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Posts reviews of picture books and teen fiction; suggests useful book sites, software, and book-related products; some news about children's books, and more.
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I love International Women’s Day (IWD). I think it’s important to celebrate women–ourselves, the strong girls and women in our lives who we love, and the women we admire and know from afar–especially while we live in a sexist and oppressive society. (Think we don’t need IWD? Check out this article.)
We are making a difference together towards a kinder, more compassionate, more equal world. Sometimes the changes feel so very slow…but they are happening. I think of how social workers, police officers, and teachers are more sensitized and aware of child abuse in the home now–far more than they were when I was a child and teen. Of how women are now in some occupations that they never could get into before–even if we’re often still struggling to get equal pay. LGBT rights are increasingly growing in the world, and so is an awareness that oppression of any kind is not okay. There is a lot of cause for hope and celebration, even as we continue to fight for a better world.
Even if we’re “just” putting greater compassion and kindness into the world through our everyday interactions with others, we are making positive change. We are helping the world be a kinder place. And that takes goodness and strength, especially when we’ve been faced with oppression or adversity ourselves.
So I hope you take today to celebrate yourself–all the good you put into the world–as well as the women you know and love. We matter. And we are making a difference together.
Yesterday I was interviewed on Matters of The Mind by Dr. Peter Sacco and Todd Miller on ListenUpTalk. I talked honestly about being an incest and torture survivor and some of the effects (including, for me, self-harm, PTSD, dissociation, depression), why I write–and write the books I do, what’s most rewarding for me in the publishing process, and my books SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED.
I hope you’ll listen! You can any time. Just click through and play.
Today YA author Deb Vanasse joins us to talk about her and Gail Giles’ new book, and the way they both drew on their own experiences and emotions to write it–the way I think most writers do. I respect and love Deb and Gail, and I love Deb’s honesty here, so I’m happy to have her share with us today. Take it away, Deb!
Humor and Hurt: We All Have Our Demons
When YA novelist Gail Giles suggested we team up to write a part funny, part serious series about a boy band that accidentally invites the devil to help them get famous, I wasn’t sure what to think. After more than twenty years, I’d just left an evangelical church, and I knew plenty of people who believed that demons were no laughing matter and that kids shouldn’t read about them.
But I trusted Gail. To the deepest, darkest stories (Shattering Glass, What Happened to Cass McBride, Dark Song), she brings the right mix of humor and hope. So we plunged in. Though menacing, our demon turned out not quite as you might expect. Neither did the devil, once our boys lure him up top.
After she finished the book, one of our early readers wrote, “My first impression was, how on earth do you think of these tales? Magic tricks, conjuring up the devil, dialogues between 13 year old boys–you must have a different part of your brain at work.”
Maybe our brains are a little, um, weird. But mostly what we do—what all writers do in one way or another—is grant ourselves access to the places where we feel most vulnerable, and write from there.
So when you read in our book No Returns about Pod’s deepest longing, to find his mother who disappeared one Halloween night, it won’t surprise you to learn that my own mother disappeared for thirteen years. And when you see Manny’s deeply conflicted feelings about religion and how he wants to be accepted, you’ll know I’ve been there, too. Becca with her clipboard, a little bossy for her own good—guilty as charged. Flaco mind-melded with his abuelo¬—that was me, too, certain my grandparents understood me when no one else did.
Gail brought her own longings and conflicts and memories to the story, some more conscious than others. She also brought humor, which she does like nobody’s business.
Our demons took shape. A little scary, yes. But we found places to laugh out loud. The demons didn’t go away—how could we write if they did?—but we knew who had the upper hand.
Gail Giles is the author of six young adult novels. Her debut novel, Shattering Glass, was an ALA Best of the Best Book, a Book Sense 76 selection, and a Booklist Top 10 Mystery for Youth selection. Her second, Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters, was an ALA Top 10 Quick pick and a Book Sense 76 selection.
Deb Vanasse is the author of more than a dozen books for readers of all ages. Her debut novel, A Distant Enemy, was a Junior Literary Guild selection and is featured in Best Books for Young Readers, as was Out of the Wilderness. Follow her at www.debvanasse.com and www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.
I’m speaking about STAINED, strong girls, and many ways we’re all strong at du Cafe (885 O’Connor Dr., east end Toronto) on Saturday, Jan 18th from 1-3pm. I’ll do a reading from STAINED as well. You can get signed copies of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED. Come see me and talk with me, have some yummy cookies, and warm up inside. Hope to see you there!
(Go to Coxwell Station, take the 70A bus to O’Connor and Garden Cres.)
All of these books are new favorites of mine; they completely sucked me into their worlds, made me love their characters and root for them. All of them immediately made me want to pick up their sequels or other books by the same author. I highly recommend them all!
Insignia by SJ Kincaid
Acne-ridden Tom moves from casino to casino with his gambling father where he excels at virtual-reality gaming, but rarely goes to school…until a general recruits him for the army in WWIII. It’s his chance to “be” somebody…but it means letting them implant a computer into his brain. I rooted from Tom right from the beginning, though sometimes I wanted to shake him. I loved the details, the virtual reality and the corporation-run world; it all felt frighteningly real and believable. A thrilling dystopian/sci-fi novel that made me think of the Ender Games, I was so drawn into this book I didn’t want to put it down, but didn’t want to finish it because then it would be over.
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and what she writes in her diary often comes true. When she befriends an enchanted frog in the wood, eventually her kiss turns him back into a man… This is a feel-good, fairy tale fantasy with a strong-girl character who has magic in a world where fairy tales keep blending together and magic happens, including fairy godmothers, magic beanstalks, bewitched frogs, and more. There is so much good feeling in this book; it’s a comforting, enjoyable read, while still giving a lot of depth. I cared a lot about Sunday and her happiness, and was happy that she found love and strength. Enchanted is beautifully written and pulled me completely into the story as I rooted for Sunday and Grumbold. Some triggers for RA survivors but a lot of good feeling, too. I couldn’t stop reading.
Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
Magpie WindWitch, a faerie who’s also the granddaughter of the West Wind, tracks down demons and recaptures them, along with her faithful band of crow friends. When one of the most powerful devils is unleashed on the world, Magpie needs all her skills, talents, and friends to put the world back to right and keep it from unravelling. I LOVED this book–loved Magpie’s strength and courage and tenacity and goodness, loved the other characters, too, and the way they interacted, loved the richness of the story and the unique forms of magic such as the way Magpie and others can weave things into being and help keep the world together. Though it started slowly for me, once I got into it I couldn’t put it down, and I cared intensely about Magpie and her happiness. I loved this book so much that I immediately wanted the sequel, and was so disappointed to find that it’s not only not available in ebook (I love instant purchases when I’m into an author), but it’s also out of print and expensive to buy used. I will be buying the sequel any way. I could NOT put BlackBringer down, and I loved it so much I didn’t want the book to end.
Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Tamsin’s family are all powerful witches, and though it was foretold that Tamsin would be the most powerful among them, she is the only one without powers. Tamsin feels out of place in her family, and out of place with regular people–always an outsider. But when a stranger mistakes her for her powerful sister Rowena and asks her to magically find something, everything changes. Suspenseful, intriguing, emotional, and full of magic, this story completely sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go. I rooted for Tamsin throughout, loved Tamsin embracing her talent and strength and the relationship that blossomed, and thrilled at her being the hero.
Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike
I love ghost stories when they’re well done, and this one totally drew me in and had me wanting more! When Jeff attends a new school, he quickly discovers that he’s the only one who can see Kimberlee–a selfish girl who died the year before. Kimberlee has been hanging around the school, bored, unable to interact with anyone or move on because she has so much to put right. So many people she hurt by stealing so much from them. Jeff agrees to help–and it changes them both. This was an intriguing, compelling story that pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. I loved Jeff, and loved his interactions with annoying Kimberlee who I came to like more as she changed. I rooted for both of them–and I didn’t want to put the book down until I was done.
