Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Past as Present, Present as Past, a guest post by J. Anderson Coats

When I was fifteen, I got busted sneaking into a university library.

The security gate slowed me down, but I looked enough like a college student with my backpack and ratty jeans that I breezed right through—past the information desk, up the stairs, and deep into the stacks.

Ten minutes later, a librarian found me sitting on a stepstool in the medieval history section with a book open on my knees. She asked to see my student ID, and when I told her I’d left it at home, she said I’d have to leave.

“But I’m researching my novel,” I protested, “and you have books here that I can’t get anywhere else.”

She raised one eyebrow in a pointed oh really sort of way.

“No, see, I’ll show you.” I reached into my backpack, pulled out a folder, and fanned out my notes, along with a half-finished chart detailing the particulars of medieval criminal law for a scene in my sprawling, extensively researched but somehow still deeply inaccurate historical novel set in the thirteenth century about a Scottish girl who found herself in Wales and had to figure out her place in the community. A girl who’d had bad things happen to her, but was slowly—slowly—finding her way forward.

“I’m not here to make trouble,” I insisted. “I just need these books.”

The librarian was quiet for a long moment. Then she said, “Today only. It can’t happen again. That’s what interlibrary loan is for. Got it?”

I stayed till the building closed.

By seventeen I’d filled five binders with collected research that fueled six complete novels, including the one about the Scottish girl that ended up at an opulent 400K words. My research into the middle ages had long since expanded beyond any particular novel, though. I wanted to know just for the knowing.

Each binder was rigorously subdivided, organized, tabbed, and coded— region, topic, subtopic, chronological date. I collected maps, drawings, family trees, and accounts, and I made hundreds of charts, graphs, lists, and sketches. No one taught me to do this. Hardly anyone knew about it. But I could and did spend hours paging through what I’d made. Adding. Updating. Minutely rearranging.

I liked worlds I could control.

My interest in the past made me incomprehensible to most kids my age. I liked how they kept a cautious distance, not quite sure how to make fun of me if I already knew I was a freak. I liked how knowing uncommon, arcane things gave me power over almost any interaction I was likely to have. My charts and lists made me feel unusual, mysterious, and untouchable.

Becoming anything is hard. Rebuilding when the pieces are shattered so small is a whole different way of becoming.

I am thirteen. It’s my first week of middle school, and the boy I’m made to sit next to in art class is explaining in vivid detail how he’s going to trap me in the bathroom and feel me up. His language is emotionless and precise. He makes eye contact in the kind of intense, disturbing way that makes me certain he means it.

“I may not stop there,” he says. “I haven’t decided yet.”

The art teacher doesn’t look up from his newspaper. He refuses to let me change seats. He tells me to sit down and do my assignment and stop trying to get attention.

“You won’t know exactly when it’ll happen,” the boy goes on. “It’ll be the best thing that ever happens to a pig like you, though.”

I am thirteen, and I have no idea how to make him leave me alone. The guidance counselor gives me a secret, girls-only smile and says, “It’s probably because he likes you.” My mom reminds me that bullies will find another target if you ignore them.

I am thirteen, and I have no idea how to make them listen. How to make them understand what it costs me to walk into that classroom. Sit in that seat. Let it all happen.

Things just get worse.

Four of my binders have survived. They have endured two transcontinental moves and countless hours of flipping. They have almost—but not quite—been entirely supplanted by the internet.

The best part of the binders now is turning the pages one by one, remembering how each new entry, each photocopied map or genealogy table laboriously typed into some early version of Word is one more step I took out of the darkness.  

It was stories that finally coaxed me to breathe and look up, and because the present was so bleak, I looked to the past, because the past is nothing but stories we tell ourselves to make sense of things that happened.

The binders were a way to step into that past and make it my own. They were a way to imagine a future with something like potential, then construct one through fiction. To that end, I collected everything for my binders, even things I didn’t need at the moment. My research books came from libraries across the country through the magic of interlibrary loan, and I knew I might never have access to them again, so nothing was beneath my notice.

The whispers of Spindle and Dagger are here. Another story about a girl who’d had bad things happen to her, who could slowly—slowly—find her way forward. Tucked away amid the maps and charts, waiting till I was ready to come full circle.

Meet J. Anderson Coats

J. Anderson Coats has received two Junior Library Guild awards, two Washington State Book Awards, and earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, the Horn Book Review, and Shelf Awareness. Her newest books are Spindle and Dagger, a YA set in medieval Wales that deals with power dynamics and complicated relationships, and The Green Children of Woolpit, a creepy middle-grade fantasy inspired by real historical events. She is also the author of R is for Rebel, The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, The Wicked and the Just, and the forthcoming middle-grade fantasy, The Night Ride (2021).

Social:

Web: http://www.jandersoncoats.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jandersoncoats

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jandersoncoats

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jandersoncoats/?hl

Buy Links

https://bookshop.org/books/spindle-and-dagger/9781536207774

https://www.mercerislandbooks.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.eagleharborbooks.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.elliottbaybook.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.secretgardenbooks.com/book/9781536207774

About Spindle and Dagger

This rich literary novel follows Elen, who must live a precarious lie in order to survive among the medieval Welsh warband that killed her family.

Wales, 1109. Three years ago, a warband raided Elen’s home. Her baby sister could not escape the flames. Her older sister fought back and almost killed the warband’s leader, Owain ap Cadwgan, before being killed herself. Despite Elen’s own sexual assault at the hands of the raiders, she saw a chance to live and took it. She healed Owain’s wound and spun a lie: Owain ap Cadwgan, son of the king of Powys, cannot be killed, not by blade nor blow nor poison. Owain ap Cadwgan has the protection of Saint Elen, as long as he keeps her namesake safe from harm and near him always.

For three years, Elen has had plenty of food, clothes to wear, and a bed to sleep in that she shares with the man who brought that warband to her door. Then Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a Norman lord, and her three children, triggering full-out war. As war rages, and her careful lies threaten to unravel, Elen begins to look to Nest and see a different life — if she can decide, once and for all, where her loyalties lie. J. Anderson Coats’s evocative prose immerses the reader in a dark but ultimately affirming tale of power and survival.

ISBN-13: 9781536207774
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Age Range: 16 – 17 Years

On Being Old and New, a guest post by Amanda Sellet

In the game of Chutes and Ladders that is publishing, some squares are hard to avoid. “Oops, Your Plot Has a Soggy Middle” for one, or “Womp Womp, Another Form Rejection.”

Other hazards are more personal, lining the unique path each of us takes toward the endgame of A Published Book. For me, one of those was the author photo. 

Plot twist: I’ll be 49 when my debut novel releases this May. Although I long since bade adieu to the fantasy of making a 40 Under 40 list, as a YA author I am conscious of writing for young people when I am … less than young myself.

This is not just a surface-level issue, regrets about skin elasticity aside. The whole idea of being a “debut” implies dewy newness, an awkward fit when your lived experience as a Gen X teen qualifies as historical fiction. My pop culture references are from a different century. Far from being a digital native, I grew up blissfully free from the panopticon of social media. In my day (gather round, kids!), colleges sent acceptance letters by mail, on actual paper – and once enrolled, you were almost certainly indoctrinated into the wrong wave of feminism.

