painstakingly reading his way through a Top 100 Book list. (Side note: he quickly realized that there are many Top 100 lists--ranging from the Goodreads Top 100 Books You Must Read Before You Die to the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels and many other lists in between. So, he is doing what any competitive reader would do: he is reading the books on ALL of the lists.)

There was a time in my life when I would've wanted to be on this team. When I was a kid, I read constantly, checking as many books out of the library as was allowed in one checkout. I didn't own many books but the ones I did own, I read and reread. In college I was an English major and loved the idea that reading books was my homework.

Maybe ten years ago, I began keeping a notebook of books I'd read, and when I started this blog, I recorded the yearly lists here and here and here and analyzed the ones that stuck with me.

I dutifully recorded titles on Goodreads (until I learned that being on Goodreads, as a writer, doesn't feel so great) and then I moved my book list over to Booklikes where I have no friends and there's no judgment but there's a lovely bookshelf feature where you can display your titles.

Something I noticed this year is that I didn't read as many books as I usually do. For the first time in my life, I put books down that I didn't connect with (my rule was: give it five chapters and then quit). I quit on a lot and I am happy to say that I felt only small twinges of guilt.  For maybe four or five months when I was writing like a maniac, I barely read at all. A chapter, at most, a night, of the same book, until I nodded off to sleep.

Still, I kept buying books and checking them out of the library. Books sat on my bedside table and piled up in my office. (Side note #2. I did, however, create a lovely Book Tree out of some:

This year-- I just counted-- I read 38 books, the smallest number I've recorded since I began keeping stats.

Ah well. It's not as if it is a competition.

And yet, I do love the idea of challenging myself to read more, to read better. I can't imagine reading 300 books though (I mean, WHAT??? HOW???) And my new-found Put-a-Book-Down-When-I-Don't-Connect-With-It rule would make a Top 100 List quest impossible.

Which brings me to what just may be the perfect challenge for me: the Book Riot blog's 2016 Read Harder. 

Basically, it's a list of 24 categories. (24! Not so many!) And the titles are left up to you, which means lots of choice and wiggle room and the ability to set a book (or many) down if you don't connect. BUT, and here's the challenge part-- there is enough specificity in the categories (Read a food memoir. Read a play. Read a collection of essays.) to make you feel like you're on a competitive reading team.

Anyone want to join me?

Monday, December 7, 2015

On Meeting Your Goals (or NOT meeting your goals)

Soooooo, last month, like a lot of writers --specifically the 325,000 NaNoWriMo writers who signed up to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November -- I set a goal for myself, and, um, didn't reach it.

The truth is I didn't even come close.

And it seemed like such a low-bar of a goal: write a half scene per day during the half of the days in November when I wasn't scheduled to do an event. I was confident that I'd be halfway through with my revision by now.

Ah, the me of a month ago was so adorably optimistic.

What I hadn't figured on was that each of my nine events would require preparation and each bit of preparation took exponentially more time that I'd projected. And then Thanksgiving suddenly sprang up out of nowhere, and both of my kids flew home from college, and my husband's family came from out of town to stay with us over the holiday, and I had to clean the house and go grocery shopping and make large meals, and unbeknownst to me, my husband and daughter signed us all up to walk five miles in our town's Turkey Trot Race on Thanksgiving morning, and it all turned out to be very fun and busy and lovely, but who are we kidding here?

There wasn't going to be much writing going on.

I used to beat myself up over "failures" like this. I knew the value of setting strong, specific, measurable goals (this, after spending many years setting ridiculous, vague, immeasurable goals and immediately breaking them) and I became a stickler for following the rules, harder on myself than anyone else could ever be.

If I said I would write X number of words in a particular day, then damn it, I was going to write X number of words if I had to stay up until midnight to do it.

But sometimes even staying up until midnight won't cut it, and anyway, how are you going to baste the turkey and walk five miles and make up the sheets on the kids' beds and take your son out to lunch and sit up late one night and watch a Disney cartoon with your daughter?

Somehow I still managed to write seven decent chapters and I broke through in a few sticky places and reworked the synopsis and discovered and ruminated over and solved, I think, several plot holes, and I am feeling pretty happy overall about my progress.

Soooooo yeah. Whatever. It's cool.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Jello Joy

I don't like jello.

So it might seem weird that I bought a cookbook the other day called The Joys of Jell-O. The recipes are fun. And by "fun," I mean bizarre and creepy, ranging from the expected jello molds plumped with canned fruit chunks:

to the more, let's say, unexpected veggie and seafood molds:

Vegetable Trio (made with spinach, carrots, cabbage
and chives, all firmed up in a tasty
lemon-lime jello. Serves 12.)

If you like the sound of that, you might also want to try the "Ring Around a Tuna." Which, as the name suggests, features a lovely glistening slab of jello circling round a glop of tuna.

The radish roses are a nice touch.
Don't you think?
As absurd and disgusting as these recipes sound, I am fascinated by them. The elaborate designs. The vibrant colors not found in nature. The non-nutritive aspect of the food. Can it be called food? Did any of this taste good or was it all an elaborate prank?

A few weeks ago the New York Times Magazine's cover story was "In Search of Lost Foods."

The article highlights some of the stranger recipes favored by home cooks in 1971. Loaves and molds and towers concocted by using hotdog chunks and canned everything, particularly olives, all encased in my fave, jello. It also attempts to answer the pressing question:


The answer, apparently, has something to do with a postwar obsession with all things convenient and modern and space-age-looking. While the Communists suffered eating beets and boiled potatoes, Americans chowed down happily on Party Sandwich Loaves and Cherry Berries on a Cloud.

I flipped through the article somewhat smugly, thinking that I'd take the boiled potatoes and beets over what appears to be meatloaf in the shape of a fish and frosted in day glo margarine.

The next week I was surprised when the magazine printed comments from readers who were upset about the story. Sample comment: Hey! That food was good!

One of them mocked the recipes of today. Just wait, the person said. The people of tomorrow will be mocking our obsession with kale.

For the record I am obsessed with kale.

I planted way too much in my garden this year and it's pretty much taken over and is still growing, despite the cold weather. So far I have been sauteing my kale, tossing it in salads and tucking it into soups.