Erasing Time by CJ Hill
Twins Sheridan and Taylor are transported four hundred years into the future–a future where people live in domed cities where people wear their popularity ratings and the government keeps track of their every move–and the twins can’t see a way back. The twins, along with a young scientist Echo, have to work together to find a way to outwit the government and make things better. This was a suspenseful, compelling read. I loved the relationships, the revelations, the writing. I cared so much about the characters and wanted everything to work out. Highly recommended.
Storm (Elemental) by Brigid Kemmerer
This book made me gobble up the entire Elemental series. Becca’s ex is spreading horrible rumours about her, and it’s affecting her happiness and her relationships. Then she intervenes when Chris Merrick is being attacked in the school parking lot–and suddenly she’s involved in something a lot bigger; Chris and his brothers are targeted because they not only have paranormal powers–being able to control the elements–they are some of the most powerful. Becca has to figure out who to trust and what is going on. I loved Becca immediately, and I loved Chris over time. I worried for both characters and was completely sucked into the suspenseful, thrilling story and the entire series.
If you haven’t read any of these books yet and you love fantasy or magic or dystopian, go check them out! Seriously–do not miss these. I LOVED them all.
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you may have been wondering what all my tweets and posts on suicide and staying alive and well were about yesterday. Well-known YA author Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Be More Chill, Teen Angst? Naaah . . .) who wrote about depression and was an inspiration for many teens, killed himself Thursday. I think the YA writing world is rocked by this. I am. I’m finding it incredibly painful and sad and heartbreaking. I always find hearing about anyone who’s killed themselves very painful, and also triggering but especially when it’s someone who’s put good into the world. Who’s tried to make a positive difference. Who had a good heart.
You may know that I struggle with severe depression myself (a direct result of the abuse and torture I survived). I also have PTSD, dissociation, anxiety, and other direct effects from the abuse, and I’ve dealt with suicide and thoughts of it for most of my life–again, a direct result from the abuse and torture I survived, and some of it actually taught to me (cult teaches victims through torture and mind control to kill themselves or want to kill themselves if they tell or escape–and I did both. Though I would have wanted to kill myself because of the torture, even if they hadn’t taught me to want that.) I had years where I wanted to die–every day and night of my life–because of the torture and abuse I was living, because it felt like there was no hope and no other way to end the pain, because everything felt too hard all the time. And sometimes I can still go there when things are really rough.
But while I’ve struggled with all of that, and sometimes it feels very hard, I also fight and keep fighting to stay alive and stay healthy and safe. I know how much killing or hurting myself would hurt, even devastate the people (and animal) I love and who love me. I know how much it would sadden and hurt my readers, and take away their hope. I know how it would effect even people that “just” like me and know me less deeply–just the way it would hurt me to hear about someone good dying like Ned. It’s a loss to the world. No more books that reach readers and make a difference with his exact voice and insights. No more readers being able to meet him and talk with him and tell him what an inspiration he is for talking about something that they, too, find painful.
No matter who you are or what your life has been like, I hope you can always feel the way you’re connected to other people, the way you matter, the way what you do effects them. I hope you always know that you matter, that you deserve kindness and compassion and happiness, and even if it feels hard to find at the moment, you will find it again and there will be more. If you struggle with depression or panic or anxiety, if you have PTSD or dissociation or trauma, if you’ve been sexually abused or tortured, if you’ve thought of suicide, if sometimes everything feels too hard and too much–I’ve been there. I understand. And I want to remind you–it gets better. It really, really does. Keep reaching out for support when you need it. Remember to make use of crisis lines. There are always people who care. And please read my post on not killing yourself.
Most of all–please, please take gentle good care of yourself. Treat yourself the way you treat someone you dearly love. And know that even if things are hard right now they will get better. You just have to hang on and be here to see that happen.
If you need to, please read my post on not killing yourself, contact a crisis line, and remember that you matter and you make a difference in this world just by being alive.
Today Jasmine Denton, Indie YA author of From The Damage series, joins us with a powerful, honest post about her past, including self-harm. Thank you for sharing this, Jasmine!
Rising From The Damage
“You have to be like the phoenix,” my mother said to me once. I was seventeen years old and going through a hellish year. Some nasty rumors and hardships at school had pushed me to tears yet again, and I’d been crying in my room for what felt like hours. “You know what the phoenix does, don’t you?”
I just kind of shrugged, stuffed my hands in the pocket of my hoodie and avoided her gaze. Back then, I never looked anybody in the eye. I was too afraid they would see my pain, the suffering I tried so hard to hide.
But my mom was stubborn and determined to get through to me. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and squeezed tight. “The phoenix rises from the ashes,” she whispered. “That’s what you have to do, Jazzi. You have to rise from your own ashes and fly.”
At the time, it seemed impossible to do. I was surrounded by so many ashes. It seemed like from the time I became a teenager, my life was a giant wildfire. The flames had consumed everything. I’d been raised by lesbians in the bible belt, which meant a life of secrecy, ridicule and even a little shame. Though not a lot of people knew about my home life, I lived in fear of what would happen if people found out. I would listen to what people said about ‘gays’ and feel outraged, but could do or say nothing about it. All I’d ever wanted was to feel normal, be normal. But going to a church finally led my parents split up. They felt their relationship wasn’t ‘right’. At just 14, this was hard to hear and even harder to watch. It would be years before I realized this was, for all intents and purposes, a divorce. And like most divorces, it completely rocked my world. That ‘normal life’ I’d always wanted was now mine, but it’d come with a terrible cost.
Before I could fully recover from this loss, I lost my grandfather, the only father I’d really ever had, to cancer just short of my sixteenth birthday. We moved in to take care of him, and I was holding his hand when he died. Watching the light go out in his eyes, feeling the way his hand went limp in mine, would haunt me for a very long time. What was even harder was seeing the way my grandmother coped with the loss by immediately trying to replace him with other men. It filled me with anger and resentment toward a woman I’d always gotten along with before. Now, I hated her, despised her and felt like she’d betrayed us. Happy sweet sixteen.
For years, I’d relied on my twin sister’s light and love to get me through, but ever since a school field trip she’d been acting different. Her light shone a little dimmer, and Genna, always the extrovert was now secretive and shy, and anxiety led her to eventually quit school altogether. Back then, I was too caught up in my own drama and pain to realize there was something seriously wrong, and I’m ashamed to say I let her suffer alone.
I would wander the hallways, hiding behind my dark eye makeup and my hoodies, pretending I didn’t give a damn about what was going on around me when the truth was all I wanted to do was belong. When someone finally had the nerve to push past the barriers I’d put up all around me, I was so grateful for the attention that I never wanted to let him go, even though he ended up being dark, sometimes scary and very bad for me. This relationship lasted well through high school and into my early twenties.
Throughout those years of pain, I had only one outlet. Self-injury. It may not have made sense to others, but it made sense to me. I couldn’t trust anyone enough to let them see how much I was hurting, and sometime I hurt so much I thought I was going to explode. Cutting helped me release the tension, not only by the pain of the cut, but by the blood that followed. Once I saw that blood, it was like I could finally breathe again and that weight on my heart became just a little lighter. But with this temporary relief—which I used only as an emergency release, when I just couldn’t take it anymore—I got more than I bargained for. I needed to see that blood more and more often, and soon that wasn’t good enough. I took matches to school for quick relief, and when things became too tough to face, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and burn myself. I didn’t realize I would be leaving scars that would last so long, or that the road would turn so dark. Even today, you can still see a few of those burns on my arm. Though most of those scars have faded to where you can barely see them, I still bear one painfully obvious cut. It was so deep that I needed stitches, but I refused to go to the doctor. I was too ashamed.