Yet surely something has been gained along with the crow’s feet? For perspective, I surveyed several fellow debuts about stepping onto the kidlit stage as a non-ingenue.  

Home and Away

Although our own childhoods are disappearing in the rearview mirror, many of us live and/or work with kids every day. As parents and teachers, we have a front-row seat for the fears, fandoms, and (in the case of MG readers) fart jokes that drive today’s youth.

“My 12-year-old son is my biggest writing influence. I craft all my stories for him,” said Adrianna Cuevas. The author of THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ, out July 31, also taught Spanish and ESOL to her target audience for sixteen years.

“It’s much easier to have an authentic MG voice when you’re constantly communicating with your intended readers,” agreed Tanya Guerrero, a writer and parent whose first book, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, released March 31. Guerrero’s prior career developing K-12 educational materials also underscored the importance of representation and diversity in writing for kids.

Work Experience

In some cases, an author’s non-writing career doubled as research for their book.

“I spend a lot of time with young women who are recovering from terrible experiences in school mathematics,” said Amy Noelle Parks, a professor of Mathematics Education at Michigan State University. Her debut, THE QUANTUM WEIRDNESS OF THE ALMOST KISS (out January 5, 2021), offers a different vision: a boarding school full of young women who love math and science.

Betty Culley’s work as a pediatric hospice nurse directly informed her debut novel-in-verse THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE, which Culley described as, “a book I couldn’t have written before then.”  

For Alex Richards, author of the July release ACCIDENTAL, her previous job in TV production “helped bring me out of my shell, talking to strangers, digging deep to find the heart of a story, etc.”

Life Lessons

Off-the-job training can also have a profound influence on writing practice.

“I have two kids, a precocious nine-year-old and a severely autistic non-verbal eleven-year-old who needs 24/7 care, which my husband and I share,” explained Jamie Pacton, author of the May release THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY. “Being these particular children’s mother has taught me a lot about long games in life and writing; how to find joy in small things; it’s grown my patience and helped me think about the struggles other people face, even with small things like communicating basic needs.”

Age can also bring a new sense of determination. After years of working in practical (read: more likely to pay) fields like teaching and journalism, Cathleen Barnhart, author of the recent MG release THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO, made a now-or-never decision. “I had a bit of an emotional freak-out and decided that I needed to walk the writer walk, even if I never published anything. I had to own being a writer.”

For many members of the over 40 club, the passing of time also means greater freedom from expectations. Why write literary short stories when you love middle grade, or try to follow the market if your heart isn’t in dystopian YA?

“The writing I did in my 20s and 30s was largely professional,” said Cuevas, “completely devoid of fart and poop jokes. The horror! I was also writing to satisfy my audience, which often led to inauthenticity. Now, I feel secure enough to write stories I enjoy. I don’t think ‘younger me’ would’ve had the courage to do that.”

On Roads Not Taken

The writing landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. Pacton pointed out how much easier it is to find information about the industry now, not to mention the online access points of pitch contests and social media.

On the other hand, there are only so many hours in a day. Parks was getting a Ph.D. while raising a family; Culley wrote her first novel at 18 then went back to school to finish her degree, followed by years spent homeschooling her children while working nights as a labor and delivery nurse.

“Sometimes I regret that I didn’t ‘honor the gift’ during those years,” Culley said, “but the work I did and the life I lived made me the writer I am now.”

Fortunately for all of us, writing isn’t as physically demanding as gymnastics or even opera. Plenty of writers keep working many, many decades past their teen years.

“One thing publishing at this point in my life has done is help me realize that you have lots of time,” said Parks. “Just because you can’t do everything all at once, doesn’t mean you can’t do it all eventually.”

However old you are, fellow writers, take heart. Age has its compensations.

As for the author photo, I hear they have these things called filters nowadays.

Buy BY THE BOOK and other fine titles by authors of all ages from Amanda’s local indie The Raven Book Store: https://www.ravenbookstore.com/

Meet Amanda Sellet

Amanda Sellet had a previous career in journalism, during which she wrote book reviews for The Washington Post, personal essays for NPR, and music and movie coverage for VH1. She has an M.A. in Cinema Studies from NYU. After a mostly coastal childhood, she now lives in Kansas with her husband, daughter, and cats.

Find her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/amandajsellet

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amandajsellet/

Web site: https://www.amandasellet.com/

About BY THE BOOK

In this clever YA rom-com debut perfect for fans of Kasie West and Ashley Poston, a teen obsessed with nineteenth-century literature tries to cull advice on life and love from her favorite classic heroines to disastrous results—especially when she falls for the school’s resident Lothario.

Mary Porter-Malcolm has prepared for high school in the one way she knows how: an extensive review of classic literature to help navigate the friendships, romantic liaisons, and overall drama she has come to expect from such an “esteemed” institution. When some new friends seem in danger of falling for the same tricks employed since the days of Austen and Tolstoy, Mary swoops in to create the Scoundrel Survival Guide, using archetypes of literature’s debonair bad boys to signal red flags. But despite her best efforts, she soon finds herself unable to listen to her own good advice and falling for a supposed cad—the same one she warned her friends away from. Without a convenient rain-swept moor to flee to, Mary is forced to admit that real life doesn’t follow the same rules as fiction and that if she wants a happy ending, she’s going to have to write it herself. 

ISBN-13: 9780358156611
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Write What You Know, a guest post by Loriel Ryon

I almost didn’t write this post.

As I’ve grown and changed, my thoughts and understandings of my identity and what that means have evolved a lot over the years. Being a writer means looking into yourself, pulling apart the pieces of what made you, and writing that. So when I started writing, my heritage and cultural upbringing kept coming up. How could it not? When I think back to my childhood years, my family and my traditions were so important to that time. But identity is complicated. Especially when you come from a blended family. And when that family breaks apart, identity gets even more complicated. My understanding of myself and my identity will probably change again. And again. But for now, this is where I am.

Because as the old saying goes: write what you know.

And this is what I know.

I grew up on bluegrass music and pumpkin empanadas. Pig pickins’ and the best southern fried chicken. Jackie Horner pies for birthdays, luminarias and tamales at Christmas, and cascarones at Easter. My childhood was a blend of my parents’ upbringings and traditions: my father, an Irish-English American Catholic southern boy, born and raised in North Carolina; and my mother, a Mexican American Catholic born and raised in south Texas. Their traditions were different from each other, but somehow, they found a way to raise me, my brother, and my sister with a blend of the two.

Sure, my mom loved to tell the story where she asked my dad right after they got married to get tortillas from the grocery store and he brought back corn tortillas in a can. (I’m not kidding. It was a family joke for a LOOONG time.) My grandad would tell us stories about how he wasn’t allowed at the school dance because he was Mexican and had to wait outside. I’m pretty sure my mom had never even heard of bluegrass music until she met my dad.

Spanish was spoken in our house (and it was basic Spanish at best), but not because my mom grew up speaking it. My grandparents didn’t teach their children Spanish. They wanted them to blend in and not rock the boat. Both my parents learned in school and college, and once us kids had learned how to spell, they’d switch to Spanish to keep us from knowing what they were talking about.