Now I am wondering if it's time to tear open a package of lemon-lime jello...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Interview with Nancy Ohlin

I'm so pleased to welcome fellow YA Outside the Lines blogger Nancy Ohlin to On the Verge this month. Nancy's third YA novel Consent was just released last week, but I was lucky to have a sneak peek. The novel--which is about a teen music prodigy and her relationship with her teacher as it crosses the line into something physical-- is riveting and a little horrifying.

Jody: This book, Nancy, I've got to tell you: it pushed my buttons in a way that few books do. I think my reaction is a mixture of remembering vividly what it's like to be a teen--and feeling as if I knew everything about everything--but also, now, being the mom of a teen daughter and knowing keenly that kids this age don't know as much as they believe they do. And here's this guy--the teacher--taking advantage of that! Where did the spark of this story come from?

Nancy: I wanted to write a novel based on a (bad) personal experience.  But over time, the story did a 180 and morphed into a totally different book with totally different characters.

Jody: It's interesting when that happens-- a story taking off like that. Do you find that most of your work starts with something true?

Nancy: Not always. Every day I get sparks of inspiration from the most random things: someone I run into at the grocery store, a car passing by, a song on the radio. I actually have files and files of book ideas that I want to write up in the future.

Jody: Once you have your idea or two, what's your next step?

Nancy: I start with a central idea or a character.  Then I sit down with a notebook and write down a bunch of stuff—it’s a lot of brainstorming and free-associating, like, “she has a scar on her face!” or “he hates pizza!” or  “the Nile River!”  Also drawings and charts and maps and such.

Eventually, these crazy ramblings start to form the beginnings of an outline.  Then I outline.  Once I get into the first draft, though, I tend to wander away from the outline and lose myself in the weeds. This process is very me:  a marriage of chaos and order.

Jody: I like that, and I like that you seem to understand and accept your process. That's been one of the harder things for me, figuring out how I work, knowing when to push and when to let go. It's taken me years. Have you been at this for a long time?

Nancy: I actually started my writing career as a ghostwriter. An editor friend gave me my first big break and hired me to ghostwrite for a children’s mystery series.  That gig led to many others.  It took a while for me to write and publish my own original novels, though.

Jody: How many books have you ghostwritten?

Nancy: Something like eighty books.

Jody: Wow! That's amazing. I guess you would figure out your process after that kind of track record. When you started writing your original novels, was it easy to break in or did you still collect a few rejections along the way?

Nancy: Oh, I got rejections. That time is all one big blur, so I'm not sure how many. The acceptances, I definitely remember, because they involved much screaming and happy-sobbing on my part.

Jody: Switching gears a bit here, but what's your work schedule like? Do you try to write at a certain time each day? Write for a certain number of hours or complete a certain number of words?

Nancy: I like to write in the mornings, either at home or at the library or in a café with some of my writer friends.  I try to stay off the Internet, but that’s not always easy.  If I hit a block—e.g., if I’ve been staring at my computer screen for half an hour—I make myself get up and do something else, like taking a walk or riding the exercise bike and watching old Scandal episodes.

When I’m on deadline (or multiple deadlines), I work anywhere from six to twelve hours a day. When I’m not, my ideal is four to six hours (or better yet, no hours and spending the entire day at a spa—but sadly, this rarely happens).

Jody: You sound like you're pretty busy.

Nancy: My schedule can be nuts. I’m a full-time writer, and I’m usually juggling several projects at the same time, like one or two (or more) original projects and one or two (or more) ghostwriting projects.

Jody: And then there's your day to day family life too, I'm assuming.

Nancy: Yes. I have a seven-year-old daughter. And four cats and a very senior bunny.  And a twenty-year-old son who goes to Juilliard and performs a lot, so if he has a concert or recital, even if it’s across the country, I drop everything to go hear him.  My husband is a law school professor (and an associate dean and an author and a frequent traveler), so running a household together can be a challenge.

Jody: It sounds like it. Any tips for balancing all of that?

Nancy: I’ve learned to let stuff slide.  My number-one priority is my family.  Then my health.  Then my work (although “work” sometimes creeps up to #1 or #2).  If on any given day I manage to write productively for a few hours, go to a yoga class, feed everyone, spend time with my daughter, spend time with my husband, and talk or text with my son, that’s a good day.  But to maintain this balance, I can’t always get to the dishes or the laundry or the house cleaning.  Or a shower. Sometimes, I eat popcorn for lunch because I’m on deadline and too exhausted to cook.

Still, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.  I know how fortunate I am to have what I have.

Jody: You mentioned before that you try to stay off social media when you're working, but you and I both know that we've got to be ON social media for promotional purposes. What's your take on that?

Nancy: I do what I can.  I’m on Facebook, I have a Twitter, I have a website.  I support my author friends and their books, and I’m very grateful when they do the same for me (thank you, Jody!).

Jody: No problem! That's one very nice thing about social media--meeting other writers in our community. But the self-promotion part has always felt a little icky to me...

Nancy: For me too. My friends often tell me that I’m “too Japanese.” This is a reference to my Japanese mom, who taught me to always be nice and polite and never brag or draw attention to myself.  This makes it super-hard for me to go out there on social media and be all “buy my amazing book!” or “check out this amazing review of my amazing book!”

I focus on the social aspect of social media. Also, I love going to literary festivals and conferences and meeting book people and fellow authors.  And I love meeting readers, both virtually and in real life.

Jody: What are you working on now?

Nancy: Oh, a bunch of stuff!  I have several original YA and MG projects simmering:  a mystery set in Alaska, a dystopian fantasy inspired by Chernobyl and Fukushima and Japanese folk tales, and another, equally dark fantasy about monsters.  I’m starting a new ghostwriting project that I’m really, really excited about.  I recently finished Book 6 of an early grade non-fiction series for Little Bee.

Jody: You sound like you have your hands full.

Nancy: I do. And something else fun: I'm sharing my passion for writing with my daughter. She loves to write and illustrate graphic novels, and I love helping her.  Her recent titles include Creatures are Popping Out! and Battle of the Universes.  She is definitely a future author.