It took years of hard work, and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t making any progress, but eventually I overcame this difficult period of my life. I held on to my mom’s advice and tried to be like the phoenix. I even got a tattoo of a phoenix as a constant reminder to always hope for something better, and then create that something better. I switched the cutting habit out for a writing one, and with my stories I created teenagers who were just like me. Suffering, but finding light at the end of the tunnel.
When people ask me why I choose to write for teens, this time of my life always comes to mind. For what was supposed to be the best years of my life, I think I got pretty jipped, and I know others have too. I guess the concept is simple really. You could stand right behind somebody in the lunch line, or sit next to them in class, or like my sister and me, share the same bedroom and not have a clue about the struggles they face. As a teenager, you live in this little bubble filled with things that are important to you, that affect you and seeing things from someone else’s point of view just isn’t a priority. Eventually, life pops your bubble and tough lessons allow you to see the bigger picture.
One of my biggest goals in life is to help the teenagers who were like me and could barely get out of bed, let alone face their day. This is the reason my sister and I created our book series, From the Damage.
In From the Damage, several teens are brought together in a support group. Nobody really wants to be there and they have a difficult time opening up around each other. So their counselor pairs them up with a ‘sponsor’. She puts the cheerleader with the high school dropout, the jock with the school outcast, a girl with a perfect family is paired with an orphan, etc. Her experiment works; bonds and unlikely alliances form. By catching glimpses of the pain and suffering of their partners, the characters realize that everybody hurts, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
I never try to directly send messages through my work, and instead try to portray the lives of my characters in hopes it will strike a chord with somebody and help them, even just a little.
The series has grown so much more than I ever thought it would. The stories have evolved and continue to evolve, as each member in the group struggles on the path toward healing, as writing them continues to heal me.
In the latest release, Collateral Damage, a new girl comes onto the scene. Kendall is the wild child who refuses to be tamed, but underneath her dark exterior is a very wounded spirit. Collateral Damage is available for purchase here. I’ve also posted an excerpt on my blog.
If you’d like to learn more about From the Damage, you can visit the series website. Be sure to look for the About the Characters section for an in-depth look at the characters.
You can purchase the first two books in the series for just .99 cents here and here.
I hope you will check the books out and spread the word about them to support this message of healing. And always remember to be like the phoenix. Rise from your ashes and fly.
About the Author:
Jasmine Denton is the author of several YA books, both paranormal and contemporary. She believes that books have the power to change the world and is trying to do that, one story at a time. You can find Jasmine on the web at these locations:
My little dog Petal is a sweetheart–so happy and friendly and so loving. She’s also a picky eater, and she has some food sensitivities, so I try to make sure she only has healthy food (I want her to live a good long time!), and doesn’t have anything that makes her itchy or not feel good, like wheat. But she LOVES treats (which, ahem, I may give her a little too much of, though she gets a lot of exercise, too). Petal’s birthday is coming up–she’ll be three on December 20th!–so I decided to try making my own biscuits for Petal as a treat. And they turned out beautifully!
My little picky eater (who prefers human food) stood there almost the entire time I was making them, looking up at me pleadingly with big eyes for a taste (I gave her just a tiny taste because there was raw egg in the batter), and then gobbled them down once they’d baked and cooled. I was SO surprised! I also tried them out on another very picky dog we know, and he also gobbled them down. So they’re a hit!
I made the recipe from this one by bakingobsession, but I modified it to fit Petal’s tastes. She doesn’t like many herbs, I didn’t think she’d like Brewer’s Yeast, and I also wanted to make sure there was protein in the biscuits (hence the egg, which I also saw in some other recipes). I used rice flour which is basically ground rice and good for doggie tummies, and ground up oats.
So, here’s my Healthy Yummy Wheat-Free Dog Biscuits Recipe For a Picky Eater
1 and 1/8 cup brown rice flour (plus more to sprinkle on and roll out the dough)
1/2 cup oats, finely ground (I just put them through the blender)
1/2 cup chicken stock (or beef stock) Low sodium is best because salt isn’t good for dogs.
1 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a bowl, stir together the rice flour and ground oats. In a measuring cup, combine the chicken stock, egg, and olive oil. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until combined. Add more brown rice flour if it’s too sticky. It should have a nice texture.
Dust the working surface with some rice flour, place some of the dough out, and sprinkle it with more rice flour (to keep it from sticking). Roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. Gather the scraps and reroll again, repeat until there’s no dough left.
Transfer the cookies onto the prepared baking sheet without leaving much space between them. Bake the cookies for about 17 to 20 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container.
Be ready for your dog to love them!
I dream of a world
without bullying, rape, abuse,
Without homophobia, sexism, or racism.
No more murder or violence or people causing pain.
I dream of a world
with only compassion, love, and healing.
Where empathy and kindness come first.
I wish it was now.
I think that it’s by speaking out about painful issues that we help bring healing for us all. I want there to be more kindness in the world, more compassion and understanding—and my way to do that is to speak out about painful issues and to write books that deal with those issues in an emotionally honest way.
I’ve been hated, abused, raped and tortured, bullied, had my life repeatedly threatened, and had people mistreat me because I’m queer. I’ve seen what people are like when they let hate twist them. And I know what it’s like to be in so much pain and feel so alone in that pain that I want to die. I want to lessen that pain for others if I can. And I want to increase compassion. I think one of the best ways to do that is through books. They help us get inside someone else’s soul—their emotions and thoughts—and really help us understand someone else for a little while. And with understanding comes greater compassion and empathy—for ourselves and for others. We learn that we’re not alone, or we understand a bit more why someone else acts the way they do.
I wanted to die a lot as a child and teen. One thing that saved me was talking about my experiences with a therapist, getting empathy, and finding out I wasn’t alone. Another thing that saved me was books—finding in their pages, in small ways, things that told me that someone else understood my pain, what it felt like to be unloved or hated. What it was like to be bullied. Books saved me, and I know from the reader letters I get every week that books help save others, too. I hear that SCARS helped teens stop cutting, get into therapy or talk to someone for the first time, know they’re not alone, and keep from killing themselves. And now in STAINED I deal with more issues that need to be talked about—bullying, body image issues, rape, torture, and the need to save ourselves. Discovering that we are stronger than we know. Sometimes a book is the only way that a reader finds out that they’re not alone, or discovers (after feeling understood) new, healthier ways to cope. Books that deal with painful issues are powerful. They encourage healing and greater empathy. And they save lives.
So this conference combines two things I’m really passionate about—talking openly about painful issues to encourage healing, and YA books that are emotionally honest and that deal with issues that teens need to talk about. I’m honored to be part of the conference, and excited about it.
If you’re at the conference and come up to me, I’ll have STAINED bookmarks and some “sometimes you have to save yourself/love yourself” wristbands. See you there!
As part of her book blog tour, Liz Worth, author of PostApoc, joins us today for a Q & A.
When did you start writing PostApoc?
I was actually writing another book at the time. I was coming off of Treat Me Like Dirt’s release, which was a really busy time for me. I was burnt out by the end and wanted to start working on something totally different, so I decided it was time to tap into my creative side and try writing fiction, which I’d always wanted to do but had never fully put my focus into.
I started working on a horror novel, and I moved apartments. I’d been living in a really weird, dark apartment in a busy downtown area for a few years by then and it was time for a change. I moved to a part of Toronto I’d never lived in before, or spent much time in, and when I got to my new neighbourhood, I thought the change of scenery would help keep me inspired and focused on my horror novel. Instead, I started hearing a young woman in my head. You know how fiction authors say that their characters talk to them? Well, that was happening to me, except I didn’t know it yet. I started writing down little lines as they popped up, and the more I listened, the more the neighbourhood around me started to inspire me.
So the move was a turning point in your life?
Moving apartments was very symbolic for me. I’d been living with depression for many years by then, and in a lot of ways my old apartment said a lot about my mental state. I couldn’t sleep there, never felt comfortable, never liked it, but still I stayed for three years. It was in that apartment one day when I woke up and said I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I’d been resistant to therapy for so long but I decided it was time, and once I started therapy I started making other changes: to move, to focus on my creative side, to be the kind of writer I’d always wanted to be.