The other important thing to know is my parents didn’t stay married. And while that was a very tough thing to go through as a kid, it also really shifted my adult understanding of identity and heritage. Without my blended family intact, which traditions would stay? Would some fall away? How would we raise our own kids when the time came?

The other thing is while my siblings and I have our mother’s dark hair and eyes, our light skin coupled with our English last name affords a lot of privileges that other members in our family don’t have. By looking at us, you can’t really “tell” our heritage and with that comes the doubts.

If I look white and I don’t speak Spanish, can I be Mexican American? If I have a white last name, can I be Mexican American? If every time I tell someone that I’m part Mexican American and they say, “Well, you don’t look it…”, then maybe I’m not.

Questions about my identity carried with me all the way to my debut, INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS. It’s a story about a girl and her sister, both of mixed heritage, as they go on a journey through the desert to save their grandmother’s life. I’d never read a story about a girl of mixed heritage like me. I stubbornly plowed forward, following the advice: write what you know. But even so, I was riddled with doubts. Because when you are straddling the in-between you never quite feel like you are enough. It is a constant battle between hoping you aren’t a fraud to trying to get things perfectly right. Would kids want to read about a girl like me? Would I do the story justice? Was it okay for me to write a story like this? But my Spanish isn’t very good…

I remember when Aida Salazar reached out and asked if I’d like to be part of the Las Musas group, a collective of Latinx authors who support one another. I almost told her no. I stressed over it. How was I going to tell Aida Salazar (who’s book I absolutely admired and adored) that she’d made a mistake? It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be a part of the group. I really did. It was because I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I wasn’t Latinx enough to be in the group, and I finally found the courage and told her so.

And Aida, the always wise, said to me, “There’s no one way to be Latinx.”

And with those simple words, my view of my identity shifted again. When the doubts come rolling in, I repeat those words to myself. And while I may not get everything perfectly right and I’m sure to make mistakes along the way, I realize my unique viewpoint does matter. Just because it’s not quite like everyone else’s doesn’t mean it’s wrong or not enough. It’s just…mine.

And that is what I know.

For now.

Meet Loriel Ryon

Loriel Ryon is an author of middle grade fiction. She spent her childhood with her nose in a book, reading in restaurants, on the school bus, and during every family vacation. Her upbringing in a mixed-heritage military family inspires much of her writing about that wonderfully complicated time between childhood and adulthood. Also a nurse, she lives in the magical New Mexico desert with her husband and two daughters. Her debut middle grade novel, INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS is out now.

Social Media

Twitter/Instagram/Facebook: @Lorielryon

Website: Lorielryon.com

About Into the Tall, Tall Grass

A girl journeys across her family’s land to save her grandmother’s life in this captivating and magical debut that’s perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish.

Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a secret. All the members of her family have a magical gift—all, that is, except for Yolanda. Still, it’s something she can never talk about, or the townsfolk will call her family brujas—witches. When her grandmother, Wela, falls into an unexplained sleep, Yolanda is scared. Her father is off fighting in a faraway war, her mother died long ago, and Yolanda has isolated herself from her best friend and twin sister. If she loses her grandmother, who will she have left?

When a strange grass emerges in the desert behind their house, Wela miraculously wakes, begging Yolanda to take her to the lone pecan tree left on their land. Determined not to lose her, Yolanda sets out on this journey with her sister, her ex-best friend, and a boy who has a crush on her. But what is the mysterious box that her grandmother needs to find? And how will going to the pecan tree make everything all right? Along the way, Yolanda discovers long-buried secrets that have made their family gift a family curse. But she also finds the healing power of the magic all around her, which just might promise a new beginning.

ISBN-13: 9781534449671
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 10 – 18 Years

Fiction Revelations: How Writing a Book about Witches and Murder Got Me My OCD diagnosis, a guest post by E. Latimer

The problems began in kindergarten.

Near the start of the year, I apparently got myself locked in the school bathroom, my five-year-old self fumbling with a sticky door that wouldn’t come unlatched. I don’t remember this event, but I do remember what came after. This experience seemed to break something in my brain. I spent the next year simultaneously terrified to go into those bathrooms, and totally convinced I had to go.

Over the following days and weeks, this fixation became absolute. No matter how much or how little water I would drink, it was a constant thought in the back of my mind. It became so bad that my parents took me in for “explorative surgery” to see if something was physically wrong with me.

There was nothing.

In my early teens, this strange, embarrassing obsession began to fade. But my relief was short-lived. Rather than disappearing altogether, the intense focus seemed to shift. Now, instead of constantly wondering if I really had to go, or it was just my imagination, I was suddenly fixated on my breathing instead.

Multiple times throughout the day I would notice it and begin to “accidentally” regulate my own breathing. I would worry I wasn’t breathing deeply enough, I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I was overcome by the idea that I kept noticing my breath, that I would never stop noticing.

Whenever I tried to tell my parents, none of my explanations made sense. No, I wasn’t worried I’d stop breathing, not exactly. Yes, I knew I was still actually breathing because I’d be passed out if I wasn’t. Yes, I knew it was all ridiculous.

The “breathing thing” as I called it, continued on into adulthood. Eventually I went to a doctor, who gave me nasal spray. Then another doctor, who told me it was GAD. Then a psychologist, and then another. More GAD diagnosis. Nothing really made sense, and finally, I simply gave up.

Sometimes the obsession would retreat for a while, and I’d feel almost normal. I’d go for months like that, thinking I was okay. And then something would trigger it, and it was back into another endless cycle of obsession. It ate up weeks of my life, including an entire vacation at a beautiful resort, where I spent seven full days trapped in my own head, wrestling with this obsession (I hardly remember anything about that trip).

Each time I’d think about trying to get help for it, I’d remember the doctors and psychologists I’d already seen, and how hard it was to explain this, and I’d give up all over again.

Then, a little over two years ago, I was talking to a good friend, L.D. Crichton, author of All Our Broken Pieces, and she mentioned that the book she was currently writing was something she was very emotionally attached to, that she was putting all her fear and worries and anxiety onto those pages, and it was an incredible feeling.

It felt like something in me woke up at that moment, a strange, intense kind of need, and all I could think was, I want that.

But I wasn’t sure how to do that. I’m a fantasy writer. I write about magic. Wizards and witches and portraits that come alive and try to murder people. Where in this type of work, did mental health fit?

The book I was working on in that moment was about rival covens in Ireland. It was about witches, yes, but it was set in contemporary times, which made me think, why not? Why couldn’t I put all my mental health struggles into my main character? The anxiety, the doctors, the psychologists, the frustrations of not feeling like your diagnosis matches.

And so I did.

The process was intense, to say the least. It was simultaneously relieving and triggering. I would write for long hours and then have to take breaks for a few days, just to pull myself out of my own head. But once it was all done and on the page, it felt like a triumph. Like I had overcome my anxiety and triggers and written this book, and that was truly a feat.