Jody: Aw, that's great. I look forward to checking those books out in the future! Thanks, Nancy, so much, for chatting with me today.

Nancy: Thank you for having me here!

For more information on Nancy Ohlin:

To buy Consent
on Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Beyond "Issue" Books: Unpacking Mental Health Issues in MG and YA Fiction

Last week I was honored to be a part of a presentation with several other YA authors at the annual American Association of School Librarians conference in Columbus. Led by the lovely Natalie D. Richards, our group, which included Liz Coley and Kristina McBride, presented statistics on teen mental health and shared what everyone pretty much agreed were the "go to" books when it comes to mental health issues in fiction, but also introduced what we hoped would be a starting point for discussion on books that stretch the usual definition.

If you're the librarian at a school where you know you've got a student struggling with an eating disorder, the book that would likely come to mind is the brilliant and heart wrenching Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. We know how powerful and essential it is for kids to see themselves in books, to know they are not alone, to read about characters struggling and ultimately, triumphing.

A kid being bullied or suffering from depression might find himself or herself in a book like 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, a modern classic told between the points of view of a girl who's committed suicide and a boy who may or may not have been in a position to help her when she was alive.

We know that books like this--that deal with issues head on, without flinching-- are books we must have in our school libraries, and not only for the kids who are suffering--with eating disorders or depression or thoughts of suicide or a variety of other mental health issues-- but for their classmates and their friends and their siblings to gain a better understanding and empathy.

Mental health disorders are much more common in teens than any of us knew before we started researching for our presentation. According to the National Institute of Health, 46% of 13-18 year olds have suffered from any disorder--these include panic disorders, major depression, PTSD, ADHD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.

Books, of course, can help, and we wanted to build a list of books-- what we call "issue" books, as well as books that feature characters dealing with a particular issue, but where the issue isn't the primary focus of the book.

Natalie started the discussion by talking about a child she knows who has ADD. She gave him one of the Joey Pigza books (this is a brilliant and hilarious series by Jack Gantos about a boy who has ADD.) But the child didn't connect.

Instead he devoured Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan, the page-turning fantasy adventure series that features a boy who discovers his father is Poseidon. The main character also happens to have ADD.

Natalie realized that kids want to see themselves in books, but sometimes they also want to look away, escape for a while, or perhaps see a version of themselves being the hero.

The librarians in our audience had great ideas for books to include on our list. For the anorexic student who might not want to read about the issue head on, there's Dumplin by Julie Murphy about a self-proclaimed fat girl who doesn't have to lose weight to win the boy

or The Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson, which stars a main character who grapples with a poor body image but ultimately discovers her own external and internal strengths.

The list we created--with much help from librarians-- is something we would like to continue to build. If you've got ideas for titles that deal with mental health issues-- or those that might skirt the edges but have another primary focus, feel free to let us know in the comments, and we'll add your recommendations.

Here's the list--so far.

And here's the write up of our presentation--for a bit more on what we're looking for--from the AASL blog.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Loner in the Garret

Sometimes the very thing you need comes your way the very moment you need it.

I've been in a weird flux-y place lately when it comes to my work, grappling with how to balance promotion and business-related stuff, teaching and mentoring, traveling and speaking--

--with writing and reading and chatting with other writers and playing around with silly-but somehow deadly serious Filling the Well kinds of activities like riding a bike and tearing pages out of magazines and painting bad pictures and playing the piano and doing yoga and walking around the neighborhood with no apparent destination in mind.

Sometimes it's hard to keep your feet on the path--to remember what drew you to writing in the first place and to find, again and again, the resolve to keep going in a business that can often feel less like a community and more like a competition.

We need a book about this.

A few days ago my writer friend Jenn Hubbard reached out to say that she'd just published a book and would I mind sharing it. I said yes before I even knew what it was (I love Jenn's novels, especially Try Not to Breathe, which I devoured a few years ago and found that the story-- a boy recovering from a suicide attempt/a girl seeking to understand why her father committed suicide-- has stayed with me in a way that very few stories do.)

Jenn's new book is not novel. It's a book for writers and when she started telling me about it--what led her to write it and the kinds of topics it covers-- I knew it was just the book I've been searching for.

It's called Loner in the Garret: A Writer's Companion.

Here's Jenn in her own words with more:

Even before my first book came out—during the heady pre-publication days, filled with equal parts anxiety and excitement—I noticed how much it helped me to have a community of writers who were in the same boat. We celebrated good news and commiserated over bad news; we shared tips and compared experiences.

Writing is difficult enough—fighting with the inner critic, searching for fresh ways to say things, shaping a story that will be both interesting and meaningful—even without the pressures of publication. Publication amplifies the fears and joys. The highs get higher, and the lows get lower, when other people’s reactions and expectations are involved.

I found that the most difficult part of being an author was not creating stories, difficult as that was. It was staying emotionally grounded. It was having the self-confidence to keep writing. It was not feeling alone and despairing in the face of adversity.

My writer friends and I spent a lot of time just encouraging one another. You will get that revision done. You will figure out where the story needs to start. That one review will not destroy your career. You will find another agent. Yes, I’ve had that horrible thing happen, too; you’re not the only one.

Yes, you are good enough.

I use inspirational guides in my daily life. Why not have one for writers, I thought? A book full of the kind of pep talks that my writer friends and I share. A book that could provide an encouraging spark at the beginning of a writing session. A book that could remind writers that they’re not alone.

And so Loner in the Garret: A Writer’s Companion was born.

Loner in the Garret: A Writer's Companion, by Jennifer R. Hubbard: Inspiration and encouragement for writers. Covering topics as varied as procrastination, the inner critic, fear, distractions, envy, rejection, joy, and playfulness, it charts the ups and downs of the writing life with honesty, gentle suggestions, and a dash of humor.

To buy on Amazon
To buy at Barnes & Noble
For more on Jennifer R. Hubbard see

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Half NaNo/Half Scene/Half Book/Half November Writing Challenge

Tomorrow is November 1st, which for many writers means the official starting date of NaNoWriMo. Midnight tonight, it's an On your mark, Get set, Go, across the world as several hundred thousand writers will attempt to silence their inner critical editor voices and bang out their 50,000-word first drafts.

