Thursday, April 8, 2021

Interview with Kristy Boyce, Author of Hot British Boyfriend (Plus a Giveaway!)

If there is such a thing as the perfect book as an antidote for the times (the times being a dark pandemic year of anxiety and fear and no travel) then I have found such a book. It's light, hopeful and all travel; specifically, it's about a teen girl on a semester abroad trip to England. Throw in two cute boys, visits to fun touristy sites, our heroine finding her way and learning to be true to herself and her passions, also, a sprinkle of pixie gardens, and honestly, what else can we ask for? 

What makes it even more lovely is that I know the writer-- Kristy Boyce is a long-time friend, the very first writer I met when I moved to Ohio and ventured out to my first writers group meeting. Her journey to publication was long and windy and littered with setbacks and rejections, but she kept plugging away. 

Now her first book is out and making a splash and I am absolutely thrilled to sit down with her (virtually, of course) to hear more about her behind-the-scenes journey. 

Jody: Kristy, I adored this book, and I am so happy for you, and when this is all over, I am going to hug you so hard! Gushing out of the way, where'd you get the idea for Hot British Boyfriend?

Kristy: My original idea came when I was writing a multiple choice question for a psychology class I teach. The question was testing when we are most likely to show our true self to others versus when we’re likely to show a more perfect version of ourselves. I wrote an application question about a girl who studies abroad and then I sat back and thought, “That would be a fun book to write!”

Jody: I love that this all distills down to a question on a psych test. When was this?

Kristy: I took my first notes on the idea in 2014, so it really has been a long road! After writing and revising it, I took the novel to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Retreat in 2017. My mentor there was Nancy Werlin, who gave me a ton of wonderful advice. I revised again based on that feedback and then queried the manuscript, but I didn’t receive any agent offers. 

Jody: Which is always a huge letdown after so much work.

Kristy: It was rough because I really believed in Hot British Boyfriend. I debated putting it away and starting on something else. Instead, I decided to give the book one more shot and applied for PitchWars, an online mentorship program. Thankfully, I was accepted and spent the next four months doing another two big rounds of revision with my mentors. That led to me signing with my agent after PitchWars and then doing two more rounds of revision with my editor before the manuscript went to copy edits. 

Jody: This sounds like lots of revision.

Kristy: Lots. I guess one thing that was surprising was how many times a person can rewrite a first page and a first sentence. My PitchWars mentors and I went over those first paragraphs again and again. I learned so much during all of the revisions and became a much stronger writer. 

Jody: I heard you talk about this at the time. The ups and downs and close calls. Was it hard to keep going with the project? 

Kristy: That was probably one of the most difficult parts-- to keep believing that the novel had promise even after getting all of the rejections. I sometimes wondering if all the work would be worth it, but it absolutely was. 

Jody: And you couldn't see it then, but maybe it just wasn't the right time for the book? A few years ago many readers were clamoring for darker, angstier stories. Now--maybe, not so much. This year, of course, has been something else.

Kristy: This is true. I was finishing up edits on Hot British Boyfriend throughout the beginning of the pandemic and I loved being able to fall back into this happier world full of travel, friends, and romance. I’m always mentally healthier when I’m writing and that was definitely the case during 2020! It was a wonderful escape. I think, if anything, the times we’re living in have prompted me to dig in deeper to the joyful stories that I’m already inclined to write.

Jody: Any writing tips or tricks to share with aspiring authors?

Kristy: Hmm, well I’ve recently been fast-drafting a new YA and I do have a few tricks I’ve come up with for that process. I really like to finish my first drafts quickly (in a month or so), but I’ve found that if I’m sitting at my laptop then the words are slow to come. I’m particularly liable to second-guess every choice, get caught up on small wording issues, and generally procrastinate. So, I trick my brain into writing in various crazy and chaotic ways! 

Jody: You gave a talk to our writing group about how you dictate to yourself when you take walks, using the microphone feature on your phone. This was a game changer for me!

Kristy: That is my absolute favorite trick. It's amazing how much more creative I feel when I'm moving instead of sitting. Here's another one: Sometimes I’ll cover my screen with a notebook so that I can type without seeing what I’m writing. I have also—prepare yourself—turned my font color white so that I can’t see the words as I’m typing them. 

Jody:  Ooh! I have to try this! Actually, I want to try this RIGHT NOW! But before I do and let you go, what's up next for you? 