But as I finished, and began to read it over with revisions in mind, there was something else aside from my triumph I was feeling, a kind of growing certainty that I’d never had before. Rereading bits of the narrative, my character’s thoughts and feelings, made it clearer than it had ever been. The doctors had been wrong. The psychologists had been wrong. This was not panic disorder, or general anxiety disorder, or PPD, as one psychologist tried to diagnose me with after the birth of my child. None of those things fit. None of them made sense. I had been talking to one professional after another, but none of them had listened. Not really.

After this realization, I dove into research with a newly found fire. Article after article, online forums and facebook pages and twitter threads. I searched all the keywords I could possibly think of. And finally I hit on something that seemed to match. Something that described me with alarming accuracy.

Determined, I went hunting through psychologists, and found one who specialized in OCD. An expert in this specific area.

It took one session with him. A short initial interview, and an on paper test that I ticked off—yes, yes, yes, yes, all of the above—and that…was that.

Somatic OCD. A subtype of OCD focused on autonomic, or non-conscious body processes and functions.

I stumbled out into the bright sunshine after the session, a little stunned. It felt surreal, having lived with this since the age of five, and just now finally getting confirmation that yes, I was right. Yes, I wasn’t overreacting or imagining things. I felt complete and utter relief.

I would feel other things later. Anger, that I’d lost so much time to this obsession. Hurt, that I’d never been able to articulate myself properly to my family. Indignation, that our mental health system had allowed me and so many others to slip through the cracks…

But I think I’ve finally settled in a good place. Witches of Ash and Ruin not only helped me get my diagnosis, I can now use it to connect with readers like me. People who are struggling to understand what’s happening to them. People who aren’t aware that OCD can look radically different in different people. And people who are just hungry to see themselves in a fantasy novel, which many of us with mental illnesses never get to experience.

And  I will forever be grateful to the writing experience that led me here. I finally have help. Confidence. Clarity. It just took twenty-seven years and a book about murderous Irish Gods and sapphic witches in order to get here.

Meet E. Latimer

photo credit: Becky Forsayeth

E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, was released March 3rd from Little Brown.

Find out more at http://www.elatimer.com/

About Witches of Ash and Ruin

Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.

ISBN-13: 9781368052252
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

How to Succeed as a Teen Writer, a guest post by Olivia Smit

The gift of writing and sharing stories is such a valuable one, but it can be incredibly difficult … especially if you’re young! Although I’m not a teenager anymore (I’m only 23, though, so I’m still pretty close), I still remember trying to figure out my writing journey in my teens. What was my process going to look like? What kinds of stories did I want to tell?

I am FAR from a perfect author, but over the years I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice that I think are especially useful for teen writers, and it’s a joy to share some of them with you today.

A storyboard.

Read. Often.

Maybe this seems too obvious. Maybe it seems too simple! But the best advice I can possibly give you – or any author, of any age! – is to keep reading. A lot of the time, especially if your schedule is crazy (Assignments! Social life! Part-time jobs!) it can be easy to prioritize your writing time above your reading time. Some authors stop reading altogether! The problem with this is while it may initially give you more time to write, eventually, if you close yourself off to all other words except your own, the quality of your writing will suffer.

Think about it this way: if you stop reading and just write all the time, you’re kind of putting yourself in a closed loop. After a while, you’ll be so used to your own words, style, and quirks, your creativity and originality will suffer. You need to keep reading so that your brain is forced to encounter and process ideas and words that are different than your own! The creative side of your brain is a muscle … don’t let it atrophy! Keep feeding it with the words of others so that it will stay strong enough to fuel your own writing.

Understand the two types of writer’s block.

Sometimes, when I’m writing, I get stuck. Everyone does! Some people call this “writer’s block” … and others insist that it doesn’t exist. I’m not here to argue about terms, but I will admit that sometimes when I’m writing, I lose motivation. Things get slow. My ideas seem to dry up. And this seems to happen for one of two reasons:

1. I’m not writing enough.

If I’ve been putting my writing at the bottom of the priority list, opening my Word document once or twice a week and half-heartedly putting down a few sentences, my lack of enthusiasm just breeds MORE un-enthusiastic writing. The best way to fix this is to put your writing back at the top of the priority list, set aside some serious time, and GET WRITING. At first it will be hard. Your writing will feel terrible. You’ll wonder if your entire career is over forever. But if you keep throwing words onto the page, eventually, you’ll find your stride. You’ll type something good – and then, your passion will start to return again.

2. Sometimes, I get stuck because I’m writing TOO MUCH.

If I’ve been spending hours a day on a manuscript, pouring all of my free time into my gloriously exciting story idea, sometimes I hit a point where I can’t think any more because I’m so tired. When this happens, I need to listen to my brain and take a break. Sometimes all I need is a day or two, and sometimes I need a week where I put my project away and consume other people’s words and stories again. I read books. I watch TV. I go for walks. I talk to my friends. And then, when my tank is feeling filled up and I have words in my head again, I go back to writing.

Pinterest board for inspiration.

Take yourself seriously!

One of the most frustrating parts about being a teen writer (or a teen in general) is feeling like adults don’t really take you seriously. And there will be people who underestimate you just because of your age! This is why it’s so important to take YOURSELF seriously. If you can show people that you’re not messing around – you’re serious and passionate about writing amazing stories, no matter your age – most people will respect that.

Here’s the truth: you are just as good as many adult authors (and probably better than some of them) regardless of how old you are! Your age doesn’t determine the quality of your writing. Your hard work, talent, and perseverance does.

Don’t worry too much about your resume.

I started trying to find a publisher for “Seeing Voices” when I was around 20 years old, and when I started doing research into the publishing process I was immediately discouraged by my lack of qualifications. I didn’t belong to any writing guilds or societies. I hadn’t gone to any conferences. I didn’t have stories published in journals or magazines. I hadn’t won any awards. For a little while, I wondered if this would bar me from the publishing world forever! However, as I met other authors and continued to pursue agents and publishers, I heard a number of people say that the quality of the writing is the MOST important thing – more than your publishing qualifications or the number of followers you have.

Don’t be discouraged – and don’t waste too much time stressing about your lack of experience, education, or previously published pieces. Take all that energy and time and use it to keep working on your own writing skills, instead!

Another board for inspiration.

Do your research.

Don’t rush into the publishing process! A lot of teen writers are so eager to make a name for themselves that they rush through writing, editing, and even publishing their novel – and then look back and wish they’d taken a little more time to make sure it was perfect. It took me four or five years to write and edit “Seeing Voices,” and another ten months of querying before I signed my publishing contract! Take your time – and take advantage of the resources that are out there! The Go Teen Writers website (www.goteenwriters.com) helped me so much as a teen writer, and I still often look back at their posts when I need advice!

Wherever you are in your writing journey, I wish you all the luck in the world! Teenagers today are doing incredible things and writing amazing, beautiful stories: I believe in you as a young author, and I can’t wait to see your book on shelves soon.

Meet Oliva Smit

Olivia Smit loves baking, visiting small towns, and writing stories that face hard truth with hope and encouragement. Olivia has an Honours Specialization in Creative Writing, English Language, and Literature and lives in Canada with her family. Seeing Voices is her first novel. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter, and at her website, oliviasmit.ca.