Fun factoid: last year 325,142 writers, including 80,000 teens and children, signed up to take the challenge.

I'm not sure how many completed it.  Because it's freaking HARD to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days!

Fun factoid # 2: Since 1999 over 250 writers eventually went on to traditionally publish (I assume after much revision) their NaNo novels-- Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus... oh, and my book Thin Space (the first draft of which was crazily dashed off during NaNo, 2008)

NaNo is a fun, wild, relentless, ridiculously difficult and yet freeing ride and I halfway want to do it again this year.

But I'm not.

First, because I have just started revising a novel and, for me, revising is less about word count and more about scene work.

Also, I have a ton of other things to do. (Somehow, and I'm not sure exactly how this happened, I have nine events/presentations/writing workshops/school visits set up for this month, and now I've got to actually, um, prepare for those.)

I love the challenge-y goal aspect of NaNo though, so I have decided to craft my own NaNo-style program.

It's all about halves....

1. Revise half of a scene per
2. half of the days in November that I am not out and about presenting
3. which would get me roughly halfway through my revision

Anyone want to join me?

Pledge in the comments your Half NaNo Style Challenge, (or create whatever the heck other kind of writing goal you'd like to shoot for this month).

We'll meet back on December 1 and see how we've done.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Which I Fangirl like a Fangirl over FANGIRL and All Things Rainbow Rowell

I had dinner with Rainbow Rowell last week.

Okay, the phrase "had dinner" actually means: "I ate at a long table with 25 people and Rainbow Rowell walked by my end of the table quickly and sat at the other end and ate quickly and I watched her through the hazy lens of my two martinis on an empty stomach and when she was leaving I pretended I was taking a picture of my friend Natalie but I was actually taking a picture of Rainbow Rowell."

The next day I met Rainbow Rowell.

Okay, the phrase "met Rainbow Rowell" actually means: "I stood in a ridiculously long snaking line at the Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati for 45 minutes and nearly came to blows with the woman in front of me who accused me of trying to get in front of her by saying EXCUSE ME, MA'AM, I WAS STANDING HERE FIRST!! and I was all like, Chillax, lady, no need to freak out, we are all Rainbow Rowell fans here and I'm sure she wouldn't want us to come to blows over line placement, and then I turned around and started talking to the lady behind me because, honestly, the level of freaky fangirling emanating from the woman in front of me was scary, but then it was MY turn at the front of the line, at last, and I said hello to Rainbow Rowell and she said hello to me and I blabbered like an absolute idiot about how my book was on the same Florida Teens Read list as hers and I knew she would win the award (she did) and I was just glad to have my book mentioned in the same breath as hers, and she just nodded and smiled and said, oh that's nice or something lovely like that, and then the security person (she had a security person!!) took my picture with her."

If you can't tell, I love Rainbow Rowell.

My first introduction to her work was the beautiful, heartbreaking novel Eleanor & Park, which is about a romance between two teens-- a half Korean/half American boy named Park who loves comics and 90's music (the book takes place in the 90's) and a poor/overweight/sensitive/red-headed/wrong-side of the tracks girl named Eleanor. 

There's a slow build up of their relationship, a sense that Eleanor and Park are in a lovely bubble, as forces outside of their control-- asshole kids who ride the same bus they do, Eleanor's terrible dysfunctional family life--threaten to tear them apart. Interestingly, they don't even hold hands until at least halfway through the book, and that scene, the drawn out lead up to the touching of their hands, is one of the most romantic scenes I have ever read. 

It's Eleanor's wrenching home-life, though, that is the most moving and memorable to me. Her struggles with her downtrodden mom and many siblings all piled into the same bedroom with each other and her yearning for privacy and dignity under the leering eyes of her stepfather are all painfully captured by Rowell. 

This feels real. Because, I suspect, it is. 

The book has been banned in some schools, for language--the concerned/outraged parents say-- but it's clear those people haven't read the book or if they have, they don't get it. Last year there was a blow up on social media, the story of a school inviting Rainbow Rowell to speak and then dis-inviting her after a parent called the book obscene. 

Someone asked Rainbow Rowell for a comment and she said: "When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful."

I was forever a fangirl after reading that. 

And then, I read her book Fangirl.

Or rather, I listened to it on audio. My husband, teen daughter, and her boyfriend, and I were driving 17 hours to Florida for Spring Break and I checked out Fangirl because it was written by Rainbow Rowell! and because I knew it was about a girl's first year in college and I thought my daughter might be interested. 

I put the first CD in and my husband was sleeping and my daughter was sleeping, but her boyfriend and I listened as main character Cath moves into her dorm, anxious about being away from home, anxious about not rooming with her twin sister, and only finding a little bit of solace in her writing. (Turns out she is a "famous" writer of fan fiction. She writes popular stories, eagerly followed by her many fans, on a Harry Potter-like series called Simon Snow.)

CD number two, and everyone in the car was awake, and we listened for the next 16 hours as Cath figures out how to navigate college and homesickness and her extreme anxiety and her loud-mouthed seemingly obnoxious roommate and the roommate's adorable boyfriend and her troubled twin sister and her struggling father and her distant mother and all the while interspersed with bits of her more and more popular Simon Snow fan fiction.

When we reached the end of the audio book, everyone in the car was crying and after we all wiped our tears, my daughter spoke up very softly from the backseat and asked if we'd put the first CD back on because she'd missed it.

We did.

I could go on about my love and admiration of all things Rainbow Rowell, about how my book club read Landline, one of her adult novels, and it was one of the few novels that we all agreed was good. About Rowell's latest novel, the one she signed for me, called Carry On, a book of Cath's fanfiction about Simon Snow... (I am marveling at the brilliance of this!!!)

But I won't because I fear that this blog post may never end if I do.

Instead I will leave you with this:


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Six Years Later, and Still ON THE VERGE

Six years ago I started this blog, thinking that it would be a fun record of my pre-published self snagging a book deal and crossing the threshold into the glittery and glamorous world of YA Publishing.

I was half right. 