What inspired you to write PostApoc?
There was a time, in my mid-20s, when I was feeling particularly low and I would worry about the end of the world. I would walk down the street and feel convinced that everything would be over any day now. The apocalyptic scenarios in PostApoc are reflections of what I thought was right around the corner. I didn’t base the music scenes in PostApoc off of anything I have ever experienced, but the idea of a cult-like subculture reflects certain pieces of alternative and mainstream culture that I took literally when I was younger. Growing up in the ‘90s when heroin and suicide seemed like daily conversations, you could almost believe that such things could exist. Things felt very wild back then. Young people were very careless. A lot of the kids I knew then did way more drugs and lived much more dangerously than any adult I know now, and I don’t think that had to do with age. I think that had a lot to do with the time we were living in.
Why do you think it’s important to talk about personal struggles, like depression, suicide, anxiety and substance abuse?
Suicide and self-destruction have always been themes in my poetry and short fiction, as well as in some of the articles and blogs I’ve written about my own personal experiences with mental health. Ang, the narrator in PostApoc, deals with a lot of these same things, and I think PostApoc was a result of me processing a lot of my own thoughts on those subjects. When I first finished PostApoc, I thought it might be the last time I explored suicide in my writing, because it felt like I’d gone so deep with it.
Why do you write about painful issues like the ones you explore in PostApoc?
I didn’t have a strong support system at home growing up. I’m an only child, and there is a huge generation gap between me and my parents, who were both born in 1936. To them, talking about any kind of struggle within the family was shameful. They grew up in an era when everything needed to look perfect from the outside, no matter how badly it was crumbling inside. And mental health was definitely not something anyone talked about.
I started struggling with depression and self-harm at 13, and being a teenager is tough enough on its own. But I very much wanted to be open, to talk to someone about what I was going through. I think that’s natural for most people – we look for somewhere to turn, but sometimes, when we get shut down, either by our parents or by the society we live in, we either mirror the reaction we see and decide to bury our feelings, or we keep trying other options until we find somewhere we can be heard. I didn’t have the kind of relationship with my parents where I could just say anything, so I tried friends at school, but it was hard to find other kids who could relate to what I was going through.
I had a lot to say about my experiences, and a lot of frustration to work out as a result of them, so after I’d been writing professionally for about five years I decided I was going to use the platform I had as a writer to say the things I didn’t get a chance to talk about when I was younger. I was a bit nervous the first time I went out there with it, but I had the belief that the more we talk about these things, the easier it will be for those personal conversations to happen among family and friends.
What’s Ang’s message for readers?
I can’t say that Ang is a positive character. She isn’t really a hero. She is very confused, and very lost, and for her being lost is as much a result of her physical state as it is about the destruction around her. But she is loyal, and she is brave. She sticks things out, and in the process of that she surprises herself because she realizes she has more resiliency than she expected. She has gone from being someone who only wanted to die to being a survivor in a world that has turned horrific.
How has music influenced you in PostApoc and your other work?
I have always been interested in the crossover of mediums that was found in the first wave of punk, when it wasn’t just about music, but also fashion, fanzines, photography, art, performance, and poetry. So I have long carried that as a source of inspiration for everything I do, whether it’s just spending an afternoon at home re-styling an old t-shirt or thinking up an idea for a weird novel. I love the crossover that artists like Jim Morrison and Patti Smith have made, where they did both music and poetry, and I love that we still see that with younger artists like James Franco and Amber Tamblyn. They aren’t musicians, but they are showing up creatively in different ways.
I find that music is very fragmented now, but so is a lot of creative culture. I go to a lot of literary events and the people I see at a reading are not the same people I’m seeing when I go see a band. And that’s not to say that we don’t all cross over in our tastes, but our participation in these things seems to have become very specific, at least where I live. So I like to combine influences from different mediums in my writing, like music, and not just take influence from literary tradition.
Do you listen to music while you write?
I do like background noise – when I was growing up I always did my homework in front of the TV – but I do choose my background noise more carefully these days. When I was writing PostApoc I mostly listened to “Treasure” by Cocteau Twins. I can’t listen to music that has lyrics in it when I’m trying to write, because I end up focusing on the words I’m hearing. I’m very much a lyrics person, even if a band just adds them in as a meaningless afterthought. But Cocteau Twins have such an ethereal quality, and even though the vocals are very prominent they are often non-lyrical, so they aren’t distracting. Usually, though, I write in silence at home in the morning, or write somewhere outside in the nice weather, where my thoughts can play off the street sounds.
Thank you, Liz, for this interview.
Poetic and gritty, “PostApoc” introduces readers to Ang, sole survivor of a suicide pact who lives to see the end of the world. What Ang sees around her, though, is not what she had expected, despite having grown up in the heart of an underground music scene infatuated with death and apocalyptic ideals. Soon, Ang and those left around her are strung out, miserably erratic and totally hopeless. It’s not long before Ang begins to wonder whether she had something to do with the catastrophic destruction of humanity.
Find Liz on:
I used to think that I should keep my blog “writerly” and professional. But readers often like to know things about the authors they read. And if you follow me on Twitter or FaceBook, you’ll frequently see photos I post of my little dog Petal. So I’ve been thinking for a while now–Cheryl, this is silly. Why not post photos to your blog, too? Maybe not *every* time, but…sometimes. (smiling) I love my dog so much, and I love it when people enjoy her, too, so it’s fun to share photos of her.
Petal in her flannel cow-star PJs, catching a stick. (Hey–it was a cold summer day. )
Petal is such a sweet tempered and beautiful-soul dog. You might be wondering why she’s wearing clothes in most photos. She’s a Chinese Crested–a hairy hairless dog (she has more hair than most Chinese Cresteds do). She doesn’t have any hair on her belly or sides, and grows a small amount on her back, but a lot on her head, tail, and feet. Because she’s a (mostly) hairless dog, in the summer if she’s not wearing PJs she gets sunburn in 15 minutes outside, and shakes from being cold in the air conditioning, and in the winter, she must wear PJs, sweaters, and when we go outside, a down coat, to keep warm.
My first dog, Willow, was also a Chinese Crested, and also very sweet tempered. I loved her so much and found it so painful when she died, that I had to get another dog of the same breed. I’m glad I did. Chinese Crested dogs are so sweet, loving, and lovable. And dogs give such unconditional love!
Petal on a warm summer’s day without her PJs.
Petal is a playful, happy, sweet-tempered little dog, and she is my family. Since I work at home all day, writing, editing, and working on book promotion, Petal is with me all day–usually pressing her paw or back or side against me as I sit on the couch and work. She’s such a sweetie! She also interrupts me after I’ve been working too long, and insists on me playing with her or giving her treats, which is a good thing, because otherwise I would work far too long. Petal is so good for me! And I love her dearly. Since writers often work in solitude for long hours, I think it helps a lot to have an animal companion. Petal sure helps me!
Petal snuggling with me.
Petal lying on my legs as I write. Yes, I write and edit by hand! I think it’s more creative and intuitive, more deeply connected to what I need to say.
Petal making sure she’s connected to me as I write. (smiling)
Petal snuggled up with my best friend Jo. Petal loves Jo, and Jo loves Petal. Perfect!
Petal looking up at me on our walk.
I have so many more photos of Petal! (laughing) But I think this is good for now.
Do you have an animal companion who’s part of your family? I hope so. They give so much joy.
By: Cheryl Rainfield
Blog: Cheryl Rainfield: Avid Reader, Teen Fiction Writer, and Book-a-holic. Focus on Children & Teen Books
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I love it when readers post photos of my books in the wild! It feels so good to see.
I love this one reader–and writer–G. Donald Cribbs, reading HUNTED. It made me laugh!