Kristy: I’m thrilled that HarperTeen has bought a companion novel to HBB! It follows Ellie’s roommate, Sage, when she travels to Amsterdam the summer after high school graduation. The title is Hot Dutch Daydream and it’s scheduled to come out in April 2023. 

Jody:  This is so exciting, Kristy! And can I just tell you again how happy I am for you and how much I want to hug you?

Kristy:  :) 

Jody: Readers, would you like a signed copy of Hot British Boyfriend? To enter, leave a comment below, mentioning a place you'd love to travel. Contest open until April 17, 2021. 

For more on Kristy and Hot British Boyfriend:

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Kristy Boyce lives in Columbus, OH and teaches psychology as a senior lecturer at The Ohio State University. When she’s not spending time with her husband and son, she’s usually writing, reading, putting together fairy gardens, or watching happy reality TV (The Great British Bake-Off and So You Think You Can Dance are perennial favorites). 




Where you can find her: 

Kristyboyceauthor.com

Twitter at @KristyLBoyce

Instagram @kristylboyce 

Where you can find Hot British Boyfriend:

Cover to Cover Bookstore

Barnes and Noble

Amazon




Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I Make Books

stories that I spin out in the mornings on my lap top before I head off to work at the library, 

there, where I check in books and pull books off the shelves for patron requests, bundles of books that I pass through our walk up window to children out walking their dogs through the park. Some days I weed books from the shelves, 

weeding--what librarians call culling the older books from the collection, the ones not checked out in a long while, the ones with the broken spines or loose pages. I'm always sad flipping through those books, wishing they could have more of a chance. And good news: some do end up in our Friends of the Library Book Sale, where they get another shot at being read and loved.  

And then it's home, to read books, 

the books of non-fiction essays I'm working my way through, the ones on the nightstand, stacked in the bathroom and piled on the end tables in the living room, the cookbooks and gardening books on the kitchen counter to flip through while I'm eating breakfast, whatever latest novel I'm reading. 

Lately, I am making tiny books for the miniature room I bought, a project to do with my daughter who likes puzzles. This was a total impulse buy. An ad on social media that kept popping up until I relented and bought it. (fun/sad fact: these ads work on me!) I bought two rooms, actually, a book room and a plant room. 

Oh, you should've seen my daughter and me spreading out the teeny tiny pieces, flipping through the thick instruction booklets, challenging each other to a competition-- Who could finish our micro room first? 

Cut to: it's three weeks later and my daughter has threatened to quit on more than one occasion. The itsy bitsy clipboard is what finally did her in. Meanwhile, I am plugging away on my book room. Building the bookshelves first, upholstering a chair (which took four hours and nearly killed me), a teeny vase of flowers, each bud needing to be glued and affixed to a stem the size of a pin. Until finally, 

I had to make the books! I followed the directions carefully to put together the first one, turned the instruction booklet page, and laughed out loud where it said: Make 140 more books. 

SO, I did that. 

Because that is what I do. 


teeny tiny pages


clipboard of doom


Almost finished room! 
(Note the chair that almost killed me)




Monday, March 22, 2021

Shots!

8:45 and I join the line of maybe 100 people shuffling along outside Ohio State's old basketball arena. No time at all, and I'm inside, flashing my driver's license, waved forward by one of the many National Guardspeople who are directing traffic, keeping things orderly and all of us socially distant. If not for them, this could be the line for a basketball game 

or a rock concert. There's music playing. "Life in the Fast Lane" of all things, blasting out of the loudspeakers. Shuffling along inside and I spy the weight room, college kids working out. The people in line appear to be the 50-somethings, (the vaccine's open to our age group now) and this music feels appropriate.

I'm taking notes on my phone so I don't forget this experience. Profound thought this moment: 

life in the fast lane/surely make you lose your mind

My appointment's at 9 am and I'm sitting at a registration table by 9:05. My registration person is a part-time pharmacist at Kroger, she tells me. She usually works 20 hours a week but this week she'll be working every day, 7 am - 8 pm. This is it, she says. How do you feel?

Good!

She types in my information on her laptop and I type notes on my phone: now they're playing "Thunder" by AC/DC. 

9:10 and I'm in line again, moving past the National Guard and the row after row of registration tables to line up once more behind the other 50-somethings. Everyone is quiet. Are we the lucky ones who never got sick? A few days ago I was teary-eyed making this appointment. An end in sight and I was overwhelmed-- elated and anxious. Now, I don't know what I feel. 