The YA publishing world is not all that glittery and glamorous, although it is a lovely community filled with supportive and generous and amazingly talented people. Also, the journey was only beginning. I wouldn't get the book deal for another two years -- so most of those early posts are basically me whining and/or laughing at myself for whining, sputtering impatiently and/or giving myself Rah Rah Never Quit peptalks, interspersed with book reviews and author interviews. 

When I wasn't whining or peptalking I was writing about my Italian grandmother, the skull on Mr. Potter's desk in the movie It's a Wonderful Life, my obsession with yoga, and my journey through a hellish dystopian/snow-apocalyptic landscape (otherwise known as a college roadtrip). 

When I did, finally, sell my first book and announce it here, one of my friends commented that I would have to change the name of the blog. I wasn't, she pointed out, on the verge anymore.

I made a joke that I would always be on the verge of something. Which turned out to be true in ways I couldn't even imagine then.

Six years of writing blog posts (and I just added them up-- turns out this post will be number 287) and I've learned a few things about blogging and writing and my obsessive desire to pursue a dream.

Biggest lesson: the goalposts are always moving. For fifteen years I'd dreamed of having a published novel on a library shelf. But it turns out that as much as I am grateful for having achieving that dream, I have now expanded my goals, and hell, I'll go ahead and admit it here: I want to be doing this-- writing and publishing books -- for as long as my fingers can hold a pen.

For as the wise New Agey Mother of Following Your Dream Artist's Way author Julia Cameron says,

Once you quit pursuing your dreams, you die. 

(Or something like that. I may be getting the exact words wrong, but I think you get the point I am trying to make.)

On this day, the sorta 6th anniversary of my always on the verge On the Verge blog, I promise, dear readers --new and old-- that I will continue to offer you the services you have grown to expect and enjoy over the years.

The whining and laughing at whining, the sputtering impatiently as well as the Rah Rah Never Quit peptalks. 

Plus, bonus gifts of 
interviews with Mount Everest climbers
descriptions of sausage making
and the occasional picture of Emily Dickinson's dead brother

You're welcome. 



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Interview (and Celebration) with Natalie D. Richards

Book launches, at least in the YA book world, tend to be splashy affairs. Blog tours and giveaways. Book signings and parties. Whatever you think about authors promoting themselves, hopping up and down shouting BUY MY BOOK!! --most of us can forgive it on the day a new book is released.

It's a big deal to write a novel, to do the work it takes to get the thing onto bookstore and library shelves, and ultimately into readers' hands. It's an accomplishment worthy of celebration. 

I caught up with author Natalie D. Richards on October 6th, the launch day of her third novel, the YA thriller My Secret To Tell, fully expecting her to be busily running around. Where would the book signing be? Who was throwing her a party? 

Natalie waved off the questions. She had no particular plans. 

I shouldn't have been surprised. I knew this book had been a hard one for her to write. Not the writing itself. It was the stuff going on in her life at the time she was writing that colored the experience. Her father became ill when she was drafting the book, and he died as she was working on revisions. She pushed through the book anyway, and all the while promoting her second novel Gone Too Far. 

Disclosure: I've known Natalie for a couple of years, and I read My Secret To Tell and Gone Too Far months before they came out. These books (and her first, the best seller, Six Months Later) are page-turner-y thrillers, the kind you stay up half the night reading because you must find out WHO DID IT.  

I knew who did it (because Natalie had told me) and yet I still stayed up half the night reading each of these books because I couldn't figure out how Natalie was going to pull everything off. There's a trick to this kind of writing-- pacing, throwing out red herrings--a brilliant balancing act between leading the reader toward the likely suspects --but not being too obvious about it. 

We want to be surprised at the end of a thriller, but we also want to feel that the ending is logical and inevitable and right. 

Natalie's books always deliver. 

And damn it, I am happy that a new one has been released, and on the day of the launch I hated the idea that she wasn't celebrating, at least a little. 

So here's what we did:

First, cake. Because every book launch must have a coordinating thematic dessert to commemorate the occasion. 

(You will have to read the book to understand why I baked a bloody hand cake) 

We went out for a drink, which turned into several, because, yay! it was happy hour! 

(Bar food. The, um, pineapple infused vodka concoctions
are not shown in the picture)
We chatted about a bunch of stuff and I wrote some of it down. It would make a good interview, I thought, but now as I flip through my notes, I can hardly make sense of the scribbles.

(A sample. For tax purposes.)
Some of what I can decipher:

Me: What's the last book you read and loved?

Natalie: Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun. Oh my God, have you read it? 

Me: No, I--

Natalie: Why haven't you read it yet? You've got to read it.

Me: I will. I promise. Okay, how do you balance your writing with your other obligations?

Natalie: Ha! I don't. I'm horrible at that balancing.

Me: But you wrote three books in three years...

Natalie: four--

Me: Four! Four books in three years! How did you do that?

Natalie: I didn't sleep much. 

Me: What book saved your life when you were a kid?

Natalie: Anne of Green Gables. The world of that book was so sweet and different from my childhood.

Me: I read Trixie Belden. Did you ever read those?

Natalie: (shaking her head) Should I?

Me: No. They're only good to read when you're a kid.

Natalie: Oh, also, The Hobbit. I loved that book. 

Me: Eat your pineapple (pointing at her pineapple infused vodka drink) You have to eat your pineapple.

Natalie: (tastes it) Geez. Whew, that's strong. No. 

Me: Come on. A third book is a big %*^&% deal! You've got to celebrate a little.

Natalie: It just feels wrong. I think of this book and it gets mixed up with everything else. But if I could write a book during such an awful time and have it come out okay... Wait. It's not a trainwreck, is it?

Me: No! It's good. I like it the best of the three.

Natalie: (eating a pineapple chunk) I don't want to be negative anymore about books, about writing. You always talk about how books saved your life. Well, writing saved my life. It's hard and it sucks sometimes, but it's a gift. I'm grateful I get to do it every day.

Then my notes get totally indecipherable. 

Something something about shopping at Whole Foods? and what kind of food Natalie always orders when she goes to Chipotle? (for the record, I think I wrote: "steak burrito bowl").

Several hours past Happy Hour and we decided at the spur of the moment to go see the movie The Martian. We called an uber (my husband) and he picked us up and drove us to a nearby theater.