I think this one of SCARS at Starbucks by Kaylah Krysdell Urquiza is so cool–it shows how well loved and well read Scars is!
And (ahem) here’s one of me so happy to have the final copy of STAINED–which comes out Oct 1st! I’m so excited!
It’s a delight to see people taking photos of my books and sharing them. I love knowing my books touch people.
Have one of my books? Want to be featured here on my blog? Take a photo of you or your pet “reading” one of my books, or my book out somewhere, and email it to me at Cheryl @ CherylRainfield (dot) com, and I’ll put it here.
By: Cheryl Rainfield
Blog: Cheryl Rainfield: Avid Reader, Teen Fiction Writer, and Book-a-holic. Focus on Children & Teen Books
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My advance bound copy of STAINED just arrived (it doesn’t release until Oct 1st)–and it is gorgeous! Absolutely beautiful. It felt so good to get in the mail today! (In STAINED, Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.)
There is so much excitement and joy in seeing (in person) the book you wrote–the finished copy–for the very first time. I admit that I was so excited to get STAINED that I ran and showed five different neighbors, and then a friendly teller at the bank who always loves to hear about my writing, and my hairdresser, and the clerk at the grocery store who’s always friendly with me. (Laughing) And they were all lovely about it, joining in with my excitement and enthusiasm.
And there is also SO much good feeling in holding your finished book in your hands for the first time. In running your hands over the cover, feeling the texture (or smoothness), breathing in the scent of the book, seeing your name on the cover, seeing the way your manuscript became an actual, finished book. Taking in the effect of the cover, the weight of the book, the color of the pages, the fonts used. Feeling proud of your hard work, your dream–and of the publishing team who helped you. My editor, Karen Grove, was fantastic, helping me make STAINED a stronger book, and everyone I worked with at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was lovely.
I think the book designer Liz Tardiff did an absolutely beautiful job. I love the purple dripping from the title on the cover–so fitting when Sarah has a purple port-wine stain on her cheek, and she feels stained by it and the way people judge her, as well as by the abduction and rape. I also love how easy it is to read the one-liner and my name on the cover. I really love the cover–it reminds me of Ellen Hopkins’ books–but I’d already seen the cover (in digital form). What I hadn’t seen and realized was how gorgeous the paper for the dust jacket is. It’s a lovely matte finish with a wonderful, almost grainy texture–a surprise and a delight to hold!
And then the end papers are a deep, rich purple–tying perfectly into the title (and into the port wine stain on Sarah’s cheek), and also the first line description on the inside flap, and my name and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s info on the back flap.
And then a nice surprise, to me, was to take off the dust jacket and see the title in that vivid, shiny purple, overlaid on top of black, along the spine.
I am so lucky to have a cover and a book design I love. I’m so happy! I had a lot of fun with the photos and STAINED; I hope you can tell. (grinning)
Here’s one of me reading STAINED. I know that books can save lives. Books helped save mine, and I still get reader letters every week from teens (and adults) telling me how SCARS helped save them. I hope that STAINED will also be a book that will save lives.
I didn’t used to be able to say or even feel that I was proud of myself…but I am, now. I know my books reach people who need it. I know I write emotional truths, break silences, and talk about abuse and trauma and healing, queer characters and strong girls and things that I care about deeply. I know I’m writing the books I needed as a teen and couldn’t find. So today–with the arrival of STAINED (out Oct 1st!) I feel proud.
Thank you for allowing me to share my excitement and happiness with you over STAINED. (smiling)
And (ahem) if you noticed the blue and orange fabric in the corner of my photos, that is a pair of Petal’s (my little dog’s) pjs. heh.
I LOVE this collaborative song and message for peace and equality: A Better Place. It’s catchy and feel-good and beautiful. I wish more women were featured and for longer, and Canada, too–and I also wish they’d mentioned sexual orientation in the text as another way we should all be equal (or another form of oppression) and poverty (perhaps that’s caste?)–but it’s wonderful song and message. It made me feel good to watch; I hope it does you, too.
A Better Place from Playing For Change on Vimeo.
SCARS audiobook is now available for pre-order! It releases Sept 1st–a month before STAINED releases. The SCARS audiobook is read by Emily Bauer. It’s a different cover than the original book, but it’s still the same book on the inside.
I’m looking forward to hearing how Emily reads it. I love being read to–to me it’s a treat, especially when the reader speaks with the emotion of the book and the characters.
How about you? Do you like being read to? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Or does it change how you hear a book?
Words are powerful, and spoken poetry can be especially powerful and evocative, especially when it tells a person’s truths, fights against oppression or injustice, and when it’s said with emotion. That’s what spoken word poet Denice Frohman did here at Women Of The World Poetry Slam with her “Dear Straight People” performance. I think it’s powerful and moving, and will make people think, or laugh, or empathize. What do you think?
You can also read more about this at Huffington Post.
Today I have a Q & A with Karl McMillen, the author of Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction, and the founder of the Thelma McMillen Center. Triumphs and Tragedies was co-authored with Bill Hayes and Jennifer Thomas.
Why did you decide to share your story in Triumphs and Tragedies?
The explanation is in the subtitle: “A True Story of Wealth and Addiction.” That is, the juxtaposition of my acquiring of massive wealth, yet my inability to use it to save my two sons from addiction and my wife from cancer. I now use my wealth to continue the fight against addiction and to help families struggling with the same challenges my family faced. This fight includes my writing of this book.
Your story is so personal. How difficult was it to relive some of these moments while being interviewed for the book?
Certainly, that was difficult—the reliving of the tragedies. As I mention in the Introduction, sometimes even I can’t believe I survived everything that I did. But what was perhaps even more difficult was the examination of all this in hindsight; the realization of my enabling and the wrestling with all the “what-ifs.”
Can you tell us a little about McMillen Family Foundation, which sales from Triumphs and Tragedies supports?
The mission statement of the Foundation sets the tone for what we do: The McMillen Family Foundation provides assistance to eligible groups in Southern California that are dedicated to helping men and women who have been impacted, directly or indirectly, by alcohol and/or drugs. We give priority in funding to those non-profits that share our values and have produced tangible and measurable results; and we continually seek out new avenues for making a difference in the lives of substance abuse sufferers. To date, the Foundation has donated more than ten million dollars in the assistance of chemical dependency programs.
You also created the Thelma McMillen Center in honor of your late wife?
Yes. In 2003, I helped the Torrance Memorial Medical Center expand a program they’d had since 1991; that is, helping people live clean and sober lives. And because of what happened to my sons, I wanted to include a program to help adolescents troubled by drug and alcohol abuse. So I pledged $5.3 million—my largest donation to date, and their largest gift ever at that time—to fund The Thelma McMillen Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, which includes the Thelma McMillen Teen Outpatient Program. The McMillen Family Foundation now provides continuous support to what we
now affectionately call “Thelma’s Place.”
How did you build a multimillion-dollar business from the ground up, and what tips would you give to businesses?
While the horrors and pitfalls of addiction are a major part of Triumphs and Tragedies, the successes I’ve enjoyed in the business world are also a major aspect of the book and my life; all are so intertwined. If there is a “tip” that I could offer to would-be entrepreneurs and business people, it’s found in what some of my friends and associates call my “Golden Touch.” My success stems from the simple work ethic I learned from my father about working hard and understanding what people need in the way of goods and services. Then you add pure honesty in your dealings to that. You also need to see just how important your employees and partners are and treat them like gold. And your customers
Of course, my mind for “data” has helped a little, too! Along with a full knowledge of the field you are in, you need to understand business basics.
There is a quote in Triumphs and Tragedies that sums it up well: “This dynamic [the “Golden Touch”] is the combining of formal ‘book learning’ with ‘tool turning.’ It’s great to get that business degree, but it’s even more expansively practical if you can also hammer in the nail needed to hang it.” I had “calculations in my brain and calluses on my hands.”