Oliva’s local indie bookstore is Type Books in Toronto.

About Seeing Voices

Skylar Brady has a for her life—until a car accident changes everything.

Skylar knows exactly what she wants, and getting in a car accident the summer before twelfth grade isn’t supposed to be part of the plan. Although she escapes mostly unharmed, the accident has stolen more than just her hearing from her: she’s also lost the close bond she used to have with her brother.

When her parents decide to take a house-sitting job halfway across the province, it’s just one more thing that isn’t going according to plan. As the summer progresses, Skylar begins to gain confidence in herself, but as she tries to mend her relationship with her brother, she stumbles upon another hidden trauma. Suddenly, she’s keeping as many secrets as she’s struggling to uncover and creating more problems than she could ever hope to solve.

ISBN-13: 9781946531629
Publisher: WhiteFire Publishing
Publication date: 04/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Coming of Age and the Reality of Others, a guest post by Sara Zarr

“Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.”

Iris Murdoch wrote those lines in her 1959 Chicago Review essay, “The Sublime and the Good.” Wherever I first encountered them, they immediately struck me as deeply insightful and true, and connected at the very root to the coming of age story in adolescent fiction. What better describes the process of growing up than “the discovery of reality”? And what is more challenging as we grow up and learn to really love others than accepting that their lives are as real for them as ours are for us? The quote retroactively strikes me as the thesis statement of all my novels, as the families at the center of my stories try and fail to love one another and themselves in the face of difficult truths.

In writing Goodbye from Nowhere–with the Murdoch quote in my pocket (and on an index card near my computer)–I approached this idea with more direct intention. The difficult truth for seventeen-year-old Kyle Baker is that his mother is having an affair, and his father knows, and both of them seem incapable of following a course of action that makes sense to Kyle or brings the family close to either a reconciliation or a breakup.

Kyle’s view of and love for his mother, in particular, are profoundly challenged by the choices she’s making in a reality that does not seem to accommodate him. He vacillates between experiencing her as the same caring mother he’s always had, and seeing her as the source of everything that is currently going wrong in his life.

Naturally, when we’re children, our parents or caretakers are at least part a projection of our needs. Whether we have great parents or acutely flawed ones, giving and receiving love to and from them is necessary for our actual and emotional survival. As we move through adolescence, we start to see our parents or caretakers as who they actually are–the good and the bad, whether they disappoint or come through, their foibles and fears. Even the recognition that they exist in their own lives when we’re not watching can be disorienting. Wow, my parents mysteriously go off to work or to the store or to friend’s houses and are actually the stars of their own lives just as I’m the star of mine?

When Kyle’s mother’s reality is no longer compatible with what Kyle wants from her, the effects spill over into his relationship with his girlfriend. Who, as it turns out, is also a real person with her own life and needs. When he botches that, he settles his projections onto Emily, his closest cousin. And guess what? Emily doesn’t exist only to be there for Kyle’s emotional support, either. Meanwhile, his grandparents have their own plans and dreams that may mean having to say goodbye to the beloved family farm.

One night in the old bunkhouse at Nowhere Farm, Emily tries to invite Kyle into a bigger reality and impress upon him that love is not about people acting and reacting in ways that are comfortable and predictable. “Let go,” she tells him of his wishes and hopes for his family. “Let go of what you thought it should be. And see what it is.”

This is no easy task, of course. Not for a seventeen year old and not for a twenty-five year old and not for a forty-nine year old. It never really stops–the work of letting go of our projections about who people are or who we think they should be, and instead loving the reality of them. Adolescence is where this work begins in earnest, and is at the very heart of what it means to come of age.

The work goes both ways, and in some coming of age stories it’s the parents or caretakers who are working on accept the reality of their teens and learning to love who their kids really are and not a parents’ dream of who they will be.

Is what we call “love” the experience of people being who we need them to be, and meeting our needs and expectations? Or is it accepting those closest to us in spite of their limitations and mistakes? Does the latter type of love have its limits and, if so, where are those limits? These aren’t questions that most adults I know have resolved, but we start becoming aware of them in our adolescent transition from childhood towards adulthood.

The context of Murdoch’s quote is an essay attempting to answer the question, “What is art?” She’s joining Tolstoy, Kant, and others in an ongoing conversation around this question, and for her, love and art and morality are all bound together in this issue of reality in a broader sense.

Personally, my allegiance in writing has always been to reality–which I don’t mean in a genre sense, as fantastical stories can have an allegiance to truth and realism can be false. What I mean is that I try to see things as they are and write about them from that clarity of vision. Murdoch writes, “We may fail to see the individual because we are completely enclosed in a fantasy world of our own into which we try to draw things from outside, not grasping their reality and independence, making them into dream objects of our own. … Love [is] an exercise of the imagination.”

I want to use my imagination to get outside my own wishes and projections and not bend others (real people or my characters) to the will of my comfort, anxiety, or childish fantasies. Like Kyle in Goodbye from Nowhere, like everyone who wants to grow up, I have to press against the ways I wish people (and life, and stories) would just be who and what we want them to be instead of who and what they are.

It’s all rich fodder for stories and for discussions about stories, and a theme I find myself returning to again and again in my work and in my self.

Meet Sara Zarr

Photo credit: Cat Palmer

Sara Zarr is the author of seven acclaimed novels for young adults, most recently Goodbye from Nowhere (April 2020). She has been a National Book Award finalist and two-time Utah Book Award winner and is on faculty for the Seattle Pacific University Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Sara lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and online at sarazarr.com.

Sara’s local indie bookstore is The King’s English in Salt Lake City, UT.

Social links:

– twitter.com/sarazarrbooks

– instagram.com/sarazarrbooks

– facebook.com/sarazarrbooks

About Goodbye From Nowhere by Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr, author of the National Book Award finalist Story of a Girl, returns with an intimate, exquisitely crafted novel of the courage it takes to see those we love for who they are.

Kyle Baker thought his family was happy. Happy enough, anyway. That’s why, when Kyle learns that his mother has been having an affair and his father has been living with the secret, his reality is altered.

He quits baseball, ghosts his girlfriend, and generally checks out of life as he’s known it. With his older sisters out of the house and friends who don’t get it, the only person he can talk to is his cousin Emily—who is always there on the other end of his texts but still has her own life, hours away.

Kyle’s parents want him to keep the secret of his mother’s affair from the rest of the family until after what might be their last big summer reunion. As Kyle watches the effects of his parents’ choices ripple out over friends, family, and strangers, and he feels the walls of his relationships closing in, he has to decide what his obligations are to everyone he cares for—including himself.

ISBN-13: 9780062434685
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

How Running a Marathon Helped Me Write My Debut Novel, a guest post by Sarah Watson

Writing often feels like an impossible journey. I’ve heard people say it’s a lot like running a marathon. It’s not. A marathon is a lot easier. Like, a lot easier. Which is probably why I’ve run so many of them.