9:13 and a National Guardsperson waves me toward a nurse with an open seat. She fills out my vaccine record and gives me the shot. I don't feel anything. Not even a pinprick. Thank you, I tell her, and then I'm moved along again, this time to a waiting area in a hallway. We're supposed to sit here for fifteen minutes in case we have an allergic reaction to the shots, but nobody seems to be timing us. 

The music is still blasting. We've moved onto Guns and Roses, "Paradise City." Is this 1980's music a conscious choice? I ruminate over rock concerts I've been to, sneak looks at the people sitting around me, everyone scrolling on their phones. 

I text my husband, who went through this same process at the same place the day before. What was your nurse's name? he asks me.

I realize I don't know. Hannah, maybe? 

He says, Mine was Emily. And you should know. This person just saved your life. 

Hannah, definitely, I tell him, even though I'm not 100 percent sure. Next time, though, next time, I will make a note of it. 

9:28 and I'm walking out to my car. It's a sunny cold day and I live only minutes away. My arm doesn't hurt and I want it to. 





Monday, March 15, 2021

Our Pandemic Year

March 13, 2020 - March 13, 2021

A few days before the shutdown my husband and I were out to dinner with friends, and when we were leaving, he asked me if I'd noticed the painting that was for sale hanging on the wall behind our friends' heads. 

I hadn't, but this was not surprising. I've never been an observant person. For the most part I have always lived inside my head, one of the many coping mechanisms traced back to my childhood when my small world was intolerable and I was powerless to do anything about it. But this painting, my husband said, it was so weird and silly,

bright orange and kind of cartoon-ish-looking, a stick-like figure and the words Moderon Love written across the top. Why was the word modern spelled wrong? And what was the stick-like figure supposed to represent? Why was the whole thing orange? He was so animated just talking about it that we did something we'd never done before, 

we went back to the restaurant and bought the painting. A few days later, we were "sheltering in place." My husband turned the dining room into command central of his office and worked his twelve-hour days in there. I finished the book I was writing and then I revised it and revised it again. 

Writing, I could plainly see, was another perfect, straight-out-of-my-childhood coping mechanism. (It turns out there is a benefit to having PTSD after all, and that is: you know instinctively what to do when the world shrinks down, intolerably, and you are powerless.) We took a lot of walks with the dog and one day we saw a broken chair set out on someone's curb and my husband said, I like that chair, and we brought it home 

and he spent multiple hours sanding it and painting it. I took apart the koi pond in the backyard and planted an herb garden in its place. I read too much news and swore off the news and then immediately broke my promise and read the news again, until I felt so sick with anxiety, I stopped. Until I started again. I refurbished an old dresser. 

I followed epidemiologists on twitter and watched them, in real time, discuss studies of the virus being airborne, the efficacy of masks, and their worries that mask-wearing would become politicized. I watched daily news conferences with our governor and the state's health director until scared angry people protested on her front lawn with guns and she quit her job. I bought a set of colorful bowls. 

I woke up in the middle night in a panic, freaking out about the people I loved getting sick, dying, my kids far away, and then one adult kid home and how could all of us make it through this Thing safely, one month, two months, six, twelve. I made zucchini bread with the absurd amount of zucchini from my garden. 

I went back to work at the library after five months furloughed and worried that I'd catch the virus and bring it into my house and kill my family. I painted the front porch. 

Friends got sick. I started writing another book. 

Okay, maybe we are powerless in our own small worlds, but if I have learned anything this Pandemic Year, it's that we are lucky too, to have other worlds to escape into, pretty bowls to eat our cereal out of, fresh herbs and freshly painted rooms, 

artwork on the wall that makes us scratch our heads and smile. 








Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The other night my daughter saw a weird bird

She was letting out the dogs. And there it was under the eaves on the back porch. A red bird, just sitting there, she said, looking down at her in a creepy way. 

It must be that cardinal, I told her. We'd seen him around the yard and this was a cold night, ten degrees. Maybe the bird was trying to get out of the cold? Was it safe for birds to be outside on a night like this? My husband immediately went into research mode. 

He set out sunflowers seeds and found a small box and put tissues inside of it and hung it up on the back porch where the bird had been. And then we all forgot about it. A few weeks went by and now we have a box nailed up under the porch eaves. A year from now it will probably still be there and one day we'll look up and think, wait, why is there a box nailed up under the porch eaves? 