The movie is about Matt Damon becoming stranded on Mars and trying to figure out how to get back to earth. There's a bunch of cool special effects and stunning cinematography. 

But at the core, the story is about ingenuity and perseverance. At one point Matt solves a seemingly impossible-to-solve problem, and after he figures it out, he's happy. Even still stranded on Mars with no guarantee that he's ever going to get home, he takes a minute to celebrate. 

He says something like, "I love what I do. And you know what? I'm good at it."

Nat and I (and our uber driver) all liked the movie. We went back to my house and ate some of the bloody hand cake.

(okay. A little more than some)

Want to know more about the lovely Natalie D. Richards and her books?

Follow her on Facebook Author Natalie D. Richards
On Twitter: @NatdRichards 
On Instagram (where she shares fun pics of her enormous dogs) 

To buy her books on Amazon:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Story Whisperer

Sometimes you are writing a story and you come to a place where it doesn't work.

Or the plot that you thought you were writing, doesn't make sense anymore. Or it has a bunch of plot holes that you didn't foresee and you suddenly wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and you SEE them-- all huge and dark and glaringly obvious.

Or the characters sound too much like each other. Or you're not sure who they really are or what they want (or don't want). Or they do things for the sake of the plot--because you WANT them to do those things, but one day you're walking your dog and suddenly it hits you that your characters would never do that or say that and OH MY GOD how the hell are you going to fix this?? 

Or your characters do something totally unexpected that you did not see coming and now you know it's the right thing for them to do, but that would mean ripping apart half the book to make it work and the thought of doing that freaks you out.




You've reached a wall, is what I am trying to say. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO NEXT.

So, if this is You--stumbling, spinning, whirring, questioning, struggling, freaking the hell out over a story-writing problem, I am here to give you the solution...

The Story Whisperer

Ha ha. There is no such person. 

But wouldn't it be awesome, if there were? I picture her as a kindly, somewhat older lady-- not the vixen-like young Muse of the Greeks. The Story Whisperer wears an over-sized comfy sweater and pajama bottoms and furry slippers. She rarely combs her hair. She can be a little crotchety. Sometimes you'll catch a glimpse of her putzing around in the background. Like a shadow. 

The Story Whisperer knows how stories are put together. Every plot variation, every knotted twisted story arc, the dead ends and false starts, the duds, the clichés. She's seen it all. She's got story strands woven into her over-sized comfy sweater and in the poofs of her poofy slippers. 

For a small fee (Pride) you bow down before her and pray for a whisper of her wisdom. 

Please, dear Story Whisperer, is what you say. I need your help. 

The next steps are guaranteed to work. Shhhh. Listen, and I will whisper them to you:

*Write out your question, your problem, all  of your story-writing tangles. (You must hand write this. In pencil.) 

*Now, go for a walk. Or take a shower. Or wash the dishes. Or if it's an extremely difficult problem, take a nap...

*Here's the tricky part: let the problem go. It's not yours anymore. It's the Story Whisperer's. Don't fear. She's got ya' covered. 

*Later that day (or next week--for the extremely difficult problem listed above) OPEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

And watch, as the answer, in whispery bits and pieces comes to you, like magic it was there all along.  

Advice from the Story Whisperer

Friday, September 25, 2015

Retreat Retreating Retreated. Why I Love Writing Retreats

This retreat felt different.

It is a place I know--"The Barn" at Boyd's Mill, a retreat facility run by the Highlights Foundation. This was my fourth time retreating with them, and let me tell you, these people are experts.

I am something of an expert now myself on what makes a perfect retreat, and I think what it comes down to is a blend of

  • setting (remote countryside/woods in Eastern Pennsylvania) 
  • characters (writers)
  • plot (extended, unstructured time to write)

Oh, and

  • food. In this case, chef-prepared meals, three times a day. Appetizers and wine at night. All you can eat snacks. (I am a sucker for Twizzlers and somehow, they know that.) 

Woods. OMG Do you see a bear?
For this retreat, I'd signed up for what they call an "unworkshop." You get to use the facilities, eat the food, and chat it up with whatever writers happen to be hanging out at the same time.

I was looking forward to the quiet. The walks in the woods. Making real progress on a new manuscript.

I didn't get as much quiet as I'd planned.

There happened to be tons of other writers unworkshopping, as well as a more formal novel writing workshop going on. I know a lot of these people, some in real life (I carpooled to Boyd's Mill with my writer friend Natalie D. Richards) and some from online. The YA book world isn't very large and many of us have bumped into each other at a conference or book signing or virtually bumped into each other on social media. These people are my friends, and I wanted to chat with them-- instead of holing myself up in a quiet cabin and writing.

Someone saw a bear when she was walking in the woods!! So, uh, that put a slight damper on  my wanting to take walks alone goal. I did, one day, take the risk and hiked out into the woods, live tweeting that "event" in case a bear happened to attack me... and I guess a twitter follower might notify the authorities of my death by bear mauling?

And I took lots of walks with other writers. We had conversations that ranged from, oh my God did you hear that? Is that a bear? To working out plot holes in our stories. To freezing and pointing into the dark underbrush at--oh my GOD--do you think that was a bear?

I ate too much food.

It's an issue I have. Throw food at me, particularly gourmet food, food that I do not have to prepare myself, and I will eat it. Also, if you throw wine at me, I will drink it. Luckily, Highlights had purchased lots of wine for me.

I mean, for us.

One day I did the 7 AM yoga. Lately, I get up extremely early. Boom. Six AM and I am snapping awake for no good reason and often I will ponder about that. WHY am I waking up so damn early?? I will think. And why did I not have this particular skill in years past when my kids were young and I was cursing the dawn (and them) and blearily waking to feed them and praying that I could lie back down while they were engrossed in Scooby Doo episodes?

But I digress.

Yoga. It was fun. Just me and one other early riser.

I felt very virtuous that morning and rewarded myself by eating several extra slices of bacon.

The talks we retreat-goers had a dinner were illuminating. Stuff about the writing process and what we are working on and struggling with and excited about. But also stuff about finding balance between writing and life. Spouses. Kids. Book promotion. The Publishing Business.