I signed up for my first marathon when I was twenty-five. I was trying to make it as a television writer and my dream was starting to feel impossible. I’d gotten rejection after rejection and hit wall after wall. I’m a type-A person, so it was incredibly humbling for me to set a goal, work harder than I ever had in my entire life, and still not be able to achieve it. I thought about giving up.

But I decided to sign up for a marathon instead.  

Even at the time, I think part of me probably knew that I was only doing it because I was so desperate to succeed at something. Anything. I just needed to set a goal and meet it. But the training turned out to be more brutal than I expected. I hit walls. I cried. Everything hurt. I thought about giving up. I really believe I would have, except that I was running with a group of girlfriends, and they wouldn’t let me. Most of them had run marathons before and they knew what the journey was like. They also knew what victory felt like on the other side. So they guided me, coached me, pushed me (sometimes literally), and refused to listen when I said I needed to stop. They shouted encouraging things at me, sometimes rather forcefully, and told me I could do it. It turned out they were right. I crossed the finish line that year. I’d never felt prouder in my entire life.

I also never doubted my journey as a writer again.

Running has been a constant metaphor in my (now successful, well, mostly successful) television career. It’s also been an incredible escape and a wonderful chance to stay connected to my girlfriends. So I suppose it makes sense that the idea for my debut novel, Most Likely, came from running.  

I hadn’t run a marathon in years and wasn’t even running regularly anymore when my friend told me that it was time to sign up for our last marathon. Apparently during one of our first races together she’d said something about how she wanted to run her final marathon when she turned forty. She claims I enthusiastically told her I would do it with her. I have no recollection of this. (Though frankly I would argue that anything said during a 26.2-mile run is not legally binding anyway.) But that’s the thing about friends, when they tell you that you’re going to do something, you do it.

We persuaded another friend to join us and we started training. We always talk while we run. About our relationships, our careers, our struggles. During the really long runs we sort through our problems. We find solutions for some of them; other problems don’t have solutions. For those we simply listen. We laugh. We cry. Then we laugh some more.

I loved running with my friends again. But my body was starting to hurt. Running a marathon at forty is nothing like running a marathon at twenty-five. As our mileage climbed higher and higher, my doubts got bigger and bigger. The week before our eighteen-mile training run I was scared—really scared—that I wouldn’t be able to do it. My friends told me the same thing they always did; that I could.

That eighteen-miler turned out to be one of the best runs of my entire life. As we ran those miles and talked and talked, an idea popped into my head about a group of friends who push each other to go farther, to dream bigger, and to be the best possible versions of themselves. That idea turned into my book.

Most Likely follows the high school days of a future female president. But really, it’s a simple story about female friendship. It all goes back to what I realized on that eighteen-mile day. Running is great and crossing the finish line really is an incredible feeling. But the reason I love running—truly love it—is because of the women running on either side of me.

Meet Sarah Watson

Sarah Watson is the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type, which the New York Times described as “Sex and the Single Girl for millennials.” Previously she was a writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed NBC drama Parenthood. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Most Likely is her debut novel.

About Most Likely

From the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type comes an empowering and heartfelt novel about a future female president’s senior year of high school.

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha (listed in alphabetical order out of fairness) have been friends since kindergarten. Now they’re in their senior year, facing their biggest fears about growing up and growing apart. But there’s more than just college on the horizon. One of these girls is destined to become the president of the United States. The mystery, of course, is which girl gets the gig.

Is it Ava, the picture-perfect artist who’s secretly struggling to figure out where she belongs? Or could it be CJ, the one who’s got everything figured out…except how to fix her terrible SAT scores? Maybe it’s Jordan, the group’s resident journalist, who knows she’s ready for more than their small Ohio suburb can offer. And don’t overlook Martha, who will have to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.

This is the story of four best friends who have one another’s backs through every new love, breakup, stumble, and success—proving that great friendships can help young women achieve anything…even a seat in the Oval Office.

ISBN-13: 9780316454834
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

The Pros & Perils of Sequels, a guest post by Alexandra Monir

We’ve all heard of it: sequel-itis. For an author, the word conjures up sweat-inducing nightmares of delivering a Book Two that doesn’t live up to the first, and for readers, it’s the memory of the disappointed sting when you finish a book you’ve been waiting forever for, only to feel “meh” at the end of it. Let me tell you, the prospect of either scenario makes sequels so nerve-wracking to publish! But on the opposite end of the spectrum, sequels can be some of the most fulfilling books to write—and read—because they allow you to return to the characters and world you’ve fallen in love with and take their story to new heights.

The Final Six (Book one)

I did quite a bit of re-reading of my favorite sequels in preparation for writing my own, The Life Below, and it helped me uncover the difference between a meh sequel and a great one.

The Life Below (Book two)

In my (humble!) opinion, it’s all about landing in that sweet spot where Book Two continues with all the ingredients that made the first book special—so as a reader, it feels like coming home—while simultaneously pushing forward with new themes, settings, and conflicts, so that the series truly grows.

The most striking example of this is the Harry Potter series. I don’t think anyone who read Sorcerer’s Stone could have predicted how layered and rich the story would become by the time Book 3 rolled around, and once Harry ages into his teens and we’re following him on a darker adventure, the growth in J.K. Rowling’s writing and storytelling is exponential! But at the same time, whenever I started a new Potter book, no matter how much heavier the themes or higher the stakes, I always felt that warm, fuzzy feeling of returning to my happy place in the Wizarding World. By keeping the world and characters familiar, we readers were able to grow with Rowling and the story, without even consciously realizing it! That is something I aspire to in my own writing, and a number of other authors have achieved it beautifully, too.

Another particularly great example is One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake. This sequel manages to be even more action-packed than Three Dark Crowns, and as much as I adored the first book, this was that magical sequel that I loved even more.The pacing moves at a thrilling speed, while also accomplishing really powerful character development. The queen who was fragile at the end of Book One is now fierce and lethal. Another queen discovers entirely new powers that upend everything she believed about herself and her destiny. The way these characters evolve is truly #SequelGoals, and the combination of their growth, the heightened stakes and the epic action are what make this sequel stand out above others.

One other instance where I enjoyed the sequel even more than the first book is Catching Fire in the Hunger Games series. By bringing us back into the Games for the Victors’ Tour, we return to a terrifyingly familiar environment—but with new characters and stakes that make it feel fresh, instead of a retread of the first book. Then there’s the deepening of the book’s relationships and Katniss Everdeen’s major leap forward as a character, transforming from a survivor into a leader, and suddenly you have a sequel that’s even better than the first.

I think an excellent Book Two is the magic ingredient that separates an okay or good series from a truly great one, and it’s no surprise the three series I mentioned above are so wildly popular, considering how fantastic their sequels are! What are some of your favorite sequels? Let me know in the comments!

Meet Alexandra Monir

Alexandra Monir is an Iranian-American author and recording artist. She is the author of the hit novel The Final Six as well as four other published young adult novels, including the bestselling time-travel romance Timeless. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California. To learn more about Alexandra, visit her online at www.alexandramonir.com.

About THE LIFE BELOW

Perfect for fans of The Illuminae Files and The 100, in this heart-racing sequel to The Final Six the teen astronauts must figure out the truth about Europa before it’s too late.