Who struggles with addiction?
Anyone who has been touched by addiction: whether it’s through use by family members, friends, or themselves. And those numbers are huge. It spans all demographics. I can only hope that Triumphs and Tragedies will frighten and educate—frightening anyone who even has the slightest inkling to try drugs, and educating those whose lives and happiness suffer from its collateral damage.
Through all the hardship during your family’s battle with addiction, you found peace, and even sometimes humor, to help make it through. How’d you do that?
Triumphs and Tragedies opens with a scene that demonstrates just how one’s perceptions of things change after suffering the effects of drug addiction. One Christmas, Thelma and I were actually pleased and happy that both are sons were in the same jail at the same time—logistically, it made our holiday visit so much easier! There is juxtaposition for you; we all should have been in our warm beachfront home opening gifts, not in a cold “facility” watching deputies open heavy jailhouse doors.
But we sincerely appreciated just being able to be together.
What would you have done differently? You admit to yourself that you enabled your sons – how so, and how can parents avoid that?
That’s a difficult question. Because I still don’t have all the answers, and there’s no guarantee that anything I could have done would have changed things.
That said, I still think the answer lies in education. But I’m not talking about book learning. Know what your kids are doing. Know where they are. Stay very, very involved in their lives. Get them help quick and early if there are signs of problems. It’s not an excuse, but the drug epidemic that swept the youth of the 1960s took so many parents by surprise. We had no idea of what these drugs were or what they could do—and ultimately neither did the young people who were taking them. But things are different now in terms of sophisticated help and knowledge of what narcotics can do. What is not different, however, is that need for parents to be aware and involved in their children’s lives!
There are some stories in the book that not even your immediate family knew?
Yes. Some of the events that occurred are so shocking, involving my sons’ troubles with addiction and with the law. This includes my extensive outlay of resources, my trying to bribe a judge, and my helping my younger son flee to Mexico to avoid his lifelong incarceration.
This quote from Triumphs and Tragedies says it all: “Chris simply cannot go to jail for the rest of his life on this third strike! He jumps the 50-grand bail and heads for south-of-the-border sanctuary in Mexico.
And Karl helps.”
“When your child is headed for life in prison, you do whatever you have to do…”
The scope of the effects of addiction on my and Thelma’s lives, both emotionally and financially, is almost inconceivable.
After losing both your sons, how do you stay hopeful in your fight against addiction?
I want as many people to learn from my and my family’s mistakes as possible. That is why I wrote this book, That is why I established the McMillen Family Foundation; to support others who are also involved in this battle. My family did not suffer in vain—I believe that the lives of Mark, Chris, Thelma, and myself and what we all learned occurred for one reason: to help others.
About the McMillen Family Foundation
As of the end of 2012, the McMillen Family Foundation had given over $12 million to Southern California charities “dedicated to helping men and women who have been impacted, directly or indirectly, by alcohol and/or drugs” and who “share our values and have produced tangible and measurable results.”
To keep the goodwill going, Karl’s multimillion-dollar wholesale business, Todd Pipe, is set up to donate a full 20% of its profits to the McMillen Family Foundation ad infinitim. In addition, the Foundation will inherit all of Karl’s personal shares in Todd Pipe as well as seven key industrial properties he owns. In this way, Karl’s story, his generosity, and his mission will live on into the future.
All proceeds from Triumphs and Tragedies will be donated to the McMillen Family Foundation.
Visit McMillenFamilyFoundation.org for more information on resources for you or anyone you know battling addiction.
I’m happy to have Mike Mullin here today, talking about writing with courage. I love his post, and I’m honored by what he wrote. I believe Mike Mullin already has lots of writerly courage, and it’s something I like and respect. I think it can help make deeper stories. Take it away, Mike!
Writing with Courage
When Cheryl invited me to be a guest poster on her blog, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about: courage. You see, I’ve been admiring Cheryl’s writing from afar for almost two years—since I first read Scars. And while there may be a few better prose stylists or a few better plotters working in young adult literature, there is no-one writing with more raw power—with more courage—than Cheryl.
Re-reading the paragraph above, I realize that “admire” is the wrong word for how I feel about Cheryl’s writing. Insanely envious is more like it. Seriously, when we finally meet, I’m going to steal a strand of hair from her to use in a voodoo ritual—your juju will be mine, Rainfield!
Courage, particularly in writing, is rare, precious, and essential. I certainly don’t have it in the generous measure Cheryl does. For over a year, I’ve been trying to write a blog post—yes, a mere blog post—about my own childhood brush with sexual abuse, and I’ve found I can’t. My experience was, thankfully, far less traumatic than Cheryl’s, but I still believe there are lessons we could take from what happened to me, if I ever found the courage to share it.
I was a voracious reader, but in fifth grade I had read absolutely nothing about pedophilia. While the subject is fairly well-covered in today’s young adult literature, it was then and is today—to the best of my knowledge—nearly nonexistent in middle-grade novels. Yet children are more likely to be abused as middle graders than as teenagers. I believe if I had read more about it—if our middle-grade literature had been darker—I might have been better prepared for what happened to me.
That’s not to say that I’m completely devoid of writerly courage. Achieving any measure of success as an author requires it. But I tend to mask the parts of my novels that cut closest to the bone in fictionalized flesh.
For example, I’m occasionally asked what my favorite part of ASHFALL is. (ASHFALL, my debut novel, is about a teen struggling to survive and find his family after the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, plunging the world into a cataclysmic natural disaster.) I always answer that the scene in chapters 37 and 38 is my favorite. It was never part of any outline; I wrote it spontaneously while I was visiting my Uncle Chuck, who was dying of stage 4 colon cancer. The most difficult part of that visit wasn’t watching my Uncle Chuck die—we’d known he was going to die for some time—it was seeing his wife and children showering love upon him, even while they were trying, and failing, to hide their own grief.
In chapters 37 and 38 my protagonists, Alex and Darla, meet a woman who’s just lost her husband. She’s pulling three young children behind her on a toboggan, and one of them, Katie, is desperately ill. Alex wants to stop and try to help. Darla, who is far more practical than Alex, argues that they should go on—that they can’t help everyone who’s suffering. Alex wins the ensuing argument. They stop and try to help, but Katie dies anyway. I think the power of that scene flows from the fact that I chose to pour what I was feeling into it—despite the pain that writing it caused me. That, perhaps, is also a form of courage.
I believe writerly courage can be developed like any other aspect of writing. One of the reasons ASHFALL broke through and got published, while my earlier manuscripts did not, is that ASHFALL—despite its post-apocalyptic setting—is at its heart a personal story, a coming-of-age story based in my own teenage years. I credit one book in particular for helping me write closer to my own bones, Ralph Keyes’s Courage to Write. His numerous examples—particularly his stories of other writers’ struggles to find courage—inspired me to dig a little deeper and put a little more of myself on the page. If you’re an aspiring author, I highly recommend it. Perhaps I’ll re-read it soon, searching for inspiration to finally begin that blog post.
I knew I had something good in Chapters 37 and 38 of ASHFALL when my wife read them. We were on our way to an education conference in Pittsburg, and she was reading the manuscript out loud while I drove. (That’s a fabulous revision technique, by the way. By listening to your prose, you pick up errors that your eye will skip over while reading.) I heard a catch in her voice and glanced at the passenger seat. Tears were streaming down her face, shining in the mid-morning sun. I thought, yes! I’m a great writer and a terrible husband!
What about you? What inspires you to write courageously? Let me know in the comments, please.
Thank you so much for that thoughtful post, Mike! I think you have a lot of writerly courage–you wrote about grief and pain that you’ve seen and experienced. You dug deep.
People, you can find out more about Mike and his books here:
About Mike Mullin
Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out.
Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Ashen Winter is his second novel. His debut, Ashfall, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association.