I don't know how I would've felt about conversations like this on my first retreat. Back then, I was just trying to break in. Publishing was an impenetrable wall and I had no idea how to scale it. Now I'm on the other side.

First lesson: there are more walls.

Most of the people on this retreat have at least one book out. Some have many. One morning the topic veered to money. Specifically: How Do You Make a Living Writing Books When the Reality Is That It's Nearly Impossible To Make a Living Writing Books?

The answer? You do what you can. Teach (like the writers who were facilitating the novel writing workshop). Critique manuscripts. Write in other genres (a popular moneymaking venture, apparently, is writing erotica under a pen name).

Most of the writers have non-writing jobs.

When I wasn't chatting or trekking through bear country or eating, I was writing. The Barn has a loft--a place I'd discovered the last time I was there--and I claimed it for myself again, spreading out my papers and laptop and Twizzlers and tapping away during the afternoons.

My big goal was to input a first draft into a new Scrivener document, but I wasn't quite sure how to set that up and in a moment of pure serendipity, I discovered that one of the other writers teaches classes on using Scrivener, and she got me all squared away. So, HA!

That alone was worth the price of admission.

That and the bacon. And the never-seen-by-me bear.

I am thinking that bear may have been made up. It was a writer, after all, who claimed to have seen it.

portrait of a writer on retreat

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sucking the Marrow Out of Life. Sorta.

Last week I rode a bike for the first time in twelve years. My husband had been trying to talk me into it for a while but I was kinda meh about it.
Sample Convo:

Husband: I'm thinking about fixing up the bikes.

Me: Why?

Husband: So we can ride them.

Me: Why?

Then I went back to reading or writing or sweating it out in the garden-- my usual activities--and my husband drifted away, and unbeknownst to me, began fixing up the bikes. 

His plan was to cart the bikes--and the two of us-- down to the river at the edge of our town and try out the bike trail that winds along the shore. He was hefting the bikes into the back of our truck when he told me this plan. 

I thought it might be a good idea if I got onto one of the bikes first and maybe, um, see if I remembered how to actually ride. I felt like a doofball climbing on. Pedaling. Clutching the handle bars. I rode up the street and back, tentatively, and a little wobbily at first, but then a little faster. I came to the end of the street and wondered if I could handle the turn. 

Yes! I could. 

I could handle the car coming at me too. And the slight hill of the driveway. 

Apparently, the saying: "You never forget how to ride a bike" is true.

Still, I felt a little anxious biking along the river trail. There were actual legit-looking bike-riders down there. Also, joggers and speedwalkers. People fishing. Boaters... 

Huh. Who knew so many people hung out by that river?

The hills were more hilly than I'd realized. It was blindingly sunny by the water. My bike is low tech with only one speed so I wasn't prepared for how much serious leg-pumping I'd have to do. Also, my wrists hurt from gripping the handle bars. At one point I came up alongside a jogger and found too late that I should've been pushing myself harder. I was never going to make it past her up the hill. I burst out laughing as we--the jogger, and me, the jittery novice biker-- moved along for a while at the same speed. 

Downhill was better. I know I should've been wearing a helmet, but I loved the feeling of the wind whooshing through my hair and against my sweaty face. 

By then I was feeling comfortable enough that I could take in the sights. The college crew team skimming by. Water spilling off a dam. 

I had weird random thoughts. Ideas for potential stories. The realization that both of my kids are now away at school. The thudding sense of time ticking ticking ticking. This is IT. My husband and me from now on. Just the two of us. Would we settle into a quiet (boring?) groove, all of our adventures behind us? OR could this biking thing be the first chapter of a new adventure? 

Because I am a nerdy former English teacher I started thinking about Henry David Thoreau and how he jolted himself out of his routine by moving into the woods. Maybe you remember him, the guy who built a small cabin near a pond and wrote a book called Walden. 

Mostly Thoreau recorded his thoughts about the cabin and the beans he was growing in his garden and the ants skittering up and down a tree. But he also wrote about how it's a good idea every now and then to force yourself out of your comfort zone. Throw yourself off your normal track. Live your life deliberately. 

Thoreau lived his life deliberately in his cabin for two years and two months until one morning when he woke up and saw that he'd worn a path from his door to the pond. He'd done it again. Fallen into another groove. Which meant it was time for him to pack up and leave.

Go suck the marrow out of life someplace else. 

My husband and I biked for only four miles, but my legs were shaky when I climbed off the bike. We drove home and I went back to reading and writing and sweating it out in the garden.

Next week we are selling our house, giving away all of our possessions, and moving into a remote forest to build our own small cabin. 

Ha ha. I'm just joking with you. 

But we are thinking about possibly renting a canoe.  


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Interview with Natasha Sinel, Author of THE FIX

I'm thrilled to have snagged an interview with fellow YA Outside the Lines writer Natasha Sinel--this week--as her debut novel The Fix debuts. The official release date is Sept. 1, but the book is already making quite a splash.

Here's a snippet of the glowing Kirkus review:

"A friendship with a troubled classmate helps Macy confront the childhood sexual trauma she's kept secret for years. . . A powerful story of healing."

And from award-winning novelist Carrie Mesrobian: "A bewitching, beautiful, and brave debut. Readers will marvel at Macy's resilience. Natasha Sinel's writing devastates and uplifts, by turns. An important story of one girl's journey to rewrite the blueprint of her own life by facing the truth inside herself."

This book sounds like a must-read and I can't wait to dig into it.

Jody: Quick, I've got to ask you before you tire of being asked this question five million times: Where do you get your ideas?

Natasha: Who knows? I start with a germ of an idea—e.g., a girl has a conversation with a guy at a party and it shakes up her world, but the next day he’s in a psych institute—what happens next? I usually start by knowing my characters’ voices pretty well and then sometimes I have to figure out why they are the way they are. Like, why is Macy so tough? What happened to her? Why does she hate her mother?

Jody: Hmm. Why does she hate her mother? But you're right, of course. It's often those questions that plague us, the ones we keep coming back to, that spur us on to writing a story. Once you've got one of those questions--or several--plaguing you, what's your next step? Are you a make-stuff-up-as-you-go type of writer or an outline ahead/planning person?