It was hard enough for Naomi to leave Leo, a fellow Final Six contestant, behind on a dying Earth. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

The International Space Training Camp continues to dodge every question about its past failed mission, and Naomi is suspicious that not everything is as it seems on her own mission to Europa. With just one shot at Jupiter’s moon, Naomi is determined to find out if there is dangerous alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there. 

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can dock with Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite, and it’s up to Leo to find and warn Naomi and the crew.

With questions piling up, everything gets more dangerous the closer that the mission gets to Europa. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and all questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous mission get answered in a terrifying way.

If the dream was to establish a new world for humans on Europa…the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.

SEE KAREN’S REVIEW HERE

ISBN-13: 9780062658975
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

NaNoWriMo Helps Kids Jump into Writing with ‘Brave the Page,’ a guest post by Rebecca Stern

My belief in the transformational power of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began well before I joined the organization’s staff; it started back in 2011 when I was an English Language Arts teacher. The school where I taught used project-based learning, so every August, I did what most teachers who have some curricular autonomy do: I spent days upon days wading through the sometimes lush but more-often-than-not dry pastures of the Internet in search of brilliant ideas that I could adapt into engaging and thoughtful writing projects for my fifth- and sixth-grade students.

I still remember the moment I came across NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program (YWP). It was an especially hot day, and sweat dripped down the side of my face as I stared at my computer. Every website was a mix of the same: grammar worksheets, personal narrative activities based on summer excursions, boring ideas for getting your students to nail a five-paragraph essay…

Anxiety crept into my stomach as the minutes ticked by and my teacher plan book remained blank, without a single lesson for the entire year. And then, just when I was about to give up for the day, I saw it: a creative writing program that challenged kids to write an entire novel in the month of November. My first thought was, “How did I not know about this before?” Followed immediately by, “This is definitely happening.”

That year, and for several subsequent years, our school’s librarian and I collaborated on a NaNoWriMo novel-writing project. Here’s what we noticed: our fifth- and sixth-grade students came into class eager to write—and excited to talk about their own characters and plots as well as their observations about books they’d read or were reading—and by the end of November, each of them had written more than they’d ever written before. In addition, our kids came out of the program with better time-management skills; stronger writing fluency; and more confidence in their writing abilities in all subject areas, not just in ELA. (These same results were reiterated to me years later by many other YWP educators when I was NaNoWriMo’s Director of Programs.)

Throughout the writing process, my students read each other’s novels and gave feedback. I was blown away by their thoughtful comments and desire to support their peers:

The Young Writers Program is easy to implement thanks to the plethora of free resources NaNoWriMo provides, including Common-core aligned lessons for educators; engaging workbooks that are printable or available as hard copies; motivating classroom kits that come with a progress chart, a creative writing poster, stickers, and buttons; and a robust website with a novel-writing space, virtual classrooms, inspirational pep talks written by well-known authors, and forums for teachers and teen writers.

To further support students and educators, I’m thrilled to announce the publication of a new NaNoWriMo book, Brave the Page (Viking Children’s Books), which is a NaNoWriMo primer for young writers. Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, Brave the Page champions NaNoWriMo’s central mission that everyone‘s stories deserve to be told. The volume includes chapters on character, plot, setting, and the like; motivating essays from popular authors; advice on how to commit to your goals; a detailed plan for writing a novel or story in a month; and more! (Available for preorder now and in stores and online on August 27.)

As the Kirkus Reviews starred review put it: “a wonderful instruction guide for writers of any age.”

Here’s an excerpt from Brave the Page on what to do if you start to hate your story idea after you’ve already begun writing:  

Week 1’s Motivation Station: Help! I hate my idea!

You know the idea for your story? The one that seemed so brilliant in Week 0? At some point during Week 1, that scintillating idea might begin to lose its luster. It might even fade into a seemingly terrible and stupid idea that will never, ever work.

Unfortunately, self-doubt is one of the most dangerous roads to travel when you’re writing a novel. If you continue down this road for too long, your writing—and your novel—will hit a wall and come to a complete halt.

Of course, starting over is an option. But if you allow yourself to start over now, there’s a good chance you’ll want to start over again tomorrow or in a week. And then guess what will happen? You’ll keep doubting your ideas and starting over, and then a month will go by and you’ll have a whole lot of beginnings but not one complete draft.

So if you find yourself questioning your idea, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and exhale slowly. Then try the following strategies:

Give yourself permission. Give yourself permission to doubt your ideas. All writers, at one time or another, have doubted their ideas, so why shouldn’t you? Give yourself permission to write a “terrible” story (which is probably way better than you or your Inner Editor think it is). Give yourself per- mission to sit with the discomfort of doubting your ideas—a moment that often leads to a creative breakthrough—and then give yourself permission to get back to your writing. Look at this draft as a way to practice writing, rather than as a way to produce the perfect book. (And you never know, you may end up writing a great book in the process!)

Give your idea room to breathe. Instead of spend- ing time trying to make your idea better, put it in a safe place, walk away, and spend an hour or even a day doing something else. Do the moonwalk. Meet up with a friend. Practice hanging a spoon on your nose. And then go back to that safe place, grab your idea, and start writing.

Give your idea some new flair. Sometimes all it takes to make an idea interesting again is a little spice, a little more flavor. Give your protagonist a new problem to tackle. Or introduce a new charac- ter who’s full of self-doubt. Or move the story to a different location, like Mustafar or the Emerald City.

Here’s a helpful tip from a fellow NaNoWriMo writer:

If you start to hate your story idea, it probably has to do with an element of the story idea rather than the story idea itself. Maybe it has to do with one of your characters, or a particular occurrence that you had planned that isn’t working out.

Don’t be afraid to stop and think it through! —Ailun, age 16

The Young Writers Program changed the way I taught writing—and even inspired me to participate in National Novel Writing Month on my own (something every English teacher and librarian should do!). When I decided to leave the classroom, I knew exactly where I wanted to go: to NaNoWriMo, the organization that inspires people of all ages to achieve ambitious creative goals and believes everyone’s story matters.

Meet Rebecca Stern

Rebecca Stern has experienced NaNoWriMo from every angle: she had her students participate in the Young Writers Program when she was a teacher, did a victory dance in the 50K winner’s circle, served on the organization’s Associate Board, and then was Director of Programs. Prior to working for NaNoWriMo, Rebecca was a teacher for a decade and a Senior Digital Editor at Pearson Education. She also co-edited an anthology of essays for kids called Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and son.

About BRAVE THE PAGE

The official NaNoWriMo handbook that inspires young people to tackle audacious goals and complete their creative projects.

Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, Brave the Page is the go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Narrated in a fun, refreshingly kid-friendly voice, it champions NaNoWriMo’s central mission that everyone‘s stories deserve to be told. The volume includes chapters on character, plot, setting, and the like; motivating essays from popular authors; advice on how to commit to your goals; a detailed plan for writing a novel or story in a month; and more!

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes in the transformational power of creativity. They provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds–on and off the page. With its first event in 1999, the organization’s programs now include National Novel Writing Month in November, Camp NaNoWriMo, the Young Writers Program, Come Write In, and the “Now What?” Months.