It's easy to get used to strange things. 

This year of all years. My husband bopping around the house in his pajamas all day, our grown daughter living at home again. The masks and social distancing signs. Zoom holiday gatherings and virtual festivals. Sometimes I have the feeling that we're living in a simulation. 

Or maybe we're trapped in a weirdo offshoot of a multiverse. How can any of this be real? 

We're tired and we want it to be over. When it IS over, we'll pretend it never happened. We'll eat out at restaurants again and invite people into our homes, barefaced. We'll push our carts through the grocery store aisles in any direction we choose. 

I took the dogs out the other night. It was dark and cold. Something rustled above me and I looked up. There was the red bird, only a foot away from my head. It was frozen. Eyes black and staring right at me. I can't adequately describe how unsettling it was. It didn't look real. How still it was. How close. 

What world do we live in now? 





Sunday, February 28, 2021

It's probably too early

but I can't help thinking about my garden. Two 50 degree days in a row, all of the snow melting, hearing the birds again and the longer days of sunlight, all of it is making me itch to go outside. I want to clear out the leaves and dead flowers and get everything tidied up, 

but then I read a post on my gardening group page admonishing all of us to refrain from doing that kind of spring cleaning. Entire ecosystems of critters have laid eggs in that stuff and need just a few more weeks of burrowing or whatever. My gardening page is big on no chemicals and leaving things where they are and don't disturb the soil and let's make a meadow and I am trying to be right there with them, except

I really really really want this long winter to be over and spring to be here and maybe I can just clean up a little? And all of this feels like a giant metaphor about our year in the Pandemic and I was going to try to ease you into it, but I'm too bleary-eyed this morning to think of how, so let's just say it:

It's a giant metaphor about our year in the Pandemic.

I want It to be over. Now. I see the new virus cases going down each day and hear about people getting their vaccines and know that my time will come too in April, May? June? July? And that's okay. I'm just happy it's happening, we're turning a corner and the snow's melting and I want to go out to eat again

and see a movie and hug my son and meet my best friend for coffee and go to a real live actual in person meeting with my writers' group instead of the virtual kind where I sit in my pajamas and try to aim the laptop screen in such a way that my face doesn't look droopy and no one can see the cluttered mess behind me in my office, which is growing messier and more cluttered as this whole thing goes on, eleven months now, twelve! oh my God

did you ever think back in March 2020 that here you'd be, zooming and not seeing your son in San Francisco and tiptoeing around your dining room, which is command central of your husband's office, hangers of just-washed face masks drip-drying around him?

Yeah. Me neither. 

I went outside to tidy up the garden, 

but I never got to the actual tidying up the garden part. All of the snow melting and this being the first time I was really out there since December? and I realized I had a bigger problem to tackle first. 

Dog poop. This is not a metaphor. 

It took one full garbage bag to contain all of it in its non-metaphorical glory, and I was sweaty and muddy and had stepped in dog poop at some point despite my best efforts, but then, 

the job was done. The flower beds and their sleeping critter ecosystems, mostly undisturbed I hope. Last year we still had a night of frost after Mother's Day, so I am under no illusions that a couple of 50 degree days means that spring has come,

but it will. 



Sunday, February 21, 2021

Wintering

March is seven days away. 

Hard to believe when I look out my window, the snow over snow, icicles dangling from the eaves. How many times in the last few weeks I've been out shoveling, scraping the cars, the temperature hovering under 20 degrees, and still, I feel lucky

to have electricity. Running water. A warm home. My mother and in-laws got their first vaccine doses. My daughter and her boyfriend, who have been living with my husband and me during the pandemic, have promising job prospects and are eagerly making plans to strike out on their own. In the meantime they're cooking us dinner every night, gourmet meals that if I show you the pictures, omg you will be so jealous.

I am ridiculously overjoyed by these dinners. 

I'm reading a book called Wintering. It's not really about winter, but more of a metaphor about how sometimes, when things get to be too much, we have to take a break. Retreat. In a time of slow moving catastrophe, our bodies can only take so much anxiety, fear and dread before we shut down, go numb. 

Instead of resisting, it's okay to lean in to hibernation. Go all in with the Starbucks coffee after shoveling. The long walks with the bundled up dogs. Books by the fire. Music and silly Tik-Tok videos. Gourmet meals 

each day

each day

each day

until the snow melts and this strange dark cold beautiful winter comes to an end.