Natasha: I hyperventilate when I hear the word outline. But I think that’s because I picture those structured outlines we used in high school--

Jody: OMG I hated those too. Roman numerals. All of that indenting. *shudder*  Does anyone actually outline like that?

Natasha: I know, right? I tend to use a very loose road map, so I basically know where I’m going but not necessarily how I’ll get there. So I guess it’s both—some planning and lots of making stuff up along the way.

Jody: I like that method. It's pretty close to what I do myself these days. But then, I've had years and years to work out my process. How about you? Have you been at this a long time? Or, heck, I'm just going to come right out and be nosy: how many books did you write before you got your first book deal?

Natasha: My first manuscript got representation after only about eight queries, so I was feeling pretty confident when we finally went on submission after about a thousand revisions! But that book wasn’t acquired, and I wrote another, The Fix.

Jody: That's not a bad track record. One book. (FYI to readers who are trying to keep score at home-- the average is, apparently, 3.5) (Actually, I just made that up. I have no idea what the average is, but that sounds about right and it makes me feel better about my own 5-unpublished-book track record.) (Back to the interview)

What kind of work schedule do you have every day, Natasha?

Natasha: I’m not totally consistent with that, but my “ideal” schedule is to exercise after the kids get on the bus--

Jody: Can I stop you there to say that I love that you have an ideal. Also, I will kindly not ask you how many times you reach that ideal...

Natasha: Thanks! So, after, um, exercising, I draft or edit (whichever stage I’m in). If I’m drafting, I set a timer for 30-45 minutes and try to get as many words as I can. If I’m on a roll, I’ll set the timer again. If I’m editing, I usually work for a couple of hours. Then I’ll work on the more business-type stuff like blog posts, interviews, etc. And of course, sprinkled into all of that is life management stuff like paying bills, dealing with kids’ schedules, grocery shopping, etc. I usually skip TV and read before bed.

Jody: Ah, yes. All of the stuff that is so hard to balance with the writing life.

Natasha: That's the truth. I’m not sure I’m doing the best job at balancing right now. Some days, particularly when I’m on deadline for copy edits or something, dishes stay in the sink and beds unmade all day. Sometimes, I say hi to my kids when they come home from school and then disappear into my office for the rest of the night (thankfully, I have an amazing babysitter who helps with homework!).

Jody: And we haven't even touched on promotion and social media. How does that fit in?

Natasha: Well, I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and I write for a few group blogs. I know it sounds crazy, but I really have made friends that way.

Jody: That doesn't sound crazy. How else are we going to meet other writers and book lovers?

Natasha: I know. Twitter in particular, I love, because everyone I follow talks about books and publishing and diversity and all of the things I’m most interested in. For me, these places are actually social, and not places to promote my book. I do tweet and post news about The Fix—I want people to be aware of it—but I limit the amount of talk about my book. I don’t want to be obnoxious. One thing I’m excited about that I will promote, is partnering with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) to fund-raise for survivors of sexual abuse. I have a page set up here:

Jody: I've heard of RAINN. It's an amazing organization. (RAINN is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. It operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and in partnership with more than 1,100 local sexual assault service providers across the country.

What are you working on now?

Natasha: I’m really excited about the manuscript I’m working on. It’s a YA contemporary with a touch of the magical (is that how you’d describe Thin Space too?).

Jody: I always say reality-based fantasy--but I think I like your description better.

Natasha: My book is set during the off-season on Cape Cod, one of my favorite places in the world. There are quirky characters and complex relationships—the mother-daughter, the friend to more-than-friend, the soul mate who disappeared. Oh, and there’s also lightning.

Jody: You've totally got my attention!
Natasha, thank you so much for chatting with me today. And readers, if you'd like to know more about Natasha and how you can purchase a copy of The Fix, see below: 


Natasha Sinel lives in Northern Westchester, NY with her husband, three young sons and some fresh-water fish. She would like to have a dog and a cat, but she knows her limits, and can’t take care of another living thing. For now.


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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Moving Day

When you move to a new place, everything feels strange.

It takes a while to get your bearings. To find your way. Each time you walk out the front door, you have to think: How do I get where I want to go? 

A map helps. Where is the post office? The hair salon? The nearest grocery store? But a map can only take you so far. You may have to... gulp... introduce yourself to the next door neighbors. Ask strangers how the carpool line works at your kid's school. Who sells the best pizza. What night do we roll out the garbage bins. 

You knew all that in your old town. Ten years there and you had it all figured out. The short cuts to take during rush hour. The gas station where gas was 3 cents cheaper. The best park to hang out on Sunday afternoon with the kids. You were on auto-pilot in that place and it was nice.

Ah well. You know you'll figure it out in this new town too. As someone who's moved before, you know that leaving one world behind to settle in another, can be scary. But you can do it.

Anyway, it's not like you have a choice. Moves happen. You purposely seek a new place out. Or it seeks you out. Whether you see it coming or not, one day you may find yourself standing in your living room surrounded by moving boxes.

Just yesterday the carpet was covered with toys.

You were forever stepping on legos. Scooping up wooden blocks. Peering under the couch for microscopic polly pocket fashion accessories.

Your life was a baby crying in the middle of the night. Formula bottles and jars of mushy carrots. Diaper changes and pullups and potty accidents. Cartoons and sippy cups of chocolate milk. Endless chatter and tantrums and WHY WHY WHY.

Confession: sometimes you locked yourself in the bathroom to escape the whining and the noodle-y-os and the spit-up and the chewed up binkies. You dreamed of the day when you could stroll out of the house without a two ton diaper bag and a baby carrier.

But then you'd rally. Open the bathroom door and the day would go on. Scooby Doo and bath-times and story-times turned into homework and field trip forms and piano lessons. Carpools to soccer practices morphed into carpools to middle school dances.

Sleepovers. Birthday parties. Blaring music and screeching kids in the backseat of the mini van. Summer camp. College trips--

Until suddenly everything stopped.

The house wasn't for sale. But you realized you've moved. Everything is different in this place. You can't get your bearings. There is no map.

You wander around the quiet and stunningly clean rooms, not sure where you want to go, hoping you will find your way.