ISBN-13: 9780451480293
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/27/2019

The Where of it All: Place and Story, a guest post by Kathi Appelt

underneathYears ago, when my novel The Underneath came out, one of the reviewers called it “Southern Gothic for the middle-grade set.” At first, I was a little on the crushed side, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that the reviewer actually got where I was coming from—they understood me as a person who dwelt on the beauty of extended syllables, who cools them down with iced tea from a jar, a person who was raised on William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. It shouldn’t have come as a big surprise that my voice was a reflection of that. I decided to own it.

 

 

 

And now, a little over ten years since the publication of that first novel, I have this new novel, Angel Thieves, that is also deeply ingrained in the place of it. Houston. Fourth largest city in the country, also the most diverse.

 

I really believe that the most important three things in our lives all start with the letter P. They are: People. Places. Pets.  They’re the “whirled P’s,” as my friend Liz Garton Scanlon calls them.  Our deepest loves, our most profound fears are found there. And they’re intertwined, woven together—whirled–in all the ways that generate stories. Try telling a tale without one of those three P’s.

 

For me, as much as I groove on my People and my six gifted and talented cats, Place is almost always where I begin when it comes to a story. You could say it’s the where of it all.

 

I don’t have to think for very long when I conjure up Houston. I remember the house where my sisters and I scrawled our names on the interior garage wall, and our big dog Sam watched over a batch of kittens after their mother was hit by a car. (Fyi, Sam was my role model for Ranger). I remember sitting behind a large window and watching the shingles blow off of the house across the street as Hurricane Carla’s winds shook every square inch of the city. I remember the drive-in movie theater called The Thunderbird, where I can still see Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera” from the fifty-foot tall screen.

 

Big, expansive Houston. It’s all sprawled out. And yet, it’s knitted together by those slow-moving bayous that flow right through her heart. 

 

But how did all of the stuff about this particular place play into my work? For one, it made me want to write a tale that was itself expansive, that spanned time periods and crossed borders. Likewise, it made me want to explore the indigenous plants and critters, including the mosquitoes who once spread one episode after another of yellow fever, each time reducing the population by dozens, hundreds.

 

This central wildness invited me to incorporate wildness into the very middle of my story, and that brought me the ocelot.  Like so many other species, they’re no longer extant in Houston. In her own way, because she was once native, she bridges the time spans of this story, from past to now, from dream to real.

 

To me, place also offers up its unique voices, what some call a sonic landscape. Houston has its own homegrown music. It’s a music mixed up by generations of freed Creoles with their German polka-playing neighbors, making Houston the birthplace of Zydeco. The sounds of an accordion, with its breath being squeezed in and out, the notes pushing and pulling against each other is pure Houston. I love the syncopation of it, the big mixture of joy and sorrow, all forced into those breathy notes. I kept Zydeco in my ear as I wrote, I looked for ways to push and pull the different threads of time and purpose, to squeeze the chapters when called for, to find some moments of joy and urgency and a deep sigh at the end.

 

There’s so much about Houston that calls to me, even though I haven’t lived there for some time. It feels ripe for Story. Not only that, but I come from seven generations of Houstonians. My roots are deep. I knew Houston. And yet, it wasn’t until I began to write that I felt like I was seeing the city clearly enough to set a story there.

 

We are always told to “write what you know.” There is a good amount of wisdom in that. But I also want to say, “write because you want to find out.” Years ago, I happened across the paintings of Houston artist John Biggers. One of them stood out to me. I was so struck by it, that I found that I couldn’t step away from it. Maybe I stood there for ten minutes. Maybe it was only ten seconds, but I’ve never forgotten it.

 

It was a painting set in the Fifth Ward, called “Shotguns,” for the style of houses that stand there, nothing at all like the Fifth Ward I thought I knew, a place considered at the time to be crime-ridden, run-down, the absolute poorest neighborhood in Houston. In this beauty of a painting, suddenly, I saw the Fifth Ward in such a different way. It wasn’t that Mr. Biggers denied the abject poverty. He didn’t. It wasn’t that he was trying to cover something over. He wasn’t. It was that he showed how a place occurs in layers. There was layer upon layer of the Fifth Ward, like looking into a receding wall of mirrors, or the striations of a canyon wall. Before this, I had only seen the surface of the Fifth Ward, an ugly, falling-down place, with trash-strewn yards and boarded up shanties. That was only one layer. And there was the message.

 

So this is, I think, what Place offers to us in matters of story: multiple layers that only that particular place can hold. For me Houston is a layer of rich black dirt, washing down from the Great Plains and piling up so that the azaleas blaze every March. It’s a layer of fog that streams up from the Gulf of Mexico and hides the skyscrapers, closes the airports. It’s a layer of animals and plants that came and went and might come again if we have enough heart for them. It’s a layer of flood after flood, always bracing for the next flood. Water, layers of water. It’s also a layer of families, including those that settled there long before the Europeans, long before the Mexicans and Texans, long before me. It’s layers of gospel and field songs and blues and Jim Crow and desegregation and Barbara Jordan. It’s layers written in twists and turns, like the Buffalo Bayou herself. Mother River. It’s seven generations of my family, many buried right along that bayou in the old Washington Cemetery.

 

It’s that Place.

 

So, I have told my students, and I will tell you, start with Place. Pull back the layers. Stand in the old cemeteries and ask your people to tell you their stories. Ask their neighbors to lend their voices. Ask the trees and the streetlamps and the nighthawks.

 

Ask that bayou. And then, let it be the where of it all.

 

 

Meet Kathi Appelt

Photo credit: Ken Appelt

Photo credit: Ken Appelt

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampMaybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband. Visit her at KathiAppelt.com.

 

Connect with Kathi online:

Twitter:  @kappelt

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Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/29011.Kathi_Appelt

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About Angel Thieves

angel thievesAn ocelot. A slave. An angel thief. 
Multiple perspectives spanning across time are united through themes of freedom, hope, and faith in a most unusual and epic novel from Newbery Honor–winning author and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt.

Sixteen-year-old Cade Curtis is an angel thief. After his mother’s family rejected him for being born out of wedlock, he and his dad moved to the apartment above a local antique shop. The only payment the owner Mrs. Walker requests: marble angels, stolen from graveyards, for her to sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. But there’s one angel that would be the last they’d ever need to steal; an angel, carved by a slave, with one hand open and one hand closed. If only Cade could find it…

Zorra, a young ocelot, watches the bayou rush past her yearningly. The poacher who captured and caged her has long since lost her, and Zorra is getting hungrier and thirstier by the day. Trapped, she only has the sounds of the bayou for comfort—but it tells her help will come soon.

Before Zorra, Achsah, a slave, watched the very same bayou with her two young daughters. After the death of her master, Achsah is free, but she’ll be damned if her daughters aren’t freed with her. All they need to do is find the church with an angel with one hand open and one hand closed…

In a masterful feat, National Book Award Honoree Kathi Appelt weaves together stories across time, connected by the bayou, an angel, and the universal desire to be free.

ISBN-13: 9781442421097
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publication date: 03/12/2019