About ASHEN WINTER
It’s been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this trilogy. It’s also been six months of waiting for Alex’s parents to return from Iowa. Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex’s parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.
Read an Excerpt
The first two chapters are available on my website: www.ashenwinter.com. You may reprint the first two chapters in whole or in part on your website so long as you do not charge anyone anything to access them.
Find Mike On:
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The Book Depository
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My newsletter will let you know about my new books, contests, books on sale, free books or short stories, bonus material, and other goodies. I’ll be having a contest when STAINED is released this October, and a book blog tour where you can also win goodies. Don’t miss out on hearing about my books and contests! (smiling)
I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because even though I trained as an editor and a writer, I don’t always see the mistakes and typos in my own work.
I think it’s easy, as a writer, to become discouraged and weary and have that negatively affect your writing. There are the rejections and the negative reviews that sting your soul; the working so hard on your writing and on book promotion (which are both full-time jobs) that tire you; and the upheavals and uncertainty in the publishing world that bring anxiety or financial instability. And if you focus on your writing as your sole means of earning a living, writing can start to feel like a chore, as well as bring pressure. All these things can take the magic and joy out of writing.
And there can be such incredible magic writing. When you create a story out of just letters and words, and your soul and imagination, and that story makes a reader care about the characters, have greater compassion, or feel what it’s like to be someone else–that is magic. When you’ve written sentences and phrases that powerfully, even poetically say truths that you need to say, or that you know will make someone feel and think in ways they didn’t before–phrases that feel just right when you read them aloud–that is a joy. Knowing you’ve written a book that grips readers so much that they can’t put the book down–that feels exhilarating. But if you’ve lost that joy and magic, writing just feels hard.
So how do you get back that joy? You read. Re-read old books you loved and found comfort in, and let the magic of a great storyteller take you places that only a storyteller can. Read new books that excite you and make you feel and care about the characters. If you pick up a book that you don’t enjoy, just put it down, then pick up another one. Keep doing that until you’ve found a book that pulls you in and doesn’t kick you out of the story, a book that you can’t stop reading but don’t want to finish because it’s so good, a book that makes you care deeply about the characters. That book will help feed your creativity and soul, and remind you why you write. That book will help you love writing again, and write with more passion.
And don’t stop there. Read as often as you can. Stuff yourself full of books–books in your own genre, and books outside of it. I believe that reading novels helps us write better. We can learn through osmosis, through absorbing the story and all it has to tell us, through feeding our creative selves. As Ray Bradbury says:
“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting.”
And when you’ve finished a book that you absolutely loved, think about how it made you feel and what it gave you–hours of delicious pleasure and escape; peeking into someone else’s life or knowing you’re not alone; pure delight in a story well told. Think about how it made you want to tell everyone about this fantastic book, how it made you want to write that author and thank her. Then realize that that’s what your books give other readers–that joy and magic, that escape and validation. You have become a favorite author for someone else, just the way other authors are your favorites. What an incredible, amazing thing to have happen!
So read what you love and let yourself write what you love. It will bring joy and passion back into your work.
It does for me. What do you find works for you?
I am honored to have children’s and YA author, and adult non-fiction author, Lois Duncan post here today about her writing journey, her daughter Kait’s murder, and how she came to write her newest book One To the Wolves: On The Trail of a Killer, about Lois’ and her family’s personal investigation into Kait’s murder after the police dropped the unsolved case. Ann Rule said One To The Wolves is “chilling…gripping…a riveting true story of a mother’s fight for justice” which sure makes me want to read it! You can be sure I’m buying a copy. Lois also has a website on her daughter’s murder, so if you lived in Albuquerque in 1989 and know anything that might help, please let her know.
I love Lois Duncan’s books–she has written some of my very favorite books that I have read over and over and over again, including Down a Dark Hall, The Third Eye, and Stranger With My Face. They helped me dream, hope, and gave me some escape in the years I was being abused and tortured, and they fed my soul. They still do. I love Lois’ skill as a writer–her books grab me and don’t let me go until the end–and I also admire her for her honesty, courage, and strength in writing about her daughter’s murder in both Who Killed My Daughter?, and now in her newest book One To The Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer. (You don’t have to have read Who Killed My Daughter? to read One To The Wolves.) Lois Duncan is someone I admire and love. I hope you’ll read Lois’ moving post here, and then go buy and read One To The Wolves.
WHEN FICTION BECOMES HEARTBREAKING FACT
by Lois Duncan
I’m the author of over 50 books, best know for my young adult suspense novels in which teenage heroines are in life threatening situations. Seven of those books (most notably I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) made it to Hollywood. I enjoyed writing those. I loved creating dangerous situations and building suspense as my heroines fought to save themselves. Of course, they all managed to do that. Those novels had happy endings.
Then, overnight, the subject that I’d been treating as fiction became horrendous reality. My own teenage daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, was chased down in her car and shot to death in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The “heroine in jeopardy” was my own child, and I couldn’t re-arrange the plot to make her save herself. I couldn’t produce a happy ending. And, when police dropped off the unsolved case, shrugging it off as a “random drive-by shooting” while ignoring strong evidence that Kait was assassinated because she was preparing to blow the whistle on organized crime, there didn’t seem to be hope for any ending at all.
At that point I stopped writing fiction. I had no heart for it. Instead, I wrote our true story, WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?, in hopes that it would bring informants out of the woodwork and prevent the facts of Kait’s case from becoming buried.
It accomplished both purposes. It also produced information that we never could have imagined when the first book was published. I discovered, just as Cheryl Rainfield has with her books, that The Power of the Pen is the strongest weapon in the world.
I’ve now written ONE TO THE WOLVES: ON THE TRAIL OF A KILLER, which chronicles our family’s on-going efforts to put the pieces of this hideous puzzle together. The picture that has emerged is both shocking and terrifying.
ONE TO THE WOLVES has just been published as an e-book. The publisher is Planet Ann Rule, (yes, the nation’s top-selling true crime writer now has her own publishing company). It can be downloaded to Kindles, Nooks, and other such devices. As yet, it’s not available as a hardcopy, although we hope it soon will be.
Lois Duncan and Ann Rule
The wolf on the cover of this e-book is a drawing Kait made at age ten. Apparently she already was having nightmares about a predator who would come for her eight years later.
Thank you, Lois, for your moving, powerful words. They made me cry. I hope you find the person who killed your daughter. I love your strength and courage, writing the books you have. And thank you so much for your kind mention of me and my books!
One To The Wolves is available on:
and other ebook stores.
Teen librarian Karen of Teen Librarian Toolbox (@TLT13 on Twitter) spotted STAINED at ALA 2013 and not only got herself a copy (hurray!) but also snapped this pic to let me and others know she was looking forward to reading it. It felt so good to see!
Note that this is the ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of Stained with the old cover.
The new cover (very Ellen Hopkins-esque — which I love and feel is a great compliment) looks like this:
I love when readers let me know they’ve got my books or seen them.
Do you love my books? Take a photo of you or your pet or a friend reading one of my books, or my book in a bookstore or conference or out in the wild, and email (or tweet or FB, etc) it to me, and I will feature it with a link to you. I might also make a video with the photos at some point.
If you own hard (paper copies) of my books and would like me to mail you a signed bookplate, email me at Cheryl @ CherylRainfield.com and let me know. If you’re a bookstore or library and you sell or lend my books and would like some bookmarks or signed bookplates, email me.
Today YA author Lorca Damon talks to us about parents teaching hate, and where she finds inspiration for writing her novels. I think her post is thoughtful and strong. Take it away, Lorca!
Children Don’t Know Hate; They Have To Learn It
Sometimes ideas for our writing come to us from the completely fantastical realm of subconscious, and other times, the topic hits a little too close to home to be ignored. The ideas for most of young adult novels came to in part because of the incarcerated juveniles I teach, but with my most recent book, Not My Kind, it was a girl at my daughter’s school who made me write.
At the parent meeting only days before the start of a new school year, parents looked around the room awkwardly as they realized that SHE was going to be in their kid’s class this year. Yes, THAT girl. The one no one talked to or invited to birthday parties or sleepovers. More than one parent’s eyes rolled when she walked in with her tattooed, pierced family, and several sets of parents made eye contact with each other only to make a face that said, “Great. Just what we needed.”
Here’s the real shame: this wasn’t high school, and the parents weren’t perturbed by some troubled teen and her host of outlandish behaviors. This was third grade, and the parents were less than thrilled that their children would be in the same class as the eight-year-old, pigtailed little girl whose parents own the local adult video and sex toy shop.
Yes. THAT girl.
At eight years old, she is already someone to be shunned and not played with, all because her parents are local business owners, businessmen who incidentally employ several people and pay a lot of money in sales taxes, sales tax money that benefits our schools. But just because it’s a legal business, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to like it.
And that’s the plot behind my latest title. In Not My Kind, Tanner Barrett’s parents own a small chain of medical marijuana dispensaries in their small, mountainous area of Colorado. And she is despised for it. Even though her parents own a legal business and support the community, providing jobs and medical supplies that benefits the entire region, she is a sub-par human being and the town’s whipping boy. The student body assumes she a slut because of her parents’ “loose morals,” and the faculty of her small high school assumes she’s a stoner who must have cheated or slept her way onto the honor roll. Even the people who are trying to be helpful can’t set aside their judgmental natures long enough to actually be kind.
Not My Kind is for anyone who has ever been judged unfairly, but will hopefully also speak to those people whose narrow-mindedness keeps them from seeing the good in the people around them.
Thank you, Lorca! I feel for that girl, and for the girl in your book. No one should be judged for who their parents are or what they do. And hatred and bigotry shouldn’t happen.
About Lorca Damon:
Lorca Damon is a YA author and teacher in a juvenile correctional facility. She writes the kinds of books she hopes her reluctant readers would want to read. Not My Kind is her most recent YA title, along with a Catcher in the Rye-themed road trip saga, Driving The Demon. Her newest YA title, The Bone Road, is coming September 2013. Follow her at LorcaDamon.com, or on Twitter at @LorcaDamon.
Get Not My Kind on Amazon
Also available at B&N, Kobo, and Smashwords.
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I haven’t been to LGBT Pride day for a while. Not because I’m not proud or sure of being lesbian–I am!–but because as an abuse/torture survivor there are a lot of things that trigger me, and one of them is crowds. I can get claustrophobic, and the last time I was at Pride–which is a big deal in Toronto, and people come from all over to attend–the crowds were so thick that at some point we couldn’t even move, just stood there while people kept pushing us from behind and the sides and … wow, that was hard. I don’t like to feel constrained or trapped–I had enough of that growing up. I also don’t like bumping into people who’ve abused me–and sadly, some of them are in the queer community–or getting triggered by seeing some things (like S&M) that remind me of abuse/torture I’ve been through. And I also don’t like the feeling of heterosexual tourists coming to gawk. I love supportive heterosexuals attending and showing their support, and there were many, but there are others, too, who just stare and not in a friendly way. So…I got a bit turned off Pride.
I used to go every year, before Pride Day got overwhelmingly large and taken over by corporations and became a tourist attraction. Before lesbians and gay men had the right to marry in Canada. I went every year when it felt political, important to make a statement: Yes, we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going away! When we were still fighting for basic rights and respect (though there is still more to fight for). I especially loved the Dyke March, which felt needed; Pride Day itself seemed more predominantly geared towards gay men, including all the advertising. I went, I enjoyed it (though always struggled through triggers), and it felt important. Political. But I haven’t been in a few years. I lost the sense of doing something political and positive and powerful. But that meant that I also lost some sense of community spirit and celebration.
Even in a big, mostly pro-queer city like Toronto, it’s easy to feel isolated if you don’t take part in events or have a good community around you. I’ve had rainbow decorations up on my door since the beginning of June, and my gay neighbor across the hall had his up a few weeks earlier. It felt good to see…but not enough. So this year I decided to go. I felt happy that Prop 8 was voted down in the US (but sad that it’s taken so long to get even that), proud of Canada for giving lesbians and gay men the right to marry years ago ahead of many countries, and in need of some community spirit and celebration. I’ve experienced some homophobia and sexism lately in my neighborhood, including one event that shocked me, and so I really felt the need for celebration and just…being surrounded by many LGBT people. And those experiences also reminded me that even here in Canada, where lesbians and gay men have had the right to marry since 2005, and in Toronto where there is a lot of open-mindedness, there are still homophobic people who need to be reminded that every person has the right to love who the want to love. LGBT Pride is still political–and with people seeing it on the news over and over each year, it becomes more and more accepted The norm. Once I’d decided to go with my little dog Petal, and found that my best friend Jo was going to go with me, I felt excited.
Petal and me before Pride 2013
Going to Pride with my best friend Jo and my little dog Petal felt celebratory and fun–the way it should. And yet it also felt necessary–there is still homophobia that we’re all pushing against, oppression that we face. It’s important to have celebration and a sense of community, and days where it feels like there isn’t any homophobia at all. AND it’s important for heterosexuals to keep seeing us and being aware of us in large numbers…to know that we are a part of society. That we are part of “normal.”
Jo, Petal, and I attended Pride during the big Pride Parade. Since we couldn’t see anything–we were rows and rows behind people–we decided to walk around. It was a great idea, because most people were at the parade, so there was actually room to move around, to breathe, to take in the sights. And for me, that helped make it feel safer, easier, and truly fun.
Cheryl Rainfield, Jo-Anne Beggs, and Petal Rainfield at Pride 2013
I loved seeing all the festive rainbow decorations in stores and booths and on the streets, loved seeing all the people dressed up to celebrate, including some women who wore rainbow wings, loved seeing the variety of lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer people out there and some of our supporters. Loved seeing how many resources there are here to help people, and also different ways to celebrate and affirm our LGBTQ community.
storefront at Toronto Pride 2013
But the best part? Being with my best friend and my little dog, being part of a celebration and feeling the good feeling all around. The sun was hot, almost burning, so it was fun to walk into booths that sprayed misty water and cooled us down. I loved going to the Photo Kissing Booth and having Sean Howard, a professional photographer, take a beautiful photo of Jo and me and Petal. It makes me feel so good to look at.
I loved people coming up to Petal (carried in my pouch–she doesn’t like crowds, either, and I didn’t want her to get stepped on) and patting her, stroking her, making much of her. Petal loved that, too (grinning). She always loves attention. And when Jo carried Petal for a bit, the same thing happened. Petal draws people who love dogs!
Jo carrying Petal, and someone coming up to pat Petal.
I loved having my photo taken a few times with Jo and Petal–my extended, chosen family–and getting buttons made from it. Loved seeing the political booths–anti-bullying, LGBT support, P-Flag (yay!), LGBT deaf communities–all mixed in with the also political but more celebratory queer t-shirt, button, bracelet, and do-dad booths. Rainbow flags were everywhere! And, looking up at the street signs at Church & Wellesley–our gay community area–I was proud of Toronto and Canada all over again for adding rainbows permanently to our street signs. (My cell froze on that photo, sadly.)
I also loved the SuperQueer T-shirt that Jo bought me. I love superheros, and I’m proud of being who I am and not hiding that I’m a lesbian, and Jo knows me well enough to know that that T-shirt would immediately appeal to me.
Cheryl in her SuperQueer T-shirt
I am happy I attended Pride this year, happy I went with my good friend and little dog, and found a work-around so that it wasn’t mixed in with triggers. This is the first time it’s felt completely, totally safe AND a really happy celebration; it felt healing for me–and still political. Still a reminder to Toronto homophobes, Canada, the world, that we are here, we’re queer, and we’re not going away.